I remember as a child growing up that every Christmas Eve when we were fast asleep, Santa Claus would pay us a visit and leave behind an assortment of wrapped toys for each child, and filled each of our stockings with oranges, tangerines, assorted nuts in their shell, and some wrapped hard candies and chocolates. While I was eager to make short work of the candy I never paid much attention to the fruit and nuts. I remember once asking my parents why Santa would think that giving us groceries (fruit and nuts) was such a good idea. Although I don't remember their exact answer, it went something like this: "Santa has been leaving fresh fruit, nuts and candy in children's stockings for hundreds of years. Long ago, these items were considered wonderful treats because in earlier times there was no way to get fresh fruit and nuts all over the world year-round. For all but the very wealthy children who might live near a big city, this Christmas gift was the only fresh fruit or nuts that they would get to enjoy all winter and well into the spring."
In doing a bit more research it appears the custom actually began in the 1880s with the advent of the cross continental railway system. By the twentieth century, Santa Claus, working with the local seasonal availability of fresh oranges around winter time, made it possible for most American children to get a fresh orange, tangerine or Clementine at the bottom of their stocking on Christmas.
OK, so that explains part of the tradition, but just where did the idea of putting fruit in a stocking originate? For that answer we need to go back a bit further to St. Nicholas, the precursor of jolly old Santa. Born in a village on the shore of what is now part of Turkey, he inherited a fortune but spent his life helping the poor and the persecuted, and eventually became a bishop in the new Christian church. As the story goes, Bishop Nicholas learned of a poor man with three daughters who had no dowries and hence could not find suitors to marry them. The next night Nicholas returned and tossed three bags of gold for the daughters' dowries through the chimney, which happened to land in the stockings of the three maidens which they had hung to dry in front of the fireplace. The bags of gold turned into balls of gold which are now symbolized by oranges. Bishop Nicholas is often portrayed in pictures wearing the red ceremonial robes and miter (or headdress) and holding the staff of a bishop, as well as holding three gold balls, gold coins, or pieces of fruit.
Don't forget Mom & Dad, stock up on fresh fruit and nuts and candies, and leave the stash somewhere Santa (St. Nick) can find it because that sleigh has only so much room... Every little bit of help is greatly appreciated.