Christmas always makes me think about a story that became a tradition in our family. It’s the story of the Christmas Orange.
I think that most families have a story like this. My father would tell it in response to us children explaining how life as we knew it would end if on Christmas morning we do not find The Mountain of Death Battle Station with a dungeon that really screams (batteries not included) under the tree.
“When I was your age,” as Dad began all stories that were intended to teach a valuable lesson, “we didn’t have store-bought toys.” The preamble to the story would be accompanied by much rolling of children’s eyes and a look around the room for the surest route to a quick escape.
I should also point out a this juncture that we children didn’t believe for a second that there was a time before toy stores. Everyone knows that stores have been around even longer than politicians. In fact, until there were stores there was no reason to have politicians because there was nobody to tax.
“When we were little,” Dad would continue in spite of the children’s eyes glazing over and our breathing becoming increasingly erratic, “most of our toys were hand made.” What followed was a totally unbelievable account of toy race cars being made by hand out of sardine tins and dolls patched together from socks full of dog hair.
We children, now almost catatonic and making the same sounds as the dungeon in the Mountain of Death Battle Station, were further regaled with the story of how Aunt Minnie’s best Christmas present ever was a hat made out of a tinfoil turkey roasting pan. Not only did one size fit all, but since it hadn’t been rinsed after its last use, Aunt Minnie also saved on perfume.
At this point our hopes of getting our Galactic Warriors or Barbie’s Off-Road Racer began to fade. It was replaced with the fear that we would come down Christmas morning and instead of finding expensive and easily breakable toys under the tree, we’d discover a stick with a string tied to the end, wrapped in tinfoil.
Having succeeded in rendering the children immobile, it was the time for my father to bring out the story of the Christmas Orange. As the story goes, as a kid he would open all his presents under the tree - a new block of wood for carving, or hand-me-down clothes originally worn by an older member of the opposite sex. Then the uncle who played the horses would appear, and if the pony he had bet on the previous week had any of the Christmas spirit, he would produce from behind his back ... an orange.
To hear my Dad talk, when someone received an orange for Christmas people would travel for days just to get a glimpse of it. Rather than eat it, the orange would be put on display in various locations in the house for envious guests to admire. Only when it was getting soft on one side and developing a colourful antibiotic patch did the family peel and pass sections of it around, and think of how lucky they were.
I have checked with my friends, and every single one of them has a story from their father about the magic of getting an orange for Christmas. By my calculations, instead of being a rare and much envied event in the olden days, there must have been hundreds of thousands of oranges in circulation on Christmas day.
Whatever the truth, to this day my wife and I still put an orange in the end each other’s Christmas stockings to remind ourselves of how lucky we are. I just can’t wait to tell my son all about it.
© 2003 - Stephen Lautens