In the spirit of the recent Lunar New Year, I’d like to share some juicy information about oranges. Oranges and the new year? Where did that come from? Let me break it down for you.
In Cantonese, the word for tangerine (mandarin orange) is a homonym of the word luck.
People gift tangerines during the new year as a way of wishing good fortune
Tangerines = good luck.
This isn’t where the symbolic meaning of citrus stops, however.
The Ancient Greeks similarly esteemed oranges, as evidenced in the myth involving Hercules and the golden apples of Hesperides. Hercules stole said apples, which were a wedding gift to Zeus and Hera, and gifted them to man. These supposed golden apples of myth are assumed to be oranges.
Oranges are also associated with Christmas! Legend has it that the Bishop of Myra (Saint Nicholas) saved three girls from slavery by gifting them with three balls/bags of gold (perhaps left in stockings hung to dry by the fire?). In the 19th century, oranges were exotic and expensive, even an adequate substitute for gold. Placing oranges in stockings became a Christmas tradition, which persisted up until the Great Depression. Unfortunately, it’s not as popular with kids these days.
In European societies during the Baroque era, citruses were a symbol of wealth and status as well. Lemons were placed in the hands of the deceased and carried by funeral attendees to ward off disease and mask unpleasant smells. The more lemons present at a funeral, the more prestige a family had. Oranges were also associated with the Orange dynasty in the Netherlands (crazy, right?). Oftentimes in paintings of the Orange family, a small fruit-bearing [orange] tree hid in the background. Even today, the Dutch soccer team consistently sports orange at the World Cup.
Oranges have always had a fortuitous presence throughout history and throughout the world. Forget the bread during this Lunar New Year season–let’s get those oranges instead.