What’s with the oranges?

orangesAnyone who was at the services at our parish of Saint Nicholas, Grand Rapids noticed two bowls of oranges flanking the icon of Saint Nicholas. As we celebrated  the memory of our patron saint, there were lots of folks asking, “What’s with the oranges?” I was actually the first one to ask the question when Christine, who heads up our Liturgical Preparation Ministry, brought the idea to me. So, inquiring minds, here’s what’s up with the oranges.

Many people are familiar with the story of Saint Nicholas who, as a loving bishop and leader of his people, came to hear of three young women In danger of not being able to marry honorably due to the family’s poverty and resulting lack of a dowry. The story of his acting in secret to leave gold in their stockings which were hung out overnight is what is behind the Christmas tradition of hanging stockings by the fire in hope of finding gifts in them on Christmas morning.

Well it turns out that this story has inspired acts of charity ever since. While modern recipients find chocolate, small toys, and magazines in their stockings, there is another earlier practice that is so old no one seems to know exactly when it began. And that is the practice of – you guessed it – finding an orange in one’s stocking. Some even go as far into detail to note that traditionally, the orange is placed in the toe of the stocking! But no matter the placement, the practice has one purpose: to give an object that, by its color and weight, reminds the receiver of the gift left by Saint Nicholas to that needy family. Amazing how one simple but powerful act of generosity can inspire millions of people for centuries!

For the past few weeks, we have been focusing our attention on two basic yet increasingly rare qualities of our shared humanity: gratitude and giving. This “holiday season” includes our American Thanksgiving holiday, the remembrance of Saint Nicholas, the great giver, and then the celebration of the greatest gift of all: the birth of the Christ child at Christmas. As opposed to a vicious cycle where things always gets worse, this GRACIOUS cycle always improves our lives, and the lives of those around us. As we move from gratitude for God’s gifts to sharing those gifts with those around us, we find ourselves moved and humbled by our ability to continue with others what God began in us which returns us to a state of gratitude. And then the cycle starts all over again.

In celebrating the memory of Saint Nicholas this past weekend, we rediscover life within this GRACIOUS cycle. The historic gift from our parish to our needy neighbors which was given at Sunday’s lunch to benefit the homeless families living around us were a manifestation of our parish community living within this gracious cycle. Now, our challenge is to stay within this cycle which is nothing less than a glimpse into life in the Kingdom of Heaven. And let’s face it, we’re going to need reminders to do so along the way.

And that’s what’s up with the oranges.