Christmas Oranges

Learning to savour our Christmas treats might be exactly what this generation needs.

My childhood church Christmas pageants ended with the distribution of treat bags to all the children. Capping a collection of nuts, hard Christmas candies, and chocolate drops was a mandarin orange. As a child I first searched for the longest cinnamon-flavoured ribbon and counted the number of chocolate drops; only later would my attention turn to what was called my Christmas orange.

Its inclusion was about more than adding something healthy or unique – we usually ate only a few regular oranges during the winter, not mandarins. For my parents it was symbolical of God’s blessings, with deeper roots in the story of immigrant farmers who settled in the Midwest. If any of us children failed to show enough gratitude for the mandarin orange, my mother reminded us again about the Great Depression, severe winters and survival without any fresh fruit. Guilt, if not gratitude, gave a small orange more significance than anything else in that bag.

Struggle and Resilience

The Great Depression and the droughts of the Dirty Thirties shaped my mother’s approach to life, long after economic security ensured access to more than enough food. My children point out the ways it transferred into my parenting – some good frugality and some not-so-positive cheapness. That usually spawns reflection on how privileged most of my generation in North America has been. Resilience – the ability to cope with adversity – is birthed in struggle; it is receiving more attention again as a result of COVID-19 and a changing climate.

The backdrop to Christmas 2021 is greater awareness of how some of the big challenges facing Canada and the world will impact our children’s future. All indications are that my grandchildren are likely to face more and more significant adversities than my generation, requiring greater resilience.

Mandarin oranges now come in boxes most of the year. They are not special anymore. I wonder what the contemporary equivalent of my Christmas orange might be for my grandchildren


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