Sunday, December 5, 2021

Missing My Christmas Oranges This Year

by Anita Mae Draper

Bowl of tissue-wrapped Christmas oranges

I’m missing my Christmas oranges this year. That’s not to say that we don’t have any oranges, they’re just not the same ones I relate to Christmas. Oranges and other subtropical citrus fruit aren’t grown in Canada due to our cold weather and must be shipped in and/or railed in depending on where it is grown. Historically in Canada, there was a lack of oranges in the autumn, and then a burst of excitement as oranges miraculously appeared in time for Christmas.

Easy to peel skin of a mandarin orange

The green tissue paper helped develop my anticipation for the fragrant gift inside. I loved the excitement of breaking open that first Christmas orange—the only orange I could easily peel due to the skin slipping off the flesh without effort—yet I knew that first juicy bite would have a sour snap to energize my sleepy taste buds. It was only after eating several segments that I appreciated the tangy sweetness which left me craving for more. 

Even during the tough times of my childhood, the one thing I could be sure of was finding a green tissue-wrapped orange in the toe of my stocking on Christmas morning. A bowl of oranges always held a spot on our holiday table along with other treats, such as chips and nuts. 

Christmas morning 1967, Port Arthur, Ontario

The fact that the oranges came all the way across the Pacific from exotic Japan added to their seasonal appeal. But this year, I'm really craving them because I can't find any of the Japanese ones, and not many of the Chinese variety, either. Yes, we have the larger types of navel oranges and others, but it seems we've seen less of the original Japanese oranges, and even the Chinese mandarins each December. Now, the small tangerines and clementines compete for space throughout the year, yet some of them have so many seeds, and skin so thick I almost wreck my thumbnail breaking through the surface to peel it. 

So I started wondering what happened. I was hoping my research would give a definite reason, such as a Pacific typhoon, the 2011 Japan earthquake and tsunami combination, or even a trading dispute. Instead, my search led me on a different quest—the history of what Canadians call the Christmas orange.

I knew that the Christmas orange was first brought to Canada about 1890 by Japanese workers who received them in parcels in the weeks leading up to Christmas. I was quite surprised then, to find that the first mention of them was not in a Canadian newspaper, but in a 1901 and 1916 American one.

In Canada, the oranges were shipped across the Pacific in 9 pound wooden crates and unloaded in Vancouver.

Christmas mandarin oranges being unloaded from the ship, S.S. American Mail. VPL Accession Number: 81110. Courtesy of Vancouver Public Library

I found a 1926 article in the Montreal Gazette reporting that 1,452,000 oranges filling eleven Canadian National rail cars were on their way from Vancouver, British Columbia on Canada's west coast. So approx 40 yrs after the first oranges came across, a special train was used to carry the shipment across the nation.

The Montreal Gazette - Dec 4, 1926

The Japanese orange trade was so successful that a 1931 Drummondville, Quebec newspaper, reporting on an article from the Canadian prairie province of Manitoba, said that over 2 million oranges crossed the citrus-starved Canadian landscape by Dec 7th of that year.

The Drummondville Spokesman - Dec 7, 1931

And then Canada joined WW 2 and Japan was our enemy. The trans-Pacific orange shipments stopped, and Canadian parents told their children that everything was fine. But Christmas wasn't the same. Even with the availability of tangerines shipped in from Florida, Canadians felt the loss of their beloved Christmas orange. 

When the war ended, countries worked to restore their economies and Canada renewed trade with Japan. But Canadians felt the loss of their fathers, uncles, brothers, and all those servicemen and women who'd given their lives for freedom... and resentment against the people of Japan was hard to put down. 

Japanese oranges were scarce during the 1947 Christmas season, but by 1948 they were back with a new name. In an attempt to take the onus off their origin, they were re-introduced simply as mandarin oranges.  

CP Rail Mandarin Orange Express train

The mandarin orange express trains had special markings, yet only one car carried this paint scheme in a shipment of almost 60 cars. We didn't care what they were called or where they were from, our special Christmas orange was back—more than 3 shiploads of them filling over 32 freight cars that year. And that was just the beginning of the resurgence of its popularity.

Which brings me back to my original question... what happened to our favourite Christmas orange since it's rare to see a crate of the boxes sitting in a grocery store these days.

Are oranges a traditional part of your Christmas? Did you receive one in your stocking?

This post was originally published on the Inkwell Inspirations blog on Dec 16, 2015.

As this is my final post for the wonderful Heroes, Heroines, and History Blog, I want to share my sincere appreciation for all the readers and contributors who made this such a great place to be a part of during the past seven years. 

Merry Christmas and may God bless you richly this holiday season and in the coming year.


Anita Mae Draper lives on the Canadian prairies where she uses her experience and love of history to enhance her stories of yesteryear's romance with realism and faith. Readers can enrich their story experience with visual references by checking Anita's Pinterest boards. All links available on her website at


  1. Thanks for your post today! It's interesting how we become fixed on a particular food or snack that makes a holiday most special! I'm sorry to hear you are not going to be contributing any more, I enjoy your posts. Praying that you are well, and Merry Christmas!

    1. Hi Connie, it's Anita although I can't seem to access my profile. Thanks so much for being an appreciative and regular member of my posts. Yes, I am well and looking forward to other pursuits. A very Merry Christmas to you and yours.

    2. Oops...and there's my profile. Haha.

  2. Thank You for such an amazing Post and Yes we use to receive an orange in our stocking every year! Merry Christmas and Blessings To You and Yours! Will Miss your post !

    1. Awh, thanks so much, Sarah. And thanks for sharing that you're familiar with the orange in the stocking tradition. Merry Christmas to you and yours as well. Blessings.

  3. I do not remember receiving Christmas oranges. However, I enjoyed reading your post. God Bless you on your new endeavors.

  4. Growing up here in Manitoba, I can relate to all of this! We also received an orange in our brown bag of nuts and candy from church after the Sunday School Christmas pageant. We've been eating Chinese mandarins so long now that I hardly think of it, but you're right. They're not the same.

    1. Terrie, I'd forgotten about the bag of goodies after the church Christmas concert. Not only that, but I was in charge of the concert goodie bags up until about 3 yrs ago, and an orange was always the first treat in the bag. Funny how you forget things, eh.
      I appreciate you stopping by and sharing. :)