Friday, December 16, 2011

Oranges and Cloves for Christmas

Can you believe we are taking oranges and sticking cloves into them? Dad tells me it is an old European Christmas tradition. We used clementines instead of oranges cause that's what we had around the house. It turns out clementines are actually better for this project as their skin is not as tough and easier to poke the cloves into. After the pic above was taken, we rolled them in cinnamon and placed them in a wooden bowl. I must admit they do smell great.

I got to wondering about this "old European Christmas tradition" so I sniffed around a bit.

In Renaissance times, both exotic spices and citrus fruits were not commonly available nor easy to come by. Fruits were only available in a particular season and only for a short span of time. The technologies to support year-long agriculture, specialized storage (refrigerators and the like), mass harvesting, and cross-country (and cross-continent) delivery were all many decades away. During the time, simply possessing such things as citrus fruits or exotic spices was a sign of wealth and prestige and what better way to get the attention of a paramour than to give some of that wealth to them?

As with any gift, it is always polite to thank the giver for their generosity. A kiss was often all a demure young lord or lady could part with, so thus began (in theory) the practice of the kiss in return for the presentation of the cloved fruit!

Like that story? It's totally fabricated, but it sure does sound like it could have happened that way! Historians assure me that during Medieval and Renaissance time periods a lot of things we take for granted were wholly absent. As the new world had yet to be exploited, all new world flora and fauna were as yet unknown, so medieval Europe wouldn't have known what an orange was even if a sparrow dropped it right upon their heads. Although I assure you, were that to happen, they would have cloved the strange ruddy round object immediately. Really.

It turns out that cloved oranges are also know as pomanders. The first pomanders were made from gold or silver. They were shaped like balls and hung by a cord from the waist. They were filled with sweet smelling herbs and spices, and used as perfume. They were also thought to keep one from getting sick.

The most likely actual use of a cloved fruit was as a pomander and worn on one's person as a type of human air freshener or left in places where one might wish to disguise odors. While giving one's paramour 'primitive deodorant' might seem a little crude by today's social mores, it might have been perfectly acceptable in time periods when personal hygiene was a bit less advanced.