I read a lot of historical fiction as a child—most of it in the American Girl Doll series. I don’t know how they do it now, but back in my day each doll had six matching books (each sold separately!), and all of the books had nearly identical titles—the only part of the title that would change from doll to doll was the main character’s name.
After an introduction—titled “Meet Samantha/Molly/Felicity/Addy/etc.”—the girl in question would learn a lesson, save the day, celebrate a birthday, and go through changes. Among these, each girl got her own Christmas story, and it was while reading one of them that I learned parents used to stuff stockings with oranges, and I was horrified.
“Why would you give a kid an orange for a present?” I asked my mother, worried that she might start getting ideas. She explained that fruit wasn’t always as ubiquitous as it had since become, and that being able to stroll into a grocery store and grab an orange—or a grape or a pineapple—was a fairly recent development. “Christmas could be the only time of year they got to eat an orange!’ she explained. “Oh,” I said. “I’d rather have chocolate.”
I still enjoy a bit (a lot) of Christmas chocolate, but now I am older, wiser, and more appreciative of seasonal fruit. An orange tastes pretty good all year round, but a winter clementine, tangelo, or caviar lime is a certified treat, and treats belong in stockings.
I’m not saying fruit should be your only stocking stuffers, but how delightful would it be to find a juicy, vibrant piece of citrus among the candy and trinkets? It offers respite from the deluge of chocolate, and is neat enough that you can snack on it while opening the rest of your presents. (If you have kids, it’s a good way to encourage a little healthful snacking in between the candy and pie.)
You can order a box of fancy in-season citrus or pears (you know the ones) and split it up amongst the various stockings, or you could take a trip to your local fruit market or health food store and purchase a bespoke selection of fruit (probably citrus) for each stocking on your mantle.
Beyond clementines and stem-on mandarins—which are delicious and aesthetically pleasing—in-season fruits include blood oranges, kumquats, pomelos, Meyer lemons, and caviar limes, any and all of which I would be thrilled to discover in my stocking on Christmas morning. (I think a Buddha’s hand citron would look pretty metal sticking out of the top of a stocking, but it is not as snackable as the others.)
If citrus isn’t your bag (or if someone has an allergy), you can always give apples, pears, or pomegranates. Apple-wise, I’m currently obsessed with Lucy Glo apples, which have a sweet, tart, berry-like flavor and a beautiful crimson interior. (I served them as part of a cheeseboard on Thanksgiving and everyone was utterly charmed.) I don’t have a recommendation for pears, but I’ve heard a guy named Harry—or possibly his friend David—might have some ideas.