Nicholas, as you know, was a Bishop long before he ever was a Saint. This story is but one of many that make up his legend and it is sacred to those who consider him a saint.
He had heard of a family that lived closed by — not even members of his faith — who were very poor. So poor, in fact, that the father of this family was considering selling his oldest daughter into slavery, so that he might have funds for his other children. Word of this reached Bishop Nicholas who, in the dead of a cold night, donned his red Bishop’s robes with the white fur trim, and paid an anonymous visit to the poor family.
When he got to the house he was able to see the stockings the children had hung by the fire to dry. All he wanted to do was to somehow give a small gift of gold — enough to prevent any children from being sold into slavery — but he had to figure out how to get into the house and he had to figure out where to leave it. He knew he couldn’t just knock on the door and hand it over — the father had too much pride to allow that to happen. Besides, Bishop Nicholas did not want to create any obligation for the gift…he just wanted to solve the problem without creating another one.
So anonymity was important.
Now, there are several versions of this story. Some say he just dropped the small bag of gold on the porch and then left. Others say it wasn’t a bag of gold at all, but, rather, a ball of gold. Some stories even go so far as to suggest that Bishop Nicholas tossed the gold up over the roof line where the ball went down the chimney and landed in the stocking of the eldest child.
Regardless, he somehow left the gift and went on his way.
A few years later, the family’s circumstance had not changed and the father was once again known to be considering selling a child into slavery. And again, word of that reached the good Bishop who again brought an anonymous gift of gold in the dead of night.
Determined to at least thank the gift bringer, the father when he faced the situation a third time caught Bishop Nicholas in the act. Nicholas tried to swear the man to secrecy but, alas, he could not contain his gratitude and he told the tale over and over again.
The orange — and not just any fruit, by the way — is symbolic of the Bishop’s gold. That is why many get an orange in the toe of their stocking on Christmas morning.