For as long as I live, the smell of oranges will always remind me of Christmas. It doesn't matter what variety they are; navels, tangerines, tangelos, Cara Caras, they have all been stuffed into a Christmas stocking one year or another throughout my life.

So even on a bright, sunny, spring or summer day when an orange comes into my vicinity, I think about Christmas and I love it. But what is the tradition of oranges in stockings all about?

Why do People Put Oranges in Stockings?

The answer to that question is multifaceted. One story has St. Nicholas leaving gold in the stockings of a poor man's three daughters, so they would have dowries and be able to marry. (The citrus fruits symbolize gold).  Another story indicated the practice began during the Great Depression when "luxury foods" like oranges and walnuts, (not readily affordable) were left as presents under the tree instead of other gifts.

Speaking of the Christmas tree, two Balkan countries have fought over who brought in and decorated the first tree, for centuries. But why they did it is still somewhat of a mystery. Some accounts claim that German Christians did it in the 16th century as a symbol of everlasting life during the bleak winters.

How about cookies, when did the tradition of baking massive amounts of Christmas cookies begin? When we were kids, we thought our mom was the founder of that tradition. Mom wasn't an amazing cook, but oh could she bake! Breads, rolls, cakes, and cookies were her forte; at Christmas time, her talents shined as brightly as the lights on our tree!

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History tells us that people always celebrated winter holidays with good food and in the Middle Ages, they added desserts to their already abundant feasts and this is where the cookie tradition began.

Whatever the history, traditions add a rich warmth to the holiday season, whether ancient or extremely recent, family-created ones; like the mulled wine which appeared one Christmas over two decades ago, now, at my sister Carmela's home in Denver.

You entered their home which resembled a full-blown Christmas village, thanks to my sister's hard work and designing skills and the heady aroma of something spicy, fruity, and luscious would hit your nose. For my family, this magic elixir has come to symbolize all that is warm, Christmas-cozy, comfort, even when we can't all be together.

LOOK: 25 over-the-top Christmas displays from across America

To help get everyone in the mood for the upcoming holiday season, Stacker compiled a list of some of the most over-the-top Christmas displays across America.

Gallery Credit: Annalise Mantz & Madison Troyer

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