I once mentioned in a conversation with an older Japanese-Canadian gentleman that when I was a very young child, not too many years after the end of World War Two our family, as did most Canadian families, referred to mandarin oranges as ‘Jap Oranges.’
“I see,” he said, nodding thoughtfully. “That was what we called them, too.”
That mollified me slightly. But, whatever you want to call them, mandarin oranges are traditionally an important aspect of the Christmas season. Like evergreen fronds, they even smell like the Yule. I don’t know how this Asian treat came to be associated with a very western holiday season. My mother attested that it was because they were in season in the Orient at winter. Made sense.
But, like so many things from my childhood, even mandarins have been compromised, if not ruined. Merchandisers want the season to last as long as it can be milked for the sake of profit. So, variations on the mandarin theme are around all year now, with clementines, satsumas and tangerines to be found in their abundance in your store’s produce section.
And then, come early October, the ‘real’ Christmastime version in the big boxes appear to welcome the season despite the fact it isn’t even Halloween yet. Like the flogging of eggnog, it seems they can never be too early.
I object. I object because such craven merchandising takes some of the fun out of what should be a seasonal adventure. Much like the playing of Christmas songs and the mounting of outdoor lights prematurely tends to make me want to vomit. Make it special. It’s sort of like sex. If somebody is giving it away to all and sundry at the drop of a hat or pair of Victoria’s Secret panties then it’s no where near as exciting as an encounter with somebody who had played a bit hard-to-get. I mean, it’s still good and all, just not quite as good.
Slutty mandarins just aren’t quite as good, either.
Nowadays, too, it seems like the bulk of oranges come from China. Originally, as in when I was a tad, they always came from Japan. And they didn’t come in crappy cardboard boxes, they came in wonderful little white-pine wooden boxes and each orange was wrapped in turquoise paper. That made them seem even more treat-like. Sort of like li’l Christmas presents and Mom only hoped when the old man pried the box open with a claw hammer that not too many of the oranges had gone rotten in their long trip in the hold of the Osaka Maru.
Those wooden boxes were great and not only did they hold the oranges, the pine made great kindling to start up the living room open fire on Christmas morning.