SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (ABC4) — Have you ever wondered why is coal bad on Christmas or why you get oranges in your stockings? The reasons behind some of our most beloved origins may be striking.

What’s the deal with the Christmas tree anyway?

The history of the Christmas tree goes as far back as ancient Egypt and Rome. Our ancestors believed any plant that could stay green year-round was considered special. That significant symbol continued on into German tradition with the Christmas tree we now know today. In the 16th century, German citizens would add candles to Christmas trees, and that practice later came to America in the 1800s.

Coal is bad to get, right?

Not necessarily. While we may think of it as a sign of a naughty child getting punished by Santa Claus, there are a few ideas of where this originated:

  • In 16th century Holland, children put their clogs (wooden shoes) by the fire on Christmas Eve. When they woke, their clogs would either have candy and goodies if they were good, or coal if they were bad.
  • In Italy, there was an old witch before Santa Claus named Befana. Similar to St. Nick, the crone would deliver gifts on Epiphany Eve, giving out presents for good children and coal, onion or garlic for the bad.
  • In 19th-century Europe, coal was considered good for the poor who needed to keep themselves warm during the winter.

Oranges in your stocking?

If you’re one of the many who hangs stockings up for Christmas, odds are you’re expecting small trinkets or gifts, candy (especially candy canes), and an orange. While the orange may seem random, it has deep roots in Christmas folklore, and there are a few possibilities of where this custom came from:

  • St. Nick gave gold to young girls to find husbands and our current oranges represent that gold.
  • In many parts of Asia, the fruit is considered lucky.
  • Fresh oranges were hard to come by, and so the fruit was scarce and expensive–a rare treat that we now have in aplenty.

Hiding pickle ornaments in Christmas trees

Less commonly talked about compared to oranges in stockings or coal, pickles hidden in the Christmas tree has two debated roots, according to whychristmas.com:

  • In the 1880s, Woolworth store started selling glass ornaments imported from Germany that looked like different fruits and vegetables–pickles included!
  • Christmas pickles are an old German tradition where the last ornament hung on the Christmas tree was a pickle ornament, and the first child to find the pickle got an extra present.

Popcorn hanging around the tree, anyone?

According to popcorn.com, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Victorian families often decorated their fireplace mantels, doorways and Christmas trees with ornaments made from popcorn balls.

The practice started much earlier, when, in the 15th century, Germans brought in pine trees to celebrate Adam and Eve on the 24th of December, the religious feast day of Adam and Eve. Two apples were placed on the trees as “paradise trees,” and then eventually, they moved from apples to popcorn and other edible ornaments such as fruits (like cranberries), nuts, and other food.

A little extra bonus fact? The first Christmas tree in Williamsburg, VA was decorated with popcorn on strings since no other ornaments were available.

Traditions mean different things to different people, so pick your favorite origin and run with it!