For many of those who celebrate the Christmas season, it is the happiest time of the year. Families and friends get together to celebrate the holiday by putting up decorations, exchanging gifts, sharing meals, and enjoying each other’s company. Although Christmas means holiday movie marathons, Christmas music, eggnog, and other family traditions to lots of people, there are some facts about Christmas that aren’t as well known. Let’s take a look beyond the colored lights and presents under the tree to learn some lesser-known facts about Christmas that might change the way you see this cherished annual holiday.
December 25 Was Originally Celebrated By Pagan Religions
Although Christmas supposedly marks the birth of Jesus Christ on December 25, there isn’t actually any mention of the date in the Bible. Historians even suspect that Jesus was most likely born in the spring. It is assumed that December 25 was chosen because it coincided with the ancient pagan festival of Saturnalia.
This festival celebrated the agricultural god Saturn with partying, gambling, and gift-giving. Many current Christmas traditions can be traced back to Saturnalia, such as using evergreen trees as decoration, gift-giving, and celebrating with friends and family.
Establishing What Santa Claus Looked Like
The look of the modern-day Santa Claus was created in an 1804 meeting of the New York Historical Society. Here, a philanthropist named John Pintard handed out wooden cutouts of the jolly St. Nick that we know of today, next to a large bag filled with toys.
In 1819, the image of Santa Claus flying in his sleigh was created by Washington Irving. Strangely enough, Irving was also the author who created the concept of the Headless Horseman for his short story “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.”
The Origin Of Rudolph
In 1939, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer first appeared in a booklet written by Robert L. May and was then published by Montgomery Ward, the department store. It was created as a trick to encourage children to buy the department store’s Christmas coloring books. However, the original Rudolph didn’t have a red nose.
Wonder why? Back then, a red nose was seen as an indicator of chronic alcoholism. Montgomery Ward didn’t want their reindeer to come off as a drunkard so they originally left it out. Rudolph was also almost named Reginald or Rollo.
Leaving Cookies Out For Santa
The tradition of leaving cookies or other treats out for Santa Claus can be traced back to an ancient Norse tradition. Children who would leave hay and treats for the god Odin’s eight-legged horse Sleipnir, hoping they would stop by during their hunting adventures.
Dutch children continued this tradition, leaving food in their wooden shoes outside for St. Nicholas’ horse. They then began leaving out food and drinks for St. Nicholas himself to honor him on his feast day. Today, people typically leave out cookies and milk for Santa Claus, continuing this centuries-old tradition.
The Three Colors Of Christmas
It’s no secret that the three prominent colors of Christmas are red, green, and gold. At the start of the Christmas season and throughout the holidays, these colors can be seen all over. The color combo is one of the primary indications of the Christmas season.
However, these three colors were not chosen at random and actually have a significance that not everybody is aware of. Red symbolizes the blood of Christ, green symbolizes life and rebirth, and gold represents light, royalty, and wealth.
NORAD Santa Tracker Was A Mistake
Believe it or not, the NORAD (North American Aerospace Defense Command) “Santa Tracker” was the result of a misprint in the newspaper. In 1955, a Sears advertisement was supposed to print the number of a store when children could call and tell Santa Claus what they wanted for Christmas. The number that was printed was the hotline of the Directors of Operations for the United States Continental Air Defense.
Colonel Shoup, Crew Commander, saw this as an opportunity to do something for the children and ordered his staff to give children updates on the flight coordinates to Santa. The tradition continues today in which NORAD provides updates on local news, the Internet, and phone applications.
Coca-Cola Helped Invent The Modern Image Of Santa Claus
Prior to the 1930s, Santa Claus was not always depicted as the big jolly man in red with a white beard. In fact, he was often represented as a gaunt man who was even described as looking like a “spooky elf.” However, in 1931, Coca-Cola wanted to run a campaigned that showed a realistic and wholesome Santa.
Illustrator Haddon Sundblom turned to “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas” for inspiration. Thus, the common depiction of Santa Claus that we see today was introduced and used in Coca-Cola’s advertising for that year and the years to follow.
Prince Albert Helped Popularize Christmas Trees
Apparently, the origin of Christmas trees can be traced back to ancient Egyptians and Romans, who marked the winter solstice with evergreens as a reminder of the upcoming spring. However, it wasn’t until Prince Albert of Germany brought a tree home to his wife, Queen Victoria of England, that buying and decorating Christmas trees became a tradition.
A drawing of the couple and their family was published in the Illustrated London News in 1848, which led to the popularity of people putting Christmas trees in their homes to grow immensely.
Christmas Stockings Come From A Dutch Legend
The origin of the Christmas stocking comes from a Dutch legend during the life of St. Nicholas. There was a poor man with three daughters who had no money for them to get married. St. Nicholas heard the old man’s problems and wanted to help although he knew the man wouldn’t accept charity.
St. Nicholas then threw a bag of gold into the house through the chimney and it landed in a stocking hanging by the fire to dry. All three of the man’s daughters were then able to marry. Although the story varies, it led to the custom of children hanging stocking or putting out their shoes, awaiting gifts from St. Nicholas.
"Jingle Bells" Started As A Thanksgiving Song
Originally titled “One Horse Open Sleigh,” “Jingle Bells” was first written and published by James Lord Pierpont. It was then performed at his church’s Thanksgiving concert. Then, in 1857, the song was then republished under the title that it’s known by today. It grew to become one of the most popular and recognizable Christmas songs of all time.
Interestingly, the holiday jingle was the first song to be broadcast from space. On December 16, 1965, the Gemini 6 crew serenaded Mission Control after they reported seeing a “red-suited” astronaut.
Celebrating Christmas Was Illegal In The Early United States
Even though the original Jamestown settlers created the first American batch of eggnog, that doesn’t mean that they celebrated Christmas. By the time that the Puritans had begun to settle in Boston, Christmas had been outlawed. From 1659 to 1681, those caught celebrating Christmas would be fined for celebrating the once-pagan holiday.
Even after the Revolutionary War, Christmas was considered to be so unimportant that Congress held their first session on December 25, 1789. Christmas wouldn’t become a federal holiday for almost another century.
Christmas Decorating Sends Nearly 15,000 People To The ER Annually
Preparing for the holidays has proven to be a rather hazardous task. Whether it’s climbing onto the roof to hang Christmas lights or cooking a roast in the oven, thousands of people find themselves at the emergency room during the holiday seasons.
According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, roughly 14,700 people visit the emergency room during the months of November and December due to holiday-related decorating accidents. In addition, dried-out Christmas trees have caused hundreds of fires each year and have resulted in $14.7 million in property damage.
Peace During World War I On Christmas
Five months into World War I, on Christmas Eve, the soldiers on the Western front took a break from the fighting in 1914. In the week leading up to Christmas, French, British, and German forces crossed trenches to exchange seasonal greetings and socialize. In some areas, men from both sides went into “no man’s land” to exchange food, souvenirs, and to sing carols together.
In some instances, there were joint burial ceremonies and prisoner swaps with some groups even playing games of football together. This because known as the Christmas truce which was eventually banned later in the war.
Traditions Vary Greatly Country To Country
Although the premise of Christmas remains widely the same throughout the world, holiday traditions definitely vary culture to culture. People in Finland visit saunas on Christmas Eve, while the Portuguese hold a feast on Christmas day for both the living and the dead, even setting places at the table for those who are deceased.
In Greece, some believe that goblins known as kallikantzaroi run rampant during the 12 days of Christmas, with most Greeks not exchanging gifts until January 1st. In countries such as Australia and New Zealand, Christmas is celebrated on the beach with barbeques. So, although everyone is celebrating the same holiday, everyone does it in their own unique fashion.
The Legend Of Krampus
In Central European folklore, Krampus is a horned anthropomorphic creature that is described as being “half-goat and half-demon.” As the legend goes, during the Christmas season, Krampus is the opposite of St. Nicholas and punishes children who have misbehaved. He usually carries around chains, bags, and cages to cart evil children away.
He is believed to be one of the many companions of St. Nicholas in several countries throughout Europe. Although the origin of Krampus is unclear, folklorists believe that the creature has pre-Christian origins.
The First Christmas Trees Weren’t Sold Commercially In The US Until 1901
Although getting a Christmas tree has been a long-lasting tradition for families across the world, in the United States Christmas trees weren’t sold commercially until 1901! Before that, they were simply taken at random from forests. However, by the 1900s, the evergreen tree population had been devastated from overharvesting.
In 1901, the first Christmas tree farm was established when W.V. McGalliard planted 25,000 Norway spruce on his farm in New Jersey. President Theodore Roosevelt even lent a hand and planted a Christmas tree farm on his estate in Hyde Park, New York in the 1930s.
Black Friday Didn’t Get Its Name From Shopping
The term “Black Friday” originated in Philadelphia, and it wasn’t used to describe shopping sales. It was originally used as a reference to the high amount of pedestrian and vehicle traffic on the day after Thanksgiving. The term first began circulation in Philadelphia in 1961 and had spread to other parts of the country by 1975.
Over the years, the term eventually took on a new meaning. As most retailers experience financial loss through the months of January to November, their numbers are in the red. However, Black Friday came to mark the day after Thanksgiving, when businesses could turn a profit and put their numbers in the black.
The Abbreviation “X Mas” Isn’t As Secular As People Think
While some people may refer to Christmas as “X Mas” in order to take the Christ out of Christmas, the origin of the abbreviation shows that it’s as religious as it gets. X stems from the Greek letter chi which is the first letter in the Greek word Χριστός which is translated to mean Christ in English.
The “mas” at the end of Christmas is part of the Latin-derived Old English word for Mass, which is the religious service attended by Christians. So, using an “X Mas” isn’t really taking the Christ out of anything, just shortening its true meaning.
Christmas Lights Used To Be A Sign Of Status
Although many people take having Christmas lights for granted or even dread the laborious task of hanging them up, they didn’t use to be so widely available. In fact. a century ago, it was much more common for people to rent their Christmas lights and then return them after Christmas.
Typically, only people with substantial financial means could afford to buy their own lights for the holiday. This also meant that an electrically-lit Christmas tree became a sign of status in the early 1900s.
Turkey Wasn’t Always The Main Dish At Christmas Dinner
While most people may not think Christmas is complete without a turkey for dinner, a turkey wasn’t always available or affordable. Before turkeys were brought into other countries such as Europe over 500 years ago, people would typically eat geese, boars’ head, and even peacocks during the holiday season.
King Henry VIII was one of the first people to enjoy a turkey on Thanksgiving because they weren’t cheap. The bird didn’t even become common at Christmas dinners until the 1950s, with many people choosing a goose instead. However, the invention of refrigeration and the decreasing of prices led turkey to become a prominent Christmas dish.