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24 Things That You Might Not Know About Christmas

Christmas Tree

As the song says, “It’s the most wonderful time of the year!” – the Christmas season.  Many of the traditions that are widely celebrated have unusual origins that most people rarely think about.  And Christmas traditions around the world vary greatly across countries & cultures, often in fascinating ways.  Here are some fun trivia facts about Christmas that you might not have known:

  1. The first Christmas, a religious event marking the birth of Jesus, was celebrated on December 25, AD 336 in Rome.
  2. The origin of Santa Claus began in the 4th century with a real man named Saint Nicholas, Bishop of Myra, an area in present day Turkey. By all accounts, St. Nicholas was a generous man, particularly devoted to children. After his death around 340 A.D. he was buried in Myra, but in 1087, Italian sailors purportedly stole his remains and removed them to Bari, Italy, greatly increasing St. Nicholas’ popularity throughout Europe.
  3. St. Francis of Assisi began the custom of singing Christmas carols in church in the 13th century.
  4. The letter X in “Xmas” is a Greek abbreviation for Christ.
  5. Anglo-Saxons referred to the holiday as ‘midwinter’ or ‘nativity’.
  6. In 1647, the English parliament passed a law made Christmas illegal. The Puritan leader Oliver Cromwell, who considered feasting and revelry on what was supposed to be a holy day to be immoral, banned the Christmas festivities. The ban was lifted only when Cromwell lost power in 1660.
  7. Christmas trees were first decorated with foods such as apples, nuts and dates.
  8. Roast turkey did not appear consistently on royal Christmas Day menus until 1851 when it replaced roast swan. The medieval dish of boar’s head remained popular with royals for much longer.
  9.  “Silent Night” was first sung as part of a church service in Austria. A guitar was used because the church organ was so badly rusted it couldn’t be played.
  10. The 12/26 holiday Boxing Day, also known as St. Stephen’s Day, was originally celebrated in England, & its origins are found in a long-ago practice of giving cash or durable goods to those of the lower classes. Gifts among equals were exchanged on or before Christmas Day, but gifts to those less fortunate were bestowed the day after.
  11.  “Jingle Bells” was originally written by James Pierpont in 1857, for Thanksgiving, not Christmas. It was originally called “One Horse Open Sleigh”.
  12. The best-selling Christmas song ever is “White Christmas” by Bing Crosby. It has sold more than 50 million copies around the world.
  13. Christmas trees become popular in the UK from 1841 when Prince Albert erected a tree in Windsor Castle, following a German tradition.
  14. If you received all the gifts from the song “The Twelve Days of Christmas” you would have 364 presents.
  15. The poinsettia, a traditional Christmas flower, originally grew in Mexico, where it is also known as the ‘Flower of the Holy Night’. Joel Poinsett first brought it to America in 1829.
  16. In 1836, Alabama became the first state in the U.S. to declare Christmas a legal holiday.
  17. Americans buy 23-30 million real trees & 8-12 million artificial trees each Christmas season.
  18. The U.S. Postal Service delivers 15.8 billion cards, letters, & packages between Thanksgiving & Christmas Eve.
  19. The U.S. produces 1.76 billion candy canes each year.  Laid end to end, they would stretch for nearly 167,000 miles & could circle the equator 6.7 times.
  20. There are towns in the United States named North Pole, Alaska; Santa Claus, Indiana; Rudolph, Wisconsin; Dasher, Georgia; & Snowflake, Arizona.
  21. Guatemalan adults do not exchange Christmas gifts until New Year’s Day. Children get theirs (from the Christ Child) on Christmas morning.
  22. In North America, children put stockings out at Christmas time; their Dutch counterparts use shoes.
  23. When visiting Finland, Santa leaves his sleigh behind and rides on a goat named Ukko. Finnish folklore has it that Ukko is made of straw, but is strong enough to carry Santa Claus anyway.
  24. In Australia, Christmas falls during summer, & it is often very hot outside.  Many families celebrate with cookouts at home of on the beach.  Santa is sometimes depicted on a surfboard, & his sleigh is pulled by “six white boomers” (kangaroos)!