Seasons greetings! This week’s video departs from my typical affair as I share with you 10 things you may not know about Christmas.
1) Christmas Tree
There is no greater iconic symbol of the holiday then the Christmas Tree. It is believed that early pagan Europeans worshiped trees, and the practice continued after their conversion to Christianity. A vestige of nature worship in which primitive man believed that nature (symbolically represented in the tree) was a conscious entity that could direct one’s life. In its modern form, this centre piece of festivities was born in Germany in the 16th century and was traditionally decorated with food items such as apples, nuts and later candles.
2) Santa Claus
The jolly plump old man with a white beard and red suit, Santa Claus had his origins way back in 280 CE in a small Roman town Patara, near Myra in modern-day Turkey. St. Nicholas was admired for his piety and kindness, and later became the patron saint of many groups ranging from sailors to entire nations. Santa’s gift giving nature stems from a story of Saint Nicholas in which he saved 3 young girls from a life of prostitution when he secretly delivered bags of gold to their father, with which to pay for their dowries so they could get married instead. Over the next few hundred years, St. Nicholas took on certain aspects of earlier European deities like the the Roman Saturn or the Norse Odin, who appeared as white bearded men wielding magical flying powers. The transformation to Santa Claus came in the 19th century thanks to a series of poets and writers who romanticized the Christmas season.
3) Gift Giving
Believed by many to be nothing more then capitalism run a muck, the gift giving associated with Christmas comes to us from the ancient Romans who exchanged gifts on New Year’s Day. This was initially shunned by the church, but the act of giving gifts lived on and now becomes the focus of the season for many (theists and non-theists alike).
Rudolf the red nose reindeer, a beloved character of many children’s Christmas stories, was created as a marketing gimmick for Montgomery Ward’s holiday colouring book in 1939. The creation and distribution of this book was to entice shoppers to come to their store for their holiday shopping. Additionally, his name originally was to be Reginald, and his nose blue, because Montgomery Ward didn’t want Rudolf to appear to suffer from chronic alcoholism. Thankfully history unfolded as it did, as Reginald the blue nosed reindeer just doesn’t have the same ring or charm.
5) December 25th
For the first three hundred years after the supposed life and death of Jesus, his birth was not celebrated at all. In 336 CE we find the earliest mention of honoring Jesus’ birthday in a Roman calendar. While it is not definitively known why the 25th of December was chosen, it is widely believed to be due to the early church’s desire to provide an alternative celebration to the Roman birthday of the unconquered sun, and the Persian birthday of Mithras, both of which were celebrated on or around the winter solstice.
Mistletoes tend to spring from seeds distributed by bird droppings, and that is reflected in the etymology of the word: “mistle” which meant dung and “toe” which meant “twig”. A lot less romantic now kissing under the poop twig.
According to legend, hanging stockings over the fireplace originated with the story mentioned earlier regarding St. Nicholas and the 3 young daughters who couldn’t afford to get married. In the story, most likely less fact then fiction, St. Nicholas threw in a bag of gold into the house and it landed in the stockings drying over the fireplace.
8) Christmas Music
Many of the most popular tunes of the once strictly Christian holiday have interesting and unexpected histories. Jingle Bells, composed by James Lord Pierpont, in the 1850s was actually created to commemorate the famed Medford sleigh races in November. It later had its lyrics changed to fit better with Christmas.
O Holy Night was written in 1847 by Placide Cappeau de Roquemaure, a devote Jewish man living in France. A local parish priest asked him for a song to open his Christmas mass.
9) Christmas Sweater
The ugly tacky Christmas sweater often worn by old men and hipsters was made popular by Bill Cosby on the 1980’s sitcom The Cosby Show. While the designer of the sweaters on the show didn’t take credit for its creation, it was first manufactured under the name of “jingle bell sweaters during the eighties.
10) The Nativity Scene
Every year many Christians in the United States attempt to push church/state boundaries by installing the nativity scenes on government land. What they most likely don’t know is that this famous scene of Jesus’ birth in barn actually was created by Saint Francis of Assisi in 1223 after his visit to the “holy land”. It was one man’s inspired vision of the biblical origin story of a demigod.
I wish you all a happy and safe holiday season.