Did you know that Christmas — this country’s most cherished Christian holiday — has its roots in pagan festivals such as Saturnalia, the Kalends (a precursor to the 12 days of Christmas), and Deus Sol Invictus (birthday of the unconquerable sun)?
According to historians, in ancient times these celebrations all took place around this time of year. When the Christian church came along, it strongly disapproved of such celebrations, and co-opted the pagans by declaring December 25 as Christ’s birthday – even though there is no evidence that Christ was born on that day. In A.D. 350, Pope Julius I proclaimed December 25 as the official day to celebrate the birthday of Christ, and the date has remained steadfast ever since.
These are just some of the fun “facts” (there are often conflicting myths, legends, and theories around many aspects of Christmas) I uncovered while doing research for this blog. Here are some more to brighten your holidays:
- Christmas wasn’t declared an official holiday in the United States until 1870.
- The traditional colors of Christmas are green, red, and gold. Green symbolizes life and rebirth, red symbolizes the blood of Christ, and gold represents light, wealth, and royalty.
- According to legend, Protestant reformer Martin Luther was the first person to decorate a Christmas tree. Deeply moved by the beauty of the stars shining between the branches of a fir tree, he brought home an evergreen tree and decorated it with candles to share the image with his children.
- There are approximately 21,000 Christmas tree farms in the U.S. that sell 35 million trees each year. On average, Christmas trees grow for 15 years before they’re cut and sold.
- According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the tallest Christmas tree ever cut was a 221-foot Douglas fir displayed in Seattle, Washington.
- The first artificial Christmas trees were made in Germany using goose feathers that were dyed green.
- Electric lights made their first appearance on Christmas trees in 1895.
- Santa Claus is based on a real person, St. Nikolas of Myra, who lived during the fourth century. He is the patron saint of banking, pawnbroking, pirating, butchery, sailing, thievery, orphans, royalty, and New York City.
- Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer was created by Montgomery Ward in the 1930’s for a holiday promotion.
- Jingle Bells was first written for Thanksgiving, and later became one of the most popular Christmas songs.
- Each year, more than 3 billion Christmas cards are sent in the U.S.
- The tradition of hanging stockings by the chimney came from England, where the story was told that Father Christmas dropped some gold coins from his pockets and they were caught in socks hanging by the fire to dry.
- A different legend has it that Christmas stockings evolved from three sisters who were doomed to a life of prostitution because they couldn’t afford a marriage dowry. They were saved when the aforementioned Nikolas of Smyrna crept down their chimney and filled their stockings with gold coins.
- The world’s largest Christmas stocking stretched 106 feet long and 49 feet wide. Made by the Children’s Society in London, it weighed as much as five reindeer and held almost 1,000 presents.
- In most European countries, people leave out shoes rather than socks for Santa to fill.
- In Poland, spiders or spider webs are common Christmas trees decorations because — according to legend — a spider wove a blanket for Baby Jesus.
- Each year, retailers hire 20,000 “rent-a-Santas” to hear Christmas wishes from children throughout the U.S.
- Mistletoe comes from the Anglo-Saxon word misteltan, which means “little dung twig” because the plant spreads though bird droppings. (Think about that next time you snuggle up for a mistletoe kiss!)
- Christmas purchases account for 1/6 of all retail sales in the U.S., with more diamonds being sold around Christmas than any other time of year.
And finally, currently there are more than 2.1 billion children under age 18 in the world. Assuming an average of 2.5 children per household, Santa would have to make 842 million stops on Christmas Eve and travel 221 million miles to reach every household. Just between you and me, I’m guessing old St. Nick is a major stockholder in UPS.
Merry Christmas to all!