Christmas is one of the most popular festivals celebrated all over the world. Heck, even non-Christians celebrate it. The Christmas spirit hits everyone irrespective of your faith. However, did you know this millennia-long tradition has a few of its own bizarre facts and plot twists? Read on..
1. Kiss under the WHAT?
Everyone’s favourite plant to sneak a quick peck under has quite a (dirty) history! Believe it or not, the word ‘mistletoe’ (Latin name: Viscus Album) is actually a modern derivative of the Anglo-Saxon word misteltan, meaning “little dung twig,” owing to the fact that the plant springs from bird droppings. Not just that, it also is a parasitic plant, meaning it needs a much bigger, stronger plant or tree to grown and thrive on. It was also believed to be magic by ancient people, such the Druids, since it stays green and bears fruit during the winters, when all other plants die. Romantic, huh?
2. Santa Claus is coming to town…and so is the Headless Horseman
When you think of Santa Claus, a picture of him laughing on a sleigh flying in mid-air across the moon is what comes to mind, right? Well, that mental image traces its roots back to a scary folklore legend. The Headless Horseman is a fictional character from the short tale ‘Legend of Sleepy Hollow’ written by American author, Washington Irving. Yes, the same guy who brought us The Headless Horseman also created the image of our beloved jolly saint riding across the night sky, when he dreamed about St. Nicholas (the supposed OG Santa Claus) doing the same, in a collection of short stories titled The Sketchbook of Geoffrey Crayon, published in 1819.
3. Rudolph The Red-Nosed Marketing Strategy
Remember Rudolph? The cute reindeer who was bullied over his bright, red nose? The one that melted your heart and endearingly stood up for himself? Well, this adorable little creature crept into people’s Christmas spirited hearts originally as–wait for it–an advertising gimmick! Yep, you read that right. Those annoying ads you skip before playing your videos on the internet were the same agency that brought to you that sweet mammal. The Montgomery Ward department store’s (in America) copywriter, Robert L. May, created the out-of-place character in 1939 in a bid to lure more customers into the store. It obviously worked wonders, since Rudolph loved by children of all ages, and even adults. Additionally, Norwegian scientists have theorized that Rudolph’s red nose was probably due to a parasitic respiratory infection. Let’s keep him away from the mistletoe next time, eh?
4. Merry Ex-Mas
Around two weeks prior to Christmas is one of the most popular times of the year for break-ups, according Facebook data. However, funnily enough, Christmas Day itself is one of the least likely days for break-ups. Clearly, people like opening gifts rather than buying them! Talk about priorities.
5. Happy Holiday Shopping
We already know that the world’s reigning superpower, the United States of America, is a leader in many global races. As expected, America is also the world’s leader in consumer culture, but even she outdoes herself when the yuletide rolls in. Christmas shopping and purchases account for about a staggering 1/6th of the country’s annual retail sales, according to statisticians.
6. Happy Birthday, Jesus…or not?
Historically, 25th of December is actually not the birthday of Jesus Christ, contrary to popular belief. In fact, the Bible does not even mention a particular day on which the Son of God was supposedly born, although historians believe he was born somewhere around springtime. So why do we celebrate December 25th as his birthday? Here’s your answer: When the Catholic church finally decided to recognize Christmas as an official holiday (it was considered illegal and heretic to celebrate it beforehand) in the 4th century, the then-reigning monarch, Pope Julius I, chose December 25th as his birthday for the Feast of Nativity. Since Christmas has its roots in pre-existing pagan religions, the date coincides with the pagan festival of Saturnalia and Deus Sol Invictus (Birthday of the Unconquerable Sun), which is why the Catholic Church declared the same date as Christmas day, in order to override the supposed “heretic” religions, without any evidence.
7. Santa’s Rein-oh-dear
Male reindeers shed their antlers during winters, and since all of Santa’s reindeers have traditionally male-sounding names (Comet, Blitzen, Rudolph, Cupid, etc.) this little tidbit of information can lead us to three explanations. Either Santa’s reindeers are young males, which means they probably shed their antlers much after Christmas, or they are female (since female reindeer shed their antlers in the summer), or, worst case scenario, the male reindeers are probably castrated. Ouch.
8. ‘Tis the season to be holly
Since the Catholic Church and pagan religions weren’t exactly best buddies, the holly (representing the masculine element) and the ivy (representing the female element) and other plants were banned by the Christian Council of Braga in the 6th century and declared “satanic.”
9. Xmas Greetings
Ever wondered why the word ‘Christmas’ is often abbreviated as ‘Xmas’? That’s because the ‘X’ represents the letter ‘Chi,’ the first letter of the word ‘Christ’, in the Greek alphabet. This practice began around the 16th century, when European Christians started using the abbreviation as a symbol for Christmas, just like the abbreviation Chi-Rho (XP) was used for Christ. However, this association has run into a little bit of trouble in modern times, since this form and its usage was understood in the times that it was popular, but has been misconstrued and misread multiple times in recent history.
10. Christmas around the world
One of the most beautiful aspects of festivals is that diversity shines through in every culture that one looks through. Similarly, Christmas is celebrated differently all over the world in different countries and cultures. For example, since their geographical location allows them to have summers, tans, and beach days when the rest of the world is shivering in the cold, Australians and New Zealanders usually celebrate the holiday at the beach or at barbecues, enjoying outdoor activities. The living and the dead are equally celebrated and remembered respectively by the Portuguese by holding a large feast in their homes. Extra places are even set especially for the deceased. Spain hosts Loteria de Navidad, a national lottery. As compared to its total price payout, it is considered to be the biggest lottery in the world, with almost 3 billion euros to be won! In Greece, it is believed that miniature goblins, called kallikantzeri, run amok all through the 12 days of Christmas, and most Greek traditions do not exchange gifts until St. Basil’s Day, that is, January 1st. Alternatively, Finnish people often enjoy their Christmas in an outing to the local sauna.