Christmas traditions may feel like they are set in stone and that they’ve been around for ages, but actually many of them are modern inventions and contrivances. Some things are even the result of extremely successful advertising campaigns! So read on and see if you can recognise any of these odd factoids...
While we believe that Santa and his elves live at the North Pole, in other countries such as Denmark do not. In fact many Scandinavian countries have their own variations as to where the jolly red man puts his hat.
Xmas means Christmas
Contrary to popular belief, the X in Xmas isn’t just a shortening of a long word that removes the religious element. In fact, the etymology of X comes from the Greek Chi which is the first letter of Christ’s name. So now you can carry on writing Xmas without feeling guilty.
Christmas used to be illegal
In the United States, from 1659 to 1681, Christmas was made illegal. The puritanical regime at the time did not believe that 25 December was Christ’s birthday as it was not specified in the bible (in fact it is thought that he was born in spring) and that the date was a Catholic invention. So you got fined a hefty five shillings if you dared to celebrate Christmas back then. It was also banned in the UK from 1647 to 1660 by Oliver Cromwell after the English Civil War. I imagine he was a bit grumpy after all that fighting. Or maybe he didn’t get any presents...
Rudolph was an advert
Like the red of Santa’s outfit, Rudolph our red nosed reindeer was created as a part of an advertising campaign. He was invented by Robert L. May for the Montgomery Ward department store and Frosty the Snowman was a chainsmoking emblem for whisky.
NASA saw Santa
I love this particular story, it makes me laugh every year. Back in 1965 two astronauts contacted Cape Canaveral in a complete state. They had spotted an unidentified object hurtling through space towards them and didn’t know what to do next. Then, as Cape Canaveral frantically tried to help the two men, they heard a harmonica rendition of Jingle Bells over the radio. Played by the two astronauts. Genius.
The Christmas tree
It was Prince Albert who brought the tradition of decorating a tree to the UK. The Germans had been decorating trees since the 17th century to brighten up their houses in the dark winters. When the royal Christmas tree appeared in a US newspaper some years later, the idea caught on and soon it spread across the globe.
Gift wrap is old
Some of you might be the kind of people who spend hours wrapping presents and adding all sorts of amazing finishing touches and flourishes. So you’ll be interested to know that the wrapping of gifts has thought to have been around since 105AD in China. Although in those days they didn’t have decorative paper and other such modern fripperies.
Oh, Christmas tree
While the UK grows up to 70 million Christmas trees each year, up to two million are important on top of that (which is amazing) and apparently both Danish and British scientists have been developing trees which use cells from jellyfish so that they can glow in the dark. Now that is some kind of amazing. Can you imagine the reduction in electricity bills if you can dump your Christmas lights in favour of a glowing tree? Although a part of me worries that it could be quite spooky for kids.
Before the turkey...
...the feast for Christmas Day was one pig’s head with a delightful smothering of mustard. While I am sure some of you may find this a delicious idea, I must confess that I am rather pleased with the fact that I’ve been of the turkey generation. Otherwise I would spend most of Christmas Day dreading the main meal.
Santa’s a fashion victim
Santa has undergone several transformations since he first came into being. He is a combination of several different myths including St. Nicholas, Christkindle, Scandinavian mythology and modern advertising campaigns. He has been fat, thin, hairy, shaven, green, red and a farmer.