Christmas is a time of tradition and history, taken from religion, popular culture and our families. But here are 12 tidbits about the holiday that might be news to you.
- Candy canes mean a lot more than a sugar high. They were invented in Indiana in the 1800s by a candymaker who intended the white to represent Jesus's purity; the three red stripes symbolize the pain Jesus suffered before his death on the cross; and the big red stripe to represent the blood Jesus shed. It's shaped as a cane because Jesus is a shepherd of men.
- Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer was a marketing promotion by Montgomery Ward, the department store, in the late 1930s.
- The poinsettia became a part of the U.S. Christmas tradition in the early part of last century, but the legend behind the flower started years prior in Mexico. As the story goes, a poor boy picked weeds to bring to Jesus and by the time he arrived at the church, the plants had blossomed into beautiful red flowers. In the U.S., the plants are popular because they are red and green—Christmas colors.
- Most parts of a Christmas tree actually are edible. So don't throw it out; make dinner instead. And if you find a great recipe for pine needles, do share!
- According to legend, St. Nicholas is not only the patron saint of children, but he reportedly resurrected three children who had been murdered, dismembered and pickled in brine. That's why you see St. Nick often featured in art with children in vats or tubs.
- "X" means Christ in Greek, so that's where Xmas comes from.
- Christmas was canceled in Massachusetts from 1659 to 1681. There were a lot of reasons: Puritans didn't think Dec. 25 was a religious day and the Catholics celebrated it, who didn't rate very high with the Puritans.
- In Japan, the tradition is to eat fried chicken and strawberry shortcake on Christmas Eve.
- Mistletoe means "twig dung". The name comes from how the parasitic plant grows: it appeared to sprout from bird poop on trees.
- Speaking of mistletoe, there was a time when people believed any woman kissed under the mistletoe would not get married in the coming year.
- Christmas used to be a fight-filled, carnival-like day. In 1828, the New York city council dispatched its first police force to deal with the gang riots and class conflicts that peaked at Christmas. That paved the way for the peaceful, family-centered holiday we celebrate today.
- Santa has to visit 842,000,000 houses on Christmas Eve.
There's a lot more to learn about the history of the holiday and the stories behind the traditions we celebrate this time of the year. If you think of any, share them in the comments below!