I love Christmas and ever since I was a child my family has celebrated it as a religious holiday. Over the years, though, I've learned some odd facts about Christmas that are fun to bring up in conversation. Try one of these if you need a conversation starter at your next holiday party:
1. December 25 was originally a pagan celebration. Nobody knows when Jesus of Nazareth was born and nobody celebrated his birthday for hundreds of years. December 25 was co-opted from pagan rites connected with the winter solstice.
2. The nativity story resulted in several wars. In the first few centuries of the Christian era, controversy over whether or not Jesus was divine at birth created political and social unrest that frequently burst out into full-scale warfare.
3. Mistletoe kissing originated with fertility rites. The hanging sprig is a very ancient symbol of virility and therefore anybody standing beneath it is signaling that he or she is sexually available.
4. Santa Claus originated in a newspaper ad. Far from being a quaint medieval legend, Santa Claus first appeared as a recognizable entity was in a newspaper ad for toys and "gift books" in the mid 19th century.
5. Christmas is only recently a "family" holiday. Christmas was originally celebrated as an adult form of "trick or treat," but with the "treat" consisting of booze and the threatened "trick" consisting of bodily harm or destruction of property.
6. "We Wish You a Merry Christmas" was originally a threat. The ever-popular song was originally sung, loudly and repeatedly, by crowds of rowdy, lower-class servants demanding booze from their masters... or else. (I.e. "We won't go until we get some!")
7. The Christmas Tree is a manufactured tradition. Victorian intellectuals (like Clement Moore) invented the tradition as part of a social movement to consciously reform Christmas away from its tradition of raucous drinking.
8. Scrooge does not celebrate with the Cratchits. While most cinema versions of "A Christmas Carol" show the reformed miser celebrating with his lower-class employee, in the book, Scrooge celebrates instead with his middle-class nephew.
9. Christmas as a "day off" is a recent innovation. As late as 1850, December 25 was not a legal holiday in New England, so stores were open, business were open, and children were expected to attend school.
10. "The 12 Days of Christmas" costs about $1.3 million. The big challenge is getting the lords to leap in unison. I figure about $100k per lord, with an extra $100k to cover the birds, rings, milkmaids, and so forth.
Merry Christmas to those who observe it and Happy Holidays to everyone else! Especially people who celebrate Festivus.
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