Virtually everyone knows that Christmas is observed by Christians as the anniversary of the birth of Jesus, whose teachings provide the basis of Christianity. It is also celebrated as a cultural and gift-giving event that is celebrated around the world.
But there are a lot of interesting facts about Christmas that many are unaware of.
Christmas Fun Facts & Trivia
- History.com tells us that Christmas was not celebrated in the early days of Christianity. There is no mention of the exact date of Jesus’ birth in the Bible. Easter was the most important Christian holiday.
- It is highly unlikely that Jesus was born in the winter. The hills in Palestine can get very cold in winter and they often get a lot of snow. The shepherds who first knew of Jesus’ birth would not have had their sheep out in that weather. Also, the Romans would not have ordered a census, the reason that Mary and Joseph had gone to Bethlehem, to be carried out in winter.
- The first recorded date for celebrating Christmas on December 25 was in the year 336 during the reign of the first Christian Roman Emperor, Constantine. A few years later Pope Julius I made the date official. This date was most likely chosen as part of the Christian practice of giving Christian trappings to pagan holidays that people already enjoyed. In this case the Roman holidays of Saturnalia and Juvenalia took place around the time of the winter solstice and the birthday of Mithra, the god of the unconquerable sun, was celebrated on December 25.
- By the Middle Ages Christmas had almost entirely replaced pagan holidays in Europe but some of the old practices hung on. Believers first attended church but afterwards roistered in a drunken, carnival-like manner similar to the Mardi Gras of today. The crowd chose a beggar or student as the “lord of misrule” and played the part of his subjects. The poor went to the homes of the rich demanding food and drink. If the owners refused the visitors would threaten them with mischief.
- Religious reform under Oliver Cromwell and the Puritans caused Christmas to be banned in England in 1645. When Charles II was restored to the throne by popular demand the popular holiday returned with him.
- Nowadays, the Greek and Russian Orthodox Churches celebrate Christmas thirteen days after the 25th. Since this is the day accepted as that on which the three wise men found Jesus in the manger, it is also called the Epiphany or Three Kings Day.
- Christmas Day was declared a Federal holiday in the United States on June 26, 1870.
- Each year 30 to 35 million real Christmas trees are sold in the United States where there are 21,000 Christmas tree growers. The trees are sold after they have reached about 15 years of age.
- According to an article in Time magazine, eggnog originated as the early medieval British “posset,” a hot, milky, ale-like drink. By the 13th century monks drank possets with eggs and figs. History.com says the first eggnog to be produced and drunk in the United States was in John Smith’s Jamestown settlement in 1607.
- Poinsettia plants are named after an American minister to Mexico, Joel R. Poinsett, who brought the red-and-green plants to America from Mexico in the 1890s.
- The Salvation Army began putting Santa-clad donation collectors onto American streets in the 1890s.
- Copywriter Robert L. May come up with “the most famous reindeer of all,” Rudolph of the red nose, in 1939. Rudolph appeared in a poem written with the intent of luring customers into the Montgomery Ward department store.
- The Rockefeller Center Christmas tree tradition was started by construction workers in 1931.
- As to Santa Claus, his origins can be traced back to the third century monk St. Nicolaus of Myra in modern day Turkey. He was known for his piety and kindness, especially toward children and the poor. The modern image of the American Santa Claus can be traced back to political cartoonist Thomas Nast’s illustration of the fat jolly elf in 1881.
So even though Christmas has gone through numerous transitions, it remains one of the most well-loved traditional and secular holidays in the world.