Whether you're a believer or not, we've found 10 festive facts you never knew about Christmas Day...
Christmas might be everywhere right now, from the meet-and-greet Santas in the shopping malls, to the sparkling lights illuminating the island. But as a melting-pot nation of so many different cultures, religions and beliefs, we get that Christmas isn’t on everyone’s celebration radar. You don’t have to believe to join in with the fun though, so settle down with a mince pie or slice of log cake (more on that later) and check out the meaning of Christmas. Here are 10 festive facts you never knew about Christmas…
What’s Christmas all about?
So, what is the meaning of Christmas? Well, in a nutshell, Christmas is celebrated by Christians around the globe to honour the birth of Jesus Christ, who they believe to be the son of God. Maternity packages weren’t quite up to the same standard as what we’re blessed with today, so poor Jesus’s mum, Mary, didn’t get blue-lighted in an ambulance to a birthing centre. Instead, she was ferried (by donkey, no less) to Bethlehem, where she gave birth in a stable. Still, it was made lovely and festive with the help of a very bright star, a whole bunch of angels and some pretty snazzy gifts from strangers arriving from the East on camels.
Slightly awkward: it is widely believed that Jesus was actually born in the spring, NOT on 25th December. But given that he arrived via a virgin and created a religion followed by billions for over 2000 years, we’re sure he won’t mind that we’re all a little early (or is it late?) with our yearly celebrations.
10 things you never knew about Christmas
1. Why we celebrate on the 25th
We’ve already established that 25th December may be a bit of a clerical error. But in actual fact, Pope Julius chose this date as the original Feast of the Nativity. Probably in an attempt to Christianise the popular pagan Roman festival of Saturnalia, which was a big nod to the Sun God and to the winter solstice.
2. St Nick is from Turkey!
Santa Claus, or St Nicholas as he was known back in the day, didn’t originally come from the North Pole at all. He was in fact a Christian bishop living in Turkey back in 4AD. He became sainted as a protector of children and was known for giving away his great fortune to the needy. After his death, the stories of St Nick travelled far and wide. He became known as Sint-Nicolaas in Dutch, and Sinter Klaas for short. You can see where this is going…
3. Coca-cola dressed the Big Man in Red
Santa wasn’t always the jolly man in the red suit. He was often featured in blue, white or green traditionally. Coca-Cola came up with the red get-up in a 1930s advert, and thus red became The Real Thing.
4. A sleigh full of satire
And Santa flying in a sleigh? That came from the author of The Headless Horseman, Washington Irving, in 1819 as a satire to help promote a book he was releasing at the time.
5. Rudolf was a marketing gimmick!
Obviously there can be no sleigh without Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer and his mates. We have a department store to thank for him! Montgomery Ward created him as a marketing gimmick to persuade parents to buy colouring books for the holiday season. He was almost named Rollo or Reginald, and the red nose was a bone of contention for a while as some thought it would make him look drunk. Reginald the Red-Nosed Reindeer… Nope. It doesn’t quite work.
6. Upside-down Christmas trees
If you celebrate Christmas, then no doubt you will have already ordered either a lovely live fir or a fabulous fake Christmas tree. But why do we stick felled trees in our house and then throw a load of decorations at them? The evergreen fir was traditionally used in winter festivals for both pagan and Christian festivities for thousands of years as a symbol of everlasting life. The earliest recorded trees were used in Northern Europe and were hung upside down from the ceilings. That’s toddler-proofing at its best. It was the Germans, around the 15th century, who started decorating trees with edible goodies and small glass ornaments similar to the baubles and candy canes we use today.
7. Minced rabbit pie, anyone?
Yes they are a bit of an acquired taste (we LOVE them), but the original mince pies were actually pies filled with rabbit, pigeon, pheasant and hare, alongside dried fruit and spices. The meat got ditched along the way, but according to tradition, we should all be making a wish on the first mince pie of the festive season. You then need a pie on each of the 12 days of Christmas to ensure fabulous luck for the next 12 months. How’s that for the true meaning of Christmas!
8. Tinsel worth its weight in… silver!
Not only did the Germans give us Christmas trees, amazing festive markets and pretty good sausages, they also invented tinsel! Kids LOVE the stuff, and although we can throw tons of it at the tree without too much damage to the wallet, when it was first used in the 15th century, it was literally made from shredded silver! The word tinsel comes from the Old French ‘estincele’, meaning sparkle. It was most definitely a luxe festive item only the few could afford.
9. Why we feast like a king!
We have Henry VIII to thank for our turkey and all the trimmings Christmas dinner. When he wasn’t busy divorcing and beheading wives, he was generally feasting. It was he who became the first recorded person to have a traditional turkey dinner on Xmas Day. In the UK alone, around 10 million turkeys are served up on 25th December. That’s a whole lot of drumsticks.
10. The Christmas classics of all time
We all love snuggling up with the kids during the festive season to catch a Christmas movie. But any guesses on the top three grossing Christmas films of all time? Drum roll please… In third place, we have the visually amazing 2004 Tom Hanks movie, The Polar Express. Steaming into a grouchy second place, How the Grinch Stole Christmas. And in first place: Home Alone! An oldie but absolutely still one of the best.
So there you have it! The true meaning of Christmas, and all the unusual facts you can recite at the dinner table. Happy Xmas, everyone!