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50 Facts About Christmas You May Not Know

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Compiled by the Birmingham Times Staff

Alabama was the first state to recognize Christmas as an official holiday, and the tradition began in 1836.

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“Silent Night” was first sung as part of a church service in Austria. A guitar was used because the church organ was so badly rusted it couldn’t be played.

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In Germany there are many different characters for Christmas. Nikolaus comes on December 5th and on December 24th when the actual opening of the gifts is happening ,they have been brought either by Knecht Ruprecht, Weihnachtsmann, or the Christkindl, (Christ child) which is an angelic child dressed in a white and or golden dress much like a long nightgown. It has wings, and has usually a small horse or a donkey as a companion.

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In Germany and some other western European countries, St. Nicholas, or Nikolaus comes on the night from the 5th to the 6th of December, where children have their boots all shined and clean in front of a door or window. He will leave toys, nuts oranges, apples and chocolate for the good children. The bad child gets a branch to be used by the parents to punish the child.

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In North America, children put stockings out at Christmas time. Their Dutch counterparts use shoes.

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The poinsettia, a traditional Christmas flower, originally grew in Mexico, where it is also known as the ‘Flower of the Holy Night’. Joel Poinsett first brought it to America in 1829.

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When visiting Finland, Santa leaves his sleigh behind and rides on a goat named Ukko. Finnish folklore has it that Ukko is made of straw, but is strong enough to carry Santa Claus anyway.

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When distributing gifts in Holland, St. Nicholas is accompanied his servant, Black , who is responsible for actually dropping the presents down their recipients’ chimneys. He also punishes bad children by putting them in a bag and carrying them away to Spain.

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The day after Christmas, December 26, is known as Boxing Day. It is also the holy day of St. Stephen.

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In Syria, Christmas gifts are distributed by one of the Wise Men’s camels. The gift-giving camel is said to have been the smallest one in the Wise Men’s caravan.

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One town in Indiana is called Santa Claus. There is also a Santa, Idaho.

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The popular Christmas song “Jingle Bells” was actually written for Thanksgiving. The song was composed in 1857 by James Pierpont, and was originally called “One Horse Open Sleigh”.

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There are 364 gifts mentioned in “The Twelve Days of Christmas”.

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The Puritans forbade the singing of Christmas carols.

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George Frederick Handel’s great Christmas oratorio, “The Messiah”, was first performed in 1742, in Dublin.

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America’s official national Christmas tree is located in King’s Canyon National Park in California. The tree, a giant sequoia called the “General Grant Tree”, is over 90 meters (300 feet) high, and was made the official Christmas tree in 1925.

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The first Christmas was celebrated on December 25, AD 336 in Rome.

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Artificial Christmas trees have outsold real ones since 1991.

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St. Nicholas was bishop of the Turkish town of Myra in the early 4th century. The Dutch first made him into a Christmas gift-giver, and Dutch settlers brought him to America where his name eventually became the familiar Santa Claus.

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In Armenia, the traditional Christmas Eve meal consists of fried fish, lettuce and spinach.

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Christmas has different meanings around the world; Christmas Eve in Japan is a good day to eat fried chicken and strawberry shortcake.

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Many of the traditions associated with Christmas (giving gifts, lighting a Yule log, singing carols, decorating an evergreen) date back to older religions.

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In 1647, the English parliament passed a law made Christmas illegal. The Puritan leader Oliver Cromwell, who considered feasting and revelry on what was supposed to be a holy day to be immoral, banned the Christmas festivities. The ban was lifted only when Cromwell lost power in 1660.

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Michigan has no official state song, but one, ‘Michigan, My Michigan,’ is frequently used. The words were written in 1863, and the melody used is that of the Christmas song “O Tannenbaum”.

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Franklin Pierce was the first president to decorate an official White House Christmas tree.

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Christmas Crackers were invented around 1846 by Tom Smith who developed them for Christmas from the French habit of wrapping sugared almonds in twists of paper as gifts.

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J.S.Bach inscribed most of his musical scores with the note ‘In dem Namen Jesus’, or in English ‘In the name of Jesus’.

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The Canadian province of Nova Scotia leads the world in exporting lobster, wild blueberries, and Christmas trees.

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Roast turkey did not appear consistently on royal Christmas Day menus until 1851 when it replaced roast swan. The medieval dish of Boar’s head remained popular with Royals for much longer.

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Electric Christmas lights were first used in 1854.

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The holiday Boxing day was originally celebrated in England,for the servants to the rich people. After Christmas, the servants “boxed up” all the left-overs from the rich people and bring them home.

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Many of the popular Christmas traditions today found their roots in Saturnalia: Branches from evergreen trees were used during winter solstice as a reminder of the green plants that would grow in spring when the sun gods grew strong.

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Germans are thought to be the first to bring “Christmas trees” into their homes during the holidays and decorate them with cookies and lights.

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The Christmas tree made its way to America in the 1830s but wasn’t popular until 1846, after Germany’s Prince Albert brought it to England when he married Queen Victoria. The two were sketched in front of a Christmas tree and the tradition instantly became popular. Royal fever was real even back then.

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The well-known reason we give presents at Christmas is to symbolize the gifts given to baby Jesus by the three wise men. But it may also stem from the Saturnalia tradition that required revelers to offer up rituals to the gods.

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Because of its roots in pagan festivals, Christmas was not immediately accepted by the religious. In fact, from 1659 to 1681, it was illegal to celebrate Christmas in Boston, of all places. You were fined if you were caught celebrating.

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After his death, the legend of St. Nicholas spread. St. Nick’s name became Sint-Nicolaas in Dutch, or Sinter Klaas for short. Which is only a hop, skip and a jump to Santa Claus.

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Santa Claus delivering presents comes from Holland’s celebration of St. Nicholas’ feast day on Dec. 6. Children would leave shoes out the night before and, in the morning, would find little gifts that St. Nicholas would leave them.

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One of the reasons we leave milk and cookies for Santa is because Dutch kids would leave food and drink for St. Nicholas on his feast day.

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And we leave carrots for Santa Claus’ reindeer because, in Norse mythology, people left hay and treats for Odin’s eight-legged horse, Sleipnir, “in hopes the god would stop by their home during his Yule hunting adventures.” Dutch children adopted this tradition too and would leave treats for St. Nick’s horse.
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The look of Santa Claus we have today was created at an 1804 meeting of the New York Historical Society, where member John Pintard handed out wooden cutouts of jolly old St. Nick in front of stockings filled with toys.

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Though Santa Claus has worn blue and white and green in the past, his traditional red suit came from a 1930s ad by Coca Cola.

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And the image of him flying in a sleigh started in 1819…and was dreamt up by the same author who created the Headless Horseman, Washington Irving.

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Rudolph was actually conceived by a department store, Montgomery Ward, as a marketing gimmick to get kids to buy holiday coloring books.

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Rudolph almost didn’t have a red nose either: At the time, a red nose was a sign of chronic alcoholism and Montgomery Ward thought he would look like a drunkard.

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Rudolph was almost named Rollo or Reginald. Reginald the Red-Nosed Reindeer doesn’t quite have the same ring to it.

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Over the years, other reindeer have been name-checked on Santa’s sleigh team, such as: Flossie, Glossie, Racer, Pacer, Scratcher, Feckless, Ready, Steady and Fireball (no relation to the whiskey).

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The first batch of eggnog in America was crafted at Captain John Smith’s Jamestown settlement in 1607, and the name eggnog comes from the word “grog,” which refers to any drink made with rum.

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“Silent Night” is the most-recorded Christmas song in history, with over 733 different versions copyrighted since 1978.

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Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas Is You” holds the Guinness World Records title for the highest-charting holiday song. In the music video, Santa is played by Mariah’s then-husband, Tommy Mottola.

History.com, funology.com, etonline.com