No particular order here; just some random facts about Christmas that got my attention…
JESUS WAS PROBABLY NOT BORN IN DECEMBER
Contrary to popular belief, there is actually no evidence that Jesus was born in December. In fact, most historians not only don’t believe he was born on December 25th, but we he also probably wasn’t born in 1AD, largely because we understand Jesus to have been born on the night of the census under the rule of the Roman Emperor Herod. But no census was taken under the rule of Herod.
So why, then, is Christmas celebrated in December? Well, like most traditions, it’s probably a hangover from Pagan Times. Christmas didn’t officially become a holiday until many years after Jesus was born, thus it is believed that the celebration of his birth was tied in with the pagan festival of Saturnalia, which honoured the god Saturn by celebrating and giving gifts. December 25th is also a few days after the Winter Solstice, so it’s believed the early Roman Catholic Church chose December 25th as a means to tie all the festivals together.
SAINT NICHOLAS DAY IS ACTUALLY ON 6 DECEMBER…
Following on from the post above, ever wondered why some countries celebrate the arrival of Saint Nicholas/Santa Claus on 6 December and then still observe Christmas on 25 December? Why do countries such as the Netherlands, Poland and more still celebrate the arrival of Saint Nick on 6 December?
It’s more likely another case of festivals being absorbed into one another. The American Santa Claus and the British Father Christmas likely originated from the Dutch Feast of Sinter Klaas (Saint Nick). Born in the 3rd century, Saint Nicholas is the patron saint of children, and tradition holds that he had a long white beard, a red cape, rode a white horse and had a list of children who had been ‘naughty or nice’. He apparently gave away his inheritance to needy children and his feast day was 6 December.
Tradition holds that Saint Nicholas would bring gifts to children who had been well-behaved on the night of 5th/6th of December. So why then, do most Western countries observe his arrival on Christmas Day? Well, one of the main reasons we have the custom of giving and receiving presents at Christmas, is to remind us of the presents given to Jesus by the Wise Men, so that’s why Saint Nicholas is linked to Christmas. But after the reformation in northern Europe, stories and traditions about Saint Nicholas became unpopular. Reformists such as Martin Luther wanted a Protestant alternative to the feast of Saint Nicholas. So Saint Nick morphed into Father Christmas/Pére Noel/Kring Kindle (depending on where you are from). And his arrival in most countries was moved to December 25th.
NO-ONE KNOWS WHY WE USE CHRISTMAS STOCKINGS…
But there are some interesting stories behind the custom. Legend holds that in Saint Nicholas’ time, there was an old man with three daughters who couldn’t afford their marriage dowries. Saint Nicholas wanted to help, but he needed to do it discreetly, so as not to upset the old man or get the nosy neighbours talking. So one night, after dark, he threw three bags of gold through an open window, and one landed in a stocking. It is believed the tradition of putting Christmas presents in the stocking originates from this.
HENRY VIII WAS THE FIRST PERSON TO EAT TURKEY ON CHRISTMAS DAY
Most people know that turkeys are not native to Europe, so how did we end up eating them for Christmas in Europe? Well, turkeys were first brought to Britain from the Americas in 1525. Prior to that, Christmas day dinner often consisted of goose, boar head, or even peacock. Even when King Henry VIII ate turkey for Christmas Dinner in the 16th century, turkey did not become a staple Christmas dinner meal in Europe. Edward VII became a big fan of turkey on Christmas Day, but was popularised as Christmas Day dinner from the 1950s onwards.