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Christmas

  • 2005-12-22: It is believed that Christ was born on the 25th, although the exact month and year are unknown. December was likely chosen so the Catholic Church could compete with rival pagan rituals held at the same time of the year. It is also close to the winter solstice in the northern hemisphere, which is a traditional time of celebration among many ancient cultures.
  • 2005-12-22: The seven principles celebrated in Kwanzaa are called Nguzo Saba. They are: Umoja (unity), Kujichaguila (self-determination), Uhima (collective work and responsibility), Ujamaa (cooperative economics), Nia (purpose), Kuumba (creativity), and Imani (faith).
  • 2005-12-22: Yule logs are supposed to be cut from red oak trees and burned all of Christmas eve and into Christmas day. It is unlucky to buy your own log and the lucky ones usually come from your neighbor's woodpile. It is also customary to light the new log with a scrap of last year's log. This scrap is kept under the homeowner's bed to protect the home from fire and lightning during the next year.
  • 2005-12-22: People used to worship evergreen holly as a sign of eternal life because it did not brown or die in winter. Holly is also said to represent the sun's return after a long winter.
  • 2005-12-22: The first Santa Claus was in the 4th century. Saint Nicholas, Bishop of Myra (an area in present-day Turkey) was a generous man and was particularly devoted to children. He died in 340 A.D. and was buried in Myra. Italian sailors stole the body in 1087 and moved them to Bari, Italy. There, Nicholas' reputation for kindness and generosity grew into claims of miracles, and people devoted their lives to him. He became the patron saint of Russia, where he was known by his red cape, flowing white beard, and bishop's mitre. In Greece, he was the patron saint of sailors. In France, he was the patron saint of lawyers. In Belgium, he was the patron saint of children and travelers. Thousands of churches were dedicated to him, and around the 12th century, a church holiday was created in his honor. The Feast of St. Nicholas was celebrated on December 6th and the day was marked by gift-giving and charity.
  • 2005-12-21: In European countries, the coming of the wise men bearing gifts to the Christ child is celebrated twelve days after Christmas. This celebration is called Epiphany, Little Christmas, or the Twelfth Night, and is a time of feasting and exchanging gifts.
  • 2005-12-21: The wise men brought Jesus the gift of gold as one of their three gifts. Gold was not coined until after the reign of King David, but was an article of commerce and was sold by weight. Gold honored Jesus as a king.
  • 2005-12-21: The wise men brought Jesus frankincense as one of their three gifts. Frankincense is an exceedingly aromatic gum used in sacred incense for the Temple service, and is distilled from a tree in Arabia. Frankincense had many healing powers, was mind-elevating and also was an expectorant. Modern-day frankincense is usually produced from Norway pine. Frankincense honored Jesus as God.
  • 2005-12-21: The wise men brought the Christ child the gift of myrrh as one of their three gifts. Also known as Mer, this precious gum comes from a low thorny tree found in Arabia. It is one of the ingredients of the holy ointment and of the embalming substance. Myrrh was an extremely powerful infection fighter and immune system builder. It improved many skin conditions, asthma, bronchitis, diarrhea, and prostate, among other things. It is also used as a perfume. Myrrh was a sign that Jesus was a man and would die.
  • 2005-12-21: Holly is put up during the Christmas celebrations because people believed that it had magical powers. Since the leaves would stay green all winter, they were placed over the doors of homes to drive evil away. Greenery was also brought indoors to freshen the air and brighten the mood during the long, dreary winter. Legend says that holly sprang from the footsteps of Christ as he walked on the earth. The pointed leaves were said to represent the crown of thorns Christ wore while on the cross and the red berries symbolized the blood he shed.
  • 2005-12-21: Kwanzaa was created in 1966 by Doctor Maulana Karenga, a professor at California State University in Long Beach, California. It encourages African-Americans to remember their African heritage and consider their current place in America today, and is celebrated from December 26th until January 1st. The seven principles, called Nguzo Saba, are represented by seven candles, which are placed in candelabra. One candle is lit each day of the celebration, beginning from left to right. Kwanzaa is a Swahili word meaning "fruits of the harvest."
  • 2005-12-20: "Xmas" does not come from commercial convenience. It is a derivative from the Greek Xristos or Xpiorós, which means Christ.
  • 2005-12-20: The Jews reclaimed their temple, the Beit HaMikdash, in 165 BC from the Greeks. After cleansing, there wasn't enough undefiled oil to light the N'er Tamid, an oil lamp that represents eternal light and that should never be extinguished. After a thorough search, only a small vial of undefiled oil was found, which was only enough for one day. Miraculously, the temple lights burned for eight days until a new supply of oil was acquired. In remembrance of this miracle, one candle of the Menorah, an eight-branched candelabra, is lit each of the eight days of Hanukkah.
  • 2005-12-20: Hanukkah, which means dedication, is a Hebrew word. When translated, it is commonly spelled Hanukah, Chanukah, and Hannukah due to different translations and customs.
  • 2005-12-20: Mistletoe is rarely used in churches because it comes from the ancient Druid ceremony celebrating winter solstice. Originally a pagan tradition, a girl would stand beneath the hanging plant and a boy would walk up, pick a berry, and then kiss her. When the berries were gone, no more kisses!
  • 2005-12-20: The bible never said there were three wise men (a.k.a. magi) but it does say that there were three gifts presented. It is also written that the wise men visited a child, not a baby. He had to be at least a toddler since King Herod had all babies killed that were under two years of age. Christian tradition names three wise men: Melchior, Gaspar, and Balthazar.
  • 2005-12-19: Poinsettias are native to Mexico and were named after Joel R. Poinsett, a U.S. ambassador who brought the plant to America in 1828. Poinsettias were likely used by Mexican Franciscans in their 17th century Christmas celebrations. The bright red petals are often mistaken for flowers, but are actually the upper leaves of the plant. One legend says a young Mexican boy went to visit the village Nativity scene and realized he didn't have a gift for the Christ child. He gathered pretty green branches from along the road and brought them to the church. The other children mocked him, but when the leaves were laid at the manger, a beautiful star-shaped flower appeared on each branch.
  • 2005-12-19: The first caroler is said to have lived in 13th century Italy. St. Francis of Assisi led songs of praise. It was considered bad luck to send carolers away empty-handed. It is customary to offer food, drink, or even a little money. It is also said to be unlucky if you sing Christmas carols at any other time of the year besides the festive season.
  • 2005-12-19: The most popular cookie left for Santa is an Oreo cookie. The idea of leaving cookies for Santa started in the 1930's. Naughty kids use them to bribe Santa at the last minute and nice kids use them as a way of thanking him for all of his hard work on Christmas Eve.
  • 2005-12-19: Eggnog used to be made with beer. In the 17th century, a strong ale called "nog" was very popular in Britain around the holidays. It was made from beer, sugar, egg yolks, lemon rinds, and cinnamon. Later, in the 19th century, North Americans took the French version of the drink called Laid de Poule, made from milk, sugar, and egg yolks, and added spirits. With the addition of brandy, rum, or sherry, we have our modern-day eggnog. Although the recipe has been the same for over 150 years, we now cook it to remove the threat of salmonella.
  • 2005-12-19: Long ago, Saint Nicholas (Santa Claus) threw 3 gold coins (some say bags of gold) down the chimney of the home of 3 poor sisters. Each coin landed inside separate stockings left on the hearth (fireplace) to dry. Stockings are still hung in the hopes that we might have the same good fortune.
  • 2005-12-19: The first ice skates were made from animal bones. The oldest pair ever discovered were found at the bottom of a lake in Switzerland and date back to 3,000 B.C. Leg bones from large animals were used as blades and the skates were tied on with leather straps. The Dutch word for skate is schenkel, which means leg bone.
  • 2004-12-22: Giving gifts at Christmas time is traced back to the Romans. On December 17th (the festival of Saturnalia) and on January 1st (the Roman new year holiday), gifts were given as good luck emblems and houses were decorated with greenery.
  • 2004-12-22: Early Christians frowned on the pagan tradition of gift-giving at Christmas time and wouldn't have any part of it. After years of stubborn converts not giving up the gift-giving practice, the idea of sharing presents was associated to the Magi's (wise men) gifts and later to St. Nicholas. With that, gift-giving was widely accepted by the Middle Ages.
  • 2004-12-22: One of the most popular gift requests of the 19th and early 20th century was fruit, nuts, and candy. Many of the early letters to Santa that were printed in newspapers would include this. To this day, several churches make up sacks of fruit, nuts, and candy to pass out to everyone on the Sunday before Christmas.
  • 2004-12-22: In the early 20th century, teddy bears became the most requested gift by boys and girls. It is still the most popular stuffed toy of all time.
  • 2004-12-21: Historians have traced some of the current traditions surrounding Father Christmas, or Santa Claus, back to ancient Celtic roots. Father Christmas's elves are the modernization of the nature folk of the pagan religions. His reindeer are associated with the Horned God, one of the pagan deities.
  • 2004-12-21: Lighting Christmas candles is based on an early pagan tradition of lighting candles to drive away the forces of cold and darkness. Then the Romans decorated their temples with greenery and candles. The early Christians followed suit and lit candles as a symbol of the birth of Jesus, the "light of the world." Lighting candles is also associated with the Jewish feast of Hanukkah.
  • 2004-12-21: St. Francis of Assisi is responsible for popularizing the Christmas nativity scene, but it most likely existed earlier. In 1223 or 1224, St. Francis wanted to add hope and joy of God's love to his message by constructing a life-sized manger scene with live animals and the having gospel sung around the scene.
  • 2004-12-20: In Holland, the tradition of Sint Nikolaas / Sinter Klaas / Sinterklaas coming around and putting gifts in children's wooden shoes may come from a legend where he dropped three bags of gold down a chimney, and each bag landed in a shoe of a dowry-less daughter. This is the same origin of hanging stockings by the fireplace.
  • 2004-12-20: Early pawn shops derived their symbol with three gold balls from images of Santa. At the time, St. Nicholas was often pictured with three bags of gold or three gold balls. It was due to a legend where he dropped three bags of gold down a chimney into the stockings of three dowerlyless girls.
  • 2004-12-20: On Christmas day in 1898, Canada started its Penny Postal System and issued a stamp to commemorate Christmas. This proved to be so popular that other countries have since done it as well.
  • 2004-12-17: December 25th was not always Christmas. Originally, that day held the pagan Sun Festival. Later, the observed birth date of Jesus was changed from March 1st to December 25th to coincide with and eventually replace the Sun Festival.
  • 2004-12-17: Frumenty was a spiced porridge, enjoyed by both rich and poor. It is thought to be the forerunner of modern Christmas puddings. It has its origins in a Celtic legend of the harvest god Dagda, who stirred a porridge made up of all the good things of the earth.
  • 2004-12-16: During the ancient twelve-day Christmas celebrations, the men in a village would go out into the forest and chop down the largest tree they could find. It would be hauled into town and a fire would be started at one end. As this log, called the Yule log, burned, it would be gradually moved into the fire. Sometimes a piece of the Yule log would be kept to kindle the fire the following winter, to ensure that the good luck carried on from year to year. The Druids are credited with starting the Yule log custom.
  • 2004-12-16: A traditional Christmas dish in early England was the head of a pig prepared in mustard.
  • 2004-12-16: At Christmas, Ukranians prepare a traditional twelve-course meal. The family's youngest child would watch through a window for the evening star to appear. The arrival of the evening star was the signal that the feast should begin.
  • 2004-12-15: The "Twelve Days of Christmas" were memorialized in the song written by a gentleman named Drennon. At that time, being Catholic was an offense in Britain, so he wrote the "Twelve Days of Christmas" as one of the "catechism songs" to teach young Catholics the tenets of their faith in song instead of written form. Each of the gifts in this song has a hidden meaning intended to help teach and preserve the Catholic faith. For instance, the "true love" mentioned in the song does not refer to an earthly lover; it refers to God. The "me" who receives the gifts refers to every baptised person.

    A partridge in a pear tree → Jesus Christ, son of God
    2 turtle doves → The old and new Testaments
    3 French hens → Faith, hope, and charity; the Theological Virtues
    4 calling birds (canaries) → The four gospels / four Evangelists
    5 golden rings → First 5 books of the Old Testament, the "Pentateuch," which relays man's fall from grace
    6 geese a-laying → The six days of creation
    7 swans a-swimming → The seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, the seven sacraments
    8 maids a-milking → The eight beatitudes
    9 ladies dancing → The nine fruits of the Holy Spirit
    10 lords a-leaping → The ten commandments
    11 pipers piping → The eleven faithful apostles
    12 drummers drumming → The twelve points of doctrine in the Apostle's Creed
  • 2004-12-14: The cost of Christmas for 2004 is $66,334. That's how much it would cost to buy everything repeatedly that is mentioned in the song, "The Twelve Days of Christmas." Buying just the quantities of the items mentioned for the 12th day would cost $17,279.
  • 2004-12-13: Christmas trees are edible. Many parts of pines, spruces, and firs can be eaten. The needles are a good source of vitamin C. Pine nuts or pine cones are also very nutritional.
  • 2004-12-13: A boar's head is a traditional Christmas dish. According to a popular story, the unlucky boar whose head began the custom was killed in the Middle Ages by choking to death on a book of Greek philosophy. The story claims that a university student saved himself from a charging boar by ramming a book of Aristotle's writings down its throat. He then cut off the boar's head and brought it back to his college.
  • 2004-11-04: Barnum's circus-like animal cracker boxes were designed with a string handle so that they could be hung on Christmas trees.
  • 2003-12-23: Christmas cards began with school children drawing pictures of biblical scenes with messages like "Happy Holidays" and "I promise to be good." These were given to their parents before Christmas. In 1846, after the advent of the British postal system, the first Christmas cards were produced. They showed a family celebrating Christmas dinner in the center, and on each side were acts of charity picturing feeding and clothing the poor, with the message "A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to You." They were made by John Calcott Horsley, and 1,000 were produced.
  • 2003-12-23: Christmas carols came from a Greek word for a dance accompanied by flute music. By the 1600's, carols mainly involved singing Christmas songs or hymns. Most carols were composed in the 1700's and 1800's.
  • 2003-12-22: Kris Kringle is German for "Christ's Child" or "Christkindlein." A name for an early German gift-bringing infant Jesus or angelic being, who was thought of as a helper for Christ and gave gifts to the poor and needy children. As cultures merged, visits from the similar St. Nicholas, Père Noël, Pelznickel, and Christkindlein all became overshadowed or mutated into Santa Claus.
  • 2003-12-19: "Frosty the Snowman" was written in 1950 as an attempt to duplicate the success of Gene Autry's 1949 hit, "Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer."
  • 2003-12-19: Christmas trees used to be decorated with candles until 1895, when a New England telephone employee, Ralph Morris, decorated his tree with a string of lights made for a telephone switchboard. At about the same time, Edward Johnson (Thomas Edison's partner) invented the same thing for safety reasons.
  • 2003-12-19: In 1923, President Calvin Coolidge started the annual tradition of the National Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony on the White House lawn.
  • 2003-12-18: Santa has been living at the North Pole since 1882, when Thomas Nast drew a cartoon showing Santa sitting on a box labeled, "Christmas Box 1882, St. Nicholas, North Pole."
  • 2003-12-18: Sugar plums still exist, though not called that anymore. They are chocolate candies with fruit preserves, cream, or any other sweet filling in the middle.
  • 2003-12-17: Early Christians of Northern Europe decorated their homes and churches with an easily grown evergreen. They called it "Holy Tree" and later "Holly" because the pointed green leaves reminded them of the crown of thorns and the red berries of the drops of blood at Jesus' crucifixion.
  • 2003-12-17: When the phrase "God bless ye merry gentlemen" was written and "Merry Christmas" was coined, merry meant blessed and peaceful.
  • 2003-12-16: An 18th century English candy maker decided to make a candy commemorating Christmas. The result was a candy cane representing the shepherd's staff, and it was a letter for Jesus when upside down. Made of white to represent purity, there are 3 red stripes for the Trinity and 1 large red stripe for Jesus's blood that was shed.
  • 2003-12-16: Fruitcakes have been around since Roman times. It had raisins, pine nuts, pomegranate seed, and barley mash.
  • 2003-12-15: An artificial spider and web are often included in the decorations on Ukranian Chrristmas trees. A spider web found on Christmas morning is believed to bring good luck.
  • 2003-12-15: The traditional flaming Christmas pudding dates back to 1670 in England, and was derived from an earlier form of stiffened plum porridge.
  • 2003-12-12: "Hot cockles" was a popular game at Christmas in medieval times. It was a game where players took turns striking the blindfolded player, who had to guess the name of the person delivering each blow. "Hot cockles" was still a Christmas pastime until the Victorian era.
  • 2003-12-12: "Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer" was conceived by author Robert May in 1939 as a Montgomery Ward Department Stores promotion. Alternative names for Rudolph were Rollo and Reginald, but his 4-year-old daughter convinced May to change the name.
  • 2003-12-11: Christmas caroling began as an old English custom called wassailing, toasting neighbors to a long and healthy life.
  • 2003-12-11: When visiting Finland, Santa leaves behind his sleigh 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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