Christmas has been around for over two millennia. Two thousand years is plenty of time for funky traditions, tall tales and strange stories to pop up. Hallucinating reindeer? Carols in outer space? Illicit Christmas dinners? Which tales are true? Keep reading to separate Christmas facts from festive fiction. Some may surprise you.
- Gaining a pound just from Christmas dinner is totally possible.
Technically, you can gain almost two over the course of the day without breaking a sweat. Just add up an indulgent breakfast with all-day appetizers, honey-baked ham, buttery mashed potatoes, rolls, and pie, and you’re already getting up there. Cocktails add even more, and eggnog? The average 8 oz cup has about 343 calories. And who has just one? According to Associated British Foods, the average person eats more than 7,000 calories on Christmas day.
- Santa’s signature style was shaped by the Civil War and Coca-Cola.
Originally, Santa resembled a saint. Then, a political cartoonist named Thomas Nast drew him to drum up support for the Union. Santa suddenly became a lot more cheerful looking, and a lot more American. About three decades later, Coca-Cola decided to step up their holiday ad game. They hired an artist named Haddon Sundblom to design Santa-themed print ads, which painted the chubbiest, most wholesome version of Santa yet.
- Beware…Christmastime is peak breakup season.
To be more specific, two weeks before Christmas is the most frequent period for couples to split. A couple of weeks post-Valentine’s day is another popular time, as is spring break. While the Facebook data didn’t define why, it’s safe to say that our relationship expectations often rise over the holidays, as do our odds of disappointment. Sigh. On the upside, Christmas Day was the least popular breakup day. If you make it that far, you’re probably in the clear!
- “Xmas” doesn’t take the Christ out of Christmas.
Some Christians worry that the abbreviation “Xmas” removes the religious significance from the holiday, but a quick lesson in Greek should relieve any concerns. The letter X is the first letter of the Greek spelling of the word Christos, aka Christ. That said, not everyone who celebrates Christmas is Christian. The holiday represents warmth, generosity, and gratitude, and that’s a wonderful reason to celebrate the season too!
- Jingle Bells was the first song played in outer space.
A few days before Christmas in 1965, astronauts Wally Schirra and Tom Stafford decided to pull a clever prank on Mission Control. They were aboard Gemini 6 when they called in with a concerning report; an “unidentified flying object” was traveling from north to south, potentially entering Earth’s atmosphere. The broadcast was interrupted by the sound of sleigh bells and the tune of “Jingle Bells” played on Wally’s harmonica. Mission Control wasn’t amused, but Santa probably was.
- Mistletoe was originally a symbol of fertility.
The Druids believed the holiday weed was an aphrodisiac. While this one’s more myth than fact, if someone invites you to meet under the mistletoe, kiss with caution! Why people thought mistletoe was so *ahem* invigorating remains a mystery, especially considering the word’s roots; the Germanic version of the word means “poop on a twig”. Really adds to the ambiance, don’t you think?
- “Jingle Bells” was written for Thanksgiving, not Christmas.
Written by James Lord Pierpont in 1857, the song was originally written to be performed in the school’s Sunday school class around Thanksgiving. It was called “One Horse Open Sleigh”, and it wasn’t about Santa or Christmas at all. It was about the famous local sleigh races, and with talk of picking up girls and living while you’re young, the original was considered risque!
- Decorating can be dangerous.
When you’re putting up last-minute lights, do yourself a favor and have someone hold the ladder. The Consumer Product Safety Commission estimates that holiday decorating accidents account to over 14,000 trips to the ER each year, all in the span of two months.
- For awhile, Christmas was illegal.
Puritans settled in Boston quite early on, and they weren’t huge fans of Christmas celebrations. From 1659-1681, it was actually forbidden by law, with fines doled out to rogue carolers. Even a century later, Christmas wasn’t all that popular. After the American Revolution in 1789, Congress even held its first session on Christmas. It remained nondescript for some time, not earning federal holiday status until June 28th, 1870.
- Santa has an official Canadian postal code.
Where do letters to Santa go? Canadians have quite the reputation for being good-natured and kind, and they definitely live up to the hype at Christmastime. Canadian Post Office workers started replying to letters themselves, and eventually they gave Santa an official address: Santa Claus, North Pole, HOH OHO, Canada. While it’s been tough to keep up, the Santa Letter-Writing Program there does its best to respond to as many letters from kids as humanly (or elfishly?) possible.
- Tinsel used to be pricy and poisonous.
Invented in Germany in 1610, tinsel was originally made of actual silver. It was considered an item of luxury, but it was also a bit dangerous. It often contained lead, leading to widespread bans on its production. Today, it’s much cheaper and made of harmless plastic. Just don’t let the cat eat it and you’re good.
- Were flying reindeer actually on shrooms?
Probably not, but one scholar named R. Gordon Wasson thought they might have been. Reindeer in Siberia used to consume Amanita muscaria mushrooms, supposedly leading them to hallucinate and leap about. He believed this was the root of the flying reindeer myth. While other scholars agreed there may be a connection, there’s little proof. “Flying” reindeer became a popular pop culture origin story nevertheless.
- Christmas gifts helped POWs escape during WWII.
This one sounds fake, but it’s not. The US Playing Card Company teamed up with Allied intelligence agencies for a noble cause: helping allied prisoners of war reach safety. They created decks of cards as “Christmas gifts”, but the cards came with a secret. Some of them could be peeled apart when wet, unveiling detailed escape routes. The map decks were a closely-kept secret for years after the war ended, but they likely helped more than one prisoner get home safely. What Christmas gift could be better than that?