Christmas is less than 20 days away, and the cubicles are beginning to become bare. Emails are being returned with the customary away messages, and season greetings are already flying around. It’s a sign the year is coming to a close. With Christmas around the corner, we scoured Google for a few fun facts about Christmas. Here are our favourites
Santa was designed by a committee
Santa Claus, also known as Saint Nicholas or Father Christmas, is a legendary figure originating in Western Christian culture from as far back as the 4th century, who is said to bring gifts to the homes of well-behaved children on Christmas Eve (24 December) and the early morning hours of Christmas Day (25 December).
Santa had many outfits before a committee sorted out his personal brand. The New York Historical Society, founded in 1804 by John Pintard, established the design of Santa Claus that we’re so familiar with today. It’s a fashion statement that has stood the test of time for 220 years.
Coca-Cola rebranded Santa
Santa was a bit more freewheeling with his colours before the 1930s. He visited little boys and girls around the world in blue, white, and green. But, in the 30s, Coca-Cola began portraying Santa in their adverts in a red and white fur outfit — their brand colours, hence standardising the image we know today.
Jingle Bells wasn’t a Christmas song
Jingle Bells, today a popular Christmas carol, was written for Thanksgiving, not Christmas. The song was written in 1857 by James Lord Pierpont and published under the title One Horse Open Sleigh. It was supposed to be played in the composer’s Sunday school class during Thanksgiving as a way to commemorate the famed Medford sleigh races.
It became associated with Christmas music and the holiday season in general decades later, after some US choirs adopted it as part of their holiday performances from around the 1870s. Jingle Bells was also the first song to be broadcast from space.
We Wish You a Merry Christmas was linked to protest
It is the season to spread holiday cheer, and We wish you a Merry Christmas seems like an appropriate song. But, it hasn’t always had an exactly joyous tone. Apparently, it was sung while demanding handouts from the affluent in England.
The nearly standard Christmas carol today is an English folk song from the 1500s and is the remnant of a time when poor carolers would hit up wealthy listeners for handouts. They would demand figgy pudding and refuse to leave the rich person’s doorstep until some is delivered by singing with a certain degree of joshing:
“We wish you a merry Christmas… Good tidings we bring, To you and your kin… Oh, bring us some figgy pudding, And bring it right here… We won’t go till we get some, So bring it right here… We all like our figgy pudding, With all its good cheers…”
‘We won’t go till we get some’ is a line perhaps more befitting a protest song than a joyous Christmas carol.
Few old English Christmas carols mention the new year coming a week after Christmas, as January 1 wasn’t considered the new year in the Western world until the 1700s. So, the line “and a happy New Year” in the song was likely a later addition.
Why December 25?
Christmas is celebrated to remember the birth of Jesus Christ, but, his exact date of birth, though assumed by many scholars to be between 6 BC and 4 BC, is not stated in the gospels or in any secular text. Early Christians were not clear as to when it should be celebrated.
The first recorded date of Christmas being celebrated on December 25 was in 336, during the time of the Roman Emperor Constantine (he was the first Christian Roman Emperor). A few years later, Pope Julius I officially declared that the birth of Jesus would be celebrated on December 25. There are many different theories as to why Christmas is celebrated on December 25.
One of them, an early Christian tradition, indicated that the day Jesus’ mother Mary was told she would have a special baby (called the Annunciation) was on March 25 – and it’s still celebrated today on the same date. Nine months after March 25 is December 25.
Another theory is linked to the Jewish festival of lights known as Hanukkah, which starts on the 25th of Kislev (the month in the Jewish calendar that occurs at about the same time as December).
Hanukkah commemorates when the Jewish people were able to re-dedicate and worship in their temple in Jerusalem again, following many years of not being allowed to practice their religion. Jesus was a Jew, so, this could be what helped the early church choose December 25 to celebrate Jesus’ birth.
The name ‘Christmas’ comes from the Mass of Christ (or Jesus). A mass service (which is sometimes called Communion or Eucharist), is where Christians remember that Jesus died for us and then came back to life.
The ‘Christ-Mass’ service was the only one that was allowed to take place after sunset (and before sunrise the next day), so people had it at midnight. The name ‘Christmas’ is a shortened version of Christ-Mass.
Christmas is now celebrated by many people around the world, whether they are Christians or not. It’s a time when family and friends come together and celebrate being with each other and their blessings. People, especially children, also like Christmas as it’s a time when they give and receive presents.
The abbreviation Xmas
‘Xmas’ is a common abbreviation of the word ‘Christmas’, however, some Christians do not appreciate this abbreviation, as they believe the ‘X’ takes ‘Christ’ out of ‘Christmas’. But, the reason for this originated in the Greek language. In the Greek alphabet, the letter X (‘chi’) is the first letter of the Greek word for Christ or Christos.