Surprising Christmas Trivia You Never Knew
Ever heard of a Christmas carp? Wonder why stockings are hung by the chimney with care? And ponder who created the candy cane? Sit by the fire, my child, and we will illuminate.
By Damon Beres
Photo by GenBug via Flickr
Candy Canes: Originally White—and for Bored Kids
The first known candy cane was made in 1670 by a German choirmaster to help children endure lengthy nativity services. They were white and modeled after shepherds' canes. The candy cane made its way to America in 1847, when a German immigrant decorated the tree in his Ohio home with the iconic candy.
Painting by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo; Image via Wikimedia Commons
The Bible Does Not Actually State When Jesus Was Born
The Gospels leave specific dates and even seasonal references out but mention shepherds tending their flocks when Jesus was born, which leads some to believe that he's more likely an Aries than a Capricorn.
A Fishy Tradition
In parts of Eastern Europe, it's customary to place a live carp in your bathtub for consumption on Christmas Eve. Why? Some suggest that it's due to the fish's vital role in the area's fishing industry and because eating meat was considered a luxury—thus the need to save the carp for a special occasion.
Photograph by meltsley via Flickr
Why the Bright Lights?
Historians note celebrating Christmas is a natural response to the winter solstice. "If you happen to live in a region in which midwinter brings striking darkness and cold and hunger, then the urge to have a celebration at the very heart of it to avoid going mad or falling into deep depression is very, very strong," researcher Philip Shaw of Leicester University told Livescience.
Photograph by Wesley Fryer via Flickr
The Origin of Christmas Stockings
An old story dating back to third century Turkey suggests that St. Nicholas would throw coins down the chimneys of poor women who couldn't afford dowries. The legend continues that the money would land in stockings that were hung over the fire to dry.
Original photo by LordFerguson via Flickr
Originally, Santa Was Sinterklaas
Dutch children have long cheered the annual coming of Sinterklaas—known also as Saint Nicholas—who sports a crimson miter and rolls into town on a steam boat filled with presents in mid-November. Then, he rides around on his mighty white steed Amerigo and distributes gifts. Over time, Sinterklaas' image was transmuted into Santa's, and Amerigo became a sled with flying reindeer.
Original work by John Plumbe; Image via Wikimedia Commons
A Name Popularized by Washington Irving
While there had been mention of "Santa Claus" in the American press dating back to 1773, Washington Irving is generally considered the first man to significantly transform the Dutch Sinterklaas into "Santa Claus." In his book History of New York, he spoofed the gift-giving legend and portrayed Santa Claus as a pipe-smoking sailor in a green coat.
Engraved by J. W. Evans; Image via Wikimedia Commons
The Man Behind the Icon
Inspired at least in part by Sinterklaas and the history of St. Nicholas, author Clement Clarke Moore wrote a poem titled "A Visit from St. Nicholas." From this work came much of what we now associate with Santa Claus: The flying reindeer, his ample gut, and jolly laughter.
National Museum of American History via Flickr
So, No: Coca-Cola Did Not Invent Santa
But his image has been used extensively in wintertime marketing materials since 1931, cementing both his image and persona in the public consciousness.