Top 10 Merry Facts About Christmas
You may know all about Santa Claus, his jolly elves, and Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, but do you know the true inspirations behind the big jolly elf and the holiday of Christmas? In this episode from Top10Archive, we look at the top 10 quirky facts about Christmas Lore and Tradition, finally shining light on some of the truths behind the holiday.
Santa in space
In 1965, two astronauts going into orbit spotted something in space they couldn’t quite identify. ‘Unsure what it might be and very bewildered,’ they radioed Mission Control. After several minutes of tense silence, engineers at Cape Canaveral began hearing the faint jingle of sleigh bells, followed by “Jingle Bells” being played on the harmonica. As many paused in hopes that Santa was indeed real, the origins came from.. wait for it.. the two ‘frantic’ astronauts themselves. The men later donated the harmonica and bells to the National Museum of Space & Aeronautics in Washington, where they now sit on display to this day. This may go down in history as one of the greatest Christmas pranks to date. Interesting enough, this was also the first song broadcasted from space.
Frosty the red-nosed snowman
Just like any other fictitious figure meant to sell items, even Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer got his start as an advertising gimmick. An ad writer named Robert May first created little Rudolph in 1939 hoping he would lure shoppers into the Montgomery Ward department store. Frosty the Snowman’s origin is no exception. Frosty’s “father”, for lack of a better word, was a whiskey maker during the 1890’s looking to add a little bit of Christmas Spirit to his product. As soon as prohibition had finally ended, alcohol distributors and breweries were using this snowman everywhere in hopes of boosting sales. At one point, even Jack Daniels was using Frosty as a sales pitch.
The Christmas Truce
Just five months into the First World War, German and English troops took a break from fighting on Christmas Eve to sing carols to one another from across the battlefield. In the morning that followed, German soldiers emerged from their trenches and began to approach Allied forces clearly calling out “Merry Christmas” in near-perfect English. Thankfully enough, this wasn’t a scheme to catch the enemy off guard, and British troops soon went out to greet them with handshakes. Cigarettes were even exchanged between some as gifts. This was later dubbed as the “1914 Christmas Truce”, and is regarded as one of the last examples of wartime chivalry.
Slovenia has Three Separate Gift Giving Holidays in December
Holiday rituals and traditions are different all across the world, but there’s one culture that may take gift giving to a more extreme. The nation state of Slovenia celebrates not one, but three different occasions in December where gifts are given. The first, on December 6th, is for the celebration of Saint Nicholas. On December 25th, Christmas Man, or Bozicek, delivers gifts while on December 31st, Dedek Mraz, the Grandfather Frost, provides gifts to be opened around New Years Day.
Santa’s Chimney Use has Several Origins
Why Santa Claus uses a chimney to access homes is a question for the ages, and there may be an answer in some early lore associated with Odin and Saint Nicholas. Both Odin and Saint Nicholas – and even a gift-giving witch from Italian Befana tradition – would use the chimney as their access for gift giving. It is also believed that the fireplace was a source of goodness and charity. The classic poem, “A Visit from Saint Nicholas“, instilled the tradition on Santa for the first time.
Mrs. Claus Was Introduced in 1849
Santa Claus’ doting wife, Mrs. Claus, is first mentioned in James Rees’ 1849 short story “A Christmas Legend”, though she plays no active role in the tale. From 1851 to 1887, Mrs. Claus is given mention in such publications as the Yale Literary Magazine, Harper’s Magazine, and Good Housekeeping; but it wasn’t until 1889’s “Goody Santa Clause on a Sleigh Ride” that lady Claus was given a starring role. Author Katherine Lee Bates put Mrs. Claus in the spotlight as she takes a sleigh ride with Santa on Christmas Eve, eventually persuading him to let her drive the sleigh and deliver toys to one house. Oddly enough, the poem also makes mention of Easter Eggs being laid by rainbow chickens in Santa’s workshop.
St. Nicholas Day and Christmas Are Two Entirely Separate Holidays
Christmas Day, most popularly celebrated on December 25th, is an annual celebration marking the birth of Christ. The concept of gift giving that has blended into the celebration originated with St. Nicholas Day, which is celebrated either on December 6th or 19th depending on if you follow Western or Eastern Christianity beliefs. On St. Nicholas Day, children traditionally place their shoes in the foyer in hopes that St. Nicholas will leave presents, not entirely unlike the tradition of hanging stockings from the fireplace on Christmas Day. Despite the clear similarity in gift giving, the two holidays have nothing to do with one another.
Many Attributes of Modern Santa Came from “A Visit from St. Nicholas”
“A Visit from St. Nicholas”, later quite famously titled “Twas The Night Before Christmas” was originally published in 1823. For 14 years, the poem’s author remained anonymous until Clement Clarke Moore stepped forward, claiming authorship in 1837. The poem, often read to children on Christmas Eve, prior to going to bed, popularized many of Santa Claus’ attributes, such as riding in a sleigh, entering through a chimney, and lugging around a bag full of toys.
Coca-Cola was Not the First Beverage to Market Santa Claus
Though the soft drink company has marketed the jolly fat man since the 1930’s, the company wasn’t the first to utilize his image. Speculation has spawned that, since Santa is used so frequently in Coca-Cola advertising and his staple colors are red and white, that he was a creation of the company, but Claus appeared some 15 years earlier on advertisements for White Rock Beverages’ mineral water and ginger ale. So, did Coca-Cola turn Santa Claus into the red and white jolly fellow that we know him as today… nope! This became an urban legend because of the time period that Santa switched his colors, which was in the beginning of the 20th century when Coca-Cola was heavy into advertising. Up until the late 19th century, Santa’s typical colors were either green, purple or red. An American artist, Norman Rockwell, had done a number of paintings of Saint Nick wearing red and white, including: “A Drum for Tommy”, published in 1921, many years prior to Coco-Cola’s campaign.
Santa Claus Pulls Inspiration from Odin
Pre-Christianity, Germanic people celebrated an event called Yule, which eventually provided many traditions that were absorbed into the modern concept of Christmas. During Yule, ghostly figures are said to march through the sky during what was called the Wild Hunt. Leading those figures, the Norse god Odin. Odin bore a long white beard and would ride the night sky on his gray horse, Sleipnir, providing some of the inspiration for the modern Santa Claus. Throughout Yule, Odin would visit those that celebrated with gifts.