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A Few Things you Might NOT Know About Christmas

Nov 29, 2018 11:00AM ● By Emily Miranda

Do You Know What I Know?

December 2018
Story by Emily Miranda


What is Christmas and how did it come to be? It’s even more meaningful to celebrate the holidays when we understand where their rich traditions originated. 


What is Christmas?

Christmas is an annual festival commemorating the birth of Jesus Christ, traditionally held on December 25 as a religious and cultural celebration by billions around the world. 


Who started Christmas?

The first recorded celebration of Christmas (December 25, 336 AD) was under the rule of Roman Emperor Constantine, known as the first Christian Roman Emperor.  A few years after the first celebration, Pope Julius I officially declared that the birth of Christ be celebrated on December 25.


What does Christmas mean?

Christmas is literally translated “the mass for Christ,” the day on which Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus.


Why do we give gifts at Christmas?

The tradition of gift giving actually began before the first Christmas. History shows that gift giving holds roots in pagan rituals held in the winter season. It is also noted that in early modern Europe, gift giving had roots in Christmas begging. Christianity adopted the practice into Christmas, justifying that it resembled the actions of the Three Wise Men, or Magi, who brought gifts to the infant Jesus. 


Where did Santa Claus come from?

The legend of Santa Claus is tracked back to a monk named St. Nicholas born around 280 AD. Nicholas is believed to have been born near Myra in modern-day Turkey. He was a Christian bishop who helped the needy. After his death, the legend of his giving grew into the legendary character known as Santa Claus. 

Political cartoonist Thomas Nast drew the first likeness to the modern image of Santa Claus on Moore’s famous “The Night Before Christmas” poem back in 1881. His cartoon appeared in Harper’s Weekly, depicting Santa as a round, cheerful man with a white beard holding a sack of toys.


Why does Santa Claus wear red?

Prior to Nast’s depiction, Santa’s outfit was originally tan in color. It was Nast who changed it to red, also having drawn Santa in a green suit. It wasn’t until 1931 when Haddon Sundblom popularized Santa’s red suit in his own images that he drew for Coca-Cola advertisements.


When do the Twelve Days of Christmas occur? 

Historically, the Twelve Days of Christmas is a festive Christian season celebrating the Nativity of Christ. It is also known as Twelvetide, with Christmas Day being considered the First Day of Christmas and so on, with January 5 being the Twelfth Day of Christmas. 


What is the significance of the Christmas Tree?

The evergreen fir tree has been used in many winter traditions throughout history. Pagans used branches of it to decorate their homes for winter solstice, signifying the coming spring. Christians use it as a sign of everlasting life with God.


Why do we say Merry Christmas?

The phrase “Merry Christmas” is largely due to the influence of Charles Dickens. Rather than saying “Happy Christmas” as we do with Easter and birthdays, “merry” may sound rather uncommon. It especially sticks out in Christmas carols and stories, arguably due to Charles Dickens’ influence in “A Christmas Carol”. 


How is yule tied into Christmas?

Mid-winter has long been a time of celebration throughout world history. Centuries before the arrival of the man called Jesus, Europeans celebrated light and birth in the darkest days of winter. In Scandinavia, the Norse celebrated Yule, correlating with the winter solstice, from December 21 through January. Today, Yule is sometimes used to a lesser extent as a synonym for Christmas in English cultures. •