Merry Christmas to those who observe it and Happy Holidays to everyone else! Here are 15 facts about Christmas that you (probably) didn’t know.
1. Though Christmas celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ, there is no mention 25th of December in the Bible. Most historians believe he was actually born in the spring. It wasn't chosen as the official holiday until the 3rd Century. In A.D. 350, Pope Julius I, bishop of Rome, proclaimed December 25 the official celebration date for the birthday of Christ.
2. Gift-giving came from Holland. There, St. Nicholas' feast day is celebrated December 6 by children leaving out shoes overnight and finding little gifts from St. Nicolas in the morning. According to legend, hanging stockings came from the take of a poor man who couldn't afford his three daughters dowries: St. Nick dropped a bag of gold down their chimney one night so that the eldest could wed - but it fell into a stocking that was drying by the fire!
3. Santa Claus is based on a real person, St. Nikolas of Myra (also known as Nikolaos the Wonderworker, Bishop Saint Nicholas of Smyrna, and Nikolaos of Bari), who lived during the fourth century. Born in Patara (in modern-day Turkey), he is the world’s most popular non-Biblical saint, and artists have portrayed him more often than any other saint except Mary. He is the patron saint of banking, pawnbroking, pirating, butchery, sailing, thievery, orphans, royalty, and New York City.
4. Christmas trees have been sold in the U.S. since 1850.
5. The Christmas tree made its way to America in the 1830s but wasn’t popular until 1846, after Germany’s Prince Albert brought to England when he married Queen Victoria. The two were sketched in front of a Christmas tree and the tradition instantly became popular. Royal fever was real even back then.
6. Alabama was the first state in the United States to officially recognize Christmas in 1836.
7. Christmas wasn’t declared an official holiday in the United States until June 26, 1870.In fact, from 1659 to 1681, it was illegal to celebrate Christmas in Boston. You were fined if you were caught celebrating.
8.Oklahoma was the last U.S. state to declare Christmas a legal holiday, in 1907.
9. The poinsettia is native to Mexico and was cultivated by the Aztecs, who called the plant Cuetlaxochitl (“flower which wilts”). For the Aztecs, the plant’s brilliant red color symbolized purity, and they often used it medicinally to reduce fever. Contrary to popular belief, the poinsettia is not poisonous, but holly berries are.
10. There are approximately 21,000 Christmas tree farms in the United States. In 2008, nearly 45 million Christmas trees were planted, adding to the existing 400 million trees.
11. Though Santa Claus has worn blue and white and green in the past, his traditional red suit came from a 1930s ad by Coca Cola.
12. The tradition of putting tangerines in stockings comes from 12th-century French nuns who left socks full of fruit, nuts and tangerines at the houses of the poor.
13. The first commercial Christmas cards were commissioned by civil servant Sir Henry Cole in London in 1843. Featuring a family drinking wine, one sold for £8,469 in 2014.
14. US scientists calculated that Santa would have to visit 822 homes a second to deliver all the world’s presents on Christmas Eve, traveling at 650 miles a second.
15. Santa Claus has different names around the world – Kriss Kringle in Germany, Le Befana in Italy, Pere Noel in France and Dedushka Moroz (Grandfather Frost) in Russia.