Here are 20 fun Christmas facts from around the world that you probably didn’t know.
Let’s start with the US – where Christmas is the biggest holiday of the year.
1. But Christmas wasn’t declared an official holiday in the United States until 1870. Alabama was the first state in the US to officially recognize Christmas in 1836. Oklahoma was the last state to declare Christmas a legal holiday in 1907.
2. According to Guinness world records, the tallest Christmas tree ever cut was a 221-foot Douglas fir that was displayed in 1950 at the Northgate Shopping Center in Seattle, Washington.
3. Because they viewed Christmas as a decadent Catholic holiday, the Puritans in America banned all Christmas celebrations from 1659-1681 with a penalty of five shillings for each offense.
4. There are two competing claims as to which president was the first to place a Christmas tree in the White House. Some scholars say President Franklin Pierce did in 1856; others say President Benjamin Harrison brought in the first tree in 1889. President Coolidge started the White House lighting ceremony in 1923.
5. President Teddy Roosevelt, an environmentalist, banned Christmas trees from the White House in 1912.
In Europe, we find the origins of many of the traditional Christmas trappings.
1. Christmas has its roots in pagan festivals such as Saturnalia (December 17-December 23), the Kalends (January 1 -5, the precursor to the Twelve Days of Christmas), and Deus Sol Invictus or Birthday of the Unconquerable Sun (December 25). In order to co-opt the pagan holidays, Pope Julius I proclaimed December 25 the official celebration date for the birthday of Jesus in 350 A.D.
2. In Austria, Santa has a helper who deals with all the bad kids named Krampus. But instead of lumps of coal in your stocking or fewer gifts for being naughty, Krampus carts troublemakers off in chains. Recently, Krampus festivals and costume competitions occur during the holiday season while parents debate if the devilish-looking character is too much for children.
3. In Poland, spiders or spider webs are common Christmas trees decorations because according to legend, a spider wove a blanket for Baby Jesus. In fact, Polish people consider spiders to be symbols of goodness and prosperity at Christmas.
4. The first person to decorate a Christmas tree was reportedly the Protestant reformer Martin Luther (1483-1546). According to legend, he was so moved by the beauty of the stars shining between the branches of a fir tree, he brought home an evergreen tree and decorated it with candles to share the image with his children.
5. Christmas is a contraction of “Christ’s Mass,” which is derived from the Old English Cristes mæsse (first recorded in 1038). The letter “X” in Greek is the first letter of Christ, and “Xmas” has been used as an abbreviation for Christmas since the mid-1500s.
How is Christmas celebrated in the Rest of the World?
1. Bolivians celebrate Misa del Gallo or “Mass of the Rooster” on Christmas Eve. Some people bring roosters to the midnight mass.
2. 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.
3. Only about 1% of Chinese are Christians and Christmas as a holiday is mainly only celebrated in the largest cities. Ironically though, most of the world’s plastic Christmas Trees and Christmas decorations are made in China, and the people making them may have no idea what they are for.
4. In Japan, Christmas is known as more of a time to spread happiness rather than a religious celebration. Christmas Eve is often celebrated more than Christmas Day. Christmas Eve is thought of as a romantic day, in which couples spend time together and exchange presents.
5. In South Korea, Christmas is an official public holiday unlike in China, Taiwan and Japan. Seoul is especially festive with many buildings, churches, department stores and bridges lit up with lights and decorations.
Christmas Catch-All – useless trivia for holiday bar quiz nights.
1. 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.
2. All the gifts in the Twelve Days of Christmas would equal 364 gifts.
3. According to data analyzed from Facebook posts, two weeks before Christmas is one of the two most popular times for couples to break up. However, Christmas Day is the least favorite day for breakups.
4. And contrary to popular belief, suicide rates during the Christmas holiday are low. The highest rates are during the spring.
5. The world’s largest Christmas stocking measured 106 feet and 9 inches (32.56 m) long and 49 feet and 1 inch (14.97 m) wide. It weighed as much as five reindeer and held almost 1,000 presents. It was made by the Children’s Society in London on December 14, 2007.