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Ten Festive Facts You Never Knew about Christmas
Christmas is a time of peace, love, and joy. Or at least it should be! For many families around the United States and all over the world, it is a time to both celebrate their religious upbringing and faith and take in quality time with those closest to them. There’s usually always a Christmas tree, stockings, a wreath or two, presents wrapped up for the kids to open, and all kinds of other fun and heartwarming traditions.
But there’s a lot more to Christmas than just the basics. In fact, all over the world, there are a lot of very strange, unique, funny, and fascinating Christmas traditions, stories, and facts that you’ve never heard before! And that’s where this list comes in. We’ll run through a series of fascinating and, frankly, bizarre Christmas tidbits to get you primed and ready for the holiday season. Then, when you get to Christmas dinner, you can share some of these with your family and leave them amazed at your wealth of jolly knowledge!
10 Deck the Shoes!
Christmas is often a time for reflection. After all, the holiday comes at the very end of the year. And when you’re sitting around the Christmas tree with family, friends, and loved ones, it’s only natural to think about where you’ve been—and where you’re headed. An old tradition from the Czech Republic takes that idea of reflection on the past and hope for the future to a whole new level, though. And it comes down to one hopeful event: marriage!
For centuries now, it has been a tradition for unmarried women in the Czech Republic to use Christmas as a jumping-off point to what they hope is a fruitful and worthwhile relationship in the year ahead. Every Christmas Eve, they stand with their backs to the door of their home and throw a shoe over their shoulder without looking back at it.
As the tradition goes, if the shoe lands with the toe pointing toward the door, that’s a good sign! It means the woman who threw the shoe will get married in the upcoming year. And if it lands with the heel to the door or pointing sideways? Well, let’s just say there will be nothing but coal in her stocking for the next twelve months. Bah humbug!
9 Skating for Santa
In the city of Caracas, Venezuela, local residents take to the streets every Christmas morning and put on roller skates and rollerblades. The streets in the city center are closed to cars until mid-morning, and each Christmas sunrise, people from all over the large metropolis skate around on the pavement together. They use Christmas as a way to celebrate community and get a little exercise. Of course, you have to know how to roller skate to take part in that tradition. But many Caracans do! And since it never snows in that part of Venezuela, there’s never any risk of skating on black ice. Sounds good to us!
Traditionally, the skating has coincided with an early morning mass that takes place every day leading up to Christmas itself and then on Christmas morning. Venezuelans typically roller skate to this service, too, giving a festive and fun wrinkle to an important and solemn religious event. And that’s not all!
After mass, everyone skates home to enjoy tostadas and coffee—it’s Christmas the Venezuelan way! Fireworks are popular on Christmas throughout the country, too, with big shows very often popping off high overhead on the nights of both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Sounds fun!
8 That’s a Tall Tree
On November 24, 1950, officials at the newly-built Northgate Shopping Center in Seattle, Washington, set the world record for the tallest Christmas tree ever. And while the tree itself is no longer standing (obviously… it’s been more than 70 years!), the record does still stand!
According to Guinness World Records themselves, Northgate’s 1950 record for the tallest Christmas tree ever is still a thing, and it’s never been beaten! If we want to get technical, the tree was a Douglas fir (scientific name Pseudotsga menziesii for the nerds among us). It stood at a whopping 221 feet in height—or about 67.3 meters for our non-American readers. That thing was massive! (And, yes, it was set up outside the actual mall.)
The reason behind the tall tree is itself kind of a strange story. In December 1949, the city of Bellingham, Washington, put up what they termed the world’s tallest Christmas tree. Nobody really knew whether they were right or not, but it sparked a competition. Then, in the spring of 1950, Northgate Mall opened in Seattle. With the new mall seeking a gimmick as the Christmas season approached, they opted to do it big for the holidays—literally.
“The suggestion was made that Northgate should put an end to this contest for the world’s tallest Christmas tree,” former Northgate president Jim Douglas infamously said after the tree went up. “We were to put up a Christmas tree so tall that no one would ever again attempt to beat the record that would be established by Northgate.” They did just that, and Douglas was right: No one in the 70-plus years since has ever beaten Northgate’s 221-foot record.
7 KFC for Christmas!
The American Christmas tradition includes some kind of high-end family meal, preferably cooked at home and carefully and exquisitely set around the long, regal dining table. But in Japan, they eat Kentucky Fried Chicken for Christmas. And it’s because that is what they were told Americans did in their home!
See, in the 1970s, Japan was really starting to up its manufacturing game. In the decades after World War II, they rebuilt their economy, and soon enough, they were humming along. Plus, they were selling lots of goods to American markets. So it was only natural for the Japanese to take an interest in what the average American consumer did. Including how they celebrated Christmas!
Marketing executives picked up on this and started a campaign in the ’70s claiming that Americans all ate KFC for their Christmas dinner. KFC’s shrewd marketers even invented something called the “Party Barrel,” which almost instantly became a best-seller in Japanese markets. By 1974, the KFC-slash-Christmas campaign was in full swing all across Japan, and the people ate it up perfectly.
Ever since, the Japanese have made KFC their Christmas “thing,” if you will. Today, “Christmas Packs” still account for as much as one-third of the brand’s yearly sales in the East Asian nation. Amazing!
6 A Christmas Mistake!
We all know the song “Jingle Bells,” right? Who doesn’t recognize the Christmas song in this day and age? But here’s the crazy thing: History tells us that it was actually meant to be a Thanksgiving song! In 1857, a man named James Lord Pierpont wrote a song that he called “One Horse Open Sleigh.” That song was meant to be performed in front of his father’s Sunday School class of children on Thanksgiving Day. And as the lyrics suggest, it was supposed to be all about family, love, and community—but not community as it related to Christmas.
The “open sleigh” from which Pierpont took his inspiration is not Santa being pulled by his now-famous reindeer. Instead, it was supposedly drawn from a series of sleigh races that Pierpont had been watching in the city of Medford, Massachusetts. As the legend goes, the song proved so popular for the Sunday School class upon their Thanksgiving push that the kids decided to sing it again for Christmas.
Then, for whatever reason, it stuck as a Christmas song with those children and others from around the region. Plus, the fact that it deals with snowstorms makes the whole thing give off a very “end of December” vibe, right? Regardless, “Jingle Bells” wasn’t intended to be what it became. Who knows what Pierpont might think of the whole thing now?
5 All That Christmas Crap—Literally!
In the Catalonia region of Spain, tradition states that one should always include a figurine of a man who is defecating alongside everything else in any nativity scene. Yes, you read that sentence right—but we wouldn’t fault you if you went back to read it again just to be sure! The little man is called the “caganer,” and his role is unclear—but very important.
As Catalan tradition goes, the caganer is placed in the middle of the holy nativity scene in public displays and even private at-home ones every Christmas. The weird little guy squats down to do his, uh, business right there in the presence of the newborn Jesus, his holy parents, and all the rest who make up the typical nativity cast.
Here’s the crazy thing, though: The caganer’s presence is NOT meant to be disrespectful. Far from it, in fact! See, the crapping caganer is actually a very important symbol of fertility. The excrement is meant to fertilize the soil (quite literally!), and after it’s, uh, placed there, crops can grow and thrive. In turn, that holy crap (again, quite literally!) is said to be a good sign for the year ahead for Catalans and their growing families.
Today, caganer statuettes are very common around all kinds of Catalan nativity scenes, both public and private. It’s become a funny but critical part of their Christmas community-building. And who are we to argue with that?!
4 Alabama Led the Way… or Not!
There is a very popular “fact” that goes around on the internet every single December. Social media users like to share it—especially natives or current residents of Alabama—and it goes like this. The federal government first declared Christmas to be a holiday all the way back in 1870. However, the state of Alabama allegedly made its declaration long before that!
In 1836, less than two decades after Alabama became a state, it officially declared Christmas to be a statewide holiday. They were the first American state to do so, as they clearly prioritized the religious and familial aspects of the end-of-December holiday. And over the last few decades on the internet and off it, that tidbit has now been taken as fact. Sounds simple and even somewhat heartwarming, right?
Well, maybe. But it’s false! Officials from the state have been hearing so many endless claims about Alabama being the first to declare Christmas a holiday that they put their experts on it. Literally! The Alabama Department of Archives and History dispatched the staff of four different agency directors to look exhaustively into the old state records.
And guess what? They couldn’t find any legal documentation or official announcement that the state ever declared Christmas a holiday—in 1836 or at any other point before the federal government came down with their decree. Oops! So, even though it’s a “fact,” and you may well have heard about Alabama’s supposedly festive holiday pioneering, the real story just goes to show that you shouldn’t believe everything you read.
3 Making Frosty Feel Inferior
Forget Frosty the Snowman because the tiny town of Bethel, Maine, has a totally new thing to think about: the tallest snowman (and snowwoman) ever made! In 1999, Bethel-area volunteers worked together to create a 113-foot-7-inch (34.6-meter) tall snowman.
They named him Angus, after a local politician, and they were proud to celebrate at the end of their amazing build. That’s because their 113-foot tall creation had bested the previously-held mark for the world’s tallest snowman, which belonged to a group in Japan for a snowman that only made it 96 feet (29.3 meters) in height! But amazingly, that’s not where this story ends!
In 2008, nine years after their chart-topping snow feat, the city of Bethel came together again for a new creation. That year, they devised the build of Olympia, a snowwoman who was created over the course of a full month by dozens of volunteers. By the end of it, she stood 122 feet and one inch (37.2 meters) tall. And she had an astonishing 125-foot (38.1-meter) diameter base! Jeez! Bethel once again got their town’s name in the record books for that one. And nobody has ever been able to top that achievement since!
2 There’s a Spider on Your Tree!
Most of the time, we don’t want to see spiderwebs anywhere near us. Spiders serve a very important part of the ecosystem, of course. They stay busy getting rid of other creepy-crawly insects and, for the most part, work to keep your space mostly clean of other weird bugs. (Unless, of course, the spider itself is deadly poisonous, but that’s another thing for another time.)
Anyway, most of us wouldn’t expect or want to see spiders and their webs around for Christmas. But in Ukraine, Poland, and Germany, that’s exactly what they want to see! And any spider webs specifically adorning a family’s Christmas tree are said to give them good luck in the coming year ahead!
This all started way back when—nobody is sure how far back—with a fable from Ukraine. In it, a poor family woke up on Christmas morning to find their tree covered in spider webs. As the sun began to rise, though, the webs turned to silver and gold as soon as sunlight touched them. In a flash, that poor family was made rich, and their lives were made better because of the spider webs. So, ever since, the people of Ukraine have decorated their Christmas trees with spider webs in a bid to string together some good luck for the New Year.
Obviously, in the modern era, most people aren’t going out and getting spiderwebs to do this. Instead, things like cotton, wool, and other bits of string are used to represent the spider from the legend of centuries ago. Ukrainians even make small Christmas tree ornaments in the shape of a spider. They call these ornaments “pavuchky,” which literally means “little spiders,” and adorn their trees with them every holiday season. And in places like Germany, this tradition has effectively morphed into tinsel, which we all know and love… or hate.
1 The First Fake Trees
There are old records of people using artificial Christmas trees from several centuries ago, but they weren’t made popular and produced (somewhat) en masse until the late 19th century in Germany. At the time, the German people were worried about deforestation within their country. And they knew that every time December rolled around, many people left their towns and communities and went out into the hills and forests to chop down trees to put up for Christmas.
They soon realized that something had to give. So the Germans began experimenting with fake Christmas trees. The most popular of those proved to be a tree made out of goose feathers that had been dyed green. Those feathers were then attached to wire “branches,” and poof! By the late 1860s, fake goose-feather Christmas trees began to pop up around Germany.
That’s not the entire story, though. In fact, fake Christmas trees weren’t really a hit in the United States until after World War II, when the economic boom of the 1950s was in full swing. During that decade, a Jewish man—that’s right, somebody who didn’t even celebrate Christmas—perfected a long-held idea about mass-producing fake Christmas trees.
That man, Si Spiegel, had been a World War II bomber pilot flying missions for the U.S. against the Nazis. Then, after having a hand in world history, he came home and put his hand toward holiday history by successfully being the brains behind the mass-produced fake Christmas tree. Mazel tov, AND happy Christmas to that, indeed!