It’s the most wonderful time of the year! Christmas season is upon us, a time of peace, love, and traditions shared with friends and family. However, how much of what we know and love about this ancient holiday is accurate? Here are some misleading myths and fun facts about Christmas for the skeptic in all of us:
Myth: We Three Kings of Orient Aren’t
The Nativity Scene is never complete without the three kings and their camels visiting baby Jesus. The story is in Matthew 2:1-12, and only says that some wise men ask to visit the king of the Jews and bring gold, frankincense, and myrrh to him. Matthew calls them magoi, which translates to “magic”, so they could have been astrologers. He never specifies the number of wise men, if they are indeed from orient, if they rode camels or not, or if they were even present at Jesus’ birth.
Fact: Headless Sleighs?
Washington Irving was the first person to coin the iconic image of Santa with a flying sleigh in 1819. Interestingly enough, Irving also created the Headless Horseman.
Myth: December 25 is Jesus’s Birthday
The Bible actually never says the date or year in which Jesus was born. It wasn’t until the 4th century that Pope Julius I set December 25 as the date of Christ’s birth. However, he didn’t just pick a random day of the year. Jesus was said to have been crucified on the same day as he was conceived. He was crucified on the roman calendar date March 25. Nine months from March 25 is December 25.
Fact: Happy Little Trees
Christmas Trees were never originally part of the Christmas Tradition. By the 1800s, Christmas had become a rowdy occasion involving a whole lot of very unchristian partying and drinking. To steer away from this, Victorian intellectuals like Clement Moore, who wrote The Night Before Christmas, invented the practice of decorating trees to divert people’s attention back to more wholesome values.
Myth: Less Ratchet than Cratchit
Everyone remembers that heartwarming scene in A Christmas Carol when mean old Scrooge finally learns the true spirit of Christmas and eats Christmas Dinner with his poor employee Bob Cratchit. However, in the actual book, he never actually visits Cratchit, instead opting to spend Christmas with his upper middle class nephew. Above: the first edition of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens.
Fact: Happy Big Trees
Here is yet another fact about Christmas Trees. In 1917, the Canadian city of Halifax was decimated by an explosion and fire disaster. Boston, Massachusetts gave Halifax critical aid in the time of crisis, something that the friendly Canadians are still grateful for today. For the past 100 years, every Christmas Canada’s Nova Scotia province has sent the city of Boston a giant Christmas tree as a thank-you gift.
Above: People installing the Christmas tree in Boston sent by Nova Scotia.
We’ve all been warned about the vibrant red poinsettia plant that decorates our Christmas trees and wreaths. The plant is said to be highly poisonous, and you should always keep small children and pets away from it. However, this is a completely untrue myth. The poinsettia leaves are only slightly poisonous (as are many including tomato leaves), and will not harm a child or pet if ingested. The myth stems (get it?) from an uncorroborated report in 1919 in which a parent claimed their 2 year old had died after eating a leaf of the red plant. Since then, poinsettia has gained an unfairly infamous reputation, but in recent years has started to be exonerated of wrongdoing as the myth continues to re-seed (recede, sorry, I’ll make sure to leaf out the rest of these plant puns).
Fact: How the Puritans Stole Christmas
The Puritan-led English parliament cancelled Christmas in 1647. Instead, they replaced it with a day of prayer and fasting. The puritans cancelled the holiday because of the celebrating, singing, and dancing involved. They also called it a “popish festival” and pagan worship and would not celebrate Christmas because it was not included in the Bible.
Photo credits: Wise men: Medium; Washington Irving: Wikipedia; A Christmas Carol: Wikipedia; Nova Scotia gift to Boston: CTV Atlantic; Poinsettia: Teleflora.