- By Mary Caldwell For the AJC
Christmas has many traditions that are so entrenched you probably don't give them much thought. But when you consider why things are done the way they are, you'll find that just about every element of Christmas has an interesting, evolving story behind it.
Here are six things you may not know about Christmas:
Why is Christmas celebrated on Dec. 25?
Dec. 25 probably wasn't the day when Jesus was born, according to History.com. Since shepherds and their sheep were present, it was probably sometime in the spring.
The first record of a holiday honoring Jesus' birthday doesn't appear until after three centuries of Christianity's existence. Church officials decided to recognize Dec. 25 as his birthday, probably to coincide with the date of pagan festivals in an attempt to get pagans to accept Christianity as the official religion.
Why do we put up Christmas trees?
Christianity Today says that early Romans used evergreen branches to decorate their homes in winter and ancient residents of northern Europe planted evergreen trees inside boxes in their homes. Early Christians frowned on these actions, but eventually loosened their view of the practice.
Germans and the Dutch embraced the idea of an indoor Christmas tree and brought it to the New World in the 1800s. The practice spread even more when Queen Victoria married Prince Albert of Germany, who brought the Christmas tree tradition to England. An American newspaper published a picture of the royal tree and the practice spread more widely in this country, which apparently was interested in news about the royals even back then.
What's the deal with hanging stockings?
This practice is rooted more in myth than fact, according to Time. As the story goes, St. Nicholas found a family in need, where a poor widower was trying to raise three daughters.
The man couldn't provide a dowry, which were money, goods or real estate handed over to a husband from a bried-to-be’s family, for his daughters to get married, so St. Nicholas dropped gold coins down the chimney. They landed in the girls' stockings, which were hung by the fireplace to dry.
Thus, began the practice of hanging stockings by the fireplace to be filled with treats, though if you're like most people, you're more likely to get candy than gold.
Why do we give and receive gifts?
People used to open presents on New Year's Day, not Christmas, according to Live Science. It was supposed to make them feel good as one year ended and another began.
Giving gifts moved to Christmas in the 1800s, and became more popular because of those trend-setting royals – Queen Victoria and Prince Albert again – who bought gifts for their children and also exchanged them with one another. Christians were thought to embrace the practice because they believed it tied in well to the gifts the Magi brought to Jesus.
Did Coca-Cola invent the modern image of Santa Claus?
The popular Coca-Cola Santa image may have helped popularize this "look" for the jolly gift giver – rotund, rosy-cheeked and with a red suit (because that's Coke's color) trimmed with white fur, but the company didn't come up with a completely original look, according to both Snopes and Coca-Cola.
Snopes says that by the time Coke started to use the now-iconic image in their ads, this type of image of Santa Claus was already present.
Why do we kiss underneath the mistletoe?
Ancient cultures believed mistletoe could cure many ailments, according to History.com. But it wasn't until the first century that the Celtic Druids viewed it as something that could restore fertility since it blossomed even in winter.
By the 18th century, mistletoe had become a part of Christmas celebrations. The kissing tradition apparently started among English servants. Men could get a kiss from a woman standing under the mistletoe, and refusing the kiss was believed to be bad luck. In addition, the kissing couple sometimes picked a berry from the mistletoe for each kiss, stopping when the berries were gone.