SERENDIPITY FOR SATURDAY

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SURPRISING FACTS ABOUT THE CHRISTMAS SEASON

When you’re searching for non-controversial conversation starters for the office holiday get-together, your family’s annual potluck, or that company Christmas party your significant other drags you to every season, these Christmas facts will come to your rescue. They also make great trivia fodder for a fun holiday game night. We all probably already know there’s a lot more to Christmas than unwrapping gifts, putting on those adorable (or hideous, depending on your perspective) Christmas sweaters and decorating the house like a real-life gingerbread construction come to life. It’s an age-old celebration with centuries of tradition and meaning behind virtually every aspect of the holiday that will have even the holly jolliest of us going, “Huh! I never knew that.”

From the religious observations, you may already undertake every year to pagan origins that even Christmas scholars might find surprising (and some facts that are just plain entertaining), we guarantee you’ll learn something from this list. So, take a breather from the craziness this holiday season and learn some of these fun Christmas facts. Maybe you’ll even get inspired to write some of them in your family’s annual Christmas letter or card, to share some of your newfound smarts with the crew.

Though Christmas celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ, there is no mention of December 25th in the Bible. Most historians actually believe Jesus was born in the spring, not the winter. And his birthday itself didn’t become the official holiday until the third century. Some historian proposes that the date was actually chosen because it coincided with the pagan festival of Saturnalia, which honored the agricultural god Saturn with celebrating and gift-giving. It sounds familiar, doesn’t it? And what about the shepherds watching their sheep by night. Shepherds in that part of the world did not take their sheep out to pasture in the wintertime when there was little grass to graze on.

You might want to brew a cup o’ tea when decking your halls with holly this year. The origin of Christmas trees goes all the way back to ancient Egyptians and Romans, who marked the winter solstice with evergreens as a reminder that spring would return soon. But it wasn’t until Prince Albert of Germany introduced the tree to his new wife, Queen Victoria of England, that the tradition really took off. A drawing of the couple in front of a Christmas tree appeared in Illustrated London News way back in 1848 and as we say today, the idea went viral. Besides, such trees do not grow on the hillsides just our side Jerusalem. Only the cedars up in Lebanon would fit the description of a Christmas tree.

You probably already knew that the idea of Santa Claus came from St. Nicholas, but the real saint wasn’t a bearded man who wore a red suit and had a long, white beard. That all came much later. According to legend, the fourth-century Christian bishop gave away his abundant inheritance to help the needy and rescued women from servitude. As the tale made the rounds, his name became Sinter Klaas in Dutch. That later morphed into Santa Claus, and the rest of the trappings followed. But Sinter Klaas did not share his gifts just on Christmas Day, but throughout the year.

According to legend, we hang out stockings by the chimney with care thanks to a poor man who didn’t have the money for his three daughters’ upcoming weddings. Generous old St. Nick (remember, that’s his trademark!) dropped a bag of gold down their chimney one night, where the girls had hung their stockings to dry by the fire. That’s where the gold ended up, and allegedly how the tradition began. When I lived in Germany as a boy when you hung you stocking by the chimney, if you were good, you’d get a small present or some candy, but if you had been bad, you’d only get a clump of coal.

Turns out, we didn’t originally go dashing through the snow for just Christmas. James Lord Pierpont wrote a song called, “One Horse Open Sleigh” and originally performed it at his church’s Thanksgiving Day concert. Then in 1857, the song was re-published under the title it still holds today, and it eventually became one of the most popular English Christmas sons ever.  It must be hard for the Christians in the Sahara Desert or in Ecuador to sing this song.

By the time the Puritans settled Boston, celebrating Christmas was outlawed. Talk about missing the Christmas spirit! From 1659 to 1681, anyone caught making merry would face a fine for celebrating the once-pagan day. And after the Revolutionary War, the new Congress found the day so unimportant that they even held the first session on December 25, 1789. Christmas wasn’t proclaimed a federal holiday for nearly another century, proving that the Grinch’s notorious hatred of the holiday was alive and well long before he was.

So, the question is, why are all these songs sung and traditions observed at Christmas time? It’s because the secular idea of Christmas as a holiday has invaded the true story of Christ’s birth as a Holy Day. But both can be practiced without condemnation. However, without the Holy Day, there would be no Holiday. – Dr. Robert R. Seyda

About drbob76

Retired missionary, pastor, seminary professor, Board Certified Chaplain and American Cancer Society Hope Lodge Director.
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