From a traditional Christmas song originally written for a different holiday to Santa Claus’s mid-life crisis as Father Christmas, Jami-Lei looks at the history of popular Christmas beliefs, their misconceptions and what might be the true explanation behind them.
Christmas is surrounded by traditions, beliefs and myths. Each country has its own legends and origin stories. Here are my top 5 for the UK.
Advent begins on 1st December
Today, the word advent is usually followed by the word calendar; generally, a thin cardboard box filled with treats, to countdown the days until Christmas Day. Advent itself begins on the fourth Sunday before Christmas Day. It can fall on any date between 27th November and 3rd December.
Jingle Bells is a Christmas carol
Jingle Bells, the well-known carol many of us sang as children (and still sing now as adults), was a song written for Thanksgiving in America!
Nicholas and Santa Claus are the same person
It’s a common belief that Santa Claus is an evolved version of St. Nicholas. In reality, St. Nicholas Day takes place on 6th December to celebrate a rich man who often gave coins, in stockings, to the less fortunate. Santa Claus has his own history, from Sinterklaaus (Dutch) and Kris Kringle (German) to Father Christmas (American), he has been known by many names. Each of these names comes with its own tale and depiction of the character. Father Christmas, for example, was a party mascot who celebrated by drinking large amounts of alcohol. Not very good as a figurehead for children!
It’s believed Father Christmas was somewhat rebranded as Santa Claus from the Dutch Sinterklaaus and the actions of the German Kris Kringle, such as giving gifts.
Writing ‘Xmas’ is a non-religious way of writing ‘Christmas’
There has been a long-standing debate that using ‘Xmas’ instead of ‘Christmas’ is taking Christianity away from the festival. However, the Greek letter ‘Chi’ meaning ‘Christ’ is often written in shorthand using ‘X’. The suffix ‘mas’ is from the Latin-derived Old English word for mass. So the words Xmas and Christmas are equivalent in every way except their lettering.
Christmas cards and presents are religious traditions
The tradition of giving and receiving Christmas presents is thought by many to stem from the Nativity, where the baby Jesus received gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. It’s more likely that giving gifts has remained a convention since the old Roman and Pagan festivals that took place around the same time of year.
What Christmas (Xmas!) myths are you aware of?