By Leyla Swan
Did you know that the city of Savannah
was a Christmas gift to President Abraham Lincoln, or that the Twelve
Days of Christmas is actually a counting song? Here are some facts
you didn't know about the season.
Father Christmas himself seems to be a hybrid of several myths
and legends. For instance, there is a strong relationship between
Father Christmas and the white-bearded Scandinavian god Odin, who
wore a hooded cloak and rode through the sky distributing gifts
or punishment to Viking children.
a more benevolent goddess named Hertha descended from the skies
with her invisible, non-material gifts of good health and family
figures seemed to have merged with that of Saint Nicholas, a fourth
century boy who was born in Asia Minor and became the bishop of
Myra in Turkey. Famously kind to animals and children, he was later
persecuted and imprisoned for his Christian faith. According to
one account of his life, on one occasion he provided a poor peasant
with the dowry he needed for the weddings of his three daughters.
Nicholas apparently gifted the first daughter with a bag of silver,
the second with a bag of incense, and the third daughter with a
bag of gold, which he tossed down the chimney top in the early hours
of a winter night.
In old Czechoslovakia,
children believed that Svaty Mikulas descended from heaven on a
golden cord supported by a benevolent angel. Upon awakening on Christmas
morning, Czech children would immediately gather at the breakfast
table to recite their prayers of gratitude, and ask if they had
behaved well that year. If they had, Svaty Mikulas rewarded them
with a gift.
Christmas Day probably bears little relation to the actual
date of the birth of Jesus. It is more likely that some time in
the fourth century, Pope Julius chose 25 December because it fell
near several well-established pagan festivals, including the celebration
of the winter solstice.
In some parts
of southwestern England, apple growers once marked the solstice
with shotguns, lanterns, bread and cider. At dusk they fired the
guns into the trees to encourage good spirits to overcome bad ones
and to ensure a good harvest. The bread and cider were thrust into
the branches to feed the good spirits.
Rome, December was the month in which Saturnalia was celebrated.
This was a week-long festival in honour of Saturnus, the god of
agriculture. Trees were adorned with trinkets and decorations to
pay tribute to the sun god Solarus, expressing hope that the long
days of winter would eventually give way to spring.
For the Ancient
Egyptians, too, late December was a festive time. They honoured
Isis, the goddess of the harvest, by bringing palm branches into
their homes as a symbol of the eternal cycles of life and society.
Many historians believe that the famous song The Twelve Days
of Christmas, with its parade of lords-a-leaping and partridges
in pear trees, is actually an educational rhyme designed to teach
children their numbers and that it has no seasonal symbolism at
custom of burning a yule log at Christmas is actually a tradition
introduced by the country's Norse and Viking invaders, who believed
that the sun was a spinning wheel of fire known as the "hweol"
that retreated from the Earth during the winter. During the darkest
days of the winter solstice, the Norsemen kept a "hweol"
log burning all day and all night. When spring finally arrived,
a piece of the log was reserved to light the new log of the next
winter. Thus the rekindled log symbolised the continuance of life
for at least another year. Indeed, the word "yuletide"
derives from the Old Norse name "Hweolor-tid", meaning
the "turning time of the sun".
there was once a belief that a child born on Christmas Day would
never be drowned or hanged. It is apparently still thought unlucky
to refuse the offer of a mince pie, while eating a pie every day
for the 12 days of Christmas is said to guarantee 12 happy months
In 1830, John
Popple of Burnham, Buckinghamshire, England, left 40 pounds in his
will to provide ale, tobacco and snuff for workhouse residents on
presents are as unusual or as large as the one President Abraham
Lincoln received in 1864, when General William Sherman captured
the Georgian city of Savannah during the American Civil War and
sent Lincoln a telegram reading: "I beg to present you as a
Christmas gift the city of Savannah with 150 heavy guns and plenty
of ammunition and also about 25,000 bales of cotton."
eat Christpsomo (Christ's bread) when they return home from mass
at 4 a.m. on Christmas morning. The Christmas tree and presents
do not appear until St Basil's Day on January 1.
In Berlin in
1991, a local "Hire a Santa" service received 5,000 bookings
to deliver gifts to homes.
rhyme about Little Jack Horner sticking his thumb in a Christmas
pie and pulling out a plum is said to derive from the rule of King
Henry VIII. At a time when Henry was seizing and sacking England's
monasteries, the Abbot of Glastonbury apparently sent his steward
Jack Horner to London to present Henry VIII with a pie containing
the deeds to 12 manors inside. During the journey, Horner opened
the pie and removed the deed to Mells in Somerset, which was indeed
acquired by the Horner family at that time, although they claim
that it was purchased legitimately.
From 1659 until
1768, the Puritan founding fathers of the American city of Boston
banned all Christmas celebrations. Emulating Oliver Cromwell, the
pilgrims believed that such frivolity was decadent and detracted
from the serious business of contemplating religion. Hence, the
Bostonians imposed a fine of five shillings on anyone who showed
red-nosed reindeer was the creation of Robert May, who wrote the
famous book about the eponymous deer in 1939. Apparently, Rudolph
was not May's first choice - he considered the names Reginald and
Rollo before settling for Rudolph.