Things You (Probably) Don’t Know About Christmas

I love this time of year, and I love collecting facts about the holiday.
My collection of Christmas facts started in 2000 when I started writing and producing an annual Christmas musical every year for a large church in my hometown of Seattle.  As part of the “pre-show” to keep the large crowds entertained before the show started, I would create a presentation sharing completely inconsequential but entertaining facts about this most beloved of all holidays.

Here are some of my favorites:

  • The celebration of Christ’s birth on December 25th did not become part of tradition until 320 AD, more than 300 years after His birth.

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  • A Christmas film classic, Miracle on 34th Street, was actually released in the summer of 1947.  It won Oscars for Best Support Actor, Screenplay, and Original Story and was nominated for Best Picture.
  • Alabama was the first state to declare Christmas a legal holiday–in 1836.  At this time, most people worked on Christmas Day, including Congress.
  • George Fredrich Handel composed The Messiah in just 24 days.  He began writing on August 22, 1741 and did not eat or sleep until it was finished.

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  • The first Christmas card was made in 1843 by English painter and illustrator John Calcott Horsley.
  • According to most historians, the earliest example of decorating a fir tree for Christmas took place in the small country of Latvia in the year 1510.
  • The most-loved of all carols, Stille Nacht (Silent Night), was written in 1818 by an Austrian priest named Joseph Mohr.
  • Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, published a week before Christmas in 1834, was an instant best-seller and remains his most popular novel.
  • Arthur Rankin and Jules Bass created more than 17 Christmas specials, including Frosty the Snowman, Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer, The Year Without a Santa Claus, and more obscure ones like Nestor, the Long-Eared Christmas Donkey.
  • Clement C. Moore, writing a poem for his children, invented the modern idea of Santa Claus in 1823 with the publication of A Visit from St. Nicholas, now better known as The Night Before Christmas.

Nast Santa Claus

  • American political cartoonist Thomas Nast was the first artist to picture St. Nicholas, in a magazine illustration in 1870.
  • The Dutch version of St. Nicholas, Sint Klauss, was brought to America by the settlers of New Amersterdam.  He became Americanized in the early 1900’s as Santa Claus.

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  • The image of Santa Claus we are most familiar with today is the result of a series of ads for Coca-Cola.  Dutch-born artist Haddon Sundblom created the modern look of Santa Claus in 1931.
  • Considered by many to be the classic special, A Charlie Brown Christmas has been shown every year since 1965.
  • “The Christmas Song” was written in 1944 by Mel Tormé and Bob Wells in an attempt to cool off during a hot Los Angeles summer.
  • In 1856, President Franklin Pierce became the first President to decorate a Christmas tree in the White House.
  • Noel, Virginia, is just one of 50 towns named Noel in the United States.

Rudolph Original Ad

  • Rankin-Bass’ classic animated version of Rudolph debuted on December 6, 1964, as part of the General Electric Fantasy Hour.
  • Egg nog was first consumed in America in 1607.  Captain John Smith reportedly made the first batch at Jamestown.
  • The first live nativity scene was created by St. Francis of Assisi in 1224.
  • Felix Mendelssohn wrote the music that became the melody of “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” for an 1840 concert celebrating the invention of the printing press.
  • The word “Christmas” entered the English language around the year 1050 as the Old English phrase “Christes masse,” meaning “festival of Christ.”

JohnsonEdward-FirstElectricTree

  • In 1882, one of Thomas Edison’s employees, Edward Johnson, put the first electric lights on a Christmas tree–a string of 80 lights he designed himself.
  • The first “American” Christmas carol, ‘Twas in the Moon of Wintertime (The Huron Carol), was written by a Jesuit priest named Jean de Brebuf.  He wrote the songs to help the Huron Indians understand the birth of Christ.
  • The inventor of modern color printing, American printer Lewis Prang, also created the first American Christmas card in 1874.
  • In 1851, Mark Carr hauled two sleds loaded with trees from the Catskills to the streets of New York and opened the first retail Christmas tree lot in the United States.

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  • President Calvin Coolidge began the tradition of decorating a tree outside the White House in 1923.
  • Ralph Blaine and Hugh Martin wrote the song “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” for the film Meet Me in St. Louis in 1944.  Its original context is one of sadness, as it is sung to comfort a little girl broken-hearted over her family’s impending move.  That’s why the song suggests she “have a merry little Christmas now.”
  • There are eleven towns named Santa Claus in the United States.
  • The original 1942 recording of “White Christmas” by Bing Crosby is the best-selling Christmas song of all time.  It has sold more than 30 million copies.
  • Russian tradition doesn’t include Santa Claus.  On January 1st, Grandfather Frost brings gifts to children.

Its-A-Wonderful-Life-Poster

  • One of the most-loved films of all time, Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life, was released in 1946.  It was a box-office disaster when it was first released and almost ruined the career of star Jimmy Stewart.

canada stamp

  • The first Christmas postage stamp was issued in Canada in 1898.  The United States didn’t get around to making Christmas stamps until 1962.
  • The best-selling Christmas album of all time remains Kenny G’s Miracles: The Holiday Album.  It has sold nearly 9 million copies.

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  • The season has inspired countless classic films.  It also inspired one of the worst movies ever made: Santa Claus Conquers the Martians, released in 1964.
  • Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer did not start off as a song, but as a Montgomery Ward promotional giveaway by staff copywriter Robert May.
  • Poinsettias were brought to the United States from Mexico in 1828 by the first US Ambassador to Mexico, Joel Roberts Poinsett, for whom the plant was named.

There’s a few fun facts to wow the family with when the conversation gets awkward this Christmas.  You never know when one of those moments will happen, so keep these handy and maybe you’ll turn this into one of those Christmases nobody wants to forget!

2 responses to “Things You (Probably) Don’t Know About Christmas

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