Four Facts about Christmas I bet you didn’t know!

Christmas fireplace from Write a Writing

It’s my favorite time of year once again! Christmas is just around the corner, and as Christmas carols are coming out of my stereo, I figured that after last year’s screed about “Happy Holidays” and “Merry Christmas”, this year I wanted to stay on a positive note. A jolly one, if you will.

HO HO HO! I crack myself up!

HO HO HO! I crack myself up!

So, here are a few facts I bet you didn’t know about Christmas.

In Japan, Christmas means going to KFC

KFC Christmas menu from Goukaseishi

Apparently, it is a major tradition in Japan to celebrate Christmas (which is not a national holiday in this mostly-Buddhist and Shinto country, but is widely practiced anyway) by eating some Kentucky Fried Chicken. The custom is so popular, people will pay as much as $40 for a big Christmas family dinner, and will often reserve their meals well in advance because KFC’s across Japan regularly sell out of the stuff!

Why the KFC obsession in Japan? Because in 1974, marketers working for KFC told the public that fried chicken was our traditional Christmas dinner! Think about that for a minute… advertisers duped the public to create a real tradition by telling them about a fake one.

SRSLY image from Funny Junk

Actually, though, multinational companies frequently use different branding and marketing techniques in different countries. For example, Pabst Blue Ribbon, which is one of the cheapest beers you can find here in America, is selling itself in China as some kind of super-exclusive beer of the rich. Mercedez-Benz may be a luxury brand here in America, but if Top Gear has taught me anything, it’s that in Europe, Merc is just another car company, like Ford or Toyota. Here in America, anime is worming its way into the mainstream, to the point that next year’s Superman movie is borrowing a whole lot from the genre’s aesthetic style. Yet in its native country of Japan, it is still very much considered “kid’s stuff”, and adults who obsess over it are considered weirdos.

However, it’s another thing entirely to outright lie to people about foreign cultures, since it’s pretty easy in our globalized world for people to… I don’t know… go visit the United States at Christmastime and learn the truth? I guess that’s why KFC is now pushing for us to eat there for our Christmas dinners, too:

Information from Tanutech, ABC News, and

Massachusetts once banned Christmas

You decide from Free Sppech America

So, yeah, last year I talked about the so-called “War on Christmas”. You know how I can tell you with absolute certainty that there is no such “war”, and that the holiday has never been stronger?

Because there really was a time, here in these United States, that it was illegal to celebrate Christmas.

The story starts with the Pilgrims on the Mayflower who settled at Plymouth, whose story we hear every Thanksgiving. They, and the later Puritan colonists that followed them to settle New England, were some of the biggest Grinches in history: not only did they refuse to celebrate Christmas, they considered it a sin to do so. Christmas trees, presents, and taking the day off of work? All of those things sent you to hell, they said.

Why? Well, originally, the festival that today is known as “Christmas” was not a Christian holiday at all, but an ancient Roman pagan holiday of Saturnalia. When the Romans converted to Christianity in the 4th century AD, they “Christianified” their holidays, and Saturnalia was re-purposed as a day to celebrate the birth of Jesus. To the Puritans, who took an extreme and literal interpretation of the Bible, celebrating Christmas was “residual Papist idolatry”.

So, the Puritans who settled in New England made the celebration of Christmas illegal, imposing a fine of five shillings on offenders. They eventually repealed the law in 1681, but even after it was legalized there was immense pressure by the church and the churchgoing public not to honor the day. During the American Revolution, some in Massachusetts saw the day as a symbol of monarchy and British royal power – not popular things at the time. Businesses were open on December 25, and people who celebrated in public instead of in their own homes were arrested for disturbing the peace. It wasn’t until after the Civil War, when Christmas became a federal holiday, that New Englanders finally got over themselves and opened up to the holiday.

Information from Wikipedia, Massachusetts Travel Journal, and the Wall Street Journal.

Santa Claus got his look from Coca-Cola (sort of).

Coca Cola Santa image from Snopes

Okay, so that’s a simplification. No, Coca-Cola didn’t invent the “standard” look of Santa Claus, with the red fur coat and hat, long, white beard, and pudgy but clearly human form. It is true, however, that Santa Claus evolved from a wide variety of European folk traditions that blended and merged in the American melting pot, and that before roughly the 1920s the jolly figure could be depicted in any number of ways – as a tiny elf, or an immortal, or even a Dutch sailor in a green winter coat!

By the early 20th century, though, a “standard” appearance and mythology of Santa Claus was starting to emerge. Coca-Cola didn’t invent this image to sell more Coke in the off-season, but the world-famous images by Haddon Sundbloom probably did help “fix” this image as the standard Santa Claus. After all, Coca-Cola was a worldwide company even in the 1930s, and its advertisements were widely seen both in places that had a Santa Claus tradition and those that had never before heard of the character, or even of Christmas.

Today, the Santa story is pretty consistent everywhere in the world except the Netherlands, which has clung tenaciously to its own St. Nicholas tradition and resisted assimilation.

Information from C.G.P. Grey, Wikipedia, and

Our Bibles almost told the story of Baby Jesus: Dragon-Tamer

How to Train Your Dragon image from Fanpop

I do not envy the ancient scholars who had to sort out which writings were going in the Bible and which weren’t. They had to figure out, out of the thousands of writings about God and man’s relationship to God, which ones were the Divine Word of God, and which were just some writings.

Some books they rejected were clear forgeries, some taught heresies and blasphemous teachings, and some were good writings that had religious value but just didn’t meet their very, very strict criteria for being “divinely inspired”. They had to be SURE that these books were the Word of God; mistakes were not acceptable.

Of course, as a Christian, I believe that God helped to guide them to making the right choices and that they got the right answers. Still, it is sometimes fun to look at the writings that were rejected and ponder “what if?”

A perfect example is the Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew, a short book about the origins of the Virgin Mary and the birth and childhood of Jesus that claims it was written by the Apostle St. Matthew, but has long been known to be a forgery. It has a very, er, interesting take on the Christmas story.

For example, it says that the Virgin Mary was a temple virgin as a child, and when she came of age she was one of five wives awarded to Joseph from among the girls who were too old to perform the temple rituals. It shows Joseph totally freaking out when he finds out about Mary’s pregnancy, and having her submit to a ritual test to make sure she was without sin. It says Jesus was born in a cave, and that the cave glowed with “the light of God” when he was born.

But the truly crazy part comes in Chapter 18. As the Holy Family ran from King Herod’s soldiers who were dispatched to kill the boy, it says they ran into a cave to rest, only to find it inhabited by dragons.

Yes, dragons.

Yes, dragons.

The little Jesus then miraculously walked up to the dragons and told them not to hurt anyone. And the dragons obeyed him. In fact, as they made their way to Egypt, lions, panthers, and other wild animals all bow before the little Jesus and guide the Holy Family to safety. Even a fruit tree bends its branches so the Holy Family can eat its fruit! Once in Egypt, the Holy Family goes to ask for directions in a temple full of ancient Egyptian idols, and in Jesus’s presence they all collapse and break into pieces out of shame. An Egyptian general comes out to see who is causing the disturbance, but when he sees the dead idols he bows before Jesus and Mary and tells the people to worship the one true God from now on.

The rest of the book is full of stories of miracles Jesus supposedly did while a child growing up in Nazareth. Of course, as I said before, the whole book has long been known as a fake – scholars think it was written around 600 AD. Still, it is definitely a very strange take on the Biblical story.

Information from Wikipedia. You can read the Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew here.


Christmas tree image from Fanpop

3 Responses to Four Facts about Christmas I bet you didn’t know!

  1. Pingback: The Origins of Our Halloween Traditions | Cat Flag

  2. Pingback: The Origins of Our Christmas Traditions | Cat Flag

  3. Pingback: Saturnalia – The prequel to Christmas | Cat Flag

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