Christmas is a holiday with deep roots, but no matter how much you enjoy the festive carols and the beautifully trimmed tree, you may not know some of these fascinating facts about the merriest day of the year.
Xmas Is an Old Term
Plenty of people think the “X” in Xmas is a way for advertisers to shorten the name of the holiday, but the nickname has a long history. Far from being a breezy abbreviation, it’s a deeply religious symbol that got its start in monasteries. First commonly used in religious texts in the 1400s, the letter “X” signified the cross and was the first letter of Christ’s name in the Greek alphabet. For monks who spent hours toiling over manuscripts, finding a way to write quickly and efficiently was vital. When they replaced Christ’s name with an X, they were using what linguists call a Christogram.
Christmas Trees Have a Roman Heritage
You might think of the tradition of Christmas trees as a German one, if “O Tannenbaum” is any indication, but decorating evergreens for the winter holiday goes back far longer than the Germans. Ancient Romans adorned boughs of evergreen trees with fruits and nuts for their Saturnalia celebrations each winter. Early Christians may have adopted the evergreen tree as a symbol of rebirth and renewal to make the holiday feel more familiar to Roman converts to what was then a new faith. The German tradition dates from the 1700s, but it didn’t catch on in England and America until Queen Victoria wrote about her happy memories of decorating trees as a princess.
A Famous Author Created Christmas Elves
Louisa May Alcott was most famous for writing Little Women, but she was a prolific author who penned many other short stories, novels and non-fiction articles. One of her short stories in 1856 mentioned Christmas elves, pointy-capped creatures who helped Santa Claus care for his reindeer and make gifts for good children. Although the story wasn’t published in her lifetime, she shared it with other writers, and a few years later, a story about Santa’s elves appeared in a copy of the magazine “Godey’s Lady’s Book,” one of the most influential publications of its time. Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy are enduring characters, but Alcott’s most famous literary creations might be Santa’s little helpers.
Most Pets Get Christmas Gifts
If you consider your pets members of the family, you aren’t alone. About half of pet owners extend their Christmas spirit of giving to their pets and hang a stocking for Fido or Fluffy, according to a recent USA Today poll. Whether it’s a cozy pet bed, a squeaky toy or a bag of treats, giving your pet something special brings a little Christmas cheer to everyone.
Christmas Used to Be Illegal in Boston
Bostonians who love Christmas should be thrilled they didn’t live there before 1681. Until that year, celebrating Christmas in Puritan Boston was illegal and would cost you a five-shilling fine. Eventually, civic leaders loosened up and allowed Christmas celebrations, but even then, early Americans weren’t big on the holiday; in fact, some Puritans considered it a holdover from Catholicism or even irreligious. It didn’t become a federal holiday until 1870, in part because the Puritans disapproved. Fortunately, most people didn’t see it that way, and Christmas celebrations have gotten steadily more joyous over the decades.
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