Rudolf Could be a Girl and Other Christmas Fun Facts
Christmas lights illuminate the streets and songs fill the air while the Thanksgiving leftovers sit simmering in the pan. The holiday season brings a mix of emotions, memories, smells, and plans. Have you ever thought about where some of the traditions we celebrate originated? Here are some Christmas fun facts for you to enjoy during this festive time of year.
Jesus wasn’t born on December 25
In second grade I memorized the entire story of the birth of Jesus in Luke 2. As an eight-year-old, I just assumed all children memorized that chapter, and that Christmas and Jesus’ birth were actually on the same day. As an adult, I can still recite the story, but I have started thinking a little more about the timing of Jesus’ birth. Did you ever wonder why the shepherds would be out in the field with their sheep during the coldest part of the year? The biblical reference to shepherds tending their flocks at night when they heard the news of Jesus’ birth (Luke 2:8) might suggest the spring lambing season for this Christmas fun fact.
Celebrating Christmas for 146 years
Although many cultures have celebrated a winter festival for centuries, Christmas in the United States wasn’t recognized as a national holiday until June 26, 1870. According to Reference.com, in the 1870’s the U.S. government moved to start recognizing many state holidays as federal holidays. The other holidays recognized at this time included New Year’s Day, George Washington’s Birthday, Independence Day, and Thanksgiving.
Christmas trees came from Germany
My family celebrated the Christmas season for many years with a drive to the mountains to find the perfect tree small enough to bring home and place in our living room. On the years we were unable to find the perfect tree with more than 5 branches, my parents would plant a live tree in the yard outside. I always wondered where this fun tradition originated. When I looked into it, I learned a Christmas fun fact that really surprised me. The first appearance of a Tannenbaum was recorded in 17th century Germany! It was in 1605 in Strasbourg in Alsace, then in Germany, that a chronicler wrote: “Auff Weihenachten richtett man Dahnnenbäum zu Strasburg in den Stuben auff…” (in old German) when translated means, “At Christmas they set up Christmas trees in Strasbourg in their rooms…”. It was the German emigrants like the ones in my family who brought the Christmas tree tradition to the U.S.
The Christmas tree industry is big business
Many families do not have easy access to evergreen-rich mountains, nor the time to get a permit and hunt for the perfect tree. This creates a demand for farmed Christmas trees. In fact, another Christmas fun fact that may surprise you is the estimated 25–30 million live Christmas trees that are sold in the U.S. each year. There are close to 350 million live Christmas trees growing on 15,000 Christmas tree farms in the U.S. alone, all planted by farmers who employ over 100,000 people to work full- or part-time in the industry. That’s a booming business!
St. Nicholas was real
When I looked up his biography, I found out that St. Nicholas was a Christian bishop born in Patara (present-day Turkey) around 280 A.D. and spent his life helping the needy. After his death, the legend of his gift-giving grew and later transformed into the legendary character called Santa Claus, who brings Christmas presents to children around the world. The Dutch originally celebrated the feast day of St. Nicholas on December 6th. It was a common practice for children to set shoes out by the bed or on the hearth the night of the 5th and in the morning they would discover the gifts that St. Nicholas had left there for them. Dutch immigrants brought St. Nicholas and his gift-giving ways to America in the 1700s.
Over time, American poets and authors shaped the more familiar, rounded figure of Santa Claus from the traditions of St. Nicholas. In 1809 Washington Irving published the satirical fiction, Knickerbocker's History of New York, with numerous references to a jolly St. Nicholas character. This was not the saintly bishop, but rather an elfin Dutch burgher with a clay pipe. Other literary works that have shaped the Americanization of this saint include "A Visit from St. Nicholas," now better known as "The Night Before Christmas” (author unknown) in 1823, and Coca-Cola ads starting in 1931.
It seems that Santa Claus was not the only popular icon with literary roots. One other Christmas fun fact is that the idea of eight flying reindeer was also established in the poem, "A Visit from St. Nicholas." The character of Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer was first introduced by Robert L. May in 1939 during his employment at the department store, Montgomery Ward. The store enlisted May to create Christmas coloring books that were given away to children as holiday gifts by the store’s Santa in an effort to entice parents to visit and shop at the store.
I also wonder if Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer should be called “Ruby” instead. In most deer species, only the male grows antlers, but that’s not true for most reindeer. During certain times of year, you can still tell the gender of a reindeer by checking for antlers. That’s because males lose their antlers in winter or spring, but females shed theirs in the summer. The females also are significantly smaller than the males, but you may get thrown if you come across a particularly large female or a small male. Since reindeer shed their antlers at different points of the year based on their gender and age, we know that Santa’s reindeer probably aren't older males, because older male reindeer lose their antlers in December, and Christmas reindeer are always depicted with their antlers. That means Santa’s sled either has to be pulled by young reindeer, constantly replaced as they start to age, or Santa’s reindeer are female. Do you want to imagine a rotating crop of sleigh pullers or an all-female lineup?
These six Christmas fun facts are just a few pieces to get you thinking about the rich history and tradition that entangles with the hype of the commercial shopping season. It is amazing to uncover the Christmas fun facts behind many of the traditions our culture has embraced during this season. Having said this, it is also important to dig a little deeper into the roots of your faith and take the time to teach your family about the true meaning of Christmas and revisit the story as told by Luke. I’d have to say that’s the one Christmas fun fact that really has the ability to change lives and bring untold blessings. We at Enlightium Academy would like to wish you and your family a wonderful Christmas season full of Christ’s love. Blessings to you and yours.