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Did You Know These Myths and Origins of Christmas?

Anthony Aveni, a Colgate University professor and author of "The Book of the Year: A History of Our Holidays," explores the myths and origins of the December 25 holiday:

  • The Bible does not say exactly when Christ was born, but it was likely that Jesus was actually born sometime in September, 6 months after John the Baptist. But the Western church selected December 25 for the celebration, possibly to counteract the non-Christian festivals of that approximate date. Roman Emperor Constantine officially recognized it as the celebration of Jesus' birth in the 4th century A.D.
  • It was against the law to celebrate Christmas in the mid-17th century. The Puritans outlawed Christmas, saying it as another one of those idol-worshipping religious festivals well worth expunging. Reformist Protestants even handed out fines for those who dared to miss work on Christmas Day.
  • The Middle Ages marked the origin of many traditional Christmas symbols such as the Yule log, holly, and caroling. The burning Yule log (Yule comes from the Scandinavian jol or jul which means "jolly") symbolized the time in which bonfires raged to "beckon the reappearance of winter's holy light."
  • The Farmer's Almanac also got its start in the Middle Ages during the 12 days of Christmas. People used these days to predict weather by recording sunny and snowy days in a system that became the precursor of the modern day Farmer's Almanac.
  • In the early 19th century, German and Dutch Protestant immigrants resurrected the Christmas holiday to its original status. St. Nicholas also gained prominence during the Victorian era.
  • Originally Santa Claus was not regarded as the rotund gift bearer in an airborne sled that we all know today. It was Clement Clark Moore's 1822 poem that first promoted this image.
  • Santa's Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer sprang from a commercial endeavor in 1939. A Montgomery Ward employee wrote the original story as part of a promotional "giveaway" program. The song gained prominence in the late 1940s.