Christmas traditions are everywhere, like hanging your stockings by the fire on Christmas Eve and leaving out milk and cookies. There are also traditions that families started. Have you ever wondered what other traditions there might be for this magical night of the year? Let’s take a look at a few of the more weird or bizarre traditions.
Visions of Sugar Plums
10. We are all familiar with the poem, “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas” and the line that reads “as visions of sugar plums danced in their heads…” If your are like me, as a kid you wondered exactly what a sugar plum was. My mother and grandmothers explained it as a small purple candy that tasted like plums. I always wondered how that would taste. I dont mind the occasional plum but I really cant imagine a sugar candy flavored like the fruit. The truth of the that confection is stranger than truth.
It is said that historically they were caraway seeds, cardamom pods, or some kind of spice dipped in sugar. The term doesn’t have anything to do with the fruit after all, plum is thought to have a reference to the meaning desirable. I am not sure how sucking on a cardamom pod coated in sugar could be desirable.
The Real Twelve Days of Christmas
9. Speaking of Christmas, The song Twelve Days of Christmas has a lot of people confused as to when it happens. Here in America it seems that the Christmas season starts roughly around the end of summer and runs forever. This led people to believe that the twelve days behind reference started on the 13th of December and ran up till Christmas Day. This is not the case, however. The months (November and early days of December) leading up to Christmas are considered Advent. Hence all of the calendars showing the 26 days count down. So when do the twelve days actually start?
According to history, the twelve days actually started on Christmas Day and ran until twelfth night or Epiphany. Epiphany falls on January 6th. So just think, you would be giving six geese a laying and seven swans a swimming around New Years Eve. That makes sense since you would be completely hammered and sending 13 waterfowl to your friends seems like a good idea.
Don We Now Our Gay Apparel
8. It made sense to me that Christmas was a holiday for LGBTQ people because of the song Deck the Halls. After all, there is a line that clearly states “don we now our gay apparel.” So whip out those rainbow shirts and have at it. Joking aside, this actually refers to an old custom in which the Christmas season was known for wearing costumes. Groups would dress up and carouse around the village. This changed roughly around the 13th century, thanks to King Charles. During this time frame, a group of nobles burned to death when the tar they were using to hold together their forest people costumes caught on fire. King Charles barely escaped with his life and decided that this custom was a bit to dangerous for him and he banished it from his court. *Side note for the readers, dont cover yourself in tar, start drinking, and jump through fire. Tar, drinking, and fire are bad. M’kay?*
Christmas Carol Treats or You Get Tricked
7. Wearing costumes isn’t the only tradition that makes Christmas look like Halloween. Maybe Jack Skellington did take over Christmas, after all. Caroling, during 19th century Europe, was a lot more like trick or treating. Remember that conditions in Europe at this time still weren’t great. Because of this the poor would group together and go from house to house caroling. They would arrive, knock on the door and say something to the effect of ‘We are going to start singing carols. “You can invite us in to share in your holiday celebrations or you may wake up in the morning to find what we have done to your house and yard.’’Talk about extortion, I wonder if the mob employed any of these strong armed guys when they first started.?
Scary Ghost Stories and Tales of the Glories
6. Following along in our comparison of Christmas to Halloween, let’s take a look at the song It’s The Most Wonderful Time of the Year. There is a line that says “there’ll be scary ghost stories and tales of the glories.” That line always seemed odd to me, as a child. Why is a holiday that is supposed to be about joy and the spirit of humanity talking about telling scary ghost stories. Okay, I was a kid and wasn’t thinking about the Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. That is actually a perfect example though.
In the story, we read that Scrooge will be visited by three ghosts on Christmas Eve. How did he find this out?Yup, you guessed it, by another ghost. This traditions was put in place during the Victorian era of history. During this time people loved scary stories and especially during this time of year. This isn’t a shock since many cultures viewed Christmas to be an apex for supernatural activity. Even more so on Christmas Eve. So much so that if a child was born on this night, people from Germany and Poland believed they had a greater chance of being born a werewolf.
Those Who Have Gone Before
5. Portugal has a celebration called consoda where families often set an extra place at the dinner table for those relatives that have passed on. As the families wake up on Christmas morning, the prepare for a large feast and set additional places for alminhas a penar(souls of the dead). This celebration also is known to place breadcrumbs in the hearth. Both of these traditions are to ensure that you have a bountiful year to come. This very similar to a pagan tradition referred to as a dumb supper that works much the same way. This is just another similarity to traditions that are thought to only be Halloween traditions.
The Various Visages of Santa
4. It’s a pretty safe bet that you can ask almost anyone to describe Santa and the response would be a jolly fat man dressed in red with a white beard and known for say “Ho! Ho! Ho!” But you might be surprised to find out that this image is a fairly recent image of Father Christmas. 1938, Haddon Sundblom and Coca Cola decided to create an image of Santa Claus that all would be able to recognize, for their soda advertising, depicting him as a 6 foot tall, full grown human, grandfather type. This became the image we are familiar with today because they had the money to push their advertising far and wide.
Before Coca Cola got involved, the images of Father Christmas were as varied as the countries that had a version of him. There are illustrations of him being a type of elf or gnome and many where it wasn’t completely human. Italy is known to have a female, witch version of Santa called La Befana. And yes, there are even connections of Santa with Odin dating back to Norse Yule festivals. So, just remember that the Santa you know and love today is a fairly modern version of who he was throughout history.
Santa’s Little Helpers
3. While we are talking about how Santa has changed, it might also surprise you to know that his reindeer and elves are also a newer invention to the Santa Claus story.
In older times, Santa was known to cavort around with a more sinister group of beings. These beings where there to dole out punishment to those that had not been so good throughout the year. Saint Nicholas was known to have four companions, Knecht Ruprecht, Belsnickel, Zwarte Piet, and Krampus.
Thanks to movies in the last five year or so, we are more familiar with Krampus. He has had his one line of movies and his own special night Krampusnacht, which falls on December 6th. Knecht Ruprecht, Servant Rupert, is known for asking children if they know their prayers. If they do, they receive apples, nuts, and gingerbread. If they do not, they are beaten with a bag of ashes he carries around. He was known to wear along brown robe of fun and covered in pea straw and have a long white beard. Belsnickle covers his entire body with fur and wears a mask with a long tongue. If children are good, he leaves socks, and shoes full of candy and if they were bad, they receive coal. Hmm sound familiar? Zwarte Piet, Black Pete, He was known to beat bad kids with a stick and take them back to Spain in a sack he carried. His story has changed over the years, due to controversy of how he looks. People would dress up in black face to symbolize him in parades. His image has changed to be more like a chimney sweep in countries that still use his image during this time of year.
2. This is one that I remember hearing about as a kid but has seemed to have been taken out of Christmas traditions of more recent times. First footing is a tradition that states the first person to cross your threshold on Christmas Eve, especially if they were dark haired, was a sign of good luck. I seem to remember my mother telling me this when we would go visit my grandmother on Christmas Eve. I was pushed to go in first because it was considered good luck. Now, honestly, I may be misremembering and I am sure my sister will call me out on it. This tradition came to America with immigrants from England and Scotland, so it is not so hard to believe that it was a Southern tradition, especially since a great many Scottish people settled the Appalachian mountain areas.
When Did Christmas Trees Become Popular
1. Would you believe that Christmas trees, as a tradition of Christmas, only dates back to 1848? Its true, prior to that it was mostly a German tradition that was celebrated in only a few German places. So how did it become a staple of the holiday? Well you can thank English Nobility for that. In 1848, the Illustrated London News ran a sketch of Windsor palace showing Prince Albert and Queen Victoria standing next to one and titled Christmas Tree at Windsor Castle. This image blew up across the world and Americans, British, and just about every other European country started clamoring to put up their own Christmas tree.
What did you think of my Ten Weird Christmas Traditions? I hope some of them were things you didn’t know about. If so, please let me know in the comments below. If there are other weird traditions you know of, let me know those as well. And stayed tuned for my weird items used to decorate a Christmas tree post.