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Fascinating Holiday Trivia You Probably Didn’t Know

Ever heard of a Christmas carp? Wonder why stockings are hung by the chimney with care? And where did the candy cane come from, anyway? Check out the fascinating origins of some of your favourite holiday traditions.

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Candy cane on wooden tablePhoto: Shutterstock

Candy canes were originally white—and made for bored children

The first known candy cane was made in 1670 by a German choirmaster to help children endure lengthy nativity services. They were white and modelled after shepherds’ canes. The candy cane made its way to America in 1847, when a German immigrant decorated the tree in his Ohio home with the iconic candy.

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Painting of nativity scenePhoto: meunierd/Shutterstock

The Bible doesn’t actually state when Jesus was born

The Gospels leave specific dates and even seasonal references out, but mention shepherds tending their flocks when Jesus was born. This leads some to believe that he’s more likely an Aries than a Capricorn, since spring is the season when lambs tend to be born.

Take a look at what Christmas looked like 100 years ago.

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Carp fish being preparedPhoto: Shutterstock

A fishy holiday tradition

In parts of Eastern Europe, it’s customary to place a live carp in your bathtub for consumption on Christmas Eve. Why? Some suggest that it’s due to the fish’s vital role in the area’s fishing industry and because eating meat was considered a luxury—thus the need to save the carp for a special occasion.

Don’t miss these hilarious (and true!) holiday stories shared by our readers.

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Christmas light displayPhoto: Shutterstock

Why the bright lights?

Historians have an explanation for this bit of Christmas trivia. They note that celebrating Christmas is a natural response to the winter solstice. “If you happen to live in a region in which midwinter brings striking darkness and cold and hunger, then the urge to have a celebration at the very heart of it to avoid going mad or falling into deep depression is very, very strong,” researcher Philip Shaw of Leicester University told Livescience.

Find out what the winter solstice has in store for you, according to your zodiac sign.

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Christmas stockingsPhoto: Shutterstock

The origin of Christmas stockings

An old story dating back to third century Turkey suggests that St. Nicholas would throw coins down the chimneys of poor women who couldn’t afford dowries. The legend continues that the money would land in stockings that were hung over the fire to dry.

Find out why red and green are the colours associated with Christmas.

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Saint Nicholas portraitPhoto: Shutterstock

Originally, Santa was “Sinterklaas”

Dutch children have long cheered the annual coming of Sinterklaas—known also as Saint Nicholas—who sports a crimson mitre and rolls into town on a steam boat filled with presents in mid-November. Then, he rides around on his mighty white steed Amerigo and distributes gifts. Over time, Sinterklaas’ image was transmuted into Santa’s, and Amerigo became a sled with flying reindeer.

Check out these royal family holiday traditions you might want to steal yourself.

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Santa Claus reading listPhoto: Shutterstock

A name popularized by Washington Irving

While there had been mention of “Santa Claus” in the American press dating back to 1773, Washington Irving is generally considered the first man to significantly transform the Dutch Sinterklaas into “Santa Claus.” In his book History of New York, he spoofed the gift-giving legend and portrayed Santa Claus as a pipe-smoking sailor in a green coat.

These heartwarming stories about meeting Santa will fill you with the Christmas spirit.

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Christmas presentsPhoto: Shutterstock

The man behind the icon

There’s no shortage of fascinating Christmas trivia about everyone’s favourite jolly old elf. Inspired at least in part by Sinterklaas and the history of St. Nicholas, author Clement Clarke Moore wrote a poem titled “A Visit from St. Nicholas.” You may know it better as “The Night Before Christmas.” From this work came much of what we now associate with Santa Claus: The flying reindeer, his ample gut, and jolly laughter.

Here’s where the “12 days of Christmas” come from.

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Coca-Cola bottlePhoto: Fotazdymak/Shutterstock

So, no: Coca-Cola did not invent Santa

…But his image has been used extensively in wintertime marketing materials since 1931, cementing both his image and persona in the public consciousness.

Next, check out these fascinating facts about Christmas in Canada.

Reader's Digest
Originally Published on Reader's Digest