Curious Questions of Christmas answered
By Sam Johnson
of the great things about having small children around the house at Christmas
time (or any time for that matter) is the curiosity that bubbles forth from
As the Johnson
family gathers for Christmas festivities, the house is filled with children of
all ages, including nieces and nephews, the children of nieces and nephews, and
unusual to hear them ask questions such as:
"What is Santa's real name?"
-- "Who were the
3 wise men?"
-- "What does
-- "Why do
people kiss under the mistletoe?
Sometimes I can answer their questions,
and sometimes I can't.
But this year
I've done my research and am ready to tackle some of the questions about
Christmas that might be put to me by our curious kids.
I gladly share
some of these with you in case you find yourself in the same spot.
• What is Santa's real name?
"Santa Claus" has a strong connection to the Dutch
"Sinterklaas," a name for Saint Nicholas (280–342) the patron saint
of children who gave gifts to the youngsters in his village.
However, "Santa Claus" is not
the name used for the jolly holiday gift giver in all countries. The name of
gift giver varies from country to country. In England it is "Father
Christmas." In France it is "Pere
Noel" (Father Christmas). In Germany it is "Christkind" (angelic
messenger from Jesus, a beautiful fair-haired girl with a shining crown of
candles). In some parts of Russia it is a "Babouschka" (a grandmotherly figure), while in other
parts it is "Grandfather Frost." In Scandinavia it is
"Julenisse" a Christmas gnomes, and in Italy it is "La
Befana," a kindly old witch. In Spanish speaking countries "Papá Noel" is Father Christmas,
but gifts are brought by "el Niño Jesus," (the infant Jesus)" or the
• Who were the 3 wise men?
tale of three wise traveling from afar to visit baby Jesus, the Bible never
gives a number. Matthew's Gospel refers only to "wise men," and
"We three kings of Orient
are" actually are not called kings in the Bible but
"wise men from the east" (Matthew 2:1). They are taken to be kings
because in the prophet Isaiah (60:3), it says, "And the Gentiles shall
come to thy light, and kings to the brightness of thy rising." They are
taken to be three because of their three gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.
Their names came later -- Caspar, Melchior and Balthazar -- the names supplied
in the sixth-century mosaic in the church of Sant'Apollinare Nuovo in Italy.
• What does
The word "Noel" comes from the French
expression "les bonnes
nouvelles" or "the good news." It is derived from the Latin natalis, referring to the nativity or
birth of Christ. Hence, "Noel" has become another word for Christmas
"Christ's mass" or birth celebration.
• Why do people kiss under the mistletoe?
It is believed that kissing
under the mistletoe possibly began in old England. One theory is that the
Druids started it all. They believed the mistletoe was sacred and therefore a
charm against evil. However, another belief is that the custom was started by
the Scandinavians, who considered mistletoe to be a symbol of peace. When
enemies chanced to meet under it, they would be required to declare a truce for
the day and seal it with a kiss of peace.
• Why do we hang up
stockings at Christmas?
The origin of hanging
Christmas stockings comes to us from southern Europe. One legend says that an
old man was in despair because he had no money for his daughter’s dowries. St.
Nicholas dropped a bag of gold down the chimney, which happened to fall into a
stocking hung up to dry.
children in North America put stockings out at Christmas time, Dutch children
set out shoes to receive gifts any time between mid-November and December 5th,
St. Nicholas’ birthday.
• Why is holly used as a
A wreath with
holly, red berries, and other decorations began from at least the 17th century.
Holly, with its sharply pointed leaves, symbolized the thorns in Christ’s
crown-of-thorns. Red berries symbolized the drops of Christ’s blood. A wreath
at Christmas signified a home that celebrated the birth of Christ.
According to legend, holly
berries were once thought to be white. Offered humbly by a child to the Christ
Child who pricked His finger, the white berries blushed red in grief and shame.
• Why are candy canes red
Candy canes began as
straight white sticks of sugar candy used to decorate the Christmas trees.
According to tradition, a choirmaster at Germany's Cologne Cathedral decided to
have the ends bent to depict a shepherd’s crook and he would pass them out to
the children to keep them quiet during the services. It wasn’t until about the
20th century that candy canes acquired their red stripes.
• Are Santa's reindeer all
Actually, according to the Alaska Department of
Fish and Game, while both male and female reindeer grow antlers in the summer
each year, male reindeer drop their antlers at the beginning of winter, usually
late November to mid-December. Female reindeer retain their antlers till after
they give birth in the spring. Therefore, every one of Santa's reindeer, from Rudolph to
Blitzen, have to be girls.
(As the joke goes, we
should've known -- only women would be able to drag a fat man in a red velvet
suit all around the world in one night and not get lost).
• How do we know Santa's reindeer can
We know this because NORAD
(North American Aerospace Defense Command) has been tracking Santa and his
sleigh every year on radar for the past 40 years as he flies around the world
on Christmas Eve delivering presents to good little girls and boys. They even
have a website so you can check it out, too!
Well, this is just the start of my list of
Christmas Myths and Facts explained.
Wishing you and your
family Happy Holidays and a wonderful New Year!
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