Christmas Facts & Myths

Curious Questions of Christmas answered
By Sam Johnson

     One 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 them.
     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 grandkids.
     It's not unusual to hear them ask questions such as:
    --  "What is Santa's real name?"
    -- "Who were the 3 wise men?"
    -- "What does 'noel' mean?"
    -- "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?
      The 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 the
holiday 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 Three Kings.

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Christmas Facts & Myths

• Who were the 3 wise men?
     Despite the 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 "Noel" mean?

     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.
     While most 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 Christmas decoration?
     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 and white?
   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 boys?
    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 fly?
    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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