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50 Fun Christmas Facts

We've researched the following fun facts about Christmas. There's unearthed myths and no doubt some repeated Christmassy titbits to give 50 interesting facts for you to enjoy, from "when is a advent" to that naughty 'Elf on the Shelf'.

One of our favourite pages on XmasQuiz.co.uk. We always thought Prince Albert introduced the Christmas tree to Britain, just to find out that he actually didn't. And researching the origins of kissing under the mistletoe had us in such a web of myths that we decided to leave it out of our final fifty facts.

Christmas Facts

  1. Advent begins on the nearest Sunday to St Andrew’s Day on the 30 November. The idea that it starts on December 1 was introduced by the manufacturers of advent calendars, so that they could sell off old stock and use the same design each year.
  2. The General Post Office stopped delivering letters on Christmas Day in 1960 in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, and in 1965 in Scotland.
  3. The "X" in “Xmas” comes from the Greek letter Chi, which is the first letter of the Greek word Christos, which became Christ in English.
  4. Bethlehem is a tiny Welsh farming village in Carmarthenshire. The village chapel was given this name and the village came to be known by the name of the chapel. A major attraction is to post Christmas cards from the village to get a Bethlehem postmark, a practice that first gained national attention in the mid-1960s.
  5. The celebration of Christmas started in Rome about 336 but it did not become a major Christian festival until the 9th century.
  6. Paul McCartney has been at the top of the UK Christmas singles chart eight times as a member of The Beatles(4), Wings(1) and several Band Aid incarnations(3).
  7. The word Christmas comes from the old English "Cristes maesse" meaning Christ's Mass.
  8. Many Christmas traditions, such as decorating trees, started in Germany and later spread to other parts of the world, most notably the UK and the United States.
  9. A humbug is a person or object that behaves in a deceptive or dishonest way, the term was first described in 1751 as student slang. In modern usage, the word is mostly associated with Ebenezer Scrooge’s famous reference to Christmas, "Bah! Humbug!", which is declaring Christmas to be a fraud.
  10. The tradition of hanging a Christmas tree upside down from the ceiling is an old one that originated in Central and Eastern Europe.
  11. The song "White Christmas" was written by Irving Berlin for the 1942 film Holiday Inn. The version sung by Bing Crosby is the world's best-selling single with estimated sales in excess of 50 million copies.
  12. The first commercial Christmas cards were commissioned by civil servant Sir Henry Cole in London in 1843 - artist John Callcott Horsley was commissioned to design the card. The card's illustration attracted some criticism because it depicted a family drinking wine, so it was argued, promoted drunkenness. Also, the image of children drinking was considered by many Victorians to be totally outrageous.

    Henry Cole was also instrumental in the establishment of the “penny post” in 1840, having worked as assistant to its main instigator Rowland Hill.
  13. With 500 million households to visit and 42 hours to do it in, it means Father Christmas has a total of just 300 microseconds (0.0003 seconds) to accomplish everything he needs to accomplish per household.
  14. Many Japanese families traditionally eat at KFC for Christmas dinner, thanks to a highly successful marketing campaign 40 years ago. It’s so popular that customers must place their Christmas orders months in advance.
  15. Robins first appeared on Christmas cards as a joke. Victorian postmen wore red tunics and were nicknamed 'robins'.
  16. Santa is called Kriss Kringle in Germany, Le Befana in Italy, Pere Noel in France and Papa Noel in Spain.
  17. Many European countries have a thirteenth salary, or end-of-year bonus, which is an extra payment given to employees at the end of December.
  18. According to the National Christmas Tree Association, the typical height of a Christmas tree is about 6 or 7 feet. It can take as little as four years to reach this height, but the average growing time is seven years. Often, a Christmas tree can take up to 15 years to reach typical height.
  19. In Victorian times, mince pies were made with beef and spices. The 1861 mince-pie recipe from Mrs Beeton said for minced beef to be added to the mincemeat, which was a common ingredient in Mince Pies before the 1900s.
  20. The Soviet Union was formally dissolved on Boxing Day in 1991.
  21. The exact origin of the term Boxing Day is unknown. It’s thought its name comes from all the money collected in church alms-boxes for the poor or from a time when the rich used to box up gifts to give to the poor.
  22. London sweetmaker Tom Smith created the first Christmas crackers in 1847. They were a development of his bon-bon sweets, which he sold in a twist of paper.
  23. Environmental charity Hubbub estimates UK shoppers will buy over 10 million festive jumpers, despite already owning 65 million from previous years.
  24. It is thought that candy cane dates back to 1670, when the choirmaster at the Cologne Cathedral in Germany handed out sugar sticks among his young singers to keep them quiet during the Nativity ceremony. In honour of the occasion, he bent the candies into shepherds' crooks.
  25. Queen’s "Bohemian Rhapsody" is the only record to get the top spot in the UK Christmas Singles Chart twice, once in 1975 and again in 1991.
  26. The tradition of putting tangerines in stockings comes from 12th-century French nuns who left socks full of fruit, nuts and tangerines at the houses of the poor.
  27. Many theologians estimate that Jesus wasn't born on December 25 but sometime in September between 6BC and 30AD.
  28. The holly in a wreath symbolises Christ's crown of thorns while the red berries are drops of his blood.
  29. In southern areas of the UK away from the highest hills there have only been six classic widespread white Christmas Days (when snow has fallen and laid giving a good cover) during the 20th century. They were 1906, 1917, 1923, 1938, 1956 and 1970.
  30. "Last Christmas" by Wham! was the most-played Christmas song of the 21st century in the UK until it was overtaken by "Fairytale of New York" in 2015. Also, the video marked the last filmed appearance of a clean-shaven George Micheal, as he sported a beard for the rest of his career.
  31. The Bible never tells us that there were three wise men. Matthew 2:1 tells us that "when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem".
  32. After the English Civil War, Oliver Cromwell officially banned all Christmas festivities in 1647. It was considered "a popish festival with no biblical justification", and a time of wasteful and immoral behaviour. This law wasn't lifted until 1660.
  33. Since 1947, the city of Oslo in Norway has sent a rather large Christmas tree to London as thanks for the UK’s help in the Second World War.
  34. James Pierpont's 1857 song Jingle Bells was originally called One Horse Open Sleigh and was written for Thanksgiving. 108 years later, Jingle Bells was the first song broadcast from space when Gemini 6 astronauts Wally Schirra and Tom Stafford sang it on December 16, 1965.
  35. The Beatles hold the record for most Christmas number one singles with four. The first three on consecutive Christmases from 1963–1965 were I Want To Hold Your Hand, I Feel Fine and Day Tripper/We Can Work It Out. In 1967, Hello, Goodbye became their fourth.
  36. The lead role in the film Elf was originally going to be given to Jim Carrey. In the Grinch, Eddie Murphy and Jack Nicholson were both considered for Carrey’s part. In Home Alone, the part of Harry was offered to both Robert De Niro and Jon Lovitz, before being taken by Joe Pesci.
  37. Twelfth Night falls on the 5 January and marks the end of Christmas. It's unlucky to keep Christmas decorations up after this date.
  38. Between around 1300 and 1850, the UK endured a "little ice age" that brought harsher winters.
  39. The word Noel derives from the French expression "les bonnes nouvelles" which translates to "the good news."
  40. Hanging stockings out comes from the Dutch custom of leaving shoes packed with food for St Nicholas's donkeys. He would leave small gifts in return.
  41. The world's longest Christmas cracker was made by the parents of children at Ley Hill School and Pre-School, Chesham, Buckinghamshire, UK on 20 December 2001. It measured 63.1 metres (207 ft) long and 4 metres (13 ft) in diameter.
  42. Mistletoe is a parasitic plant spread by seeds that pass through the digestive tract of birds. It has to grow on other trees to get the nutrients it needs to live; it's not possible to grow it in the ground on its own or in a pot. The most common trees on which it grows in the UK are apple trees, but it can grow on others.
  43. According to myth, mistel is the Anglo-Saxon word for dung and tan is the word for twig. So, the word mistletoe means "dung-on-a-twig."
  44. Modern tinsel was invented in Nuremberg, Germany around 1610. Tinsel takes its name from the old French word estincelle, meaning spark.
  45. There are towns called Santa Claus in the American states of Arizona, Georgia and Indiana.
  46. Wild poinsettias occur from Mexico to Guatemala, and was described as a new species in 1834. It derives its common English name from Joel Poinsett, the first US Minister to Mexico, who is credited in the 1820s with introducing the plant to the United States.
  47. It’s a myth that Prince Albert introduced the Christmas tree to Britain. However, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert did popularised the Christmas tree when they were pictured with one in the Illustrated London News in 1848. Queen Victoria had a Christmas tree as a child. In her journal for Christmas Eve 1832, the 13-year-old princess wrote:

    “After dinner ... we then went into the drawing room near the dining room ... There were two large round tables on which were placed two trees hung with lights and sugar ornaments. All the presents being placed round the trees ...”
  48. Another myth is that Coca-Cola designed the modern Santa Claus as part of an advertising campaign. Coca-Cola started using Santa in its 1933 advertising but Santa had been portrayed almost always in red form the early 1800s and most of his modern image was put together by cartoonist Thomas Nast in the 1870s.
  49. Jesus probably wasn't an only child. In fact, the Bible makes several references to Jesus’ brothers, indicating that he grew up surrounded by siblings.
  50. The Elf on the Shelf: A Christmas Tradition is a 2005 children's picture book. The story is from a family tradition started by American Carol Aebersold for her twin daughters about an elf sent from Santa who came to watch over them at Christmas time. The book encourages a child to be nice and not naughty.


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