Christmas Mythology: True and False



By Erin Broomell | Copy Editor

“‘What if Christmas,’ [the Grinch] thought, ‘doesn't come from a store. What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more?’” - Dr. Suess, How the Grinch Stole Christmas

When it comes to the holidays, I’m tradition’s willing hostage. Each year my halls are decked with boughs of holly. My lawn is lit with a blanket of lights. I will search tirelessly for the perfect tree that will die in a month. After the decorating, cooking, hosting, and gifting is over, I feel like I’ve endured a season of taking rather than a season of giving. Come December 26th, I’m thankful the next Christmas is a year away.

Even so, I don’t believe it takes a house full of holly-jolly aesthetics or a shopping cart full of material possessions to make Christmas what it is. We all know the true meaning of Christmas, but the truths behind the traditions and customs we follow during the holidays are far from what Dr. Seuss was suggesting. With all the hustling and bustling, it’s important to focus on that which is easy to lose sight of. So this year, if you must engage in mindless tradition, remember that part of it came from Coca-Cola. And Americans once protested it. Here are some other truths about Christmas:

Christmas is Jesus’ Birthday: FALSE

                                                            The reason for the season

                                                          The reason for the season

Hold on! Let me explain…. There is a 1 in 365 chance this is true. Because birthdays weren’t celebrated during the period Jesus was born, his date of birth is not recorded. Early Christians couldn’t agree on which day Jesus was born. In fact, early Christian’s didn’t celebrate Christmas at all, which is why there is no mention of December 25th in the Bible. In the 3rd century, December 25th became the official celebration day for Jesus’ birthday. The date was likely chosen because it coincided with already existing Pagan festivals. As the saying going, Jesus is the reason for the season; pagan holidays eventually were extinguished and by the 8th century Jesus’ birth was widely celebrated across Europe on December 25th. So remember, it’s just a date. You can celebrate the true meaning of Christmas any day.


The Modern Image of Santa Claus was invented by Coca-Cola: TRUE

In 1931 Coca Cola came knocking at America’s door offering to sell them tradition, and guess what? They bought it. They even passed it on to the next generation. Even if you don’t know who Haddon Sundblom is, you’ve seen his work. The red and white brush strokes that make up the holly-jolly image of Santa are his creation. Sundblom is the artist Coca-Cola hired to develop advertising images for their 1931 ad campaign, “Thirst Knows No Season”. Sundblom’s neighbor originally served as model, but when his neighbor passed away, he used himself as a model. Painting himself in mirror image once led to Sundblom painting Santa’s belt on backward one year, so he begin to rely on photographs instead.

Nobody really knows why we leave cookies and milk for Santa on Christmas Eve: TRUE

There are several older traditions which treating Santa is linked to, but no one knows for sure. It’s likely it evolved from more than one, given the eclectic mix of customs the holiday is comprised of. A few suggested are:

1.     Milk and Cookies, like the Christmas tree, is linked to a German tradition. The German’s decorated their trees with apples, cookies, and wafers for Santa to snack on.

2.     During the tradition feast of jolly old St. Nicolas, December 6th, children would leave food and drink for the saint and his attendants. These offerings would be exchanged for gifts overnight.

3.     Norse mythology could be the culprit. Norse-folk would leave hay and treats for the King of the Gods Odin and his eight legged horse Sleipner in hopes the god would stop by their home during his Yule hunting adventures. This tradition was handed down to Dutch children who would leave treats out for Father Christmas’ horse.

It’s also said that leaving cookies and milk for Santa could be linked to the Great Depression. During this time, it is believed that parents wanted to inspire their children to share with others. To help them do this, they would leave snacks out for Santa Claus and his reindeer. However, given the number of older traditions this could be linked to its likely that the tradition evolved during this period rather than originated.

Americans Once Protested Christmas: TRUE

By the 8th century, Christmas was widely celebrated across Europe, often by throwing wild, Mardi-Gras-like parties. This led Puritan settlers of Colonial America begin to oppose Christmas celebration! In 1644 the Massachusetts legislature enacted a law that anyone who celebrated Christmas would be fined five shillings, a significant amount for the 17th century. They eventually decided to relax and join in on the festivities, when it became a federal holiday in the late 1800s.