Christmas is arguably the single most important day of the year in the modern era. A commercial holiday, December 25th is almost university celebrated and as such has its own distinguishable elements and tall tales. However, how many of these are actually false. These are 10 festive fallacies about Christmas that you may believe.
Similarly, see our misconceptions pieces on:
10 Religious Misconceptions & Fallacies
10 Misconceptions About The Olympic Games
10 Unbelievable Misconceptions In Wrestling!
10 Misconceptions About 19th-Century Historical Figures
10 Misconceptions About World Leaders Of The 20th Century
Christmas Misconceptions: Jesus Was Born On December 25th
Yes, even the date – mentioned in the intro – on which we celebrate the birthdate of Jesus Christ is simply not true.
This one is quite brief so we’ll try to keep it short.
The claim that our ‘Lord and Saviour’ Jesus Christ was born on Xmas day was created by Pope Julius I in 350 AD but really has little corroborating evidence and large contrary evidence.
Sheep, for example, are present at the time despite the fact a December birth would take place in Winter, not Spring. December 25th is never mentioned at all in the Bible, with modern readers tracing his birth more accurately to September time.
As The New York Post put it: “Bottom line: Nobody knows for sure why Dec. 25 is celebrated as Christmas.”
It is also false to state Jesus was born on year zero, more likely in the last few years of the B.C. period, rather confusingly.
Similar: Tim Minchin’s “Thank You God”: A Lyrical Over-Analysis
Christmas Misconceptions: Santa’s Reindeer Are Male
Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Blitzen Donna, and Rudolph – all female.
Picture the Xmas reindeer, they likely have antlers, which would make them female.
The Independent notes: “male reindeer shed their antlers at the end of the mating season in early December, while females sport their thinner antlers throughout the winter.”
Edinburgh University professors Gerald Lincoln and David Baird, who explained in The Telegraph: “Male reindeer…have their mating season in Autumn when they use their antlers to fight but once it finishes, they cast them.”
Interestingly, of the 40 different species of deer, it is only reindeer where females have antlers.
USA Today also notes that female deer with antlers at Xmas time are also likely to be pregnant.
The antlers, which grow tens of inches, are shed to grow a new and larger pair annually.
True to form, The Sun’s George Harrison (no, not that one) put it: “If Santa were a bloke, she’d have no antlers at Christmas.”
Unless…he was a eunuch. A reindeer castration means they will retain their antlers.
So either Rudolph and his clan are castrated males or, more interestingly and child-friendly, females.
Fun fact: In (Twas) The Night Before Christmas written by Clement Clarke Moore (a debated fact in of itself) in 1823, there was no Rudolph at all. She first appeared in a colouring book by Robert L. May in as late as 1939, created as a promotional attraction for the Montgomery Ward department store.
Christmas Misconceptions: Coca-Cola Invented The Modern-Day Santa Claus
Saint Nicholas of Turkey is known to be the inspiration for today’s Santa Claus after the 4th century Turkish Saint gave children gifts. Yet many still incorrectly think it was Coca-Cola who made the modern-day depiction of Santa a reality.
At this time, Father Christmas was a thin man in a bishop’s hat who rode via donkey to deliver gifts in young children’s clogs, which were filled with hay for the donkeys.
It was not Coca-Cola who created the Santa image but a number of authors over time. In 1823, Moore wrote the poem A Visit From St. Nick, a poem better known today as (Twas) The Night Before Christmas, which helped Americanise Santa, building upon previous work by author Washington Irving.
The clogs became stockings whilst the flying wagon (an Irving concept, replacing the donkey) became a sleigh. The sleigh was pulled by a number of flying reindeer, with Santa evidently living somewhere frosty to have somewhere to keep the domesticated reindeer.
Yet perhaps the single most important figure was the German-born artist Thomas Nast. At just 21, the Bavarian immigrant was tasked with illustrating Santa in an 1863 edition of Harper’s Weekly as a pro-Union gift-giver during the Civil War.
Nast did such for 32 more illustrations up to 1886 according to Smithsonian Magazine, refining the Santa character, gifting him a bushier beard, more rotund and plump figure, and red and white clothing. One version illustrated Santa at a workshop, filling out a book of all the children had been good or naughty this year.
So, the work of Irving, Moore, and especially Nast created today’s Santa, not Coca-Cola.
Even if that fails to convince you, the Santa advertising started in 1931. Yet Snopes’s David Mikkelson quotes a New York Times article dating from 1927: “A standardized Santa Claus appears to New York children. Height, weight, stature are almost exactly standardized, as are the red garments, the hood and the white whiskers. The pack full of toys, ruddy cheeks and nose, bushy eyebrows and a jolly, paunchy effect are also inevitable parts of the requisite make-up.”
Images of a heavy-set, bearded, red and white Santa can be seen way prior to 1931, with a Xmas themed edition of Puck in 1902 serving as a very early example.
As well as preceded by newspapers such as Time and cigarette brands such as Murad, in Gerald Bowler’s Santa Claus: A Biography, he highlights that Coca-Cola were not even the first soft drinks advertiser as White Rock Beverages used Father Christmas as early as 1915: “The Coke Santa was in no way ground-breaking, nor was the Atlanta company even the first purveyor of soda to use the gift-bringer in its ads. That hono[u]r belongs to White Rock.”
Christmas Misconceptions: Mary And Joseph Returned To Bethlehem For The Census
As mentioned in my 10 Religious Misconceptions and Fallacies list, Mary and Joseph did not return to Bethlehem for the census for the birth of Jesus Christmas.
I quote from that article:
“The story goes that Mary and Joseph returned to their birthplace for the census under Caesar Augustus. In the Luke gospel, this is explained for a simple reason: to fulfil the prophecy. The Messiah was to be born from the “stem of Jesse” in Bethlehem.
Augustus ordered a census of the whole Roman world, which there never was across the whole Roman land. On top of that, as with today, there is no requirement for the return to the birthplace in any census. It is simply where you are living when taken. Mary is supposedly a virgin so this “stem of Jesse” can be of little relevance anyway.
It is for the prophecy that Luke comments that this pilgrimage took place, with little other reason or evidence to believe it.”
The 65-mile trip via camel is largely thought not to have happened, with the Three Wise Men’s role not believed by many either.
Christmas Misconceptions: “Jingle Bells” Was Written For Christmas
We all know “Jingle Bells”, as we hear it every Christmas – being one of the most identifiable festive hits.
Yet the song, written by James Lord Pierport (the uncle of future “Robber Baron” and businessman J.P. Morgan, after whom the bank is named) was originally composed for a different Winter holiday.
Pierport, a composer and organist at Savannah’s Unitarian Universalist Church, composed the song for his father’s Sunday school after seeing the popular sleigh races taking place in New England. Although copyrighted in 1857, there is a belief it was written in 1850.
Either way, it was composed not for Christmas, but Thanksgiving.
The song was not originally called “Jingle Bells”, but instead titled after a different line in the song: “One Horse Open Sleigh”, where it was eventually republished by Oliver Ditson & Co. in 1859.
Perhaps more interesting though is that the man behind the song, Pierport, was actually part of the Confederacy. He joined a Savannah-based Confederate cavalry regiment and when the Civil War broke out, joined the Isle of Hope Volunteers of the First (later Fifth) Georgia Cavalry. This was despite the family’s staunch abolitionist views.
As a part of his Confederate views, he wrote a number of ‘patriotic’ (by which we mean highly Confederate) songs which went by names such as “Our Battle Flag” and “We Conquer Or Die”.
Tangent aside, “Jingle Bell” was first recorded way back in 1898 in a recording that can be found on YouTube, before various other version prior to a 1943 by Bing Crosby. Crosby’s 1943 iteration, from the Merry Christmas record, was the most high-profile version, one which cemented the track as a Christmas standard.
On December 16th 1965, the single made history with The Washington Post noting it became the first song heard from space.
Christmas Misconceptions: Prince Albert Introduced The Christmas Tree To Britain
It is commonly said that Prince Albert brought the Xmas tree to England.
It is not a claim without credence. Indeed, Albert was German, the nation were many believe the Christmas tree emanated from with a belief that Protestant reformer Martin Luther was an early user of the Xmas tree as decoration.
Yet prior to Albert’s 1840 import of Xmas trees (of which he later remarked: “I must now seek in the children an echo of what Ernst and I were in the old time, of what we felt and thought; and their delight in the Christmas trees is not less than ours used to be,”) there had been previous introductions of the plant to Britain.
Queen Charlotte, herself German-born, predated Albert by a few decades.
She had created a tree with sweets and treats for children in the Queen’s Lodge, Windsor, in December 1800. An account the year prior by poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge in a letter to his wife describes “a great yew bough…[decorated with] coloured paper,” under which “children lay out the presents.”
The History Today website comments that after Caroline’s introduction of the tree, the tradition was cemented by 1818 and thus was nothing new by 1840.
Even in 1832, Queen Victoria – then aged 13 – wrote in her journal of “two trees, hung with lights and sugar ornaments,” eight years before Albert’s supposedly trend-starting importation.
In her journal entry for Christmas Eve in 1832, the delighted thirteen-year-old princess had written: “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.”
The work of the London historian John Stow even found a 1444 account of an Xmas tree in London, which recounts: “Every man’s house and also his parish church was decked with holme, ivie, bayes, and whatever the season of the year afforded to be green.”
No matter when the Xmas tree came to England, it is clear Prince Albert was not the first to introduce them – in fact, he wasn’t even the first royal to do so.
Christmas Misconceptions: Christmas Decorations Should Come Down On January 6th
Christmas decorations do not actually need to come down until February 1st.
It may seem late and you may be seen as lazy but tradition holds that they are taken down on Candlemas Eve, far beyond Twelfth Night.
In Medieval England, Christmas ended on Candlemas, a day when candles were blessed in churches and great feasts took place – 40 days after December 25th. It even started on November 11th, Martinmas.
As for why we now take them down so comparatively early, it is all down to the Victorians. According to Professor Nick Groom of Exeter University: “It was basically the Victorians who decided that Christmas decorations should be taken down after 12 days because they wanted to get everybody to work. They fixed it as the season of Christmas in the 19th century.”
Furthermore, advent does not necessarily start on December 1st but the Sunday after St. Andrew’s Day (November 30th). It could fall on December 1st but not necessarily.
Christmas Misconceptions: It’s A Wonderful Life Was A Commercial Success
Described by author Kevin O’Neill as the “quintessential American movie,” the 1946 film It’s A Wonderful Life is perhaps the definitive Christmas movie although it actually bombed at the box office, rather surprisingly.
The film was based on an eponymously-titled book by Philip Van Doren Stern from 1938, with the movie starring the legendary James Stewart.
Perhaps a late release day, perhaps post-WW2 stagnation, or general apathy, the film bombed. It only recovered $3.3 million of a budget of $3.2 million or $3.7 million, depending on the source. Either way, it was by no way a blockbuster success.
The film needed $6.3 million to break-even, eventually falling short and recording a $525,000 loss for distributor RKO.
In fact, the film only placed 26th in box office revenues for 1947 (although released in late 1946 for the Xmas market), making $3.3 million compared to the top grossing movie The Best Years Of Our Lives which made $11.5 million.
The fallout was deadly. It was the only film released under Liberty Films (a follow-up was under the MGM banner), with Liberty needing to borrow $1.5 million and with little return, Liberty was soon sold off to Paramount.
Moreover, it marked the end to the commercial career of director Frank Capra. Capra had seen previous success with It Happened One Night and Mr. Smith Goes To Washington. In Mark Eliot’s Jimmy Stewart: A Biography, he observes that: “Capra was no longer capable of turning out the populist features that made his films the must-see, money-making events they once were.”
The film did eventually catch on but only due to a copyright error.
In 1974, the movie went into the public domain when the film’s copyright was not renewed. With any TV station able to air the film, it caught on with the viewing public. Seeing his film finally reach the lauded heights he could only have dreamed of, Capra told the Wall Street Journal: “The film has a life of its own now…I’m like a parent whose kid grows up to be president; I’m proud.”
Screen Rant states that “If it hadn’t been for a clerical copyright error in 1974, It’s a Wonderful Life would’ve been known only to the generation in which it debuted.”
After a court case, Republic Pictures eventually sued to regain the copyright, able to do so since the Stewart v Abend (1990) precedent which gave greater rights to previous copyright holders.
It was in 1990 that the film was deemed culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant enough for the piece to be added to the United States’s Library of Congress and placed on the National Film Registry.
As Mental Floss notes: “The film that killed a production company 70 years ago is now an annual television event and part of countless family traditions around the globe.” All of this despite initially failing to stoke the fires of Hollywood audiences.
Christmas Misconceptions: The Winterval Myth
By December, pretty much every newspaper covers some kind of Winterval piece in which there are complaints about cancelled Christmas parties and celebrations as they are not ‘politically correct’ as they ‘discriminate’ against other religions.
The story quickly spiraled out of control in the following years. The Guardian notes that “The Telegraph has run 61 stories referencing the term Winterval, the Mail has used it 78 times and the Sun 67.”
The event was labelled “Political correctness gone mad!” but many, including anti-Winterval campaigner Ken White whilst it saw protest movements by Bishop of Birmingham (namely, ironically enough, Mark Santer) and – rather weirdly – members of UB40.
The myth was further perpetuated by politicians like ex-Cabinet member Eric Pickles who said we should “not allow politically correct Grinches to marginalise Christianity and the importance of the birth of Christ.” The Daily Mail even had to publicly rescind comments that Winterval was replacing Xmas.
Despite some celebrations titled Winterval in the late 1990s organised by Birmingham City Council, this has – in no way – hindered Xmas celebrations. It did however celebrate other religious and secular causes. It notably ran in 1997 and 1998 and not since then.
Via BBC News, a council spokeswomen has reasserted that: “’Birmingham City Council wants people to celebrate Christmas. Christmas is the very heart of Winterval,’ she said.”
Creator Mike Chubb has added: “Political correctness was never the reasoning behind Winterval, but yes it was intended to be inclusive (which is no bad thing to my mind)…I do believe that those who took umbrage did it for their own reasons, to sell their own message and of course, everybody got on to their own hobby horses in the process.”
There have been increasing Xmas parties year-on-year and, as of 2007 (about a decade after the last Winterval), 95% of all offices were decorated.
You may read it in The Daily Mail but frankly, it is a shame and utter bollocks of the highest order.
Christmas Misconceptions: Midnight Mass Is At Midnight
Nope, not anymore.
Of course, this does depend on what strand of Christianity you follow but in the modern day, midnight mass is held much earlier than midnight.
The largest Christian denomination at over 50% (1.3 billion), Roman Catholics observe midnight mass earlier. In 2009, the Vatican under Pope Benedict XVI conducted mass at 10:00pm. Yet this time jumps around with Catholic website The Pillar noting: “in 2013, Pope Francis moved it to 9:30. Because of a coronavirus curfew, it was moved to 7:30 p.m. in 2020.”
Elsewhere, branches such as Anglicanism and Methodism start mass at around 11:00pm.
Many be practise mass at midnight but that is not to say it is necessary at the designated hour of midnight.
Those were just some of the many myths people believe about the biggest holiday of the year. Some of the most famous Xmas facts and traditions being Christmas misconceptions.
Of course, Christmas has always been tinged in a level of mystique and magic but these are the fake ‘facts’ that have evolved over time, snowballing (pun intended) in popularity). In terms of reality, these tall tales may be followed and believed but I guess that just adds to the Christmas spirit.
Merry Xmas all!