Whether your love of Christmas is rooted in religion or you’re more of the “be good for goodness sake” variety, the trappings of Christmas are common to all of us who celebrate the season. But how much do you know about the trees and the candy canes—or, indeed, traditions literally rooted in bird poop—that make up Christmas lore?
Here are five things you need to know about Christmas, including some you’ll likely never forget—or get over.
1. Americans buy 25-30 million Christmas trees annually, according to the National Christmas Tree Association (yes, such a group exists.) And at any one time, there are 350 million Christmas trees growing on tree farms in the U.S.—that’s almost 42 million more Christmas trees than people living in the United States.
2. What’s your favorite Christmas tradition? A Yule log? Cookie baking? Bor-ing. Snapdragon is where it’s at. Snapdragon proved a popular Christmas game from “time immemorial,” Robert Chambers wrote in 1832’s The Book of Days.
The concept is simple, yet slightly terrifying: Put a large, shallow bowl in the center of the table and throw in a handful of raisins. Fill the bowl with brandy, light it on fire and take turns snatching out raisins with your bare hands and eating them before your mouth catches on fire. Chambers assures us that “a considerable amount of laughter and merriment is evoked at the expense of the unsuccessful competitors.” (Editor's Note: We definitely don't recommend trying this at home.)
3. It seems that children have been fidgety in church for centuries. And thanks to their short attention spans, we have candy canes. So goes an account by authors James and Kay Salter, who write that a German choirmaster invented the hook-shaped candy treats in 1670 to amuse children choir members during Christmas services.
The candy cane shape is Biblical, resembling the hooks carried by the shepherds who were the first to hear the news about the birth of Jesus, according to the book of Luke. The traditional peppermint flavoring came 200 years later.
4. Celebrating Christmas in Puritan Boston would have cost you five shillings. The Puritans outlawed Christmas from 1659 to 1681 and instituted the fine for anyone daring to celebrate what they deemed a “decadent” holiday.
5. Ah, mistletoe. How romantic, how lovely—how amenable to humanitarian causes, as we recently reported about a charity effort in Eagle Rock centered around this fabled plant. But did you know mistletoe is inspired by bird poop? Birds help mistletoe grow by eating the plant’s berries and, ahem, letting loose, as birds are wont to do. The mistletoe seeds in the bird excrement then germinate, according to the San Diego Natural History Museum. Indeed, mistletoe’s name has an inglorious root: the Anglo-Saxon “mistel” (dung) and “tan” (twig)—or “dung on a twig.” Makes you want to pucker up, huh?
Merry Christmas, Patch readers!