The History Behind Ten Well-Known Christmas Items

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Christmas is just a huge amalgam of arbitrarily thrown together stuff. Thanks in part to the unwitting collaboration of both Christian influences and the polar-opposite Pagan rituals, we’ve got what we call Christmas. Over the centuries it’s definitely collected its fair share of items and trinkets we put out and up every year. But where did Christmas get all of its goodies, anyway? Well, check out these ten favorites and you, too can learn a little something!

Mistletoe

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What is it?

Believe it or not, it's a parasitic ivy-like plant that attaches itself to a host and sucks the frikkin life out of it. It's almost too ironically appropriate, dontcha think?

Why did it originate?

In the way we're using it here (all Christmasy and what not), basically, "mistletoe was (is) seen as a representation of divine male essence (and thus romance, fertility and vitality), possibly because of a resemblance between the berries and semen." The hell? That's why we kiss under it? Uh... yuck.

Why do we still bother?

Tradition, bitch. We Americans love our Holiday customs, and when something as ridiculous as kissing under a poisonous-berry making ivy becomes all the rage at parties... well, it sticks with you like anything else. What're ya gonna do.

Gingerbread

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What is it?

Cookies or house-parts (okay, I suppose bread and other baked goods, too) made using ginger and typically dark brown sugar, honey, or molasses as opposed to straight up sugar. Tasty, no?

Where did it originate?

Apparently its etymology is pretty vast so if you want to know, click here. This damn shit has been around since 992 when it was brought to Europe by a dude named Gregory of Nicopolis. And thanks to that cat, it's been widely available since the 18th century. Nom Nom!

Why do we still bother?

Because who doesn't want to make a dwelling out of baked goods? No one, that's who. Also gingerbread men are awfully fun to nibble the heads off of. Sick bastards.

Christmas Stockings

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What is it?

Oddly, its an way over-sized piece of novelty footwear one hangs from a mantle or somewhere in expectations of Santa (or Daddy Krampus) filling it with trinkets and gee-gaws.

Where did it originate?

Though there aren't a ton of actual written records of when and where the Stocking hanging began, the most popular myth is the one about the origin of Saint Nicholas, himself. Evidently, when Nich first began his foray into breaking into people's homes and leaving free shit around, he saw drying stockings of the girls of the house hanging by the fire to dry, and his plan was to drop bagged coins into them to keep them safe. So, I suppose this is a good a story as any.

Why do we still bother?

Because it's fun, especially if you've got kids. In fact, if you don't have kids I can't imagine why you'd actually hang them unless you have yours from when you were a kid, too. Like me. But I have kids, so... anyway. Making your own is fun, and watching the children's faces light up when they get a Slinky or a pocket comb is pure joy. I guess. I'm usually half asleep anyway.

Christmas Trains

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What is it?

When many of us were children (me included), some member of our families would create a circular track directly under the Christmas Tree and run a model toy train over and over on Christmas Eve and Day. In my case, it was my grandpa, and he literally took more than just pride in his little elliptical Choo-Choo. In fact, he would go just this side of bonkers making that thing perfect. Ah, Christmas Trains... is anything more infuriating.

Where did it originate?

Oddly, this was really tough to locate. Apparently, from those who have far more time on their hands than I do, its usage began sometime during the 18th Century when trains themselves were relatively set in culture. Toy trains were all the rage, and, when kids wanted them for Christmas, many were given and set the night before. That's just great.

Why do we still bother?

Well, for some, trains are like cocaine. They just can't get enough. For a time, my grandpa had a huge collection and homemade city and tracks all over creation... but in this case, these people are just Coo Coo for Cocoa Puffs (and if you get that reference, you're a good man Charlie Brown) and love setting them up for all to see. Good for them.

Fruit Cake

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What is it?

Quite possibly the most diabolical food creation in the history of man kind. It's spirit-soaked cake filled with any and all of the following: dried fruits, candy corn, Jelly Beans, crunchy frogs, Fruit-By-The-Foot, and probably acorns. Best used for a paper weight or re-gifted to people you wish would kill themselves.

Where did it originate?

Though the recipe for shit like this has been around for a good long time, it's only been since the 16th Century where the cake itself was used as a preserving agent for the actual fruit. Really? So I'm assuming the booze was to mask the flavor of the fetid raisins and funky snozzberries. Bleargh. Anyway, it inexplicably became popular as a gift item. And thus was a sad day for America.

Why do we still bother?

Because people are frikkin sick in the head, and everyone thinks they're funny. They aren't, and neither are these wretched baked shit-cakes. There has only ever been one decent recipe, and it's by Alton Brown. Look it up. What am I, your research agent? Damn.

Green/Red Christmas Colors

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What is it?

Look around this time of year just about everywhere and you'll see Christmas decorations. The most popular colors you'll find are the typical red and green, followed closely by white, and likely silver and gold. But how did two hues that, if thought about hard enough, become associated with the holiday? They don't seem very likely, but as Wikipedia says, "Red symbolizes the blood of Jesus, which was shed in his crucifixion, while green symbolizes eternal life, and in particular the evergreen tree, which does not lose its leaves in the winter." Makes sense now, doesn't it?

Where did it originate?

Though no specific date has been found, it's apparent that when the modern version of Christmas was adopted as it's seen now, the Christian influence placed the red=blood into the mix since that's really what Christmas is about: the birth of the Savior. As for the green, since many Pagan influences merged with Christianity to form the holiday, the green of the tree that became the Christmas Tree is pretty obvious. It's fun to learn!

Why do we still bother?

Because Christmas is Christmas, and as a stuck-for-life tradition, it just wouldn't be without red and green garlands strewn about your Nativity Scene. Classy.

Tree-Top Star

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What is it?

If you have a tree as part of your holiday celebrations and you didn't decorate it like some kind of shit-faced college douche bag, then the chances are pretty good that you either have an angel or a star on its top. Ooohh... pretty!

Why did it originate?

Thinking again about the Christian Nativity and the birth of Jesus Christ -on which much of the season's celebrations are based- one can plainly see (if one is familiar with the tale) that the use of both angels and stars atop the tree can trace their roots right back there. If it's an angel you prefer, then it's all because of the Angel Gabriel who announced Jesus' birth and looked over the scene. Is it a star? Then it's the North Star you're epitomizing; the very star that shone when Christ was brought forth to the world. Isn't that nice?

Why do we still bother?

Some people don't, and ultimately it just depends on what side of the fence you choose to base your Christmas beliefs. If you are a devout Christian and you understand what the holiday represents, then you likely chose one tree-topper or the other. If you're a dick... or possibly just a person who treats Christmas as a day where gifts are exchanged only (like I said...), then maybe you just top your tree with anything from snowmen to polka dot undies. Or maybe a star, look, I have no idea. Dick.

Jingle Bells

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What is it?

Well, rather then go in to the history of actual bells, I figured I'd turn this entry into a little background on one of the most famous songs of the Season: "Baby, it's Cold Outside". No, wait, I mean "Jingle Bells".

Where did it originate?

Weirdly, it was originally titled "One Horse Open Sleigh". I guess that makes sense, considering the lyrics. Anyway, it was written by a chap named James Lord Pierpont in 1857. Oh, and it had a shitload of lyrics we don't hear much of anymore. Maybe we get the second verse (see Barbara Striesand's version for a pretty epic example), but almost never the full thing. So follow the link and you'll what you've been missing.

Why do we still bother?

Even if it weren't the first song played in space (and it was), we'd still sing it and play it and listen to it because it's so crammed into our collective Christmas psyche that without it, I just don't think Santa would come! I'm gonna go sing it now because I asked for a Pillow Pet!

Tinsel

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What is it?

Made to look like icicles, tinsel is one of the most gaudy and pointless Christmas decorations of all time. Made of silvered plastic and meant to be strewn about your tree and floor and everything else it comes in contact with, tinsel is stupid and once one of your baby kids eats it and you find it in their poop, you realize you never want it in your house again.

Where did it originate?

Not much good has ever come out of Nuremburg, Germany, but you can add tinsel to that really short list. In fact, when it was invented in 1610, it was made of real, honest-to-goodness extruded silver! Well, that seems particularly wasteful. Anyway, since silver tarnishes really easily in the open air, it's obviously not made of that anymore. Yeah, because it tarnishes... not because it was frikkin real silver.

Why do we still bother?

Exactly.

Candy Canes

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What is it?

It's candy. It's cane-shaped. And it's minty.

Where did it originate?

Apparently, way back in 1670 in Cologne, Germany (those damn Germans, again?), a choirmaster at the Cologne Cathedral wanted to keep his children's choir quiet during long stints of just standing there, and since relationships between elder church-folk and innocent kids hadn't fallen into fashion yet (guh), he had a local candy maker whip up a few candy sticks bent into the shapes of shepherd's crooks. Tasty! Oh, and the white represented a 'sinless' life, while the red was, again, Christ's blood. Um... yum?

Why do we still bother?

Cuz they're delicious! Also you can pretty much find them in every conceivable flavor now from favorite candy brands to a myriad fruit flavors. I'll take mine plain, thanks.

 

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