19 Fun Facts You Probably Didn't Know About Christmas

Mistletoe means something very unromantic in German.

Up close photo of a red spherical Christmas ornament
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There's a lot more to Christmas than unwrapping gifts and decorating the house. It’s an age-old celebration with centuries of tradition and meaning behind it. So take a breather from the craziness this holiday season and learn some of these fun facts about Christmas. They'll come in handy next time your family's playing a game of trivia.

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For starters, it wasn't always on December 25.

Though Christmas celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ, there is in the Bible. (Most historians believe he was actually born in the spring.) It didn't become the official holiday until the third century. Some argue that the date was picked because it coincided with the pagan festival of Saturnalia, which honored the agricultural god Saturn by celebrating and gift-giving.

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You can thank Prince Albert for your Christmas tree.

The origin of Christmas trees goes all the way back to ancient Egyptians and Romans, who marked the winter solstice with evergreens as a reminder of spring, according to . But it wasn't until Prince Albert of Germany introduced the tree to his new wife, Queen Victoria of England, that the tradition took off. A drawing of the couple in front of a Christmas tree appeared in back in 1848, and royal fever did its work.

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St Nicholas of Myra, fresco (12th century), Church of Ayios Nikolaos tis Steyis (Saint Nicholas of the Roof) (11th century) (Unesco World Heritage List, 2001), Troodos mountains, Cyprus.
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St. Nick was actually more generous than jolly.

Sure, you probably knew that the idea of Santa Claus came from . According to legend, the fourth-century Christian bishop gave away his abundant inheritance to help the needy and from servitude. As his story spread, his name became Sinter Klaas in Dutch, which later morphed into Santa Claus.

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Coca-Cola played a huge part in Santa's image.

According to , Santa used to look a lot less jolly — even spooky. When the company hired an illustrator named Haddon Sundblom in 1931 to create images of Santa for magazine advertisements, the warm and friendly Santa we know today was born.

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The tradition of hanging stockings started with an accident.

According to legend, it came from the tale of a poor man who couldn't afford his three daughters dowries. Apparently St. Nick down their chimney one night so that the eldest could get married — but it fell into a stocking that was drying by the fire!

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"Jingle Bells" started as a Thanksgiving song.

James Lord Pierpont called "One Horse Open Sleigh" and performed it at his church's Thanksgiving concert. Then in 1857, the song was re-published under the title it has today, and eventually became one of the most popular Christmas songs. Bonus fact: It was also the first song broadcast from space. On December 16, 1965, the Gemini 6 crew serenaded Mission Control after they reported seeing a "red-suited" astronaut.

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Celebrating Christmas used to be illegal.

Although the Jamestown settlers created the first American batch of eggnog, by the time the Puritans settled Boston, Christmas was outlawed. (The word nog comes from the word grog; that is, any drink made with rum.) From 1659 to 1681, you'd face a fine for celebrating the once-pagan day. And after the Revolutionary War, the new Congress found the day so unimportant that they held the first session on December 25, 1789. It wasn't proclaimed a for nearly another century.

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Christmas decorating sends nearly 15,000 people to the ER.

From hanging lights on ladders to taking a roast out of the oven, making merry can prove hazardous. In fact, the estimates that 14,700 people visit hospital emergency rooms each November and December from holiday-related decorating accidents. To top it off, dried Christmas trees spark about a hundred fires, cause an average of 10 deaths, and result in $15.7 million in property damage. Are you convinced to switch to an artificial Christmas tree yet?

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Santa has his own zip code in Canada.

Every year, letters to Santa Claus flood post offices across the world. Some Canadian Post Office workers even started answering them — but as more letters arrived, they set up a special zip code for Santa as part of a literacy initiative. The zip code? HOH OHO.

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The term "Xmas" dates back to the 1500s.

According to , the word "Christianity" was spelled "Xianity" as far back as 1100. X, or Chi, in Greek is the first letter of "Christ" and served as a symbolic stand-in. In 1551, the holiday was called "Xtemmas" but eventually shortened to "Xmas."

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We ship a crazy amount of packages around the holidays.

Between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day last year, the delivered an estimated 850 million packages — in addition to 15 billion pieces of mail.

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About 90% of Americans celebrate Christmas.

That explains all those packages the U.S. Postal Service has to deliver. Additionally, the found that less people think of Christmas as a religious holiday nowadays. Only 51% of those people who celebrate attend church on Christmas.

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And they spend nearly $1,000 on gifts.

According to the findings in 2017, consumers say they'll spend $967.13 for the holidays on average. For 2018, total in November and December are expected to hit $717.45 billion.

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Mistletoe was considered an aphrodisiac.

The holiday flora is an ancient symbol of fertility and virility — and the Druids believed it was an actual . (So thank them at the next awkward holiday function.) The name itself even has a funny meaning: Mistle thrush birds eat the plant's berries, digest the seeds, and then the droppings eventually grow into new plants. So, the Germanic word for mistletoe literally means ."

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Ham, not turkey, is the festive favorite.

The dinner debate rages on. Searches for "ham" and "turkey" both spike during the month of December, according to . (Though it's nowhere near how frequently "turkey" is hunted for online in November!) But despite the popularity of both festive entrees, spiral-cut ham remains the more popular choice for a Christmas table.

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Candy canes got their start in Germany.

The says a choirmaster originally gave the candies to young children so they'd stay quiet during long church services. But when a German-Swedish immigrant decorated his tree with candy canes in 1847, they became popular as a Christmas candy.

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And the most popular Christmas song is ...

Mariah Carey's All I Want for Christmas Is You, . (Did you know her then-husband Tommy Mottola plays Santa?) But the best-selling Christmas song of all time is White Christmas.

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