The Most Random Facts About America's Favorite Holidays
There's nothing quite like the excitement of a good holiday to lift your spirits. You may be surprised to learn that many of our favorite holiday traditions have been around for far longer than we imagine. Here you'll learn some fun facts about America's favorite holidays, including their histories and origins.
Get ready to be the smartest person around the yule log this year with this set of fun holiday facts and trivia — they’re sure to make for great conversation starters.
The Origins of Easter
The time of year when we celebrate Easter was chosen to coincide with the spring equinox, which many cultures had been celebrating for centuries. While it may not mean much to us in the age of central heating, the end of winter was a huge deal back in the day.
Christmas Tree Chronicles
As far as holiday traditions go, Christmas trees go pretty far back. The early Romans used to deck out their homes and temples in evergreens during the solstice feast of Saturnalia, and Celtic Druids used evergreen branches to symbolize everlasting life.
Why We Color Easter Eggs
Have you ever wondered where the idea of decorating eggs for Easter came from in the first place? As delightful as it is, who suddenly dreams up the idea of a random rabbit that travels around laying pretty eggs for kids? Many believe that the answers lie in the 13th century.
Halloween's Shadowy Origins
As far as holidays go, Halloween is one that you probably won’t be surprised to learn is steeped in ancient pagan traditions. Modern-day Halloween is a descendant of the Celtic festival of Samhain, which marked both the end of the harvest season and the start of the darkest day of each year.
NYC's Easter Parade Tradition
If you're ever in New York City on Easter, then be sure to check out the annual Easter Parade and Bonnet Festival on Fifth Avenue from 49th to 57th street. The tradition goes back to the mid-1800s when New York's social elite would all attend Fifth Avenue Easter services decked out in their best hats and outfits.
Who Named Halloween?
The name "Halloween" is related to Catholicism. It was originally known as Allhallowmas or All Hallow's Eve and was meant as a sort of group memorial day for all the saints who never got specific days of their own.
The Original Easter Bunny
Given that there's nothing particularly Christian about bunnies and eggs, why are they associated with one of Christianity's most important holidays? Well, Easter is all about new life, right? As it turns out, rabbits tend to be especially...fertile animals who are champs at procreating.
Why December 25?
While we celebrate Jesus' birthday on December 25, most historians agree that it's very unlikely that’s the actual date on which Christ was born. It was the Romans who initially decided to celebrate in December due to the fact that it fell near several popular pagan holidays.
The First Thanksgiving
There's a great deal of confusion over when the first Thanksgiving actually took place and what exactly the pilgrims were so thankful for. Some scholars believe that they had achieved victory in a war with neighboring Indian tribes, while others think it was as innocent as celebrating a great harvest.
Santa Used to Be Skinny
The jolly, cookie-loving Santa we all know and love today wasn’t always so portly. In his earlier incarnations, St. Nick was usually depicted as being pretty skinny. It wasn't until 1890 that he really started packing on the pounds.
Sinter Klaas' Comeback
Santa Claus is based on a Turkish monk from the third century who went around giving away all of his wealth in order to help the poor and needy. His tale eventually migrated to America with 18th-century Dutch immigrants and their cherished legends of "Sint Nikolaas" or "Sinter Klaas."
Santa's Favorite Snacks
The old "milk and cookies" routine on Christmas Eve has come to be everyone's favorite Santa bribe. But where did it originate? Medieval Germany, as it turns out. Back then, kids didn't leave food out for Santa during Yule season, but for the Norse god Odin.
Santa's Mardi Gras Contribution
While you personally may not think of Mardi Gras as a big holiday, it's actually designed to usher in Lent for Catholics who are about to undertake 40 days of fasting. The idea is that you enjoy all the revelry you can before it's time to buckle down and do some penance.
America Wasn't the Pilgrims’ First Choice
As legendary as the pilgrims' journey to America has become, Plymouth wasn't actually their first choice. While they did long to escape religious persecution in England, they first did so by moving to Holland in the early 17th century.
The Pilgrims Outlawed Christmas
The pilgrims weren't necessarily all about religious freedom. They were more out to find a place where they could practice their own brand of religion. While they may have disagreed with the Church of England and the Catholics, the pilgrims were a pretty strict lot.
Mardi Gras Masks: Serious Business in NOLA
As Mardi Gras has become a staple of New Orleans culture, it's sprouted a culture all its own. Not only will you find plenty of cool masks among the celebration, but anyone riding a float is actually required to wear one. The idea is to encourage equality and allow everyone an escape from social class and societal obligations.
Valentine's Day's Crazy Ancestor
What we now know as Valentine's Day originally began as the Roman festival of Lupercalia. This mid-February tradition ushered in spring and involved the sacrifice of animals whose skins were then cut into thin strands. The men took the strands and ran around whipping them at women, which was supposed to render them more fertile.
The Literal Plymouth Rock
As it turns out, Plymouth Rock is an actual rock and it's still housed in its own little monument to this day. Unfortunately, whether it's the literal rock the pilgrims landed on is a little sketchy. Its validity is based on the word of a 94-year-old man in 1741.
Rudolph's Commercial Birth
While Rudolph may now be the most famous reindeer of all, he was originally created to lure people into a department store. In the 1930s, Montgomery Ward used to pass out free paper books to children who came in around Christmas.
Who Was St. Valentine, Anyway?
While St. Valentine's Day was designed to distract people from the Roman fertility festival of Lupercalia, it ironically ended up being just as much about love. But who was St. Valentine? One theory holds that he was a martyred priest from 270 B.C., while others hold that he was a bishop named St. Valentine of Terni.
The Invention of Christmas Lights
Christmas lights are one of the most beautiful parts of Christmas, but have you ever wondered where the tradition came from? Legend has it that the credit goes to Martin Luther, who was inspired as he was walking through the forest one night.
Florida's First Thanksgiving Claim
We all know that the first Thanksgiving feast ever celebrated in the United States happened in Plymouth, Massachusetts, right? Scholars aren't so sure. While Thanksgiving is now an official holiday, for centuries it was a tradition that could be celebrated at any time deemed appropriate.
Each Christmas when we set up nativity scenes, the three wisemen are pretty much staples around baby Jesus' crib. The truth, however, is that they were actually really late to the party. Even the Bible reveals that it took them quite a bit of searching to finally find little Jesus.
The Yule Log's Legacy
Odds are that you're probably familiar with the yule log in one form or another. For some, it's a chocolate treat that's shaped like a festive log. For others, it's a special fire log that's burned on Christmas. And for others still, it's a crackling fireplace you can stream on your TV.
Mary Did a Little Lobbying
What do "Mary Had a Little Lamb" and Thanksgiving have in common? More than you'd think, actually. Sarah Josepha Buell Hale, the lady who wrote the famous children's poem, was also a brilliant writer, editor and champion for women's rights and education.
The Evolution of Eggnog
Each year around the holidays, eggnog mysteriously appears in stores across America, only to once more vanish right around New Year's. Apparently, it's been around since medieval times and isn't going anywhere soon. Scholars think it originated as a drink called posset way back in the day.
The First Valentine's Day Cards
While Valentine's Day wasn't associated with romance until the 14th century, it didn't take long for things to accelerate after that. By the 1500s, Valentine messages began to appear, and by the 1700s, the first Valentine's Day cards began to be distributed commercially.
Ever wonder how the mistletoe became the spot to score a holiday kiss? The charming little plant has been honored since ancient times when the Celtic Druids noted it for its ability to blossom even in the harshest of winter climates.
“Jingle Bells” Wasn't Originally a Christmas Song
Each December, it's almost impossible to make it through the month without hearing a rendition of "Jingle Bells" ringing out over a department store sound system. But would you believe that everyone's favorite Christmas song wasn't originally a Christmas song at all?
Santa Has His Own ZIP Code
When you think of all the letters written to Santa by kids around the world, it's kind of heartbreaking to think that they might not end up anywhere. That's why some big-hearted postal workers in Canada decided to start a Santa letter-writing program. Santa even got his own ZIP code of H0H 0H0.