Christmas: the feast that celebrates the birth of the infant Jesus. Or not? A lot of myths are circulating towards the holiday, and we have already eliminated seven of them.
1. Jingle Bells
Ask people about a Christmas song, and chances are they’ll start singing Jingle Bells. Only the song is not about Christmas. James Pierpont wrote the song in 1857 and christened it ‘One Horse Open Sleigh’. It’s about Thanksgiving (which takes place in America in November) and winter fun in general.
2. The three wise men
“Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod, the king, look, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem,” the Bible says. However? Not so: no mention is made of a number. So it could well have been three wise men, but just as well two or sixty. We think there are three because the Bible states that they brought three kinds of gifts: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. But you can hardly call that scientific evidence.
It is a persistent myth that is regularly brought up at the festive table: the image of Santa Claus that we now have (a fat, cozy man in a red suit) is said to have been invented by Coca-Cola’s marketing department.
However, the soft drink giant first included Santa in its commercials in 1933, and the character has been depicted in red since the early 1800s. Cartoonist Thomas Nast added most of its characteristic features in 1870. And Coca-Cola was not the first to take over, by the way: soft drink brand White Rock also had a Santa Claus in its 1923 campaign.
4. The Birth of Jesus…
…is nowhere in the Bible placed with exact certainty on December 25th. According to the first estimate, sometime in the second century of our era, the infant Jesus would have been born in March. And ‘before Christ’ and ‘after Christ’ also turns out to be incorrect. Jesus of Nazareth is said to have been born sometime in the year 5 or 6 BC.
It is often said that Christmas falls on December 25th because it coincides with the ancient ‘pagan’ holiday Saturnalia of ancient Rome. But Saturnalia was always celebrated on December 17th. It was later expanded to last until December 23rd, but it never had anything in common with December 25th. There was another holiday on that day: Sol Invictus. But the Romans had a holiday just about every other day, and this one too has little to do with Christmas.
6. Kiss under the mistletoe
Somewhat less common with us, but kissing under the mistletoe is completely fashionable abroad. And the story has it that the custom originated from the ancient Vikings. There, the god Balder is said to have been killed by an arrow made of mistletoe, after which his mother Frigg swore that the plant would ever harm no one. Ergo: a sign of love and an impetus to give a kiss. Only Frigg’s reaction was a bit more drastic: she tortured her son’s murderer to infinity. The coastal tradition originated somewhere in 18th century England.
December 1st is the beginning of the Advent period, it is usually said. But that is only occasionally the case. Advent always starts on the Sunday closest to the Feast of Saint Andrew (November 30th). In concrete terms, this means that Advent can start between November 27th and December 3rd.