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Wow, I Never Knew That

There was a time when I assumed all Christmas traditions had been around forever. The passing of time made me realize that was not the case. Take the concept of leaving milk and cookies for Santa. We have the Dutch to thank for that. The tradition started with St. Nicholas' feast day, on December 6th, when Dutch children leave food and drink in exchange for the gifts St. Nicholas leaves overnight.

What about the image of Santa himself? It seems Coca-Cola played a part in Santa's brand, as we know it. Prior to the big soft drink maker's advertising campaign, in the early thirties, Santa's looks tended to be not so jolly. In 1931, the beverage company hired an illustrator, named Haddon Sundblom, to depict the jolly old saint for magazine ads. Hence, the current day image of Santa.

Most of us hang stockings, in hopes of getting some yummy treats. Legend has it, the tradition started with a poor man, who did not have enough money for his three daughters' dowries. Generous old St. Nicholas dropped a bag of gold down their chimney one night, after the girls had hung their freshly washed stockings to dry. I am still waiting for gold instead of that nasty lump of coal I get each year.

I have always wondered, if Santa has eight reindeer, where does Rudolph come from? It seems he first appeared in 1939. The Montgomery Ward Department Store asked one of its copywriters to create a Christmas story for kids, which the store could distribute as a promotion. The adorable movie, featuring the island of misfit toys and Herbie the elf, hit the airwaves and our hearts in 1964. Rudolph became etched in time forever more.

One of my favourite tunes at Christmas is Jingle Bells. Well, who knew it was originally called "One Horse Open Sleigh" and was written for a church's Thanks-giving concert, in the mid-19th century? Then, in 1857, the song was re-released under the title we all know and love. Today, it's still among the most popular Christmas songs.

The hustle and bustle around Christmas keep us all very busy, but that was not the case from 1659 to 1681. Anyone caught making merry in the colonies would face a fine for celebrating. By the Revolutionary War, the day had so little significance that Congress even held its first session on December 25th, 1789. Christmas was not proclaimed a federal holiday for almost another century, proving the Grinch's attitude toward the holiday was alive and well long before he was.

I never use the term 'Xmas,' as I have always thought it to be a lazy contraction for the happy feast day. That, however, is not the case. It seems, as far back as the 1100s, Christianity was spelled 'Xianity'.

X, or Chi, is the Greek first letter of 'Christ', and served as a symbolic stand-in at the time. In 1551, the holiday was commonly called 'Xtemmas,' which was later shortened to 'Xmas'. Who knew?

Whatever the tradition is, the important fact is to make sure you and your family enjoy yourself, without too much stress, and remember the less fortunate, who do not have as much as you may.

Jonathan van Bilsen is a television host, award-winning photographer, published author, columnist and keynote speaker. Watch his show, 'Jonathan van Bilsen's photosNtravel', on RogersTV, the Standard Website or YouTube.

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