We’re all familiar with Christmas and its symbols, but there is always something to learn. Did you know:
1. The Poinsettia was first cultivated by the Aztecs, who called it cuetlaxochitl. The plant was always admired for its brilliant red colour and, years later when Christianity spread through Mexico, the unusual, elegant plant that “bloomed” in time for Christ’s birthday in the colour of His blood became an important symbol of Christmas. In Mexico, many legends explain why the leafy plants adorn nativity scenes and are so admired, but the name Poinsettia wasn’t attached until an American Ambassador to Mexico, Joel Robert Poinsett, became enamored of the crimson leaves one Christmas day and sent some home to friends. Poinsett made a considerable amount of money selling the Poinsettia as “the Christmas flower” throughout North America and Europe (even though it isn’t really a flower!)
2. Tinsel was made out of real silver up to the mid-20th century. Around 1610, the Germans had machines to pull the silver into wafer thin sheets and then shred it into strips. No one knows who came up with the idea.
3. The poem “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas” is also called “A Visit From St. Nicholas”. It was originally published anonymously in 1823; later Clement C. Moore claimed authorship. The description of Santa and his sleigh, pulled by flying reindeer and loaded with toys, established many of our traditional ideas of St. Nick and his activities on December 25th.
4. If a boy sees a girl standing under mistletoe, he is supposed to pick one of the berries before he gets to kiss her. When all the berries are gone, no more kisses! He’d better not eat the berry he picks though: all parts of the mistletoe plant are poisonous.
5. Christmas crackers were first known as “Cosaques” after the cracking of the Cossack’s whips as they rode through Paris during the Franco-Prussian wars. Inventor Tom Smith was inspired by the cracking of his fire to put the two strips with saltpeter tips inside.
6. Gingerbread was brought to Europe in 992 by a monk from Pompeii. Gregory of Nicopolis stayed in France for seven years, teaching French priests how to make it (992 style). Gingerbread became associated with Christmas because sugar was once rare enough to make cookies a special treat, especially ones decorated with icing and candies.