Whether your love of Christmas is rooted in religion or you’re more of the “be good for goodness sake” variety, the trappings of a modern Christmas are common to all who celebrate the season: the trees, the candy canes, the bird poop-inspired traditions. Just trust us.
Here are five things you need to know about Christmas.
1. Americans buy 25-30 million Christmas trees annually, according to the National Christmas Tree Association (yes, such a group exists.) And at any one time, 350 million Christmas trees are growing on tree farms in the United States — that’s almost 42 million more trees than people in the country.
2. What’s your favorite Christmas tradition? A Yule log? Cookie baking? Bor-ing. Snapdragon is where it’s at. Snapdragon proved a popular Christmas game from “time immemorial,” Robert Chambers wrote in 1832’s The Book of Days.
The concept is simple, yet slightly terrifying: Put a large shallow bowl in the center of the table and throw in a handful of raisins. Fill the bowl with brandy, light it on fire (!) and take turn snatching out raisins with your bare hands and eating them before your mouth catches on fire. Chambers assured readers that “a considerable amount of laughter and merriment is evoked at the expense of the unsuccessful competitors.”
3. It seems that children have been fidgety in church for centuries. But thanks to their short attention spans, we have candy canes. So goes the account by authors James and Kay Salter, who write that a Germany choirmaster invented the hook-shaped candy treats in 1670 to amuse children choir members during Christmas services.
The candy cane shape is Biblical, resembling the hooks carried by the shepherds who were the first to hear the news about Jesus’ birth, according to the book of Luke. The traditional peppermint flavoring came 200 years later.
4. Celebrating Christmas in Puritan-era Boston would have cost you five shillings. The Puritans outlawed Christmas from 1659 to 1681 and instituted the fine for anyone daring to celebrate the “decadent” holiday.
5. Ah, mistletoe. How romantic, how lovely, how … inspired by bird poop? Birds help mistletoe grow by eating the plant’s berries and, ahem, letting loose, as birds are wont to do. The mistletoe seeds in the bird excrement can then germinate, according to the San Diego Natural History Museum. Mistletoe’s name derives from this inglorious beginning: the Anglo-Saxon “mistel” (dung) and “tan” (twig), or “dung on a twig.” Just makes you want to pucker up, huh?
Merry Christmas, Patch readers!