Regardless of what you celebrate, perhaps Charlies Dickens best summed up the spirit of the Holidays in A Christmas Carol -“…The only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys.” Let’s take a few moments and reflect on the warm fuzzies of the season with 25 True Holiday Stories And Their Origins That Will Warm Your Heart.
A Charlie Brown Christmas
A Charlie Brown Christmas – one of the most beloved Christmas Holiday specials in the US – almost never aired. When executives at CBS previewed the special, they hated it, claiming there wasn’t enough action, the voices were real children not adult actors, there was no laugh track, and it dared to quote a passage of the bible on national television! Fortunately for us, CBS was beholden to it’s advertisers, and so the special aired on December 9, 1965, and to the complete shock of CBS, over 15 million people tuned in. No matter who you are or what your faith, the story of a sad little tree that just needs a little love is something that speaks to all of us.
Laney Brown's Last Wish
In December 2013, 8 year old Laney Brown was dying of Leukemia. She loved music and Taylor Swift, and her dying wish was to meet Taylor and have some carolers come by her house so she could hear them sing. Swift did spent some time with Laney via facetime, and once people heard she wanted carolers outside of her house, over 10,000 people showed up to home in West Reading PA, to grant her last Christmas wish. Though she was too sick to come outside, she sent everyone a message through her parents – “I can hear you now!!! Love you!”
Hanukkah in the Camps
Bergen-Belsen was a Nazi concentration camp filled with horrors. However, that didn’t stop Faithful Jewish inmates from Celebrating Hanukkah in 1943. Fat was saved from their meager meals, and women pulled threads from their clothing to make candles, a menorah was fashioned out a potato, and dreidels were even made for some of the children, carved from the wooden shoes the inmates wore. Risking their lives, inmates made their way to Rabbi Israel Shapiro (Bluzhever Rebbe), conducted the Hanukkah ceremony, literally and figuratively finding a light in the darkness.
Sandy Police Department
On Christmas Eve, 2014 in Sandy, Utah, nefarious persons broke into the apartment of a single mother and her two young children, stealing all the presents. When the Sandy Police Department saw the looks on the children’s faces, they decided they would bring Christmas. According to Officer Travis Bradley of Sandy PD, “Everybody pooled their money and got them taken care of,” and a few hours later, Santa showed up on their doorstep with a bag full of presents.
If you’ve ever wondered why we feast so around the Holidays, thank the Romans. Saturnalia was a festival of the Roman god Saturn, and it lasted from December 17th to December 23rd. Everyone ate like kings, from, well, kings, to the lowest in society. It was a crazy happy party where tables were often turned and masters served slaves. Feeding the poor and serving the less fortunate isn’t an idea limited to any one spiritual philosophy at this time of year.
Speaking of feeding the Hungry, Snoop Dogg has given out Turkeys for Thanksgiving to people in Inglewood, CA, for the past three years. Snoop Dogg himself is from Long Beach, and has partnered with the Mayor of Inglewood to give out turkeys and other feast fixins to make sure everyone has a traditional thanksgiving meal and leftovers.
In 2012, a Minnesota grocery store owner transferred ownership of his three stores directly to his 400 employees. Instead of taking a lucrative offer from major chains, Joe Lueken decided to transfer the ownership via an employee stock plan, which cost the employees no money, and gradually paid Lueken’s family a fair price over several years. “My employees are largely responsible for any success I’ve had, and they deserve to get some of the benefits of that,” Lueken said. Merry Christmas indeed!
Mistletoe was believed to protect homes from fire and lightning, and that’s why it started being used as a decoration. It would be left up all year until it was replaced by another sprig next Christmas. It was first associated with kissing in 16th century England (it’s unclear as to why, but no one’s complaining).
The Reason for Boxing Day
Boxing day is celebrated the day after Christmas, December 26th, and started during the middle ages as the day the “Alms Box” would be open and the money given out to the poor. Some churches still do this on December 26th. In Victorian times, it became the day that servants traditionally had off to celebrate Christmas with their families.
Making Christmas Official
Christmas wasn’t fully celebrated or recognized as an official holiday in the United States until 1870, when President Ulysses S Grand made Christmas an Official Federal Holiday. Doing so was an attempt to unite a nation that was still affected by the Civil War, which had ended five years previously.
St Jude Children's Research Hospital
Around the Holiday season in the United States you may see the symbol for St Jude Children’s Research Hospital in stores, indicating that store donates a portion of their proceeds to St Jude’s. Why does St Jude’s need so many donations? Because not only are they a leader in research on childhood cancer, families are never turned away from St Jude based on their ability to pay. In fact, families never get a bill from St Jude at all, for treatment or travel or housing during treatment. It’s named after St. Jude Thaddeus, the patron saint of hopeless causes.
Looking for another tear-jerker? Wait until you see number 5!
Holy, Ivy, and Other Celebratory Symbols
Holly & Ivy have long been associated with winter holidays, not just Christmas. In many pre-Christian cultures, the plants were believed to hold magical properties, and decorating with them would ward off evil spirits. Europeans used them in solstice celebrations, and in Ancient Rome, Ivy was linked with Bacchus, the god of wine, and Holly was used as decoration during Saturnalia. So really, whatever you celebrate with, it was probably used for a different winter celebration centuries ago; Christmas Trees and Wreaths, for example, have pagan celebratory roots. And it’s all good, because regardless of whether you say Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Blessed Yule, or Happy Holidays, what *matters* is that you’re wishing good will toward your fellow man.
Snowmen have been made since Nature’s been dumping that white stuff on the ground, but the Middle Ages raised them to an art form. In a time where most people didn’t have a lot of places for expression, a temporary art medium dropped from the sky, and even those who didn’t participate in sculpting could wander around and enjoy other’s artwork. In 1494, a 19 year old Michelangelo was paid by the ruler of Florence to make snow sculptures in his courtyard.
The Inspiration for the Grinch
Dr Seuss (real name Theodor Seuss Geisel) was his own inspiration for The Grinch. The Grinch states in the book that he’s endured the Who’s Christmas celebrations for 53 years, and Dr. Seuss was 53 when he wrote the book. He even went so far as to confirm this in a Redbook interview in December of 1957. “I was brushing my teeth on the morning of the 26th of last December, when I noticed a very Grinch-ish countenance in the mirror…I wrote about my sour friend, the Grinch, to see if I could rediscover something about Christmas that obviously I’d lost.”
In 2011, Jordan Thwing asked Santa to bring his dad home for Christmas. Santa delivered.
WestJet Flight with Santa
In 2013, passengers on airline WestJet were asked by Santa what they wanted for Christmas when they boarded. While the flight was in the air, WestJet staff members bought the gifts and wrapped them, and they were waiting on the luggage carousel when the flight landed. They made an adorable video about it too, watch it here.
Advent is a season of reflection, celebrated in Western Christian churches starting the sixth Sunday before Christmas, as they look toward Christmas and the coming of Christ. Violet or sometimes blue is the traditional liturgical color used during Advent for hangings and Clergy vestments, and there’s an advent wreath made up of 3 violet candles, and one pink one, each one representing different parts of Advent. We aren’t sure exactly when Advent started – some believe it was started by Saint Peter himself – but we do know for sure that the tradition has been around with monks since the late 400’s. That makes it the oldest sacred tradition we have that actually reflects Christ during winter – not Starbucks cups.
The Tradition of the Yule Log
The tradition of the Yule Log finds its history along side that of the Christmas Tree – Winter Solstice Festivals. Originally, the entire Yule tree was chosen, and the bottom part was cut off to be burnt, while the rest of the tree became the centerpiece for the winter celebrations. In parts of France, everyone helps choose and cut the Yule Log, and a little is burnt each of the 12 nights of Christmas. If you don’t have a fire place for a Yule Log, fear not! There’s also the (newer) tradition of ‘bûche de Noël’, which is a rolled chocolate cake SHAPED like a log. Whatever you believe in, we can all gather around cake.
Roots of Kwanzaa
In 1966, a man named Maulana Karenga started ananzaa in order to have a Winter Holiday specifically for African Americans in the US. Kwanzaa starts on December 26th and ends January 1st. The name “Kwanzaa” comes from the Swahili phrase “matunda ya kwanza,” meaning first fruits of the harvest.
Karenga was deeply involved in the Black Power movement of the 60’s and 70’s and stated that, “you must have a cultural revolution before the violent revolution. The cultural revolution gives identity, purpose, and direction.” The visual centerpiece of Kwanzaa is the Kinara – a candle holder that holds seven candles, each representing one of the seven principles of Kwanzaa. In case you’re wondering, the proper greeting is “Joyous Kwanzaa.”
Toys for Tots
In 1947, Diane Hendricks wanted to give a Raggedy Ann doll to a child in need for Christmas, but she couldn’t find an organization to do so. Her husband, Major Bill Hendricks, USMCR, gathered up a group of local Marine Reservists and placed collection bins outside of Warner Bros movie theaters, and Toys for Tots was born. Every year in October through December, Toys for Tots collects new and unwrapped toys for children in need, and to date over 500 million toys have been donated. First Lady Michelle Obama even put a collection box at the White House in 2009.
The Year That Reddit Saved Christmas
2012 was the year that Reddit Saved Christmas…at least for one user and his family. User ProZacDose wrote a post titled, “As a father of 4, I have failed” on the subreddit dedicated to getting things off your chest. Turns out ProZacDose had been the unfortunate recipient of a string of bad luck – a broken leg, a brother who was murdered, being passed over for a promised promotion, rent being paid late due to being out of work for said leg. Christmas was kind of out of the question, so Reddit users rallied and covered late bills, Christmas presents, and even a tree. But it doesn’t stop there. So much much money was donated that ProZacDose got all caught up on his bills and had extra money, so he started to give out the surplus to other redditors who had posted about struggling.
Another Baby in a Manger?
A poor child being found in a manger is the holiday story that Christmas is built upon, but it also was a reality for Holy Child Jesus Church in Queens, New York in November of 2015. A newborn child was found crying in the manger, wrapped in a towel with the umbilical cord still attached. At the time the story was reported, there was already a couple in the church who had been previously seeking adoption offering to adopt the baby.
Tradition of Wassailing
The tradition of wassailing, which has become caroling in modern times, started in England and was traditionally celebrated on the 12th night of Christmas (which is in January). People came, they sang, and the people in the house gave them a cup from the “Wassail Bowl,” which was a pot of hot mulled cider. It was also an opportunity for feudal lords to give gifts to peasants without the peasants begging. Singing, cider, gratitude, and goodwill, a little bit of booze, happy people…this is a tradition that should make a serious comeback regardless of which particular winter holiday you’re celebrating.
Christmas Truce of 1914
Early in December of 1914, the Pope called for a temporary ceasefire during WWI in order to celebrate Christmas. While the countries at war refused to agree to this, the men fighting in the trenches decided among themselves to honor Christmas by not fighting, and soldiers shook hands and exchanged gifts of cigarettes. So here’s the thing: If men in trenches can shake hands and smoke with someone who was shooting at them yesterday for one day, we can all try to get along with our family and loved ones in the spirit of the season.
The Real Santa Claus
The story of Santa Claus is actually a true one. A monk named Saint Nicholas was born near modern day Turkey around 300 AD. Born into wealth, St Nicholas gave all of it away to help the poor and needy and was well known for his generosity and kindness. His feast day is celebrated by many Christians on December 6th. Over the years, this has morphed in popular culture into our jolly man in a red suit who brings presents to children.
Photos: 25. 22860 via flickr, 24. Laura Newberry via Twitter via fashionnstyle.com (fair use), 20. Jørund Føreland Pedersen via wikimedia commons, 19. (fair use) abcnews.go.com, 17. 4028mdk09 via wikimedia commons, 15. St. Jude’s logo (fair use), 13. GutMaze via wikimedia commons, 12. Sarah_Ackerman via flickr, 11. viralityfacts.com (fair use), 10. BriYYZ via flickr, 9. jonathunder via wikimedia commons, 6. Toys for Tots logo (fair use), 3. Jeremy Tarling via flickr