By: Amy Cheng
It’s that time of year where we send off Christmas cards to loved ones, organise Christmas dinners and buy fun Christmas crackers and listen to Mariah Carey’s All I Want for Christmas on repeat.
But do you know where these traditions came about and how they’ve changed over the years?
1 – The First Christmas Card
Henry Cole was a prominent educator and patron of the arts in 1843 and was blessed with many friends, who also sent him a lot of letters.
In Victorian England, it was considered impolite to not answer mail so, in a quest to find a way to get back to everyone, he approached his artist friend J.C. Horsley.
They came up with an illustration that Cole brought to a London printer and had thousands of copies made of it.
It was a panel with three sections showing a family at a table celebrating the holiday and images of people helping the poor, printed on a piece of stiff cardboard 5 1/8 x 3 1/4 inches in size.
At the top of each was the salutation, “TO:” with the generic greeting “A Merry Christmas and A Happy New Year To You”.
However, it would be several decades before the tradition of sending Christmas cards caught on around the world.
The first cards mostly had pictures of the Nativity scene, while in Australia, the first Christmas cards of the 1850s had Santa Claus being pulled by a kangaroo.
2 – Christmas Crackers were Originally Candies
The Christmas cracker as we know of it today, a cardboard paper tube wrapped in brightly coloured paper and twisted at both ends, looked a little different in the 19th century.
They were first made in about 1845-1850 by a London sweet maker called Tom Smith, who had seen the French “bon-bon” sweets (almonds wrapped in pretty paper) on a visit to Paris.
Upon returning to London, he tried selling similar sweets and included a small motto or riddle with the candy.
Many of his bon-bons were bought by men to give to women, so most of the mottos were love poems.
Legend has it that he was inspired to add the “bang” to the bon-bons when he heard the crackle of a log he had just put on the fire, but this hasn’t been confirmed.
Soon, the sugared almond was replaced with a small gift and the paper hat was added to the cracker in the early 1900s by his sons. By the end of the 1930s, the love poems had been replaced by jokes or limericks.
3 – December 25 is Not Recorded as Jesus’ Birth Date
The Bible actually doesn’t specify the day or time of year of when Mary gave birth to Jesus in Bethlehem. The earliest Christians did not even celebrate His birth.
As to why Christmas is celebrated on December 25, no one can say for sure, but there are a few theories floating around.
One of the most widespread theories links the date to an earlier pagan ritual celebrating the birthday of the Sun on the same day.
Anthropologist James George Frazer believes the Christians borrowed this date from the pagans to transfer the heathen worship of the Sun to the Son of Righteousness.
However, the Biblical Archaeology Society has issues with this theory because it is not found in any ancient Christian writings and there’s no indicator that the date was chosen by the church.
It believes that the coincidence is a providential sign that God had selected Jesus over the false pagan gods.
The earliest Christians did not even celebrate Jesus’ birth.
4 – The First Christmas Lights were Candles
Whether or not you decorate your house with lights for Christmas, the tradition of Christmas lights has been around for years, and the decorations only appear to be getting bigger and more elaborate.
However, the very first Christmas lights in the 17th century were simpler, starting out as just candles attached to the Christmas tree using wax or pins in Germany.
The practice was originally started as a way to illuminate the ornaments placed on the tree.
Over the next 200 or so years, it became an established practice in Germany and began spreading to other countries around Eastern Europe.
Mariah Carey’s All I Want for Christmas has more than 1.18 billion plays on Spotify.
In 1882, the first Christmas tree to be lit by electric lights was seen in New York, lit by Edward Johnson, an inventor under the supervision of Thomas Edison.
This later led to the creation of the first string of Christmas lights and by 1890, these were mass-produced and seen in department store Christmas displays.
At the turn of the 20th century, electric lights became more affordable and were used in outdoor displays on homes.
5 – Mariah Carey Wrote All I Want for Christmas in 15 Minutes
The song we’ve come to know and expect to hear every Christmas, whether we want to or not, did not take very long to write at all.
Carey cowrote the song with songwriter Walter Afanasieff in just 15 minutes, and they believe this is the secret to the song’s success.
However, the song was not an instant hit when it was released almost 30 years ago in 1994.
While it was not a total flop, it missed securing a top 10 spot on the Billboard Hot 100 list and didn’t make it higher than 12th place.
It would be 25 years later before the song would make it to the top spot.
Last year, the catchy tune took the number one spot on the Chart Billboard, making history by being the first song to top the chart three years in a row.
The song has more than 1.18 billion plays on Spotify and its music video has more than 730 million plays on YouTube.
Each year, it yields $600,000 in royalties and $16.2 million in 2021 alone.
Article supplied with thanks to Hope Media.
Feature image: Screen shot, Mariah Carey Music Video