While Christmas is commercially represented by an overload of merchandise sales and gift purchasing, it is also steeped in fascinating lore about which most of us know nothing but would be surprised to learn.
When horrified Puritan governor Oliver Cromwell watched people partying on Jesus' birthday, he decided this was much too blasphemous and enacted a law in 1647 making the celebration of Christmas a criminal offense. No festivities were allowed to be practiced during his leadership, with Christmas consisting of solemn prayer and reverence. It was only 13 years later, when he was finally ousted from his office, that the ban was lifted and people were once again allowed to enjoy Christmas traditions.
Who Hit Who?
During the Dark Ages, people evidently liked to play rough games. One of these ill-mannered games was played during Christmas. Called "hot cockles" this activity involved players taking turns hitting others who were blindfolded. The object of hot cockles was to guess who was hitting you. If you guessed right, you were allowed to smack someone else among the group of blindfolded players. Still a popular Christmas game in the 1800s, hot cockles eventually lost popularity and hopefully became just the name of a warm Christmas toddy.
Thanks to Edison, the first Christmas tree illuminated by electric lights was viewed by lucky families in 1895, lucky because this was the first year that the dangers from accidental fire caused by hot candlewax dripping on pine trees was eliminated. The idea for electric Christmas tree lights, however, did not come from Edison but from a Mr. Ralph Morris, who no doubt had put out a small fire or two in his lifetime.
Watch Out for Gremlins
Some traditional Greeks do not give presents nor do they put up Christmas trees. Instead, they ask a local priest to toss a small cross into a nearby water source or village well in order to prevent "kallikantzari" from tormenting them. Kallikantzari are gremlins who like to conceal themselves in dusty, shadowy corners in houses of unsuspecting people and scare the daylights out of them. Because rural Greeks dread these little devils so much, they will ask the priest to also sprinkle holy water in all the dark corners of their houses.
Contrary to popular belief, the song "Silent Night" was not invented by Bing Crosby during World War II but was written by an Austrian pastor in 1818 who discovered his organ was not wheezing properly and needed to come up with a Christmas Eve song for service that evening. The pastor was also a master at playing guitar riffs and sang "Silent Night" to an enthusiastic audience that night.