When I belonged to a Catholic parish (don't ask, long story), I intercepted many a false tale that well-meaning parishioners wanted to include in the newsletter. A simple search online would have pulled the plug on these fakeries. Ironically, a lot of them came from the internet. But most folks assume that information given to them is true, especially if it seems to be right. Well, no historian can stand for that!
Just a few things can be debunked by our friends at Snopes.com. Like:
The Candy Cane. Was the candy cane a symbol of Christ, using its shape as the letter "J" for Jesus? The red stripes to show his scourging? A "secret handshake" to other Christians when it was a no-no to be a Christian in a hostile pagan world?
In a word, No. None of the above. This kind of candy wasn't even invented until the late 17th century where pretty much all of Europe was Christian without fear of being persecuted for it. The original candy would have simply been a white stick. It's shape comes in around the Victorian era where Christmas trees were introduced to England and decorations for it usually came in the form of food. Give it a hook and it can hang on a bough. And now it reminds of a shepherd's crook. The extra red stripe came in about this time for decorative purposes.
Did Coca Cola invent the look of Santa Claus? Not even cinching the red suit. That imagery was already pretty standard for Santa by the time 19th century cartoonist Thomas Nast gave us the pudgy Santa we have come to know and love.
Let us not forget, that Santa Claus originally is Saint Nick, or Saint Nicholas, a bishop of the Church, a real guy.
Clement Moore, the poet who gave us "The Night Before Christmas" helped to evolve our image and even secular image of Santa, who, though brings gifts on Christmas, seems to have little to do these days with the Christmas narrative.
"Xmas" is a disrespectful abbreviation and is a modern use for sales purposes.
Nope. It's old. Very old. As old as Christianity itself. According to Snopes.com: "Its origins lie in the fact that the first letter in the Greek word for 'Christ' is 'chi,' and the Greek letter 'chi' is represented by a symbol similar to the letter 'X' in the modern Roman alphabet. Hence 'Xmas' is indeed perfectly legitimate abbreviation for the word 'Christmas' (just as 'Xian' is also sometimes used as an abbreviation of the word 'Christian')."
Jesus was born on December 25.
Nobody knows, but it isn't likely. Birthdays never used to be important. In fact, when we celebrate saint feast days, we are actually celebrating their death day, as this is the moment they go to their glory. If you were to celebrate an important date in your life, it might be your baptism, which wasn't the day you were born. Here's where it started. To quote Snopes.com: "On December 25 (the date of the winter solstice) pagan Romans, still in the majority, celebrated Natalis Solis Invincti, "Birthday of the Invincible Sun God," Mithras. The Mithras cult originated in Persia and rooted itself in the Roman world in the first century BCE, but by the early 300s CE the rising religion of Christianity was posing a formidable challenge to the sun worshipers, especially after the Edict of Milan issued by the Roman emperor Constantine I in 313 CE allowed Christians to practice their faith in the Roman Empire."
Church fathers wanted to squelch this cult. Let us look to the example of St. Paul. When he spoke to the Athenians he didn't outright ridicule their many temples. He praised them for being so religious. So religious, in fact, that they even had a temple to an unknown god. "Hey, I know who this is," said St. Paul, and slowly made headway. Centuries later, St. Patrick did the same thing on the British Isles, when he didn't outright call out the pagans, but renamed their already holy wells as Mary's Wells, and explained the Trinity by using the shamrock--three things being one thing. And so the Chruch fathers explained that he Sun the pagans were worshipping was really the SON. Let's use this already made-to-order day, why don't we? For if you are to take the gospel narrative as, well, gospel, then the shepherds would not be out with their flocks in the winter, but they would instead have them penned.
There are more, and here's a link to an earlier post of mine that will offer food for thought.