So many of the things we associate with Christmas have other origins. For example, while modern Christmas trees originated in Germany during the Renaissance, it’s thought that the trees are related to the symbolism associated with evergreen trees that predates Christianity.
And as the tradition of Sinterklaas — the predecessor of our modern day Santa — emerged in Germanic Europe, the figure may have incorporated elements of Odin, a god associated with pagan celebrations of Yule.
But many of the traditions tied to our modern celebrations of the holiday actually don’t have much inherent connection to Christmas at all, even today. Why do we watch basketball on Christmas Day? How is it that we only drink eggnog in November and December when eggs are available year round?
We looked at 10 things we love about Christmas that don’t actually have anything to do with Christmas — but despite that, they’re an important part of the holiday anyway.
The Sound of Music.
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We’re not sure why this classic film always airs around Christmas, because it doesn’t have anything to do with the holiday and the rising power of the Nazi party isn’t very festive. We figure the connection comes from the fact that the movie is about family, just as the holidays often are, and has the happy ending required of holiday tales.
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Part of the association of these sweet citrus fruits with Christmas simply has to do with seasonality — they’re available and at their best in North America during this time of year. But they may also be associated with the holiday because oranges used to be hard to get and expensive, making it quite the treat to find one in the bottom of your stocking.
World Juniors Tournament
The IIHF World Junior Championship is a favourite event of hockey fans because it showcases many of the future stars of the NHL, from around the world. It’s also associated with Christmas here in Canada because it almost always begins on Boxing Day.
Basketball (And Associated Halftime Shows)
If you’re missing hockey on Christmas Day — the NHL takes a break, and the World Juniors doesn’t start until the 26th — then you can pass the time by watching a little bit of basketball. The NBA runs a full schedule of games on Christmas Day, and has since the league’s second season in 1947. While the NFL does have games on December 25 if it happens to fall on a regular game day, the NBA is the only one of the major leagues to regularly schedule games on Christmas.
If a traditional Christmas dinner isn’t your thing, or if you’re getting together with a meal for family on a different day, Chinese restaurants are another option. The common joke may be that Jewish families treat themselves to Chinese meals on Christmas because the restaurants tend to be open, but the tradition is increasingly associated with people celebrating Christmas as well, as families break from tradition for meals or arrange to see each other for the holidays on days other than the 25th.
Boxing Day Sales
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Boxing Day itself is associated with Christmas, as it stems from an older tradition of giving gifts and donations to employees and the needy on the day after the holiday. But now that online shopping is widespread, many Boxing Day sales actually begin on the 25th (online, where the stores are always open), which means you don’t have to wait until the 26th to get good deals.
While it’s certainly kind to extend a hand to those who need it at this time of year, especially considering how expensive the holidays can be, there is nothing in particular that ties the idea of donating to charity to Christmas. But many people do make their donations for the year around the holidays, both to give back, and to get that tax credit in before the new year arrives.
"Fairytale Of New York"
This great song by the Pogues and Kirsty MacColl is often found in the rotation of Christmas tunes played over mall loudspeakers, and is certainly a better choice than the horror that is “Wonderful Christmastime,” but if you listen to the lyrics, Christmas actually has nothing to do with it at all. That said, making the tune one for the holidays was the intention for the Pogues. It’s just that they wanted to write one that was as bleak and miserable as most are relentlessly cheery and hopeful. Fun fact: lead singer Shane MacGowan was born on Christmas day.