TRTZ no 42 : Happy Holidays – Science of Santa – Origins of Christmas

A Christmas Card and Yule Greeting from Alan and The Real Twilight Zone


This is meant to be a bit of a light hearted Real Twilight Zone so we’ll be hearing about a rapping vicar; how Santa should be a mass of pink goo; the trimmings and glitter of Christmas and their origins and why Coca Cola didn’t invent the image of Santa Claus. All dotted with some examples of festive comedy songs and parodies.

Christmas – Thoughts from Catherine

Christmas myth and legend varies from culture to culture, revealing a selection of some truly bizarre, weird and wonderful trivia about the festive time of year…

Alabama was the first American state to recognise Christmas as an official holiday in 1836.

1647 saw the temporary removal of Christmas as a time of feasting and celebration when Cromwell decided to ban it, believing it to be immoral. (Yet burning down churches with people in them was a-okay?!)  The festivities only returned when Cromwell lost power in 1660.

On a similar note, at one time the Puritans also banned the singing of Christmas Carols altogether.

The festive song ‘Jingle Bells’ by James Pierpont was actually written for the US Celebration of thanksgiving in 1857 and was first called ‘One Horse Open Sleigh’.

The abbreviation of ‘Christmas’ to ‘Xmas’ has its roots in the Greek alphabet, the first letter of the word ‘Christ’, being ‘chi’, or ‘X’.  So not as sacrilegious as some believe.

If you keep your Christmas tree in the house after the twelfth day of Christmas, bad luck is meant to befall the household.

Parts of Christmas trees are apparently full of vitamin C, though how one might go about eating said parts without many tiny stabs is another question…

Tinsel used to be made of real silver until it was created artificially.  The legend behind the use of tinsel could originate from a story told in Germany of a woman who could not decorate her tiny tree for her children.  During the night, spiders span webs over the tree and a passing wise man blessed it, thus the webs turned to silver.  The next morning the tree was beautiful and the woman could use the silver to provide for her children.

Legend says that if a child is born on Christmas day they will be able to see fairies, as well as be protected from troublesome spirits and immune to death by hanging or drowning.

Scientists in the US calculated that Santa would have to visit 822 homes a second as well as travel at a speed of 650 miles per second to deliver all the world’s presents on Christmas Eve.

Nearly 60 million trees are grown in Europe every year.

Christmas pudding used to be a soup.

The largest Christmas cracker was 45.72m long and 3.04m in diameter and was pulled in Australia in 1991.

The chances of a white Christmas are 1 in 10 for England and Wales, and 1 in 6 for Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Speaking of White Christmases, Bing Cosby’s version of this song is the most popular Christmas song, selling over 50 million copies worldwide since 1942.

England has only known seven white Christmases in the entire twentieth century and snow fell on Christmas Day only in 1938 and 1976.

In the UK, the best selling Christmas song is ‘Do They Know it’s Christmas?’ specifically the 1984 version.

Regardless of whether or not you saw the inverted artificial Christmas tree featured on the Christmas episode of ‘The Gadget Show’, it was invented purely for the purpose of cramming more presents underneath.

The word ‘Christmas’ comes from the Old English ‘Cristes maesse’ meaning ‘Christ’s Mass’.

It’s now thought that Jesus wasn’t born on December 25th but sometime in September between 6BC and 30AD.

Mince pies used to have actual beef mince in them.

Christmas is an example of pagan ceremony turned into a Christian celebration.  December 21st, the Winter Solstice was seen as a time when the veil between our world and the Otherworld was especially thin, perhaps just as much even more than it was at Samhein.  A loud celebration was to ward off evil spirits.

Before mistletoe was used as a means to steal a kiss from somebody, it was used by Druids to ward off evil spirits as it was sacred.  Mistletoe was something of a fertility symbol.  Kisses under the mistletoe were meant to be accompanied by the plucking of a mistletoe berry and women wishing to conceive would carry mistletoe with them.  Love charms often involved mistletoe as well; usually consumption of the berries was involved, ill-advised, given its poisonous nature! Holly has similar connotations and the Christmas tree was originally a symbol of renewed life.

In Norse myth, Frigga, the Goddess of love, was also associated with Mistletoe.

A couple of the Christian versions of the pagan symbols are outlined as follows.  The holly wreath represents Jesus’ crown of thorns and the red berries are symbolic of his blood.  The candy cane is now thought to represent the purity of Christ, the red stripes his blood and the shape an inverted ‘J’ for ‘Jesus’.  Some state that this is the true origin of candy canes, invented by a devout Christian from Indiana, but this is apparently false.

Nobody can be sure of the number of wise men that were meant to have visited Jesus.

In Catalonia, the traditional Nativity scene is also accompanied by the figure of a ‘Caganer’, a little peasant in a red hat who seemingly had the misfortune of being caught defecating at the time of Jesus’ birth.  While the red-hatted figure is traditional, you can obtain all sorts of ‘Caganers’, including Barack Obama and the Pope.

In Iceland, the traditional images behind Christmas also vary from the ones we know somewhat wildly.  ‘Yule Lads’ feature as part of the Christmas mythology, Spoon-Licker, Pot-Scraper, Door-Sniffer, Window-Peeper and Sausage-Swiper are their names, and they are usually illustrated as Father Christmas like men with long flowing white beards.  On the 13 days leading up to Christmas they are meant to give gifts to the children, one of which must be clothes as if the children are not given any new clothes by Christmas day then they will be eaten by the Christmas cat!

In Spain you can take part in the Tio de Nadal tradition, whereby you hit a log with a smiley face in order for it to poo presents.  There’s even a lovely little song:  ‘Poo Log, poo turron, Hazelnuts and cottage cheese. If you don’t poo well, I’ll hit you with a stick! Poo Log.’

How to say/ write ‘Merry Christmas’ in…

Language Translates to…
Arabic عيد ميلاد مجيد
Albanian Gëzuar Krishtlindjet
Afrikaans Geseënde Kersfees
Armenian Շնորհավոր Սուրբ Ծնունդ:
Chinese 聖誕快樂
Croatian Sretan Božić
Czechoslovakian Veselé Vánoce
Cornish Nadelik Looan
Danish Glædelig jul
Estonian Häid jõule
Filipino Maligayang Pasko
Finnish Hyvää Joulua
French Joyeux Noël
Galician Bo Nadal
German Frohe Weihnachten
Greek Καλά Χριστούγεννα
Gurajati મેરી ક્રિસમસ
Hebrew חג מולד שמח
Hindi मेरी क्रिसमस
Hungarian Boldog Karácsonyt
Icelandic Gleðileg jól
Indonesian Selamat Hari Natal
Irish Nollaig Shona
Italian Buon Natale
Japanese メリークリスマス (Merii Kurisumasu)
Kannada ಮೆರ್ರಿ ಕ್ರಿಸ್ಮಸ್
Latin Lorem Nativitatis
Latvian Priecīgus Ziemassvētkus
Lithuanian Linksmų Kalėdų
Macedonian Среќен Божиќ
Norwegian God jul
Persian کریسمس مبارک
Polish Wesołych Świąt
Portuguese Feliz Natal
Romanian Crăciun fericit
Russian С Рождеством
Serbian Срећан Божић
Slovakian veselé Vianoce
Slovenian Vesel božič
Spanish ¡Feliz Navidad
Swedish God Jul
Tamil மெர்ரி கிறிஸ்துமஸ்
Telugu మెర్రి క్రిస్మస్
Thai สุขสันต์วันคริสมาสต์
Turkish Mutlu Noeller
Ukrainian З Різдвом
Urdu میری کرسمس
Welsh Nadolig Llawen
Yiddish לעבעדיק ניטל
And for the nerds among you…
Klingon QISmaS DatIvjaj ‘ej DIS chu’ DatIvjaj
Romulan Oehl d-navassa’tel
Vulcan horam Najulachti
Elvish Ná merye i turuhalmeri
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Santa Science Snippets

Santa Fact Sheet

Santa Tracker – NORAD


Music on Tonight’s Show 

Christmas at the Devils House – Greensleves

Tom Smith – A Pirates Christmas

Die Zietgiest – First World Guilt

Hark the Cash Tills ring – written by AJ

Joel Kopinsche – A Harry Potter Christmas

Al Stravinski – In a Dream

The Fump – Christmas with the Zombies

Pepper Radio – 12 Days of Christmas

3rd Culture – Like I used to

All  recordings (except Hark The Cash Tills  Ring) available from – a great resource for podcasters.



















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