80 Totally Awesome Facts About the '80s

LightFieldStudios/iStock via Getty Images
LightFieldStudios/iStock via Getty Images

The 1980s were the birthplace of so many things that have become commonplace in our lives: Personal computers, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movies, and two-pound cell phones. It was a strange, magical time that is still widely celebrated thanks to our obsession with nostalgia, but here are 80 things you might not know about the 1980s.

1. Toni Basil was 38 years old when she recorded "Mickey."

Thanks to the music video, the 1982 song, "Mickey" became a cheerleader anthem even though its singer was more than a few years out of high school. It was also originally called, "Kitty," but producers changed it so it would be about a man.

2. Hacky sacks were all the rage, but they were hardly a 1980s invention.

Hacky sacks had a major moment in the 1980s, but they’ve been around since 3000 BCE—when Chinese Emperor Wong Ti used to kick around a leather ball filled with hair.

3. Casey Kasem quit the Transformers cartoon because of a racist script.

Legendary DJ and voice actor Casey Kasem played Cliffjumper on the animated Transformers, but he left the show over a racist script containing an Arab character named Abdul, King of Carbombya. They still made the episodes.

4. Clark Kent helped name the Walkman.

The Sony Walkman
Getty Images

Sony named the Walkman after the Pressman audio recorder featured popularly in Superman. They originally called it the Sound-About in the United States and the Stowaway in the United Kingdom.

5. Waterbeds were an immensely popular luxury item.

In 1987, 20 percent of all mattress sales were waterbeds. The waterbed market was worth $2 billion.

6. Roald Dahl had an existential crises writing Matilda.

Roald Dahl struggled to write the book-devouring character because he was genuinely afraid that books in general were becoming unpopular. Fortunately for all of us, he was wrong.

7. April 24th is "New Kids On The Block Day" in Massachusetts.

Michael Dukakis is famous for losing to George H.W. Bush in the 1988 presidential election, but people forget about his larger contributions to history—like, for instance, declaring April 24, 1989 "New Kids On the Block Day" in Massachusetts.

8. Luke Skywalker was almost trained by Buffy.

In early outlines for The Empire Strikes Back, Yoda was named Buffy. Jedi and vampire slayer?

9. You could buy the phone from your favorite show.

In 1984, if you wanted a phone shaped like lips, like the one that D.J. had on Full House, it would cost you $70. Nowadays, no one even knows the price of a landline phone—and many people will never know the thrill of chatting on a hamburger phone or a banana phone or a Mickey Mouse phone or one of those transparent phones where you could see all the wires inside. A lip-based telephone will run you about $20 today.

10. Barbra Streisand's stylist invented the crimping iron.

Young woman with crimped hair
kparis/iStock via Getty Images

Stylist Geri Cusenza invented the crimping iron after hours of braiding and unbraiding Barbra Streisand's hair for a photo shoot, unleashing a hairstyle that would rule over the decade.

11. Ms. Pac-Man had an … interesting tagline.

When the video game character was introduced in 1982, her tagline was: "The new femme fatale of the game world." Sure. Fine.

12. Jolt cola found a slogan to stick with.

Jolt Cola, which was introduced in 1985, used the same slogan, "all the sugar and twice the caffeine," for 24 years straight. In the late 2000s, they changed it to "Maximum caffeine, more power," which just doesn't have the same punch.

13. DC Comics was nice enough to let The Karate Kid keep its name.

Ralph Macchio stars in 'The Karate Kid' (1984)
Ralph Macchio in The Karate Kid (1984).
Columbia Pictures

Before The Karate Kid movie, The Karate Kid was a completely unrelated DC Comics superhero. Columbia Pictures actually thanked DC Comics in the movie's credits for letting them use the name.

14. Christian Bale once helped sell Pac-Man cereal.

In the 1980s Christian Bale starred in a commercial for Pac-Man cereal, thus giving us the name for his inevitable autobiography: From Pac-Man to Batman.

15. A lot of popular books were ghostwritten.

Ghost writing was incredibly common in the 1980s, especially among serials aimed at tweens and teens. For example, The Baby-sitter's Club author Anne M. Martin ghost wrote the first Sweet Valley Twins book, and Sweet Valley Twins author Peter Lerangis ghostwrote 43 Baby-sitter's Club books.

16. Olivia Newton-John’s song Physical was meant to be macho.

According to songwriter Steve Kipner, the Olivia Newton-John song Physical was originally written for "a macho male rock figure like Rod Stewart." The singer also worried after she recorded it that it was too raunchy.

17. The Razzies were born out of a bad double feature.

Speaking of Olivia Newton-John: After publicist John J.B. Wilson watched a double feature of Can't Stop the Music and Xanadu, he was inspired to start the Golden Raspberry Awards, a.k.a. "The Razzies." The parody plaudits for bad filmmaking were initially awarded at his home Oscar party.

18. Halley's Comet was first observed via spacecraft in 1986.

Chinese astronomers first noticed it in 239 BCE. We won't see it again from Earth until 2061.

19. Boomboxes demanded some serious arm strength.

A retro boombox
BrAt_PiKaChU/iStock via Getty Images

According to boombox expert Fred Brathwaite, those boxes were so heavy that "some cats that would carry their boxes all the time, they would develop massive forearms and biceps." Some boomboxes were 26 pounds.

20. You're a big fan of Project Ii—whether you know it or not.

When American Greetings was developing Care Bears, they were top secret and only called "Project II." Project I, by the way, was none other than Strawberry Shortcake.

21. a Strawberry Shortcake convention lasted into the 2000s.

Incidentally, Strawberry Shortcake has her own annual convention in Cleveland that kicked off in 2003 and lasted more than a decade.

22. A soap opera helped make Rick Springfield a global pop star.

In 1981, Rick Springfield accepted a role on General Hospital after recording his album, "Working Class Dog." The show got around 14 million viewers daily, which may be why Jesse's Girl hit number one that year. It's his only single to ever hit the top spot.

23. You can visit a Rainbow Brite museum.

Your wish has come true. There's a Rainbow Brite museum in North Carolina made up of 1500 items of memorabilia from one woman's Rainbow Brite collection.

24. Nintendo got its console into stores with an offer they couldn't refuse.

In 1985, in an attempt to convince stores in New York City to carry the new Nintendo Entertainment System, a Nintendo exec promised that they could send back the ones they didn't sell free of charge, but they ended up selling 50,000 that holiday season.

25. Leopard print helped Simon Le Bon get his lead singer gig.

A photo of the band Duran Duran
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Simon Le Bon showed up for his Duran Duran audition in pink leopard prints pants. Nick Rhodes said, "Anyone who looks that stupid is positively the one."

26. Eddie Murphy's debut musical album was produced by Rick James and Stevie Wonder.

It cost over half a million dollars to make Eddie Murphy's album "How Could It Be," featuring the infamously bad single Party All the Time, which is now in your head. You're welcome.

27. Real-life scientists inspired Jem And The Holograms.

The last names of Jem (a.k.a. Jerrica Benton) and the Holograms were the names of real scientists who worked on hologram technology.

28. Don't Worry, Be Happy still makes people happy.

The 1988 song Don't Worry, Be Happy still has many fans, including Hillary Clinton, who received a teddy bear that sings the song from former Secretary of State George Schultz. Her memoir claims, "I kept it in my office, first as a joke, but every so often, it really did help to squeeze the bear and hear that song."

29. Lisa Frank has her own proprietary ink.

It's a mixture that makes colors brighter.

30. Members Only jackets were a big, big deal.

Another brand that did well for itself in the 80s: Members Only. Thanks to their famous jackets, the company brought in $100 million a year.

31. Hairspray helped relaunch hairspray.

An aisle full of hair care products
JackF/iStock via Getty Images

In 2002, Aqua Net Hairspray had an unlikely comeback when the musical Hairspray, based on John Waters' 1988 film, started on Broadway. Because nothing says fashion like a musical that takes place in 1960s Baltimore. (Which was kind of Waters's point.)

32. Jon Bon Jovi hated Livin' On A Prayer (at first).

Speaking of hairspray: Jon Bon Jovi didn't like the song "Livin' on a Prayer" and almost scrapped it from the Slippery When Wet album before it gave them their first number one song.

33. Two famous '80s styles were invented decades before the 1980s.

Thanks to Dynasty and Working Girl, shoulder pads in women's clothing became very popular during the 1980s, but designer Elsa Schiaparelli actually invented the style in the 1930s. Also people have been perming their hair since 1872.

34. "Mr. T" is not a stage name.

A photo of Mr. T
Michael Buckner/Getty Images

When he turned 18, Laurence Tureaud legally changed his name to Mr. T, because he wanted people to call him Mister, which he considered a sign of respect that white people didn't generally grant black men.

35. Baby Animal on The Muppet Babies had two famous voices.

Both Dave Coulier and Howie Mandel voiced Animal on Muppet Babies. What a great program.

36. Cheers didn't get off to a good start.

The cast of 'Cheers'
NBC

The Cheers premiere in 1982 was ranked almost last in ratings, but its finale 11 years later brought in 80.4 million viewers.

37. ALF did wunderbar in Germany.

Speaking of sitcoms: ALF was very popular in Germany. The country actually has a city named Alf, and people kept stealing the sign due to the show's popularity. It also led, for some reason, to ALF making hit hip-hop records.

38. John Hughes wrote Sixteen Candles for Molly Ringwald before ever meeting her.

Molly Ringwald and Michael Schoeffling in 'Sixteen Candles' (1984)
Molly Ringwald and Michael Schoeffling in Sixteen Candles (1984).
Universal Pictures

John Hughes wrote Sixteen Candles after an agent sent him a stack of actresses' head shots, including Molly Ringwald's. He put her picture over his desk and wrote the bulk of the film in one weekend.

39. John Hughes wrote Ferris Bueller's Day Off in six days.

But Hughes often wrote pretty quickly. In fact, the script for Ferris Bueller's Day Off took him just six days as he raced an oncoming writer's strike.

40. Most of Run DMC didn't like the name "Run DMC."

Russell Simmons—Joseph "Run" Simmons's brother, who helped promote the band and get their first single produced—actually came up with the name "Run DMC," which the rest of the group hated. They wanted to be called the "Devastating Two" or the "Dynamic Two MCs."

41. Gelly roll pens have something in common with gluten-free baking.

Gelly Roll pens were invented in the 1980s, but it took a while to come up with the perfect ink formula after trying things like grated yam and egg whites. A member of the team saw an ad for the food additive xanthan gum, which turned out to be the missing ingredient.

42. The Terminator most iconic line was supposed to be "I'll come back."

Arnold Schwarzenegger in 'The Terminator' (1984)
Arnold Schwarzenegger in The Terminator (1984).
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

The line, "I'll be back," from the Terminator movies was written in the movie's novelization as "I'll come back." But before you write that off as a typo: "I'll come back" is how the line was written in the original script.

43. Jane Fonda helped popularize leg warmers.

Jane Fonda gets some of the credit or, arguably, blame for making leg warmers trendy. She wore them in her very first workout video and encouraged people to wear them to "feel like athletes."

44. Jennifer Beals accidentally launched the ripped sweatshirt craze.

Another reason for the leg warmer craze: the movie Flashdance, which also gave us the collarless sweatshirt. Actress Jennifer Beals once shrunk a sweatshirt in the dryer then cut around the collar so it could fit. She wore that to her audition, and the style made it into the movie.

45. The ubiquitous "Baby On Board" signs might not have been so great.

Baby on board sign hangs in the back of a car
StockSolutions/IStock via Getty Images

Stickers for your car that said "Baby on Board" were very popular in the '80s. But, according to a 2012 study, one in 20 drivers blame such stickers for obscuring their vision and causing accidents.

46. The oldest known emoticon is from 1982.

Computer Scientist Scott E. Fahlman offered them as a way of showing lightheartedness on message board posts. :-)

47. The Clapper wasn't the only product with that ear worm jingle.

The Clapper is notorious thanks to its commercial jingle, but the exact same song was actually used earlier in the 1980s in a commercial for Sine-Off cold medicine.

48. Slash almost joined Poison.

Future Guns N' Roses guitarist Slash auditioned for Poison but realized he wasn't right for the job when they asked him if he'd wear make-up.

49. Richard Page almost joined Toto.

Similarly, Richard Page—the lead singer of Mr. Mister—turned down the lead singer job in two other bands, Toto and Chicago, because, you know, he was waiting for Mr. Mister to come alone. It's unclear how he feels about the rains down in Africa.

50. Van Halen's famous "M&M" request had a serious purpose.

A pack of milk chocolate M&Ms
Samohin/iStock via Getty Images

In the 80s, Van Halen famously requested a bowl of M&Ms minus all the brown candies backstage at their shows. It wasn't to be snooty jerks. They added it to their contracts to make sure that people running the venue actually read the entire rider. If they saw brown M&Ms, they knew the venue wasn't detail-oriented and that there might be some (potentially dangerous) technical problems on stage.

51. Fraggle Rock was HBO's first original series.

Fraggle Rock was HBO's first original series. It was a lot like the content that HBO makes now, but there was less violence than Game of Thrones, fewer drugs than Euphoria, and just about as much scheming as Succession.

52. The Pee-Wee's Playhouse theme song had a famous singer.

Cindy Lauper! She revealed in her autobiography that she sang the theme song for the wacky show.

53. Neil Armstrong turned down MTV.

Astronaut Neil Armstrong is photographed after walking on the moon
NASA/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

When MTV premiered in the 1980s, they wanted to use Neil Armstrong's "One Small Step" quotation from the moon landing, but Armstrong refused, so they tossed in a beeping sound over the video collage of the Apollo 11 landing instead.

54. The Beastie Boys opened for Madonna.

The opening act for Madonna's first ever tour? The Beastie Boys, who often got booed for screaming obscenities. But it worked for Madonna. It turns out that the audience hating the opening act makes them that much happier to see the headliner.

55. "Fight For Your Right" is a parody song.

The Beastie Boys, by the way, wrote "(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (to Party)" as a parody of rock songs (so many parentheses). It was a joke. They refused to play it live.

56. Bright Lights, Big City's publisher thought the setting would limit its greatness.

While Jay McInerney was working on his novel Bright Lights, Big City, his publisher said that no great American novels took place in New York, to which Jay McInerney probably replied, "Have you read The Great Gatsby?"

57. A three-year-old inspired the Polaroid camera.

Little girl holds up a photo taken with an instant camera
Rawpixel/iStock via Getty Images

All the cool '80s kids had a Polaroid 660. The brand itself was started in 1944 by Edwin H. Land because his three-year-old daughter didn't understand why she couldn't see a picture right after it was taken, so he fixed that problem for her, and then became a billionaire. Listen to your toddlers, people.

58. The Ghostbusters crew made three Stay Puft suits

It cost $20,000 to create the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man suit for Ghostbusters. The crew had to make three of them, which were all destroyed during filming.

59. Dr. Ruth was almost in Dirty Dancing.

Eleanor Bergstein, who wrote and produced Dirty Dancing, was friends with Dr. Ruth. Anyways, Bergstein wanted to cast Dr. Ruth as Mrs. Schumacher, but Dr. Ruth declined when she realized the character was a thief.

60. Doc Brown almost had a chimp sidekick.

Doc and Marty in the movie 'Back to the Future.'
Universal Pictures Home Entertainment

Doc Brown had a chimpanzee in early drafts of Back to the Future, but the head of Universal said no movie with a chimpanzee ever made any money. Which is just completely unfair. I mean, granted MVP: Most Valuable Primate hadn't been made yet, but surely that exec was familiar with the Ronald Reagan movie Bedtime for Bonzo. Anyway, Doc Brown's chimp would have been named Shemp.

61. Miami Vice didn't have a real Ferrari at first.

Sonny Crockett's car on Miami Vice was originally a Corvette that the crew made to look like a Ferrari, but eventually Ferrari gave the show a Testarossa.

62. There was a literal book about what "real men" don't do.

In the 1980s, the book Real Men Don't Eat Quiche spent 55 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list. According to the book, here are a few things that real men don't do: have meaningful dialogues, catch rays, drink light beer, or wear gold chains or anything with more than three zippers.

63. We didn't have Chicken McNuggets until 1981.

A plate of chicken nuggets
rez-art/iStock via Getty Images

Believe it or not, America lived in ignorance of McDonald's Chicken McNuggets until the 1980s. They were released to test markets in 1981. Supposedly, by the way, they only come in four shapes: the boot, the ball, the bow tie, and the bell.

64. Michael Jackson's Beat It had a famous guitarist.

Eddie Van Halen! He rocked the guitar solo in Michael Jackson's Beat It for free as a favor to Quincy Jones. It lasts 20 seconds.

65. Thriller almost got a Fred Astaire cameo.

Fred Astaire almost guest-starred as a zombie in Michael Jackson's music video for Thriller. He even attended a rehearsal.

66. Pat Benatar expanded what music videos could do.

Pat Benatar's Love Is a Battlefield music video was the first ever to feature spoken dialogue. Near the beginning of the story where Benatar's rebellious teen character runs away from home, her father tells her she can "forget about coming back" if she leaves.

67. Spandex is an anagram of expands.

Fitting for the stretchy, synthetic fabric.

68. Paula Abdul choreographed for ZZ Top and Janet Jackson.

Such great team-ups. Abdul designed the dance for ZZ Top's Velcro Fly in 1985, and her 1986 design work for Janet Jackson's Nasty solidified her status as an elite choreographer. She also crafted the giant dance sequence in Coming to America.

69. the inventor of the Rubik's Cube struggled to solve it.

Person playing with a Rubik's Cube
xmagic/iStock via Getty Images

So don't feel too bad. After creating the set of colored cubes, Erno Rubik was fascinated by their beauty, saying, "It was tremendously satisfying to watch this color parade." Then he wondered how to figure it out. It took him a month, but there are also over 43 quintillion possible combinations, so a month isn't too shabby. Rubik also gave us the key to not figuring it out: Just enjoy the satisfaction of the color parade.

70. Hair mousse is named after the french word for foam.

It was invented in France and popularized in North America in the 1980s thanks to L'Oreal.

71. The guy who wrote Heathers wanted Stanley Kubrick to direct it.

A still from 'Heathers' (1988)
Getty Images

Daniel Waters initially wrote Heathers as a three-hour-long dark comedy with Kubrick in mind as his dream director. Obviously Kubrick didn't direct it, or any movie after 1987's Full Metal Jacket until he made his final film, 1999's Eyes Wide Shut.

72. Rick Allen's mom got him his Def Leppard gig.

Drummer Rick Allen joined Def Leppard when he was just 14 years old after his mom responded to the band's ad for him. He auditioned against two others, including the band's original drummer who wanted the job back.

73. Prince wrote Manic Monday.


BERTRAND GUAY/AFP/Getty Images

Manic Monday by the Bangles was written by Prince under the pseudonym Christopher. That was before his pseudonym was a symbol. He also wrote "Nothing Compares 2 U" for Sinead O'Connor and hits for Alicia Keys, Chaka Khan, and more.

74. Quoting Top Gun at Topgun comes with a fine.

People at the U.S. Navy Fighter Weapons School (a.k.a. TOPGUN) reportedly receive a $5 fine every time they quote Top Gun. Which is tough, fair, and worth it to toss out a few cracks about feeling the need for speed during class.

75. Ray-Ban was very happy with top Gun.

Tom Cruise in Top Gun
Paramount Pictures

On the other end of the $5 fine spectrum: Ray-Ban Aviator sales jumped 40 percent after Val Kilmer snapped his teeth at Tom Cruise on the big screen.

76. Reese's Pieces were happy with E.T.

But if you think that's impressive, after E.T. came out, Reese's Pieces sales increased by 65 percent. The original script called for Elliot to use M&Ms to draw out the alien, but Mars famously turned them down (and lost out).

77. Wendy's fired the "Where's The Beef?" lady for being unfaithful.

Clara Peller, who said the "Where's the beef?" line in Wendy's ads, got fired from Wendy's when she did a commercial for Prego spaghetti sauce in which she said, "I found it!"

According to Wendy's, that quote inferred "That Clara found the beef at somewhere other than Wendy's restaurants." We all know there is only one location for the beef.

78. Fake Cabbage Patch Kids were a real problem for the FBI.

Photo of Cabbage Patch Kid dolls
Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images

While parents were scrambling to find Cabbage Patch Kid dolls in stores, the FBI was hunting down thousands of counterfeit versions that sold for cheap and had "a strong chemical odor." They were tipped off to a massive operation when customs officials seized 240 fake dolls heading from Canada into Michigan.

79. The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air’s Uncle Phil voiced Shredder in the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon.

The late James Avery was a familiar presence in households all over the world as Will Smith's sensible, put-upon father figure in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, but he also voiced the cruel nemesis of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in their late-80s animated show. Enjoy using this to win $5 bets with your friends. 

80. The recording for the star-packed song We Are the World lasted until 3 a.m.

Stevie Wonder wanted to record a verse in Swahili, and was waiting for a phone call about correct pronunciations. When the call finally came, Ray Charles said, "It's three o'clock in the g*ddamn morning. Swahili, sh*t—I can't even sing in English no more."

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10 Surprising Facts About Wham!’s 'Last Christmas'

Michael Putland/Getty Images
Michael Putland/Getty Images

Over the course of his illustrious career, George Michael gave the world many gifts. One that keeps on giving is “Last Christmas,” the 1984 holiday classic by Wham!, Michael's pop duo with Andrew Ridgeley. “Last Christmas” is such a uniquely beloved song that it inspired a 2019 film of the same name. That’s just one interesting part of the “Last Christmas” story. Read on for 10 fascinating facts about this seasonal synth-pop favorite.

1. George Michael wrote "Last Christmas" in his childhood bedroom.

“Last Christmas” was born one day in 1984 when George Michael and Wham! bandmate Andrew Ridgeley were visiting Michael’s parents. While they were sitting around watching TV, Michael suddenly dashed upstairs to his childhood bedroom and composed the modern Xmas classic in about an hour. “George had performed musical alchemy, distilling the essence of Christmas into music,” Ridgeley said. “Adding a lyric which told the tale of betrayed love was a masterstroke and, as he did so often, he touched hearts."

2. “Last Christmas” isn’t really a Christmas song.

There’s nothing in “Last Christmas” about Santa, reindeer, trees, snow, or anything we typically associate with the holiday. Rather, the song is about a failed romance that just happens to have begun on December 25, when Michael gave someone his heart, and ended on December 26, when this ungrateful person “gave it away.”

3. George Michael wrote and produced the song—but that’s not all.

Singers George Michael (left) and Andrew Ridgeley, of the band 'Wham!', performing on stage, July 1986
Dave Hogan/Getty Images

By the time Wham! recorded “Last Christmas” in August (yes, August) 1984, Michael had taken full control of the group. In addition to writing and producing the song, Michael insisted on playing the Roland Juno-60 synth in the studio. “George wasn’t a musician,” engineer Chris Porter said. “It was a laborious process, because he was literally playing the keyboards with two or three fingers.” Michael even jangled those sweet sleigh bells himself.

4. “Last Christmas” didn’t reach #1 on the UK charts.

As the movie Love Actually reminds us, scoring a Christmas #1 in the UK is a really big deal. Unfortunately, “Last Christmas” didn’t give Wham! that honor. It stalled at #2, and to this day it has the distinction of being the highest-selling UK single of all time to not reach #1.

5. George Michael sang on the song that kept “Last Christmas” at #2.

“Last Christmas” was bested on the UK charts by Band Aid’s “Do They Know It’s Christmas,” an all-star charity single benefiting Ethiopian famine relief. Michael sang on “Do They Know It’s Christmas,” and was so committed to the cause that he donated his profits from “Last Christmas” to helping the African nation.

6. George Michael was sued for plagiarism over “Last Christmas.”

In the mid-1980s, the publishing company Dick James Music sued George Michael on behalf of the writers of “Can’t Smile Without You,” a schmaltzy love song recorded by The Carpenters and Barry Manilow, among others. According to Chris Porter, the recording engineer on “Last Christmas,” the suit was dismissed after a musicologist presented 60-plus songs that have a similar chord progression and melody.

7. "Last Christmas" has been covered by a lot of other artists.

Andrew Ridgeley (right) and George Michael (1963-2016) of Wham! performing on stage together in Sydney, Australia during the pop duo's 1985 world tour, January 1985.
Michael Putland/Getty Images

Jimmy Eat World, Hilary Duff, Good Charlotte, Ariana Grande, Carly Rae Jepsen, Gwen Stefani, and Taylor Swift are just a few of the artists who’ve covered “Last Christmas” over the years. The strangest rendition may be the 2006 dance version by the Swedish CGI character Crazy Frog, which reached #16 on the UK charts.

8. Some people make a concerted effort to avoid hearing “Last Christmas.”

While millions of people delight in hearing “Last Christmas” every year, an internet game called Whamageddon encourages players to avoid the song from December 1 to 24. The rules are simple: Once you hear the original Wham! version of “Last Christmas” (remixes and covers don’t count), you’re out. You then admit defeat on social media with the hashtag #Whamageddon and wait for your friends to suffer the same fate. Note: The rules prohibit you from “deliberately sending your friends to Whamhalla.”

9. “Last Christmas” finally charted in America following George Michael’s death in 2016.

Back in 1984, “Last Christmas” wasn’t released as a commercial single in the United States, and therefore it wasn’t eligible for the Billboard Hot 100 chart. However, Billboard changed its rules in 1998, and in the wake of George Michael’s unexpected death on Christmas Day 2016, the song finally made its Hot 100 debut. In December 2018, it reentered the charts and peaked at #25.

10. George Michael was involved in the Last Christmas movie.

November 2019 saw the release of Paul Feig's Last Christmas, a romantic comedy inspired by the song starring Game of Thrones's Emilia Clarke. Producer David Livingstone came up with the idea while George Michael was still alive, and when he pitched the pop star on the project, he was given the greenlight—with one condition: Michael stipulated that actress and author Emma Thompson write the movie. Thompson co-authored the story and the screenplay, and she even wound up playing a supporting role.

The Origins of 12 Christmas Traditions

Tom Merton/iStock via Getty Images
Tom Merton/iStock via Getty Images

From expecting Santa to fill our footwear with gifts to eating cake that looks like tree bark, the holidays are filled with traditions—some of which are downright odd when you stop and think about them. Where did they come from? Wonder no more. Here are the origins of 12 Christmas traditions.

1. Hanging Stockings

While there’s no official record of why we hang socks for Santa, one of the most plausible explanations is that it's a variation on the old tradition of leaving out shoes with hay inside them on December 5, the eve of St. Nicholas’s feast day. Lucky children would discover that the hay they left for St. Nick’s donkey had been replaced with treats or coins when they woke up the next morning. Another story says that St. Nicholas learned of a father who was unable to pay for his three daughters' dowries, so St. Nick dropped gold balls down a chimney, which landed in stockings hung by the fire to dry. But this appears to be a modern telling—traditional versions of the story generally have the gold land at the father's feet after being thrown through a window.

Regardless of what started the tradition, people seem to have realized the need to use a decorative stocking in place of an actual sock pretty early on. In 1883, The New York Times wrote:

"In the days of the unobtrusive white stocking, no one could pretend that the stocking itself was a graceful or attractive object when hanging limp and empty from the foot of the bedstead. Now, however, since the adoption of decorated stockings ... even the empty stocking may be a thing of beauty, and its owner can display it with confidence both at the Christmas season and on purely secular occasions."

2. Caroling

Though it may seem like a centuries-old tradition, showing up at people’s houses to serenade them with seasonal tunes only dates back to the 19th century. Before that, neighbors did visit each other to impart wishes of good luck and good cheer, but not necessarily in song. Christmas carols themselves go back hundreds of years, minus the door-to-door part. The mashup of the two ideas didn’t come together until Victorian England, when caroling was part of every holiday—even May Day festivals. As Christmas became more commercialized, caroling for the occasion became more popular.

3. Using Evergreens as Christmas Trees

Rows of Christmas trees at tree farm on cold winter morning
arlutz73/iStock via Getty Images

Before Christianity was even conceived of, people used evergreen boughs to decorate their homes during the winter; the greenery reminded them that plants would return in abundance soon. As Christianity became more popular in Europe, and Germany in particular, the tradition was absorbed into it. Christians decorated evergreen trees with apples to represent the Garden of Eden, calling them "Paradise Trees" around the time of Adam and Eve's name day—December 24. Gradually, the tradition was subsumed into Christmas celebrations.

The tradition spread as immigrants did, but the practice really took off when word got around that England’s Queen Victoria decorated a Christmas tree as a nod to her German husband’s heritage (German members of the British royal family had previously had Christmas trees, but they never caught on with the wider public). Her influence was felt worldwide, and by 1900, one in five American families had a Christmas tree. Today, 25 to 30 million real Christmas trees are sold in the U.S. every year.

4. The Colors Red and Green

As with many other old Christmas traditions, there’s no hard-and-fast event that deemed red and green the Official Colors of Christmas™. But there are theories—the green may have derived from the evergreen tradition that dates back to before Christianity, and the red may be from holly berries. While they’re winter-hardy, just like evergreens, they also have a religious implication: The red berries have been associated with the blood of Christ.

5. Ugly Christmas Sweaters

To celebrate this joyous season, many people gleefully don hideous knitwear adorned with ribbons, sequins, bows, and lights. In the past, the trend was embraced solely by grandmas, teachers, and fashion-challenged parents, but in the last decade or so, the ugly sweater has gone mainstream. We may have Canada to blame for that: According to the Ugly Christmas Sweater Party Book, the ugly sweater party trend can be traced to a 2001 gathering in Vancouver.

6. Leaving Milk and Cookies for Santa

Closeup image of wish list and treats for Santa Claus on table next to burning fireplace
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When we plunk a few Oreos or chocolate chip cookies on a plate for St. Nick, accompanied by a cold glass of milk, we’re actually participating in a tradition that some scholars date back to ancient Norse mythology. According to legend, Odin had an eight-legged horse named Sleipnir. Kids would leave treats for Sleipnir, hoping that Odin would favor them with gifts in return. The practice became popular again in the U.S. during the Great Depression, when parents tried to impress upon kids the importance of being grateful for anything they were lucky enough to receive for Christmas.

7. The A Christmas Story Marathon on TBS

If one of the highlights of your holiday is tuning in for 24 hours of watching Ralphie Parker nearly shoot his eye out, you’re not alone—over the course of the day, more than 50 million viewers flip to TBS. The marathon first aired on TNT in 1997, then switched to sister station TBS in 2004. This Christmas marks the 20th year for the annual movie marathon.

8. Yule Logs

Chocolate yule log cake with red currant on wooden background
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Throwing a yule log on the fire is another tradition that is said to predate Christianity. As part of winter solstice celebrations, Gaels and Celts burned logs decorated with holly, ivy, and pinecones to cleanse themselves of the past year and welcome the next one. They also believed the ashes would help protect against lightning strikes and evil spirits. The practice was scaled down over time, and eventually, it morphed into a more delicious tradition—cake! Parisian bakers really popularized the practice of creating yule log-shaped desserts during the 19th century, with various bakeries competing to see who could come up with the most elaborately decorated yule log.

If you prefer a wood yule log to one covered in frosting, but find yourself sans fireplace, you can always tune in to Yule Log TV.

9. Advent Calendars

Technically, Advent, a religious event that has been celebrated since the 4th century, is a four-week period that starts on the Sunday closest to the November 30 feast day of St. Andrew the Apostle. Traditionally, it marked the period to prepare for Christmas as well as the Second Coming. These days, it’s mostly used as a countdown to Christmas for the religious and the non-religious alike.

The modern commercialized advent calendar, which marks the passage of December days with little doors containing candy or small gifts, are believed to have been introduced by Gerhard Lang in the early 1900s. He was inspired by a calendar that his mother made for him when he was a child that featured 24 colored pictures attached to a piece of cardboard. Today, advent calendars contain everything from candy to LEGOs.

10. Eggnog

Eggnog in two glass cups
GreenArtPhotography/iStock via Getty Images

It’s hard to imagine why anyone would be inspired to chug a raw egg-based drink, but historians agree that 'nog was probably inspired by a medieval drink called posset, a milky drink made with eggs, milk, and sometimes figs or sherry. These were all pricey ingredients, so the wealthy often used it for toasting.

Eggnog became a holiday drink when colonists brought it over from England, but they found a way to make it on the cheap, nixing the figs and substituting rum for sherry. And how about that weird "nog" name? No one knows for sure, but historians theorize that nog was short for noggin, which was slang for a wooden cup, or a play on the Norfolk variety of beer also called nog (which itself may be named after the cup).

11. Mistletoe

Mistletoe has been associated with fertility and vitality since ancient times, when Celtic Druids saw it as such because it blossomed even during the most frigid winters; the association stuck over the centuries.

It’s easy to see how fertility and kissing can be linked, but no one is quite sure how smooching under the shrub (actually, it’s a parasitic plant) became a common Christmas pastime. We do know the tradition was popular with English servants in the 18th century, then quickly spread to those they served. The archaic custom once allowed men to steal a kiss from any woman standing beneath; if she refused, they were doomed with bad luck.

12. Christmas Cards

Exchanging holiday greetings via mail is a surprisingly recent tradition, with the first formal card hitting shelves in 1843. Designed by an Englishman named J.C. Horsley, the cardboard greeting showed a happy group of people participating in a toast, along with the printed sentiment, "A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you.” A thousand of them were printed that first year, and because it cost just a penny to mail a holiday hello to friends and family (the card itself was a shilling, or 12 times as much), the cards sold like hotcakes and a new custom was born. Today, Americans send around 2 billion cards every year.

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