15 Perfectly Safe Things That Were Once Considered Dangerous

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Lead paint in kids' rooms. Smoking. Flammable pajamas. It's easy to name items that are more dangerous than we realized. But some things people once considered dangerous aren't harmful at all. 

1. Dancing

Safety dance? More like deadly dance. In its 1926 article “Death of Girl, 17, Laid to Charleston Dance,” The Washington Post reported on a girl who perished after dancing the Charleston. The paper interviewed the girl's doctor, who blamed her death on the “extreme physical exercise” of this classic dance move, which he said was “particularly dangerous for young women.” 

But potential “inflammation of the peritoneum” wasn't the only thing to be concerned about when flitting across the dance floor. Even the most traditional of dances could do serious damage and lead to all sorts of evil. “The high kick, displaying bare legs and arms of our little girls in the presence of even small boys, cannot honestly be said to tend to beget in those children the highest sense of modesty, purity so greatly prized in our women,” a Dr. Waldron told a local ministerial association in 1925; his remarks were quoted in  The Pittsburgh Courier article “Flays Teaching of Dancing in Public School: ‘Display of Bare Legs is Hurtful’” [PDF]. “The folk dances become the way and door to the dancing school; the dancing school is the feeder to the dance hall and public ball room and these inturn [sic], load to the brothel,” the doctor said. “Statistics show from one-third to two-thirds of the prostitutes in our large cities come from the public dance halls and ballrooms.” 

While few are currently concerned about the risk of death by dancing, there are still associations between promiscuity and certain dance styles. Some schools have rigid rules about what's allowed at school dances—especially when it comes to the distance between partners—and other towns have gone full Footloose, outlawing dancing all together, either for religious reasons, the crime rate at nightclubs, or like one town in Wisconsin, for just a short-lived promotional stunt

2. Competitive Sports (for Girls)

According to 1920s wisdom, if a girl wants to stay desirable and get married, she must refrain from practicing competitive sports. “Too many athletics threaten to rob girls of their chief appeal to men,” warns a Victoria college headmistress in “Says Athletics Harm Girls: English Woman Warns Students Not to Lose Appeal to Men,” an article published in The Washington Post in 1922. “The modern girl is trying to do too much at football,” she continues. “Her charm, balance and poise will all be lost, and her dignity lowered if she endeavors to emulate man too closely.”

Worse still, if she participated in sports in high school, she risked wearing herself out, ruining her chances for future happiness. “Must I continue through my life half enjoying living just because I gave too much of myself to competitive sports, to win a few medals which lie unnoticed and tarnished in a box?” asks a married woman in the 1931 Chicago Daily Tribune article “Competitive Sports are Dangerous for High School Girls.”  

It wasn’t until World War II that women’s competitive sports gained greater acceptance. After women proved their strength by joining the workforce or enrolling in military service, “organizations for women in sport began to increase as sport became more competitive and intercollegiate and interscholastic competition spread.” The Civil Rights movement in conjunction with Second Wave feminism also aided in the growing presence of women’s competitive sports.

3. Licking Stamps

Back in 1916—when snail mail was the norm, and before stamps evolved into stickers—The New York Times warned against the dangers of stamp licking. “Aside from hygienic reasons, it is dangerous to lick postage stamps on the ground that the stamps are bacteria-laden and under favorable conditions might easily convey pathogenic types especially colon, diphtheria, and tubercle bacilli,” said the Philadelphia scientists who conducted the study. 

A mere four years later, J. Diner and G. Horstman—two members of the American Pharmaceutical Association—disproved this theory. A 1920 article in The Boston Daily Globe quoted the study originally printed in American Medicine, saying, “The hygienic reason that people should not lick postage stamps is certainly sound. Nevertheless this practice is scarcely to be construed as a potential danger compared with eating and drinking which are so essential for sustenance but are responsible for a large measure of bacteriological contamination of the oral cavity.”

On that note, Seinfeld fans may wonder whether Susan could have actually died by licking all those cheap wedding invitation envelopes. Thomas P. Connelly, D.D.S., says no. “In general terms, most envelope glue is produced from gum arabic, which comes from tree sap,” he explains in a piece for The Huffington Post in 2011. “It is safe for humans and is also used in some other things we eat (M&Ms, gumdrops, etc.). The glue can also be more petroleum-based, as we can see by this answer from someone in the UK post office. But either way, it would appear that the glue is indeed safe. This goes the same if you ingest it, or if you cut your tongue while licking.”

4. The Color Purple

In the early 1900s, an interior decorator would never choose the color purple. A Boston Globe article from 1903—titled “Dangerous Tints: Some Colors Will Drive a Person Mad if the Eyes Are Continually Looking at Them”—called it "the most dangerous color there is":

If purple walls and a red tinted window surrounded you for a month with no color but purple around you, by the end of that time you would be a mad-man. No matter how strong your brain might be it would not stand the strain, and it is doubtful if you would ever recover your reason.

That wasn't the only color to avoid. Scarlet could push you into a murderous rage, while blue “excites the imagination and gives a craving for music and stagecraft, but it has a reaction that wrecks the nerves.” Meanwhile, “Solitary confinement in a yellow cell … will weaken any system and produce chronic hysteria,” and “sheer dead white, unbroken, will destroy your eyesight.”

But according to color expert Kate Smith, purple has the power to calm the nerves, improve the mood, and even inspire creativity. Why else would Harold choose a purple crayon? 

5. Dungeons and Dragons

D&D came under fire in the 1980s when suicides and murders were loosely linked to the game. A few years ago, Mental_Floss compiled a list of complaints against the fantasy role-playing game, including ones that mention cults, witchcraft, Satan, and murder. 

One mother was concerned by the amount of time and attention her kids and their friends devoted to the game. “They're always planning what they will do the next time. Kids have lost jobs, flunked out of school. They totally confuse reality and fantasy," she said. "It (the game) becomes their god."

6. Hanging onto Straps on Public Transportation

Ladies feeling under the weather in 1912 could blame public transportation. Not because there were germs lingering on the poles, or floating through the crowded street car, but because holding on to the straps—now replaced with rods—was “a frightful strain upon [your] internal organs,” according to the unnamed but "prominent" physician interviewed in 1912 for the Chicago Daily Tribune‘s “Strap Hanging Dangerous for Women.” According to the physician, "Women do not have the strong shoulder muscles that men possess, and while men use only their arm and shoulder muscles to steady themselves, women are obliged to use all the muscles in their bodies for the same purpose.” 

Lillian Russell, the author of the piece, even made it a political issue, saying, “It is high time that women were granted the rights of suffrage, for without suffrage they have neither seats in the cars nor the votes to protect themselves against such a horde of so-called men.”

Hanging on straps might no longer be considered dangerous for ladies, but seating on public transportation can still be a contentious and gendered issue. At least there are taxis.   

7. Where's Waldo? and other children's books

It’s hard to find Waldo among the crowded pages of a Where’s Waldo? book, let alone notice every detail hidden among the illustration. But once a kid in Long Island found a woman’s partially exposed breast on the beach page in the first book of the series, chaos—in the form of overly-concerned parents—ensued. The woman's breast, described as “about the size of the lead tip of a pencil,” caused the book to be banned from that town's school library in 1993. Other children’s books that have been pulled from the shelves include A. A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh, Sylvester and the Magic Pebble by William Steig, and—in an unfortunate mix upBrown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? by Bill Martin Jr.

8. Gum

Your mother might have told you never to swallow your gum because it would stick in your gut for 7 years. That might be a good way to scare a child into throwing their chewed gum in the trash, but this claim is entirely false. Yes, the gum isn’t broken down like other food, but it’ll still pass through your digestive system at a normal rate. That being said, it’s still not a great thing to do.

9. Sitting Too Close to the TV

Before TVs had flat screens, hundreds of channels, and crystal clear imaging, they were clunky and emitted radiation that could potentially worsen the viewer’s eyesight after prolonged exposure. However, in 1967, a “factory error” caused some defective General Electric televisions to emit 10 to 100,000 times the amount of radiation health officials deemed acceptable. GE recalled the TVs and updated their new models with a leaded glass shield surrounding the tubes inside the television to solve the problem.

Radiation isn’t something to worry about anymore, but you can still strain your eyes if you spend too much time staring at a screen—so with our iPhones and our computers and all of our other devices, television is the least of our problems. 

10. The Tomato

Paired with the wrong platter, a tomato had the power to kill. When European aristocrats became sick and died after eating tomatoes, the fruit was dubbed the “poison apple.” It was later discovered that the tomato itself wasn't deadly—but its high acidity caused it to “leach lead” from the pewter plate, resulting in lead poisoning. But the tomato’s reputation was set.

The tomato’s sad tale continued when the Green Tomato Worm invaded tomato patches across New York in the 1830s. Personal accounts of encounters with the worms resulted in rumors about how poisonous they were. It was believed that Ralph Waldo Emerson thought they were “an object of much terror, it being currently regarded as poisonous and imparting a poisonous quality to the fruit if it should chance to crawl upon it." The worm turned out to be totally harmless, people’s fears eventually subsided—and the tomato became a garden and salad staple.

11. Tea

In the 19th century, if an Irish peasant woman were drinking tea, it meant something else was being put on the back burner—something far more important, like her domestic duties. According to Dr. Helen O’Connell, a lecturer at Durham University, and author of “'A Raking Pot of Tea’: Consumption and Excess in Early Nineteenth Century Ireland,” published in Literature and History journal, “Drinking tea was thought to threaten traditional ways.” A tea break among women could lead to them plotting a rebellion or engaging in political discussion, and publicly distributed pamphlets warned against the dangers of the drink. Now we just consider it a nice alternative to coffee, which was also once considered dangerous

12. Clothes

“If the doctors are to be believed, the wearing of clothes is more dangerous to human life than their utter absence would be,” wrote the authors of the 1901 Boston Daily Globe article “Don’t Wear Clothes: That is, if You Would be Entirely Healthy…"  The British doctors who were consulted for the piece advised against wearing cotton and linen as well as garters and waistcoats, which they argued “are a permanent menace to life and health.”

Their reasoning is partially accurate—the body does breathe through both the lungs and the skin (despite what all of those internet myth sites will tell you), and there are some fabrics that are less “breathable” than others—but “nonporous clothing” isn’t quite as “disastrous” as they seem to have thought. 

Today, we know that cotton is one of the better fabric options available to us; some synthetic materials can cause rashes and skin irritation. However, there have been recent articles about the danger of some clothes—not because their “clammy surface ... imparts any variety of cold, up to and including pneumonia,” but because some dyes include toxins as a result of polluted water near the factories [PDF].

13. Writing Letters

Just a glance at a person's tweets, blog posts, and status updates can be enough to tell you everything there is to know about their problems. But oversharing isn’t a new epidemic caused by the Internet. In 1898, Amelia E. Barr wrote a chapter called “Dangerous Letter Writing” in her book Maids Wives and Bachelors in which she said “Young women are proverbially fond of playing with edged tools ... And of all such dangerous playthings a habit of promiscuous, careless letter-writing is the worst; for in most cases the danger is not obvious at the time, and the writer may even have forgotten her imprudence when she has to meet the consequences.” Barr credits cheaper postage for the impulsive way girls wrote overly sentimental letters and sent them off immediately.

In a highly prescient passage, she writes,

The abuse of letter-writing is one of the greatest trials of the epoch ... Every one cries out, and insists upon your listening. They write events while they are only happening. People unknown intrude upon your time and take possession of it. Enmities and friendships thousands of miles away scold or caress … For a mere nothing—a yes, or a no—idle, gushing people fire off continual notes and insist upon answers.

Letter writing may no longer be considered dangerous, but thanks to cell phones, computers, and all other communication enabled gadgetry, it's definitely still a nuisance. 

14. Public Toilets

Are you a hoverer or a toilet seat cover user? There's very little need to be putting in that extra effort when using a public restroom, because despite what you might have heard, it's impossible to contract a sexually transmitted disease just by sitting on a toilet. 

Donald G. McNeil Jr., a science and health reporter at The New York Times, attributes the fear of contracting a venereal disease from the toilet seat to an age old excuse. In response to a reader's question about the dangers of toilet seats, he explained that the STD myth was probably a result of cheating partners refusing to admit their infidelity when their partners angrily ask them about why he or she "suddenly has symptoms of syphilis, gonorrhea, pubic lice, or any other unpleasantry." Instead of coming clean, the unfaithful partner can easily say “I have no idea, dear—I must have gotten it from a toilet seat..." and then move on without an argument. 

Non-sexually transmitted diseases like various flesh-eating bacteria, the norovirus, or E. Coli are carried through vomit or feces, both of which are visible and thus avoidable. And far as other germs go, as long as the skin on your rear end and thighs is fully intact—thick skin works as a barrier—there's almost nothing to be worried about. 

That's not to say that there aren't germs on a toilet seat—in fact, there's an average of 50 bacteria per square inch on one's surface—but compared to a cutting board, a kitchen sponge, or your cell phone, toilet seats are cleaner. Just something to think about the next time you stick your iPhone next to your pillow. 

15. Air conditioning

The invention and subsequent increase in accessibility and affordability of air conditioning in the 1920s and '30s brought a general sigh of relief to homeowners and office workers used to sweating through the summer months. But in Washington D.C., some government officials didn’t give the new technological addition to the Senate chamber such a warm welcome. In May 1929, John E. Rankin, a Democrat from Mississippi, filed a complaint about the chilly air temperature in the chamber, saying, "This is regular Republican atmosphere, and it is enough to kill anybody if it continues." 

Rankin was wrong. In fact, according to a 2013 study, since 1960, air conditioning has cut heat-related deaths by 80 percent. "The likelihood of a premature death on an extremely hot day between 1929 and 1959 was 2.5 percent," and has since dropped to less than 0.5 percent.

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
Artfoliophoto/iStock via Getty Images

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
etorres69/iStock via Getty Images

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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