10 Misconceptions About Holidays
'Tis the season to bust some myths about our favorite holiday celebrations, from the origins of the Hanukkah dreidel to Jesus's real birthday. Read on for a few common but mistaken beliefs adapted from an episode of Misconceptions on YouTube.
1. Misconception: St. Patrick's Day is an Irish holiday because St. Patrick was Irish.
St. Patrick was born in what is now Britain in 390 CE, and he didn't even identify as a Christian until the age of 16, which was around the time that he was sent to Ireland. He's the patron saint of Ireland because he converted many Irish people to Christianity when he was a priest, and Irish immigrants in America started celebrating the holiday as early as 1762. In fact, the holiday's more associated with America than Ireland, where the holiday was a pretty minor affair until the 1970s.
2. Misconception: Independence Day is the day when the Declaration of Independence was signed.
Future President John Adams once wrote to his wife Abigail, "I am apt to believe that [July 2, 1776], will be celebrated by succeeding generations, as the great anniversary festival." And that was because July 2 was the day that the Second Continental Congress voted to approve the resolution declaring the colonies' independence from Great Britain. It was officially approved on the fourth of July, so that's the day we celebrate as our nation's birthday, despite some of the founders' wishes to celebrate on July 2. If you want to mark the date the declaration was actually signed, you'll have to wait until August 2.
3. Misconception: Thanksgiving is in late November because that's when the first Thanksgiving took place.
It was probably celebrated some time between September 21 and November 11. We know this because it the feast was inspired by English harvest festivals that were typically celebrated in late September. President Abraham Lincoln suggested a late November day of Thanksgiving, but it was permanently set on the fourth Thursday of November in 1941.
4. Misconception: Christmas is on December 25 because that's the day Jesus was born.
Today, it's rare to find a theologian who will argue that Jesus was born on December 25, and many don't even think he was born in the year 1 CE. It wasn't until about 300 years after Jesus's birth that people started celebrating Christmas in mid-winter, so it's hard to believe that the date could be accurate. Plus, some religious scholars have pointed out that the shepherds in the biblical story of Jesus's birth would make more sense that he was born in the spring. Even Pope Benedict XVI wrote that Christmas is probably on the wrong date. December 25 may have been chosen because there was a pagan midwinter celebration called Saturnalia celebrated around the same time.
5. Misconception: More people take their own lives during the winter holidays.
This belief has been studied extensively, and the opposite has been found to be true. Suicide rates are highest in the spring and summer, according to studies conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Center for Health Statistics, and the Annenberg Public Policy Center. Experts aren't sure why. Some believe it has something to do with the fact that people tend to interact more with others during the warmer months, causing increased stress.
6. Misconception: Black Friday is the biggest shopping date of the year in the U.S.
This is a widely reported statistic, but the biggest shopping day changes from year to year. For several years in the late 2000s, Black Friday was the largest, but in 2013, the Saturday before Christmas retook the crown. It varies widely but currently the momentum seems to be with that Saturday.
7. Misconception: The dreidel was invented for Hanukkah.
Toys similar to the dreidel existed in many ancient cultures long before Hanukkah was a holiday. It's been connected to the Babylonian empire, India, and parts of Europe, and many people used it to gamble rather than celebrate religion. The story goes that in the Seleucid Empire, which existed in what is now western Asia from the 4th through the 1st centuries BCE, Jewish people adapted the toy into a method for secretly studying the Torah, and that's why it's now associated with Hanukkah.
8. Misconception: Easter is named after Ishtar.
It's a myth that Easter comes from Ishtar, the Babylonian goddess of fertility and sex. Linguists claim that the word Easter probably comes from a Germanic goddess named Ostra. Yes, the holiday of Easter was inspired by earlier pagan celebrations, but there's no evidence that Ishtar had anything to do with it.
9. Misconception: Cinco de Mayo is the Mexican independence day.
Cinco de Mayo celebrates the Battle of Puebla, which occurred on May 5, 1862, when France occupied part of Mexico. The Mexican army defeated the French army in the city of Puebla, and less than five years later, French troops no longer occupied Mexico. Mexican Independence Day is on September 16 and celebrates the start of the Mexican War of Independence against Spain in 1810.
10. Misconception: New Year's Day is the most dangerous day to drive.
A lot of people in the U.S. think that New Year's Day is the most risky time to drive because there are more inebriated drivers on the road (of course, you should never drink and drive!). But roads are typically more dangerous during summer holidays like the 4th of July and Memorial Day.
A version of this story ran in 2017; it has been updated for 2022.