25 Non-Christmasy Things That Have Happened on December 25

iStock.com/MicroStockHub
iStock.com/MicroStockHub

Over the years, lots of amazing things have happened on December 25. The birth of Jesus Christ, however, was not one of them. J.C.'s arrival—the precise timing of which remains unknown—wasn’t pegged to 12/25 until 336 CE. While it’s certainly come to dominate its calendar square, Christmas isn’t the only reason to celebrate the date. What follows are 25 other incidents and milestones that make December 25 a day worth commemorating with silly songs and colored lights.

1. 597 // The Julian Calendar reintroduced to England

Originally taking effect in 45 BCE and traditionally considered reintroduced to England in 597, it took a little over 200 years for England to fully commit to Julius Caesar's preferred means of measuring time (and they were nearly another 200 years behind the rest of Europe in switching over to the Gregorian calendar in the 1750s). At least Caesar’s hairstyle, on the other hand, never goes out of style.

2. 800 // Charlemagne crowned Holy Roman emperor

In his role, the man also known as Charles the Great and "the father of Europe" helped to foster the Carolingian Renaissance—a glorious explosion of culture and intellect nobody has ever heard of.

3. 1492 // Christopher Columbus's Santa Maria sinks on Hispanola

Ol’ Chris turned lemons to lemonade, using timber from the ship to build a fort near the modern Haitian town of Limonade.

4. 1741 // Astronomer Anders Celsius introduces the Centigrade scale

Some 270 years later, Americans still don’t know what the hell those numbers mean.

5. 1758 // Return of Halley's Comet first sighted

German farmer and amateur astronomer Johann Georg Palitzsch spotted the fireball, confirming Edmond Halley’s theory of 76-year cycles. Before that, everyone had figured it was driven by willy-nilly by demons or elves or something.

6. 1776 // George Washington crosses the Delaware River and defeats 1400 Hessians

He kept telling his men what a righteous painting it would make one day.

7. 1809 // Physician Ephraim McDowell performs the first abdominal surgery in the U.S.

He removed a 22 pound ovarian tumor, but the hardest part was probably getting insurance approval.

8. 1843 // First-ever theater matinee presented at The Olympic in New York City

This would’ve been a good day to get on the waitlist for Hamilton tickets.

9. 1868 // President Andrew Johnson grants unconditional pardon to Confederate veterans of the Civil War

And then, a few days later, he celebrated his 60th birthday by throwing a party for 300 of his grandchildren's closest friends.

10. 1873 // Thomas Edison marries his first wife

Mary Stillwell was just 16 when she wed the inventor, who apparently neglected his family in favor of his work. Unless you live in a house without light bulbs, don’t judge.

11. 1896 // John Philip Sousa composes "Stars and Stripes Forever"

The magnum opus of the "March King" was declared the official march of the United States in 1987.

12. 1930 // The Mt. Van Hoevenberg Bobsled Run at Lake Placid, New York opens to the public

America’s first bobsled track built to international standards is on the National Register of Historic Places. Sadly, the gift shop doesn’t sell "I’m a Luger, Baby" T-shirts.

13. 1931 // The Metropolitan Opera broadcasts its first full opera over the radio

The show was Engelbert Humperdinck's Hänsel und Gretel, and a critic/color commentator talked through most of it.

14. 1946 // Jimmy Buffett was born in Pascagoula, Mississippi

He was promptly swaddled in Hawaiian shirts, baptized in tequila, and worshipped by future yuppies in the nursery.

15. 1959 // Ringo Starr gets his first drum kit

If Pete Best ever gets a time machine, he’s making sure Richard Starkey gets a tuba instead.

16. 1962 // The film version of To Kill a Mockingbird is released

The trial portion of the film takes up twice as much time as in the book because star Gregory Peck demanded more screen time.

17. 1967 // Paul McCartney and Jane Asher announce their engagement

The pair never wed, but Asher can say she inspired such Beatles classics as "And I Love Her" and "Here, There and Everywhere." Plus, she avoided being in Wings.

18. 1968 // Apollo 8 finished its successful moon orbit

Nothing terrible happened, which is why you’ve never seen a movie about it.

19. 1977 // Charlie Chaplin dies

Thanks to his iconic "Tramp" character, the silent film star remains a hero to well-meaning bumblers with funny mustaches.

20. 1985 // Longest-ever battery-powered car trip ends

Two blokes in a Freight Rover Leyland Sherpa drove Great Britain from bottom (Land’s End) to top (John o' Groat's, Scotland) in four days, likely singing Wham! all the way.

21. 1989 // Scientists in Japan achieve -271.8° C, the coldest temperature ever recorded

This was a full 10 degrees colder than a brass toilet seat in the Yukon.

22. 1991 // Gorbachev resigns as president of the USSR

Six years later, he starred in a Pizza Hut commercial.

23. 1997 // Jerry Seinfeld announces his namesake sitcom will end in the spring

Seinfeld taught us we’re all terrible people living meaningless lives. We miss it still.

24. 2002 // Katie Hnida becomes the first woman to play in a Division I college football game

The New Mexico University placekicker attempted an extra point against UCLA in the Las Vegas Bowl, but it was blocked. There’s probably a metaphor in there somewhere.

25. 2006 // James Brown dies

The "hardest working man in showbiz" finally got a break.

All images via Getty. This article originally ran in 2016.

11 Unusual Christmas Traditions Around the World

A Mari Lwyd—a ghostly horse figure brought door-to-door between Christmas and New Year’s Eve in Wales
A Mari Lwyd—a ghostly horse figure brought door-to-door between Christmas and New Year’s Eve in Wales
R. fiend, Wikimedia // CC BY-SA 3.0

We all know about the typical trappings of Christmas—Santa, the tree, eggnog and carols, turkey and ham, that fruitcake that’s made three trips around the country and counting. But what about traditions that are generally less well-known in America—the ones that might take place halfway around the world? Traditions like the Swedes watching the same Donald Duck cartoon each year, the Japanese devouring KFC, or Austria’s “bad Santa,” Krampus? Allow us to take you on a journey with the international Christmas traditions below.

1. Sweden // Watching Donald Duck on Television

Every year at 3 p.m. on Christmas Eve, around half of Sweden sits down to watch the 1958 Walt Disney TV special “From All of Us to All of You.” Known in Swedish as Kalle Anka och hans vänner önskar God Jul, the title translates to “Donald Duck and His Friends Wish You a Merry Christmas.” But, really, it’s usually known as Kalle Anka. Since 1959, the show has been airing without commercial interruption at the same time every December 24 on TV1, Sweden’s main public television channel. According to Slate, it’s one of the three most popular TV events each year, and lines of the cartoon’s dialogue have become common Swedish parlance.

Slate’s Jeremy Stahl, who remembers his first Christmas visiting Sweden with his soon-to-be-wife, observes, “I was taken aback not only by the datedness of the clips (and the somewhat random dubbing) but also by how seriously my adoptive Swedish family took the show. Nobody talked, except to recite favorite lines along with the characters." Stahl notes that for many Swedes, other Christmas Eve festivities revolve around watching the show—what time they eat the Christmas meal, for example—and that, although the tradition may seem strange, it also makes some sense: “For many Swedes, there is something comforting about knowing that every year there is one hour, on one day, when you sit down with everyone in your family and just be together.”

2. Venezuela // Roller Skating to Christmas Eve Mass

Roller skates on a wooden background
xavigm/iStock via Getty Images

In the Venezuelan capital of Caracas, it’s a long-established tradition to strap on your skates and roll on over to morning Christmas mass. According to Metro.co.uk, legend has it that children go to bed with a piece of string tied to their toes, with the other end dangling out the window. As the skaters glide by early the next morning, they give the strings a firm tug to let the children know it’s time to wake up and put on their skates. Firecrackers accompany the sound of the church bells, and when mass is finished, everyone gathers for food, music, and dance. The custom continues today.

3. Japan // Eating KFC on Christmas Eve

A KFC in Japan at Christmas
A KFC in Japan at Christmas
Robert Sanzalone, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Christmas isn't a widely celebrated holiday in Japan—a mere 1 percent of Japanese people are estimated to be Christian—and yet a bucket of KFC “Christmas Chicken” is the popular meal on December 24. According to the BBC, 3.6 million families celebrated this way in 2016.

It all began with a 1974 marketing campaign—“Kurisumasu ni wa kentakkii” (Kentucky for Christmas). According to Smithsonian, when a group of foreigners couldn’t find Christmas turkey and opted for KFC instead, the company saw it as a fabulous marketing opportunity and advertised its first Christmas meal—chicken and wine for the equivalent of $10, which, Smithsonian notes, was rather pricey for the mid-'70s. These days, the Christmas dinner includes cake and champagne, and costs roughly $40. Many people order their meals far in advance to avoid lines; those who forget can end up waiting for as long as two hours.

4. Ukraine // Decorating the Tree with (Fake) Spiders and Webs

A Ukrainian spider web Christmas tree ornament
A Ukrainian spider web Christmas tree ornament
Marty Gabel, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

According to Ukrainian folklore, there was a poor family with a widowed single mother who couldn’t afford to decorate their Christmas tree. One night, as they all slept, a wonderful Christmas spider decorated the tree with a beautiful, sparkly web. The rays of the sun touched the web, turning it to silver and gold, and from that day on the family wanted for nothing. Ukrainian families decorate their trees with glittering spiders and their webs in honor of the tale.

5. Guatemala // La Quema del Diablo, “Burning the Devil”

Bonfires in Guatemala on La Quema del Diablo
Bonfires in Guatemala on La Quema del Diablo
Conred Guatemala, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Every December 7, beginning at 6 p.m. sharp, Guatemalans build bonfires to “burn the devil” and kick off their Christmas season. The tradition has particular significance in Guatemala City, according to National Geographic, due to its association with the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, which honors the city’s patron saint. The tradition evolved from simply lighting bonfires during colonial times to burning a devil figure to clear the way for a celebration of the Virgin Mary. In recent years, devil piñatas have been added to the festivities, too. These days, an estimated 500,000 bonfires burn in the course of an hour on the holiday, and fireworks explode across the smoky sky.

6. Catalonia // Caganer, the Pooping Christmas Figurine

A caganer figure at a Barcelona Christmas market
A caganer figure at a Barcelona Christmas market
J2R/iStock via Getty Images

A regular figure in Catalonian nativity scenes, the caganer is a bare-bottomed man with his pants around his knees as he bends over to poop. He typically wears a white shirt and a barretina, a traditional Catalan hat. The caganer most likely first appeared in nativity scenes in the early 18th century; nativity scenes in the region typically represent pastoral scenes with depictions of rural life. The caganer often appears crouched behind a tree or a building in a corner of the nativity. Caganer literally means “pooper” in Catalan, and no one is certain of his significance, though one theory is that he represents good luck and the wish for a prosperous new year, since the pooping could be construed as the fertilization of the earth. Another theory is that he represents the mischief that resides in all of us. Yet another theory: he could merely represent humility and humanity. After all, everyone poops.

7. Wales // Mari Lwyd, or “Gray Mare”

Mari Lwyd, or “Gray Mare,” is the name given to the ghostly looking horse figure often brought door-to-door between Christmas and New Year’s Eve in Wales. Typically constructed of a horse skull, a white sheet, and adorned with colorful ribbons and bells, the Mari Lwyd is carried around Welsh towns by singing revelers who challenge their neighbors to a battle of wits through poetry. Atlas Obscura explains that despite often being associated with Christmas, Mari Lwyd is actually a pre-Christian practice, and some Welsh towns choose instead to parade their horse skulls on other days, such as Halloween or May Day. However, the Christmas season is the most popular time for Mari Lwyd, and the practice often includes wassailing, which involves the drinking of a boozy, sugared-and-spiced ale.

8. Austria and German-speaking Alpine region // Krampus, the Christmas Devil

Krampus characters parade on St Nicholas' day
Krampus characters parade on St Nicholas' day in Italy
dario_tommaseo/iStock via Getty Images

While well-behaved children in Austria and elsewhere look forward to St. Nicholas rewarding them with presents and sweets, those on the naughty list live in fear of Krampus. Part demon and part goat, Krampus is a “bad Santa” devil-like figure with origins in pagan celebrations of the winter solstice. Later, Krampus became a part of Christian traditions alongside the celebrating of St. Nick. During Krampusnacht, or “Krampus night,” right before St. Nicholas Day, adults dress up as Krampus, and Krampus might also be seen on a Krampuslauf—literally a “Krampus run.” He also appears on Christmas cards throughout Austria, and enjoys a long-held place in the country’s holiday traditions, as well as in other German-speaking areas near the Alps.

9. Iceland // The Yule Cat

Iceland has its own frightening Christmas figure, the Yule cat, which lurks in the snow and waits to devour anyone who has not received new clothes to wear for Christmas. National Geographic did some digging into the origins of this tradition, and notes that in Icelandic rural societies employers often rewarded members of their households with new clothes and sheepskin shoes each year as a way to encourage everyone to work hard in the lead-up to Christmas. “To this day Icelanders still find it important to wear new clothes on Christmas Eve when the celebrations begin,” the website writes. So, basically, the Yule cat punishes the lazy by devouring them, though, as National Geographic observes, “According to some tales, the Yule Cat only eats their food and presents, not the actual people.” Whew!

10. Greenland // Whale Blubber Dinner

Although women around the world have often traditionally prepared the Christmas meal, in Greenland the men serve the women. The main dish is mattak, strips of whale blubber, as well as kiviak, flesh from auks buried in sealskin for several months and then served once it begins to decompose. Dessert is a little more familiar: Christmas porridge garnished with butter, cinnamon, and sugar.

11. Italy // Befana, the Christmas Witch

Befana, the Christmas witch of Italy
Befana, the Christmas witch of Italy
corradobarattaphotos, iStock via Getty Images

Like Austria’s Krampus, Italy’s Christmas witch, Befana, is scary-looking—she has the warts and the sharp nose of the typical witch depiction—and yet every January 5 she leaves gifts and sweets for the good children. Of course, she also leaves coal for the naughty ones. According to legend, she swoops up the particularly bad children and brings them home to her child-eating husband. According to Vice, Italy honors Befana with festivals each year, complete with market stalls, raffles, games, and prizes. Children also write letters to Befana just as they do to Santa Claus.

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