Nine things you might not know about Christmas

From the Saturday, Dec. 24, editions of The Daily Journal (Kankakee, Ill.) and The Times (Ottawa, Ill.)

Nine things you might not know about Christmas


Dec. 24, 2011

You know about “The Nutcracker” by the Joffrey Ballet. No doubt, you’re familiar with “A Christmas Carol” at Goodman Theatre. And, this year, “A Christmas Story” – the new musical based off the ubiquitous holiday film featuring Ralphie and his father’s legged lamp – is all the wintertime rage at the Chicago Theater.

Last weekend, however, I took in another seasonal Chicago show that I was far less familiar with and which informed me about a Christmastime tale that I knew almost nothing about.

“The Christmas Schooner,” a longtime Chicago musical currently playing at the Mercury Theatre (3745 N. Southport Ave.), is based on the true story of the “Rouse Simmons,” a Great Lakes schooner that during the late 19th century became known to Chicagoans as “The Christmas Tree Ship.”

That moniker was earned after its German-born captain and crew battled Lake Michigan’s bitter November gales to become the first ship to transport firs from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula to Chicago so the city’s German immigrants could have Christmas trees.

Before seeing “The Christmas Schooner” it had never occurred to me that men had once risked their lives just to provide Chicagoans with a dose of holiday cheer. So, in honor of that revelation, I thought I’d share with you today eight additional facts about Christmas that you might not already know.

The birth of Christmas

In A.D. 320, Pope Julius I, bishop of Rome, proclaimed Dec. 25 the official celebration date for the birthday of Christ. Fifteen hundred years later, in 1836, Alabama became the first U.S. state to officially recognize Christmas. The U.S. itself followed suit on June 26, 1870, when it declared Christmas an official holiday. Oklahoma was the last state to make it a legal holiday, not doing so until 1907.

The birth of the Christmas tree?

Protestant reformer Martin Luther (1483-1546) was reportedly the first person to decorate a Christmas tree. According to legend, Luther was so moved by the beauty of the stars shining between the branches of a fir tree that he brought home an evergreen and decorated it with candles to recreate the image for his children.

On the 12th Day of Christmas …

The “true love” mentioned in the song “Twelve Days of Christmas” actually doesn’t refer to a romantic couple, but rather to the Catholic Church’s code for God. The person who receives the gifts represents someone who has accepted that code. For example, the “partridge in a pear tree” is meant to represent Christ, while the “two turtledoves” represent the Old and New Testaments.

Imagine placing the star on this …

According to the Guinness world records, the tallest Christmas tree ever cut was a towering 221-foot Douglas fir that was displayed in 1950 at the Northgate Shopping Center in Seattle.

… And stuffing this stocking

Meanwhile, the world’s largest Christmas stocking – made in 2007 by the Children’s Society in London – measured 106 feet and 9 inches long and 49 feet and 1 inch wide. Weighing the equivalent of five adult reindeer, the jumbo sock held nearly 1,000 presents.

Branching out

Christmas trees usually grow for about 15 years before they are sold, with approximately 30 to 35 million real (living) ones bought annually by Americans for their homes.

Santa’s girls

Most of Santa’s reindeer have male-sounding names, such as Blitzer, Comet and Cupid. Male reindeers, however, shed their antlers around Christmastime, meaning the reindeer pulling Santa’s sleigh are likely not guys. They’re girls.

Tissues, anyone?

Why is Rudolph’s nose red? Well, Norwegian scientists have hypothesized that it’s probably the result of a parasitic infection of his respiratory system.
Achoo! And Merry Christmas, everyone.

In Chicago, Santa has also been known to ride the rails ...