The first Christmas was celebrated on December 25, AD 336 in Rome.

Christmas wasn’t declared an official holiday in the United States until June 26, 1870.

Guatemalan adults do not exchange Christmas gifts until New Year’s Day. Children get theirs (from the Christ Child) on Christmas morning.

The day after Christmas, December 26, is known as Boxing Day. It is also the holy day of St. Stephen. In Syria, Christmas gifts are distributed by one of the Wise Men’s camels. The gift-giving camel is said to have been the smallest one in the Wise Men’s caravan.

In North America, children put stockings out at Christmas time. Their Dutch counterparts use shoes.

In Germany, Heiligabend (Christmas Eve) is said to be a magical time when the pure in heart can hear animals talking.

A Yule log is an enormous log that is typically burned during the Twelve Days of Christmas (December 25-January 6). Some scholars suggest that the word yulemeans “revolution” or “wheel,” which symbolizes the cyclical return of the sun. A burning log or its charred remains is said to offer health, fertility, and luck as well as the ability to ward off evil spirits.

Alabama was the first state to recognize Christmas as a legal holiday in 1836.

Oklahoma was the last U.S. state to declare Christmas a legal holiday in 1907.

Bolivians celebrate Misa del Gallo or “Mass of the Rooster” on Christmas Eve. Some people bring roosters to the midnight mass, a gesture that symbolizes the belief that a rooster was the first animal to announce the birth of Jesus.

Ancient peoples, such as the Druids, considered mistletoe sacred because it remains green and bears fruit during the winter when all other plants appear to die. Druids would cut the plant with golden sickles and never let it touch the ground. They thought it had the power to cure infertility and nervous diseases and to ward off evil.

The British wear paper crowns while they eat Christmas dinner. The crowns are stored in a tube called a “Christmas cracker.”

Christmas has its roots in pagan festivals such as Saturnalia (December 17-December 23), the Kalends (January 1 -5, the precursor to the Twelve Days of Christmas), and Deus Sol Invictus or Birthday of the Unconquerable Sun (December 25). The Christian church heartily disapproved of such celebrations and co-opted the pagans by declaring December 25 as Christ’s day of birth, though there is no evidence Christ was born on that day.

Many European countries believed that spirits, both good and evil, were active during the Twelve Days of Christmas. These spirits eventually evolved into Santa’s elves, especially under the influence of Clement C. Moore’s The Night Before Christmas(1779-1863) illustrated by Thomas Nast (1840-1902).

Because of their pagan associations, both the holly (associated with the masculine principle) and the ivy (the feminine) and other green boughs in home decoration were banned by the sixth-century Christian Council of Braga.

Puritan Oliver Cromwell outlawed Christmas celebrations and carols in England from 1649-1660. The only celebrations allowed were sermons and prayers.

Because they viewed Christmas as a decadent Catholic holiday, the Puritans in America banned all Christmas celebrations from 1659-1681 with a penalty of five shillings for each offense. Some Puritan leaders condemned those who favored Christmas as enemies of the Christian religion.