Christmas is synonymous with happiness and joy. It’s the time of year when people are (supposed to) be kind and loving toward one another. When people think of Christmas, they think of decorations, presents, and all around cheer. But the traditions we know and love weren’t always as merry as they are in modern times.
1. Wreaths On Doors
When Christmas first started to be observed, it was during the Roman rule when people who practiced other religions were persecuted. Around the same time as Christmas, the Romans celebrated their own religion called the Festival of Saturnalia, which celebrated the Roman god Saturn, and a holly wreath was a traditional gift during the festival. To signal to other Christians that their household was celebrating Christmas, Christians would hang these wreaths on their door and in their houses.
2. A Feast For Dinner
A traditional Christmas dinner centers around a meat dish which is prepared, as meat typically is, headless. However, in the 1500s in England, dinner didn’t just have a head; it was only a head. Upper-class celebrations featured a boar’s head as the main dish. There was even a song that went with it. Just to amp up the weird even more, the boar’s head was served with candles in its mouth so it looked like it was breathing fire. Not exactly appetizing.
Ornaments that are hung on Christmas trees come in all shapes and designs. The original ornaments were glass-blown spheres. Called “witch balls”. The witch balls were hung in the windows of houses with bright colors that would attract and then trap witches and dark spirits. There’s no evidence as to why these balls were put on trees, but it is speculated that the intent was to ward off bad spirits from this symbol of a holy holiday.
4. Christmas Caroling
Christmas caroling as we know it now is a symphony of singers bringing Christmas cheer. The caroling of the past, also known as “wassailing,” was a series of happy songs, but their intent was not to spread Christmas cheer; it was to scare away ghosts.
5. Nice and Naughty Children
Santa visits the nice children, but who visits the naughty children? In Germany, these kids don’t get skipped. They get a visit from Krampus, a half-demon half-goat man that kidnaps and eats them. Other European countries have similar deterrents for year-round naughtiness, but luckily, we only have to worry about coal.
Mistletoe is hung above doorways for smooches to occur, but the origin actually means “poo on a stick,” which is exactly how you feel when you stand under it alone.
7. Gingerbread Houses
The tradition of the gingerbread house started around the same time that Hansel and Gretel was published by the Grimm brothers. So these cute houses with gumdrop driveways do not belong to a nice gingerbread family; technically, they belong to a witch that eats children.
8. He sees you when you’re sleeping…
The idea that an old man is surveying the every move of all of the children in the world is disturbing on its own. No context needed.