White House Christmas Tree

Fun Facts: A Historical Holiday Edition

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We thought we’d celebrate the upcoming holidays by sharing some things you may not know about the history of this season!

  • Because it was considered a British custom, many people in early America spurned the idea of celebrating Christmas at all. In fact, Congress was in session on December 25, 1789! It wasn’t until 1870 that President Ulysses S. Grant declared it an official national holiday in the United States.
  • Most historians believe President Franklin Pierce brought the first Christmas tree into the White House in 1856. The tradition continued through most other administrations, though President Theodore Roosevelt, an ardent environmentalist, banned Christmas trees from the White House in 1912. President Calvin Coolidge started the White House tree lighting ceremony in 1923.
  • Though it’s thought of as a Christmas song, “Jingle Bells” was first written for Thanksgiving.James Lord Pierpont originally composed his song in the 1850s and called it “One Horse Open Sleigh.” According to the Medford Historical Society, it was written about popular sleigh races held each autumn in Medford, Massachusetts.
  • English political leader Oliver Cromwell made celebrating Christmas illegal in England from 1647 to 1660. Sermons and prayers were legal, but Cromwell believed it was immoral to hold celebrations on one of the holiest days of the year. He made caroling and other forms of revelry criminal offenses, for which a person could be arrested.
  • Ancient cultures celebrated the beginning of a new year in either fall or spring, typically associated with the autumnal or vernal equinox of the moon. For example, the early Roman calendar called March 1 the beginning of the new year. It was eventually changed to match the civil year, the period during which Roman consuls served. This change was made official by Julius Caesar in 46 B.C.
  • Because “Hanukkah” is a Hebrew word translated into English, there really isn’t a correct spelling. Some say there are as many as 16 or 17 correct ways to spell the holiday, the most common being Chanukkah, Chanukah, Hannuka, Hannukah, and Hanukkah!

Check back next week for more holiday fun facts–this time about science!

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