Ho Ho Hold on: Things you may not know about Christmas

Most of us are familiar with most of the traditions around Christmas: the secular, the non-secular, the music and the traditions.

But we've come across some things that you MIGHT not know.  Keep reading and test yourself.

Santa's reindeer... are all girls?

Each of Santa's reindeer -- the original eight as well as Rudolph -- always is depicted with a full rack of antlers on Christmas Eve. That's strong evidence that all nine probably are female.

According to the University of Alaska at Fairbanks, reindeer are the only members of the deer family where everyone grows antlers: males and females alike. Males shed their antlers by late November or early December. Females retain their antlers until after giving birth in the spring. So, when Dec. 24 rolls around and it is time for Santa to take flight behind his team of antlered coursers, in all likelihood Donner, Blitzen and the gang are females.

It is not a certainty, however. On occasion, a male will retain his antlers until the end of December. And geldings (neutered males) also retain their antlers. In the field of reindeer husbandry, neutering is not uncommon. Laplanders often neuter male reindeer before putting them to work, so the possibility that Santa's reindeer are neutered males cannot be discounted,

You can name all of Santa's reindeer, can't you? If not, go stand in the corner and memorize this list, as composed by Clement Clark Moore in 1823:

Now Dasher! Now Dancer! Now, Prancer and Vixen!
On, Comet, on, Cupid! On Donder and Blitzen."

Rudolph did not join the herd until 1939, when he turned up in a short story. Ten years later, he went down in history when Gene Autry recorded the now-classic song written by Johnny Marks.

What Christmas carol has its own museum?

Speaking of music - did you know that there is a Christmas carol that has a museum dedicated to it?  True story!

The Silent Night Museum is in Salzburg, Austria and celebrates the life of Joseph Mohr, who wrote the  lyrics to the sacred Christmas carol.

For many years, Franz Xaver Gruber was acknowledged as the 19th Century composer of the melody for Silent Night, but the lyricist was unknown. Only in 1995 was documented evidence discovered that identified Father Mohr, an Austrian parish priest, as the author of the poem that Gruber set to music.

The words were written (in German) in 1816 and Father Mohr performed the carol for the first time at his parish church in Oberndorf, Austria, on Christmas Eve in 1818. Gruber was the church organist, but the organ had been damaged and was unplayable. So the debut performance of Silent Night was accompanied by a guitar.

Father Mohr was born in 1792 and died in 1848. The Silent Night Museum occupies his birthplace.

What does Good King Wenceslas have to do with Christmas?

One of most popular Christmas carols is "Good King Wenceslas." Why is the good king associated with the Christmas celebration?

King Wenceslas (a Bohemian duke named Vlacav, actually) was a generous and pious man and a devout Christian who was martyred for his faith in the year 929. But his story is not a Christmas story.

The melody of "Good King Wenceslas" is a Scandinavian spring carol that originated in the 13th Century. The words we know today were written in 1853 by the Rev. John Mason Neale. Neale published it in a book of songs for "Christmastide," the 12 days of Christmas from Dec. 25 to Jan. 6. The story told in the carol is not about Christmas Day, however, but of another religious festival day that coincidentally happens to fall during Christmastide.

As the carol relates:

Good King Wenceslas looked out,
On the feast of Stephen..

St. Stephen's Day is on Dec. 26. It was on that day that King Wenceslas went out to comfort the poor. According to The Hymns and Carols of Christmas, it probably was the proximity of the two days that link the song and the Christmas holiday in popular culture. But the lyrics make no mention of the Nativity or of Christmas observance.

In medieval times, Saint Wenceslas became the patron saint of Bohemia. Today, he is the patron of the modern Czech republic.

What is a Kringle?

One of Santa's many names is "Kris Kringle." But what is a "kringle?"

A kringle is a Danish pastry, filled with fruit, nuts or a fruit-and-nut combination. A traditional kringle usually is oval shaped, and may be coated with vanilla or chocolate icing.

And what does that have to do with "Kris Kringle," one of Santa's alternative names? Nothing at all.

The name "Kris Kringle" originated in the Pennsylvania Dutch community during the early 1800s. It is derived from the German phrase Christine, which means "little Christ child." The Pennsylvania Dutch also called Santa besmirches, but that seems not to have caught on in the wider community.

Although Kringle are not specifically associated with Christmas, the people who bake them think they make wonderful Christmas gifts. Kringle bakers appear to be concentrated in the Midwest, at least on the Internet, and we found two places in Racine, Wick. offering mail-order sales: Racine Danish Kringle's and the O&H Danish Bakery. (New Yorkers will want to know that Racine does not offer prune Kringle, but O&H does, at least the last time we looked.)

What is the origin of the Christmas tree?

Decorated trees have not always been a part of the Christmas celebration. Do you know where (and when) the tradition of celebrating Christmas with an evergreen tree began?

At Christmastime in 1510, in the Latvian capital of Riga, a tree was decorated with paper ornaments and used in the holiday celebration. At the culmination of the holiday, the tree was tossed in a bonfire and burned.

The Latvians claim that as the first Christmas tree ever.

A few years later, in Germany, Martin Luther decorated a tree with  candles, and the idea of a Christmas tree began spreading from Germany into other parts of Europe.

Trees have been used as part of ritual celebrations since pagan times. The fir tree was adopted by early Christians, probably because its triangular shape recalled the Trinity which is a central theme of Christianity. Fir trees often were hung from the ceiling, upside down, as part of religious worship. But until the Latvians got the idea, those trees were not decorated or associated specifically with Christmas.

Although much medieval lore is subject to question, Latvia's claim to the first Christmas tree is widely accepted. The International Christmas Archives, for example, credits the Latvians with originating the Christmas tree.

What unexpected Christmas event occurred during World War I?

World War I combat began in August of 1914. By winter, the battle in Belgium had bogged down. Soldiers on both sides were dug into defensive trenches, often separated by only a few dozen yards of no-man's land.

Then, on Christmas Eve, German soldiers put small trees outside their trenches and decorated them with candles as they sang carols. Signs, written in English, invited the opposing British and French troops to stop fighting to mark the holiday. British solders responded with "Merry Christmas" signs of their own. (The U. S. did not enter the war until 1917.)

For a day, peace broke out. The truce was spontaneous; some officers actively discouraged it. But in many places, troops met in no-man's land, exchanging handshakes and greetings with enemy soldiers.

When Christmas ended, so did the truce. There would not be another Christmas truce during the war.

To learn more, read Silent Night: The Story of the World War I Christmas Truce, a book by military historian Stanley Weintraub.