Christmas is so much a part of the American cultural fabric, and most of the Christian world, we take for granted that it was always easy sledding for holiday traditions to take root.
But hold onto your reindeer reins, because Christmas has morphed through many forms and customs that could blow Rudolph's glowing red nose.
Let us also recall that Hanukkah is a distinct holiday steeped in the Jewish culture that rampant commercialism has tried to meld with Christmas.
Wrap your mind around a few of these holiday factoids that might prompt you to go, "Huh?"
Historians have traced the beginning of Christmas as the official celebration of the birth of Christ back to 350 A.D. which was proclaimed by Pope Julius I. Sure, that's good to know, but America was a bit late to the party.
Of course, who knew that another continent existed across the sea from Rome. But it wasn't until 1836 that Alabama became the first state to recognize the celebration. And Congress didn't officially sanction a national celebration until 1870.
For the record, the Founding Fathers weren't crazy about celebrating the holidays in any special way.
Remember that the Puritans who landed here left their puritanical mark in early American culture, forbidding any festivities, which were verboten and considered a sin. Back in those days, you were subject to a five shilling fine in Massachusetts, if you were caught celebrating the holiday. It was the Puritans intent to make Thanksgiving the big holiday. Didn't these guys sound like a fun bunch?
According to newspaper reports, even in the early 1800s, the holidays were more a time of rowdy public behavior fueled by lots of drinking. In fact, a newspaper described Christmas as a "nightmarish cross between Halloween and a violent Mardi Gras."
In 1828, a massive riot in New York City during the holidays broke out and got so out of hand, it led to the formation of the city's first police force to keep the citizenry safe. What would Santa say to all that: Ho, ho, ho. Not.
The Jews also celebrate Hanukkah around the same time as Christmas, commemorating the military victory of Judah and his Maccabees against the Syrian-Greeks who had desecrated the Temple of Jerusalem. Once the Jews had driven out the invaders, and then cleaned and purified the temple, they needed to relight the eternal light. They only had enough oil for the menorah to burn for a day, but miraculously the menorah burned for the required eight days.
That's the historical details but because of its proximity to Christmas each year, retailers have attempted to equate the two holidays by commercializing both. Years ago, there were no Hanukkah decorations, but now stores are filled with them. In reality, there was no such thing as a Hanukkah bush, but crafty retailers continue to try to equate both holidays.
Playing the dreidel game is a popular and traditional thing to do during Hanukkah. The origin of the game, however, was not based on fun but really a ruse.
During the time when Antiochus ruled the Jewish people, it was forbidden for them to study Torah. This did not deter the Jews from studying their sacred text. Jews continued to study and teach their children Torah, but kept with them the spinning tops known as dreidels. If soldiers passed, they would hide their texts and pull out the top, tricking the unaware Romans.
The holidays can stir visions of sugar plums dancing in our heads and warm, loving thoughts, for sure. However, beware if you're involved in a romantic relationship. According to studies, couples are most likely to break up two weeks prior to the holiday.
Of course, that presents the problem of what to do with the pile of presents you bought your sweetheart; and does she get to keep the high-priced jewelry, which is still an ongoing debate to this day.
Everyone knows that the pine tree has grown into the iconic symbol of Christmas. The practice seems to date back as far as 1531 when there was the first recorded mention of a Christmas tree in Germany. If that's tidbit isn't scintillating enough, guess who is given credit for decorating the first tree?
Not George Washington, not Abraham Lincoln nor Babe Ruth. Martin Luther, the Protestant reformer of the 15th century, who (as the story goes) was so moved by the sight of the stars shining through the branches of pine tree that he chopped one down, took it home and decorated it with candles.
Unfortunately, no one knows if the tree ever went up in flames, but it was a great start to wonderful tradition of lighting holiday trees.
The holidays have certainly evolved through many forms. One fact endures: Despite some quirky twists and turns, the holidays celebrate what is good in all of us.
Frank Szivos is a freelance writer who can be reached at email@example.com.