Smarter Living

15 Weird, Forgotten Christmas Traditions Nobody Does Anymore


Every vacation season, households around the globe trim their timber, sing carols, and cling their stockings within the hopes they will discover them stuffed with goodies by Christmas morning. However, for all of the quaint—and generally corny—customs we comply with as we speak, there are simply as many bizarre Christmas traditions which have been cast by the wayside, falling out of favor and being remembered much less and fewer every year.

So, we consulted Brian Earl, host of the Christmas Past podcast, weblog, and YouTube channel, to search out out extra concerning the strangest Christmas traditions of yonder yuletides, from telling supernatural tales to hiding cash in cake. Keep studying for some long-gone practices that you could be wish to revive for you festivities, and for extra vacation trivia, try 55 Fun Christmas Facts to Get You within the Holiday Spirit.

Six sugar plum candies lying on a wooden table

You’ve little doubt learn Clement Clarke Moore’s iconic 1823 poem “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas,” which incorporates the road, “The children were nestled all snug in their beds / While visions of sugar plums dance in their heads.” But have you ever ever stopped to consider what a sugar plum really is?

“Originally, these were caraway seeds or cardamom pods—some kind of spice that was then coated in sugar,” Earl explains. (Modern vacation recipes involving dried fruits or nuts are literally “not at all authentic, but just something that Alton Brown made up,” he says.) In this case, the phrase plum comes from its non-fruit-related utilization, that means “desirable,” corresponding to within the time period “plum job.”

For some fascinating details concerning the centerpiece of your decor, try 30 Amazing Christmas Trees Facts to Make the Holidays Extra Magical.

Christmas fruitcake in a serving dish on wooden table

Fruitcake has gotten a foul rap as of late. But putting fruitcake underneath your pillow really has some fairly candy origins. “If you ate a piece of fruitcake—especially if it was from a wedding—and put [the remainder] under your pillow at night, legend said you’d dream of the person you will marry,” says Earl.

And this is not the one antiquated Christmas custom involving love. Christmas revelers within the seventeenth century would additionally do issues like throw meals on the wall to see if what caught spelled the identify of a lover. They’d additionally toss sneakers right into a tree—and in the event that they hung there, the thrower can be married inside the yr. Today, English royalty continues to serve fruitcake at Christmastime gatherings as a nod to the custom, says Earl.

Two donkeys in a field

In Twelfth-century France, a donkey can be led in a procession by way of the middle of city to the native church, the place a service was in session. The donkey would stay subsequent to the church’s altar throughout the service, and congregants would mimic its bray in a call-and-response with the priest. This custom, often called the Feast of the Donkey, was accompanied by “raucous parties that usually got out of hand,” says Earl. The celebration grew to become such an issue that many cities ultimately banned it.

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Bishop walks through a church followed by altar boys

Derived from the affect of Roman Saturnalia celebrations, social inversion was a preferred Christmastime apply centuries in the past, says Earl. This would sometimes contain the election of a “boy bishop,” or little one, to run the church in lieu of a minister throughout the Feast of Saint Nicholas on Dec. 6. In probably the most excessive examples, you’d wind up “with some three-year-old running around leading the whole thing,” Earl explains.


Today, the Christmas season runs from Thanksgiving to Christmas Day. But that wasn’t at all times the case. “Before, it was the other way around,” explains Earl. The months main as much as Christmas have been thought of Advent, which, much like Lent, was thought of a time of restraint for Christians.

Instead, Christmas season was from Christmas till the Eve of the Epiphany (Jan. 6). And the largest celebrations have been really held on that last day, often called “Twelfth Night,” which served because the inspiration for William Shakespeare’s play of the identical identify.

For the festive flick it’s good to watch this yr, try The Best Christmas Movie of All Time, According to Critics.


Many video games and Christmas celebrations have been as soon as held on Twelfth Night. And a type of traditions, in line with Earl, was to “bake a cake and hide something in it, like a string bean or a coin,” which has similarities to the fashionable custom of discovering a bean or figurine in a king cake served on Mardi Gras within the South. Whoever discovered the merchandise of their slice of cake on Twelfth Night would “lead the evening’s festivities,” Earl explains.

Court jester performing at a Medieval festival

Under the custom of the Lord of Misrule, which was fashionable in medieval courts, a “jester or clown would become mayor of the city for the Christmas season, suggesting all sorts of funny things that everyone would have to do,” says Earl. Depending upon the village’s ruling construction, this was additionally generally often called “The Abbot of Unreason.”

This custom was meant to offer leisure all through your entire Christmas season. Eventually, the raucous celebration was banned in 1541 by Henry VIII and banned once more by Elizabeth I after a quick resurrection by her predecessor.

For some fascinating regional celebrations that also exist, try 20 Ways Christmas Is Celebrated Differently Across the U.S.

Venetian mask hanging outside a shop on an Italian street

Wearing costumes was once a conventional a part of the Christmas celebration, says Earl. In one well-known occasion, a gaggle of Thirteenth-century nobles burned to demise when the tar on their “forest savages” costumes caught on fireplace. King Charles, in the meantime, narrowly escaped the incident, and the apply was henceforth banned inside his court docket.

Parents, children, and grandfather singing carols for senior woman

“Caroling used to look a lot more like trick-or-treating,” says Earl. In reality, in Nineteenth-century Europe, it was an event for poor of us to request items from rich landowners. According to Earl, “they’d go from house to house and say, ‘OK, we’re going to sing you a song and you can either invite us in for food or a drink… but if you don’t, you never know what’s going to happen to your yard.'” Yikes!

Marley's ghost illustration for a Christmas Carol

“In the song ‘It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year,’ you hear the line ‘there’ll be scary ghost stories and tales of the glories,’ and may wonder why there would be scary ghost stories on Christmas,” says Earl. In addition, you may be curious as to why “A Christmas Carol,” one of the crucial well-known Christmas tales of all time, is a ghost story.

Well, the Victorians—who helped cement a lot of our fashionable American concepts of Christmas—liked scary tales. In reality, “A Christmas Carol” was removed from the one Christmas-themed ghost story Charles Dickens wrote, says Earl. Yes, Christmas was as soon as extra spooky and scary reasonably than heat and fuzzy.

Ghostly silhouette of a woman

And it wasn’t simply ghost tales that when made Christmas probably the most eerie time of yr. “There used to be a huge supernatural component to Christmas,” says Earl. For instance, “in some parts of Europe it was believed that supernatural activity was at a high on Christmas Eve, sort of the way it is on the Day of the Dead.” Additionally, in Germany and Poland, if a baby was born on Christmas Eve, they have been thought of more likely to be a werewolf.

Santa Claus in Coca-Cola ad

In 1938, Coca-Cola and artist Haddon Sundblom determined to depict Santa as a “six-foot, full-grown human grandfather,” says Earl. Due to their large advertising funds, Coke’s model of Santa Claus unfold far and broad, and shortly grew to become the usual picture of Santa all through the United States and far of Europe. Before that, nonetheless, descriptions of Santa have been “all over the map,” Earl explains. This included variations of Santa as an elf and a gnome—in truth, a lot of the time, he wasn’t depicted as absolutely human in any respect.

Red sparkly elf shoes under a Christmas tree

Prior to the fashionable adoption of reindeer and elves in Saint Nick’s mythology, Santa’s helpers have been slightly extra sinister. Instead, he would have “these gruff characters that walk around with him and dole out punishment,” says Earl. This contains the menacing Krampus, a horned goat-demon who punishes naughty youngsters, and whose presence on Christmas remains to be acknowledged in Austria, Hungary, Slovenia, and Slovakia.

Arch of Christmas lights in Jackson Hole, Wyoming

This superstitious Christmas custom has fallen out of favor in recent times, however “first footing” was the idea that “the first person to cross the threshold [of a home] on Christmas Eve is considered good luck, especially if it was a dark-haired gentleman,” says Earl. It was sometimes noticed in England and Scotland.

Decorated Christmas tree

“The Christmas tree was a regional German tradition,” says Earl. And for a lot of centuries, you’ll have been hard-pressed to search out individuals celebrating round a tree outdoors of Germany. Decorating Christmas timber solely grew to become fashionable internationally after Prince Albert and Queen Victoria have been sketched standing subsequent to at least one at Windsor Palace in a 1848 picture revealed within the Illustrated London News, titled “Christmas Tree at Windsor Castle.” Soon, the Brits, Americans, and different Europeans started doing the identical.

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