Christmas trivia and superstitions

By Nina Keenam

Did you know that:

Popular cowboy singing star of the 1940s through the 1960s, Gene Autry wrote and recorded “Here Comes Santa Claus,” his first Christmas release. He followed it with recordings of “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and “Frosty the Snowman.”

The lyrics of the Christmas carol, “I heard the Bells on Christmas Day,” are from a poem written by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow as an expression of sadness over the wounds his son suffered from the American Civil War and Longfellow’s loss of his wife during a fire.

A 12-year-old named Jimmy Boyd recorded “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus,” which was the leading Christmas song of 1952.

Gemini 7 Astronauts Frank Borman and James Lovell asked to hear Bing Crosby’s recording of “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” during their return to earth after they completed 26 orbits in December 1956.

Unmistakably the most popular American secular Christmas song, “Jingle Bells,” does not mention anything about Christmas. It was written in the 1800s by James S. Pierpont, based on sleigh races in Medford, Massachusetts.

Another popular American song linked with Christmas with no mention of it, is “Let It Snow! Let it Snow! Let It Snow!” The lyricist and the composer wrote it during a heat wave in California in 1945.

St. Nicholas and Black Peter come by boat in Amsterdam on the last Saturday in November, and proceed in a parade to the city square where the queen welcomes St. Nicholas. Black Peter, representing the devil, follows behind him.

In Spain and Latin American countries, the Roman Catholic Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve is called the Mass of the Rooster. It is so called because of a legend that the only time ever when a rooster crowed at midnight heralded the birth of Jesus.

Mistletoe, a parasitic shrub with white berries, infests apple, pine, fir, juniper and oak trees and once was considered highly sacred by the Druids. Mistletoe means “all-heal” in Celtic. Sprigs are fastened over doorways for good luck to those who pass under them and receive kisses of friendship. Although we associate it with Christmas, the origins of its connection with Christmas are not known.

There is a story that while German and French troops were engaged in battle against each other in 1870 on Christmas Eve, a French soldier arose from his station and began singing “O Holy Night.” Suddenly gunfire ceased for a time as one or more German soldiers responded with a favorite Martin Luther carol, “From Heaven Above to Earth I Come.”

Poinsettia plants date from the seventeenth century to emphasize festivity and color to holiday processions.

A Greek superstition predicts that burning old shoes during Christmas season prevents misfortune in the coming year. Scandinavians place shoes side by side on Christmas Eve to prevent family quarrels. Another superstition says at midnight on Christmas Eve, cattle kneel facing east and bees hum Psalm 100.

From Ireland, there is a superstition that the Gates of Paradise are always open on Christmas Eve.

Nina Keenam may be reached at