The Nordic custom of kissing under mistletoe began centuries ago with a plant of peace under which you hugged an enemy. It evolved into kissing, and made its way into English, and later American, culture. Despite its romantic use during the Christmas season, Mistletoe is botanically classified as a parasite.
Poinsettias' place in Christmas tradition hails from 16th-century Mexico. Legend has it that a little girl, poor and naked, could only offer weeds she gathered on the side of the road as a gift at the altar for Jesus' birthday. Lo and behold, the weeds magically sprouted into beautiful red flowers.
Dec. 12 is National Poinsettia Day in the U.S., and there is even a cocktail in its name; sparkling white wine, vodka and cranberry juice.
A Yule log, sometimes known as the Great Ashen Faggot, is burned in hearths as a part of traditional Christmas celebrations in Germany. In true American fashion, the burning of a Yule log has been immortalized on DVD for those who do not have a real fireplace.
Figgy pudding, most famous for being mentioned several times in the carol "We Wish You a Merry Christmas," dates back to 16th-century England. Its origins come from wheat-based dish frumenty, which is often touted as England's oldest national dish. Twelve servings of figgy pudding call for one pound of dried figs.
You may recognize sugarplums from a line in ӒTwas the Night Before Christmas" and remember the Sugar Plum Fairy in Tchaikovsky's "The Nutcracker," but sugar plums are not plums at all. They are tiny, sugarcoated candies and have been around for more than three centuries.
Historians have long debated the origin of candy canes. Some say they came from French priests in the 1400s, and others say that the yummy sugar sticks were bent and used as functional decorations on Christmas trees. Nevertheless, candy canes only became decorative in the 1900s, as they were originally just white. Now, they are multi-colored and multi-flavored.
The earliest recipe for fruitcake stems from ancient Rome, but was popular throughout European history. At one point, it was customary for unmarried wedding guests to put a slice of fruitcake under their pillows to dream of the person they will marry. Fruitcake typically includes an array of fruits and lots of sugar, and can be preserved for a relatively long period of time.
Advent is a Christian tradition that comes from the Latin word "adventus," meaning "coming." It is the period of expectant waiting and preparation for the birth of Jesus, the period immediately before Christmas. The theme during Advent is to prepare for the second coming while commemorating the first coming of Jesus, and its celebration is usually symbolized through use of Advent wreaths or calendars.
Dreidel, a game that consists of spinning a four-sided top to win prizes, is a Jewish tradition played after lighting the menorah. The children's song "I Have a Little Dreidel" (also known as єThe Dreidel Song") is the most well-known Jewish song in the English speaking world.
After the desecration of the temple in Jerusalem, there was only enough ritually pure olive oil to light the menorah for one day, but the supply miraculously lasted eight days until a new supply could be obtained. In celebration of this miracle, the menorah has eight branches for eight candles or oil lamps.