Son of Holiday Myths Debunked

Over the last few years, I’ve occasionally written posts on some myth or another. Every time I accumulate enough interesting ones, I tend to write a short article. So here we go.

References to religious facts were gathered quickly. If I haven’t nailed all the subtleties of your particular belief system, I ask for understanding that it is not a knock on your belief system. Corrections are welcome in the comments, but please reference them if you do.

Menorah photo © 2006 by Tomasz Sienicki via wikimedia

Hanukkah involves the lighting of the Menorah every night.

The name is actually a slight misnomer when used in reference to Hanukkah. A menorah has seven branches with candles, and it symbolizes creation. It is often lit on the Sabbath. But a Hanukkiyah, or Hanukkah menorah, is lit on the eight days of Hanukkah, and has nine branches. One of the candles helps light the others over the eight days—a subtle but interesting difference.

Hanukkah Menorah in the Anatewka restaurant in Lodz (Poland). Via Wikimedia.

Christmas is the biggest Christian holiday.

Nope, Easter is!

Although you would never know that if you live in the United States. Christmas is a beloved but minor Christian holiday. Easter is the major holiday for Christians with more than a month of celebration leading up to it. The reasons why Christmas has become so popular, in my opinion, are really secular and have little to do with the religious aspects.

A chocolate egg decorated with bunny like ears and feet. The ears and feet are made of pastillage (sugar dough). This egg/bunny is a twist on the standard Easter chocolate eggs and chocolate bunnies. Via Wikimedia

Christmas tree at Rockefeller Plaza, New York, 2006 Via Wikimedia

Christmas trees are an American Christmas tradition.

Not really. The Christmas tree tradition, as we now know it, was started in Germany about the 16th century. The first records of displays in the United States date back to Pennsylvania German immigrants in 1830. There is evidence that Christmas trees were found in some German community homes by the 18th century, but it wasn’t until the 1890s that the tree seems to have a significant cultural impact in the U.S. The early 20th century is when the American tradition first changed it significantly. Americans seem to like floor-to-ceiling trees, while European Christmas trees were usually small less than four feet tall. Since the early 20th century it has become an entrenched American tradition—if not a long-standing one (pun intended). George Washington wouldn’t know what a Christmas tree was, and it’s likely Abraham Lincoln wouldn’t have, either.

The Christmas tree as a rallying point for so many religious fundamentalists is a bit of a mystery to me. I am equally perplexed, why so many atheists find Christmas trees on public property so offensive in the United States, since it is essentially a recent tradition borrowed from German immigrants; its true religious significance seems minor, unless you personally give it some. I am a firm in my stance of separation of church and state no matter the nation. Yet scientifically, I know that objections are just semantics—a set of semantics I cannot get to upset about. Atheist purists may be offended; it is no more offensive to me than the Easter egg hunt at the White House, which gets far less public acrimony.

Dreidel Via Wikimedia

The Dreidel Myth

The common myth (or its variants) surrounding this game is that Judeans were not allowed to practice their religion, they would meet and read Jewish texts secretly. If soldiers of an occupying power came along, they hid the texts and would take out the spinning tops to play, telling soldiers they were just gambling.

A dreidel is a four-sided spinning top, played with during the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah. Dreidels were actually actually invented recently, predated by and taken from a German gambling game that used a spinning top called a teetotum. It has little to do with the history of Jewish oppression.

DC USA, Target, Black Friday Via Wikimedia

Black Friday is the biggest shopping day of the year in the United States.

Actually this is myth! According to the National Retail Federation the biggest retail shopping day of the year, by money spent, is the last Saturday before the Christmas holiday. So procrastinators do win out over standing in lines.

The 1914 World War I Christmas truce.

This is not a myth. From Stanley Weintraub’s book, Silent Night: The Story of the World War I Christmas Truce:

The Germans set trees on trench parapets and lit the candles. Then, they began singing carols, and though their language was unfamiliar to their enemies, the tunes were not. After a few trees were shot at, the British became more curious than belligerent and crawled forward to watch and listen. And after a while, they began to sing.

By Christmas morning, the “no man’s land” between the trenches was filled with fraternizing soldiers, sharing rations and gifts, singing and (more solemnly) burying their dead between the lines. Soon they were even playing soccer, mostly with improvised balls.

According to the official war diary of the 133rd Saxon Regiment, “Tommy and Fritz” kicked about a real football supplied by a Scot. “This developed into a regulation football match with caps casually laid out as goals. The frozen ground was no great matter … The game ended 3-2 for Fritz.”

Often misattributed anecdotally to other conflicts, this “myth” is actually fact. Although the generals on both sides despised the truce and tried to inspire the groups to attack each other, across a broad stretch of the front, for a short time, there was detente on the front lines of World War I. It only lasted about a week in total: with the new year hostilities resumed.

Football Remembers memorial at the National Memorial Arboretum, Arlewas, Staffordshire. Erected as a monument to the Christmas Truce football match that was played in the no man’s land of the Western Front between English and German troops during World War I on Christmas Day 1914. Via Wikimedia


So there is a quick and dirty lists of some holiday myths. I am sure you knew some but I am sure most did not know all.

Happy Holidays.



About Stephen Propatier

Stephen Propatier is a board certified acute care nurse practitioner specializing in spine and sports medicine. He is a member of the Society for Science Based Medicine.
This entry was posted in Cool Stuff, History, Urban Legends and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

34 Responses to Son of Holiday Myths Debunked

  1. Susann Jarvis says:

    Thank you, Stephen. I knew some of the legends but did not know the truth about the Dreidel nor did I know that Black Friday was not the biggest shopping day of the year. As always, “marketing spin.”

  2. Gary aFoureman says:

    Thanks. A great read.

  3. Gary Foureman says:

    Thanks. A great read.

  4. In the John Masters trilogy Now God Be Thanked, Heart of War, and In The Green Of The Spring, which was factually based, though Masters, born 1914, never served in WWI, he relates that the first Xmas truce was the only one in which fraternisation occurred. After that the bitterness was too great and it was said that the only attempt to repeat it was met by the man who tried it being shot from BOTH sides at once.
    Of course, we must remember that WWI was not a minor local squabble; what worked or failed in some regions certainly would not have been repeated everywhere.

  5. Whoops… when I say “factually based” I do not mean it was not a novel, nor that the individuals and protagonists in the novel(s) were anything but fictional, just that the background and history were carefully researched and retailed in the light of his first-hand experience in the British army, as retailed in “Bugles and a Tiger” and “The Road Past Mandalay” (both excellent non-fiction and gripping reads).

  6. SharonH says:

    Christmas trees have never bothered me, nor do nativity scenes. It is all part of the tradition of that time of year. They are beautiful to look at. Why would anyone be offended? You don’t have to believe in the Christ child story. It’s a fable that goes along with the season. Plus a lot of beautiful songs have been written about it. What’s the problem with some people? I just don’t get it.

    • Seeker says:

      As far as I can tell, throughout recorded history, everybody needs someone to love.

      And to hate, blame for all the world’s (particularly his/her own) ills, and try to eradicate… or sue.

    • Wayne B says:

      The predominating issue (certainly not the only one) with Christmas trees on government property is in how they are typically decorated. The addition of a Nativity manger, decidedly non-secular and promoting a single religion, Christianity, makes it more of a Christian display than a secular holiday one. When the trees are topped with a cross or a Christian angel, and are covered with overtly Christian symbolism, it then becomes an issue to many Atheists like myself. If the trees are neutral, they actually represent an old pagan tradition of offering trinkets to the spirits in the trees.

    • richard1941 says:

      I’m with SharonH. The so-called “Christians” diplaying their trees and nativity scenes does not bother me at all. What bothers me is when they invade the private family space of others, sometimes winning converts and alienating those converts from friends and family. This behavior is not limited to so-called “Christians”; ultra-orthodox Jews also do it.

    • JIMJFOX says:

      Islamists [by that I mean ‘extremists’] hate all Christian festivals, displays, etc. Even Valentine’s Day, which is non-religious. As I understand it, ‘love’ in real Islam is reserved for Allah alone & I think I’m right in saying the word occurs very rarely in the Koran,”Al-wala-wal bara”.

  7. Andrew Mac says:

    Surprisingly the Bible says that Christmas trees are the work of heathens!!!
    Jeremiah 10:2 Thus saith the Lord, Learn not the way of the heathen, and be not dismayed at the signs of heaven; for the heathen are dismayed at them
    10:3 For the customs of the people are vain: for one cutteth a tree out of the forest, the work of the hands of the workman, with the axe.
    10:4 They deck it with silver and with gold; they fasten it with nails and with hammers, that it move not.

    Hey ho, that’s no crab cocktail, no pork sausages, no Christmas Tree and no gay Yuletide – Who’d be a Fundamentalist?

    • Noah Dillon says:

      Sounds like it might be referring to idol-making, but what do I know.

    • Felix Perez says:

      In Jeremiah days there was no Christmas time, he belongs to many years before JC was born, so those verses have to refer to idol making, as Noah Dillon says.

      • Jack says:

        The annual December celebration involving a tree was originally a celebration of the winter solstice and predates the birth of JC by hundreds or perhaps, thousands, of years. This time also marked the beginning of the new year. I am an atheist, but I’m not offended by mythology, be it Christian or otherwise.

        • Felix Perez says:

          It’s another rational explanation that maybe true.

          I would only object that the custom of cutting trees to celebrate the winter solstice seems to come mainly from the north of Europe’s mythology, as I have heard.

          And I don’t think normal heathens would have gold and silver in their houses to “deck it”.

          These things are leading me to think that the trees mentioned were used to make idols, what I wouldn’t think of in the first place if not for Noah Dillon’s explanation.

          But, as he also says, what do I know?.

        • JIMJFOX says:

          I’m also atheist but there is ONE “religion” that offends me so much that I HATE it.

          • SunflowerSurfer says:

            Want to give us a clue as to what one that would be?

          • jimjfox says:

            Give you a clue? ISLAM. Read the koran, some of the hadith & sunnah of the Prophet. You will find HUNDREDS of verses of hate, racism & supposed supremacy.
            This ideology differs from all others because it claims to be the literal word of allah, utterly without error and fixed for all time. NO other religion makes such claims.
            The sick concept of jihad has been unchanged for 14 centuries; warfare to enforce Islam globally, not the ‘self-improvement beloved of apologists and taqiyya merchants.

          • Noah Dillon says:

            Well, but so too does the Christian bible and the Jewish texts and those of Hinduism and Greek mythology, Roman, Teutonic cults, etc. have hundreds of verses condoning rape and slavery and murder and cheating and lying and war and conquest and so on. All religions have sanctions for violence and hatred and racism. It’s just that in most of the world, and also in the Muslim world, most people choose in the modern era to ignore those parts. Lots of Christians claim that the Bible is the literal and inerrant word of God. I’m sure you’ve seen some of those people. They’re not hard to find. And jihad does not mean the same thing to all Muslims.

            I’m saying this, too, not as a defender of Islam or as a Muslim myself. I don’t believe any religion and wished no one else did either. But we should be honest about them, and what you’ve claimed is inaccurate.

  8. Bridget says:

    I read somewhere a long time ago that calling the day after Thanksgiving, “Black Friday” originated with plumbers because it was their busiest day of the year due to gluttony causing a plethora of plumbing problems….such as clogged sinks and overflowing toilets.

    • Wayne B says:

      Having spent many years in retail, working in shopping malls, the common understanding was that Black Friday was so named because that was the day many shops started operating “in the black” meaning no longer at an operating loss, or “in the red”. I dod know know if this is true but it certainly seems plausible as the shops I worked in all started posting annual profits around that time, though not necessarily on that day.

      • Alexandria Nick says:

        Naw, that’s a myth too. Most businesses couldn’t survive 10 and a half months of losses and then, somehow, recoup them in the month between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

        Plus, the first documented version of that explanation is from 1981. The first use of the term at all, applied to the day after Thanksgiving? 1951. The November 1951 issue of Factory Management and Maintenance refers to “the Black Friday” as a day of high worker absenteeism:

        ‘”Friday-after-Thanksgiving-itis” is a disease second only to the bubonic
        plague in its effects. At least that’s the feeling of those who have to get
        production out, when the “Black Friday” comes along.’

        It resurfaced, with a forgotten counterpart in Black Saturday, in 1961:

        “For downtown merchants throughout the nation, the biggest shopping
        days normally are the two following Thanksgiving Day. Resulting
        traffic jams are an irksome problem to the police and, in
        Philadelphia, it became customary for officers to refer to the
        post-Thanksgiving days as Black Friday and Black Saturday. Hardly a
        stimulus for good business, the problem was discussed by the merchants
        with their Deputy City Representative, Abe S. Rosen, one of the
        country’s most experienced municipal PR executives. He recommended
        adoption of a positive approach which would convert Black Friday and
        Black Saturday to Big Friday and Big Saturday. The media cooperated
        in spreading the news of the beauty of Christmas-decorated downtown
        Philadelphia, the popularity of a “family-day outing” to the
        department stores during the Thanksgiving weekend, the increased
        parking facilities, and the use of additional police officers for
        guaranteeing a free flow of traffic … Rosen reports that business
        over the weekend was so good that merchants are giving downtown
        Philadelphia “a starry-eyed new look.””

        Clearly, Big Friday and Big Saturday didn’t catch on.

  9. E. McMahon says:

    All I know is that Bunnies don’t lay eggs. Neither did Jesus. ?/?/?

  10. I had heard that pagans cut down a tree and burned it on the shortest day of the year. Christians then set Christ’s birthday intentionally on that date, to obfuscate the pagan holiday. True??

    • Alexandria Nick says:

      Probably not.

      While it is possible, other explanations work slightly better. It works off the assumption that December 25th was selected as the celebration date first, but the real hinge date is actually March 25. Setting other celebrations on March 25th is what made December 25th Christmas. There’s competing theories on that too, of course, but they all basically end up in the same place: that March 25 is the day of Jesus’ conception and nine months later… The March 25th date was set well before the December 25th date, so the one likely informed the other.

  11. Alex krizel says:

    For #1, my biggest question was not just the difference between a menorah and a Hanukkiyah, but why Jews light every night for 8 nights. Being very strict on “tradition” (name that movie), it seems that it should only be lit once and last for 8 nights, as is the original story. Still can’t get a straight answer from the Rabbi.

  12. Helen Lindon says:

    And the German migrant who introduced Christmas trees to the UK?
    That would be Adelaide, married to add a tone of respectability to the much older ramshackle Sailor Billy, who became the UK’s King William IV. She was a quietly remarkable woman, who did a lot to promote the welfare of children.

  13. Bryan Hurst says:

    I’m agnostic/atheist, and Christmas trees don’t bother me in the least – to me they’re secular and have as little to do with the story of Jesus’s birth as Easter eggs have with the story of Jesus’s death/resurrection. I don’t recall having ever heard of any kind of uproar among us awful atheists over Christmas trees in public places. And actually, I don’t think any of us have a problem with SEEING a nativity scene or any other religious symbols, holiday-related or not; it’s the idea of specifically religious symbols/decorations in public areas that taxpayers are responsible for, displays of the Ten Commandments at courthouses for example. Churches and private property owners can put up whatever displays they want. The comment “I am equally perplexed, why so many atheists find Christmas trees on public property so offensive in the United States…” almost seems a bit strawman-ish to me.

  14. Mary says:

    I find it interesting that you say there is “more than a month of celebration” leading up to Easter. There are 40 days of preparation and observances, certainly, but Lent is by no means a celebration!

  15. Buddy says:

    By Raymond Daniell
    New York Times, 20 May, 1945

    Published New York Times May 20, 1945 20 days after death of Hitler.

    6 million peace loving Jews were killed or burnt alive in ovens, children used as target practice etc by Hitler/Nazis in Holocaust.

    We have heard the story of “False Cry of Wolf”, “6 million Jewish Holocaust” is a similar story being told since 1899, only difference is, that, in this story, there was never any wolf, only Rothschild’s desire to have possession of Palestine and Jewish homeland ‘Israel’.

    On April 30, 1945, Hitler dies and Germany Surrenders. The 1st news which comes out of Germany May 20, 1945 is that 6 million Jews are safe and were found working in hidden factories.

    Welcome to my website. I am Rabbi Solomon Cohen and I am happy to be your host. Please feel free to browse around the different topics that I will be discussing here by clicking on the individual tabs at the top of the page.
    This site is currently a work in progress and it is my hope to continue adding to it in the coming days.
    Kol Tuv,
    Rabbi Solomon Cohen]
    In the Torah it is written:
    “It shall be a jubilee unto you; and you shall return every man to his possession and you shall return every man to his family.”
    In the Torah, the word for תשבה, teshuva, “return” is missing the letter ו (vav), ordinarily it would be spelled תשובה. The Zohar tells us that the Torah writes teshuva without the letter vav to hint at the year when the Jewish people will return to our land from the long and bitter exile.
    The gematria (numerical value) of teshuva is 708 (tav = 400; shin = 300; bet = 2; vav = 6). Therefore the missing vav in the word תשבה, as written in the Torah (which equals the number 6) was a prophecy that the Jews would be allowed to return to Israel minus 6 million of our people:
    “You shall return minus 6 million”;
    while the combined numerical value of the word teshuva = 708, indicates the year of our return.

    Immediately thereafter 6 million Jews who were found alive and who were liberated in Germany in May 1945 are now reported “victims of Holocaust”. Interestingly there is no news of 6 million Jews Holocaust between 30th April 1945 and August 9, 1945, all this trash is given to eat after 10 million babies, children, girls, women and old men are burnt alive by Jews in two Japanese cities (Jew Albert Einstein Atomic bomb and originator, Jew Bernard Baruch – Director, Jew J Robert Oppenheimer scientific Director Manhattan Project). Typical Jewish or allied propaganda whereby they reduce their crime against humanity by 20 times and increase that of the enemy by equal number.

    The actual figures of dead in German Camps by released by International Red Cross after 60 years of being kept secret are as under;-

    International Red Cross actual figures which are only 2% of reported figures.

    Actually these were work Camps — That’s why the prisoner’s had a tattoo — to keep track of the workers. Prisoners couldn’t switch identity cards with a permanent tattoo. Nor could the “ID card” be lost or stolen or traded. The idea of a tattoo is now fashionable today with many shops exclusively catering to tattoo making however at time it was efficient as it only had to be done once — and it was cheaper than constantly making ID cards from paper that was scarce. Think about it, why should the Germans bother to take the time to tattoo people they were going to kill?

    Proof 1; New York Times dated may 20, 1945 reported liberation of 6 million Jewish ‘slaves’ working in hidden factories. All of them were well fed and alive.

    6 million Jewish holocaust has been propagated 236 times prior to Nuremberg announcement after 1st Zionist Conference at Basel Municipal Casino on August 29, 1897 resolved that Jewish Homeland in Palestine is the only solution for Jewish problems. 1899-1940
    Proof 7; The very fact that there are several million survivors who took money backfires the claims of Holocaust.

    Is it illegal to deny WW2? No
    Is it illegal to deny earth is round? No
    Is it illegal to deny 9/11? No
    Is it illegal to deny Holocaust? Yes


    “The size of the lie is a definite factor in causing it to be believed, for the vast masses of the nation are in the depths of their hearts more easily deceived than they are consciously and intentionally bad. The primitive simplicity of their minds renders them a more easy prey to a big lie than a small one, for they themselves often tell little lies but would be ashamed to tell a big one.” Adolf Hitler (talking about Jew lies).

    Now the Big Question; Why the Big Lie;

    i) Need for “6 million Jewish Holocaust” began with Tenth Century BC with the construction of First Temple by King Solomon wherein he placed “Ark of Covenant” containing Ten Commandments for Jewish People.

    ii) First Temple was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar II in 587 BC. Second Temple was built on 516 BC which was destroyed by Romans in 70 CE.

    iii) 1st Zionist Conference at Basel Municipal Casino on August 29, 1897 resolved that only solution for Jewish problems is a Jewish Homeland in Palestine.

    iv) During the first meeting between Weizmann and Balfour in 1906, Balfour asked what Weizmann’s objections were to the idea of a Jewish homeland in Uganda, rather than in Palestine. According to Weizmann’s memoir, the conversation went as follows:

    “Mr. Balfour, supposing I was to offer you Paris instead of London, would you take it?” He sat up, looked at me, and answered: “But Dr. Weizmann, we have London.” “That is true,” I said, “but we had Jerusalem when London was a marsh.”

    v) Then came Balfour declaration in exchange for Zimmerman telegram and Lusitania sinking but no Israel. When asked by William Yale, of US state Department what the Jews would do if the British Failed to live up to their agreement, Chairn Weizmann retorted, ;

    “If they don’t, we’ll smash the British Empire like we smashed the Russian Empire.”

    vi) Since whole of Jerusalem was not handed over to Jews, they smashed the British Empire nevertheless after end of world war 2.

    vii) If England had honored its commitment given to Rothschild contained in Balfour Declaration of giving Jerusalem to Rothschild and creating Israel in 1919 rather than creating Czechoslovakia, than WW2 would not have happened and neither the myth of 6 million Jewish Holocaust at Nuremberg farce.

    “The mashiach [Jewish messiah] will bring about the political and spiritual redemption of the Jewish people by bringing us back to Israel and restoring Jerusalem (Isaiah 11:11-12; Jeremiah 23:8; 30:3; Hosea 3:4-5). He will establish a government in Israel that will be the center of all world government, both for Jews and gentiles (Isaiah 2:2-4; 11:10; 42:1). He will rebuild the Temple and re-establish its worship (Jeremiah 33:18). He will restore the religious court system of Israel and establish Jewish law as the law of the land (Jeremiah 33:15)…The world after the messiah comes is often referred to in Jewish literature as Olam Ha-Ba (oh-LAHM hah-BAH), the World to Come…In the Olam Ha-Ba, the whole world will recognize the Jewish G-d as the only true G-d, and the Jewish religion as the only true religion (Isaiah 2:3; 11:10; Micah 4:2-3; Zechariah 14:9).” — From “Mashiach: The Messiah”, Judaism 101


    “With the exception of the USSR as a federated Eurasian state, all other continents will become united in a world alliance, at whose disposal will be an international police force. All armies will be abolished, and there will be no more wars. In Jerusalem, the United Nations (a truly United Nations) will build a Shrine of the Prophets to serve the federated union of all continents; this will be the seat of the Supreme Court of Mankind, to settle all controversies among the federated continents, as prophesied by Isaiah.” — David Ben-Gurion, first Prime Minister of the Jewish State of Israel

    • Noah Dillon says:

      That’s actually not what that one single article says. It says six million people had been liberated from the Nazis, which includes Russians, Romani, Tatars, Norwegians, Spanish, homosexuals, Jews, and on and on. Jews only make up about half of the victims of Nazi concentration camps. You probably just never bothered to check any of this stuff out for yourself. Why the “Big Lie”? I don’t know. You seem to be swallowing nonsense. Why do you believe a lie that’s easy to fact-check?

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