Everyone gets earworms (songs you can’t get out of your head.) Josh gets earfacts – silly trivia that he picks up from reading or talking with neighbors that he simply can’t get out of his head. Which makes him really great to invite to cocktail parties. But not so great to sit next to on long flights.
Here are a few of the pointless things he’s learned over the years and passes on to anyone who will listen…
One of the popular Christmas games in William Beekman’s time was called “Snapdragon.” Everyone would gather round the dining room table, and a large dish scattered with raisins was place in the middle. Whiskey or Brandy was poured over the raisins and the plate was set afire. Players would reach in and pluck a raisin from the flaming dish and quickly swallow it. I have no idea how the winner of this game was decided. Maybe the person with the most skin left on their fingers.
Nowadays we think of Saint Nicholas as just another name for Santa. We forget that he actually was a Saint. As in the religious sense. And we all know that to become a saint, you have to perform a miracle. So what was Nicholas’ claim to fame? Well, he brought three children back to life who were killed, dismembered, and pickled in brine by a murderous Innkeeper (who also planned on serving the children to guests and passing them off as pork.) Okay, so maybe this isn’t one to share over Christmas Eve Dinner. Unless you’re at the naughty kids’ table.
Nothing says “Merry Christmas” like a clean outhouse! In pre-Christian Ireland, the Winter Solstice was an occasion to thoroughly clean one’s home. (Much like we regard spring cleaning today.) Somehow, when Christianity came along, the tradition transformed into an annual Christmas Eve white-washing of the outhouse.
In Iceland, some families traditionally eat reindeer on Christmas Eve. I expect these families probably wake up to a lot of reindeer poop on their roof.
In Massachusetts, it was actually illegal to celebrate Christmas throughout much of the 17th century. The penalty? Five shillings per offense. I have no idea what was considered an offense back then, but I wouldn’t mind reinstating some sort of fine for leaving Christmas lights up all year.
Historically, families in Finland slept on their floor on Christmas Eve so that their dead relatives could use their beds. Which is fine, because dead great great grandmothers tend to hog the blankets anyway.
In modern day Japan, it’s traditional to eat Kentucky Fried Chicken for Christmas dinner. Seriously. It all started in 1974 when Kentucky Fried Chicken ran a folksy, popular advertising campaign: Kurisumasu ni wa kentakkii! (Kentucky for Christmas!)
Another incongruously popular Christmas tradition in Japan is Strawberry Cake. Topped with mounds of whipped cream and ruby red strawberries, this cake came into vogue in the years after World War II when sugar was scarce and American baked goods were synonymous with wealth and plenty. It became so popular in fact, that there is a specific Japanese Christmas Strawberry Cake emoji on your phone: 🍰
“Jingle Bells” was originally a Thanksgiving song, not a Christmas carol. (Has anyone else noticed that there’s a terrible dearth of Thanksgiving music?)
Related (sort of): How did the Batman Smells version of Jingle Bells become so widespread? While nobody knows who first penned it, we can all agree that it was probably a boy between the ages of 6 and 9. The kitschy Batman television show first aired in 1966 and quickly became a huge hit with young boys. At roughly the same time, the Vietnam war started, and the draft, so the number of military families in America grew to record numbers. And military families move around. A lot. And when kids move around, their snotty little parody songs do too. So basically, we can basically blame it all on Nixon. Again.