The Biggest Christmas Myths and Legends, Debunked

It's time to find the real stories behind Christmas legends and holiday myths. With over 2,000 years of history, the Christmas holiday comes with a host of myths, legends, lies, misconceptions, and commonly believed things that are just completely wrong. From the origin of the holiday itself, to the historical date and year of Christ's birth, to the modern marketing of iconic Christmas figures like Santa Claus, much of what is commonly believed about Christmas simply isn't true. How accurate is the Bible Christmas story? What's the real history of Christmas trees? And are we really losing Christ in Christmas?

It's easy to put aside historical falsehoods and simply enjoy the festivities of the holiday season. But what Christmas stories are not real? Is the date of Christmas really Jesus' birthday? Are there any true Christmas myths? If you really want to know where Santa comes from, when Jesus might have been born, and what U.S. state banned Christmas for a while, check out these widely believed Christmas myths below and get the real story of Christmas.

These Christmas myths and legends are probably stories you've never even questioned, but will completely change how you see this Christian holiday. Before you hang the lights, trim the tree, and put out Santa's milk and cookies, be sure to read up on the Christmas facts you didn't know weren't even true.

  • 1

    Jesus Was Born on December 25

    Jesus was born on December 25.

    There is no scriptural justification for this particular date being Jesus’s birthday. The date actually comes from scholar Hippolytus of Rome, who determined it early in the third century, assuming that the conception of Jesus took place at the Spring equinox, which he placed on March 25. He then added nine months, taking advantage of winter festivals that were already celebrated around that time.

    There are a number of errors in this reasoning, the least of which is that the human gestation cycle is actually 40 weeks, which would put Jesus’s birth sometime in mid-January. Not only that, but Luke makes a specific reference to shepherds grazing their sheep in the fields, which took place only in the warmer months of the year. December 25 wasn’t celebrated as Christmas until at least the fourth century CE, when it became a vehicle to deter Christians from celebrating the pagan winter solstice.

  • 2

    Christmas Trees Have Always Been Part of Christmas

    Christmas trees have meaning relative to Jesus.

    Evergreen trees were already popular in pagan rites before Jesus’s birth, but they didn’t become a widely held symbol of Christmas until the Renaissance. German Protestants began bringing home and decorating the large trees that grew in their local forests, and the custom spread throughout the various German dukedoms, then jumped to England with the ascension of a German king to the British monarchy. German-settled cities in America began using the custom, and it spread from there.

  • Christmas Is the Most Important Holiday in Christianity
    Photo: B-t-lake / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

    Christmas Is the Most Important Holiday in Christianity

    Christmas is the central event of the Christian calendar.

    Easter has far more significance on the Christian calendar than Christmas does. Historically, Jesus’s birth wasn’t celebrated until centuries after it occurred, while his death and resurrection were celebrated by the earliest converts to Christianity. Also, Easter is celebrated over a far longer period of time than Christmas on the traditional Christian calendar - lasting almost two months from February to April.

  • The War on Christmas
    Photo: Fox News

    The War on Christmas

    The War on Christmas is real, and slowing taking any hint of religiosity out of the holiday.

    Fox News propaganda aside, there is no War on Christmas. Christmas sales start earlier every year, holiday decorations seem to go up before Halloween pumpkins have rotted, and the only difference between Christmas now and Christmas in “the good old days” is that there’s more acknowledgement of the fact that some people celebrate the holiday season, but not Christmas itself. There’s no evidence that retailers are avoiding the word “Christmas,” and despite more cities using neutral terms like “happy holidays,” Christmas tree lighting ceremonies, public caroling, and appearances by Santa Claus are still integral parts of municipal holiday celebrations.

    Controversies about the “proper” way to celebrate Christmas go all the way back to the supposed time of Christ’s birth. However, the modern “War on Christmas” originates not with a right wing media pundit, but the ultra-conservative, anti-UN, and racist John Birch Society. The JBS distributed a pamphlet in 1959 titled “There Goes Christmas,” which posited a communist plot to deprive right-thinking Americans of their right to celebrate the holiday. The pop culture version of the War on Christmas is a mix of conservative propaganda and pushback against inclusivity.
  • Writing 'Christmas' as 'Xmas' Is Horribly Insulting to Christians
    Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Writing 'Christmas' as 'Xmas' Is Horribly Insulting to Christians

    Shortening “Christmas” to “Xmas” is a horrible insult to religious people.

    It’s not, at all. The first letter of “Christ” in Greek translates to “X,” as it also does in the Roman alphabet. While the abbreviation isn’t used in most Christmas-based advertising or scripture, the word “Xmas” dates all the way back to the 12th century, when it was used in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. The idea of keeping Christ in the word Christmas is both nonsensical and a-historical.

  • Santa's Origin Story
    Photo: Thomas Nast / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Santa's Origin Story

    Santa Claus has always been the same as St. Nick and Kriss Kringle.

    While all three names (as well as Father Christmas and others) are now widely held to reference the same jolly fat man in a red suit, this wasn’t always the case.

    St. Nicholas was a fourth-century Turkish bishop who spent his life giving money to the poor, often by secretly leaving money in people's stockings overnight. He died on December 6, and was later proclaimed a saint - making December 6 St. Nicholas Day.

    Around the 15th century in England, the burgeoning Protestant population transformed St. Nicholas into the drunken gift-giver Father Christmas, who, in turn, was renamed Kriss Kringle in the U.S. (Kringle being a popular Danish pastry often eaten around the Christmas holiday.)

    American cartoonist Thomas Nast popularized the modern iteration of Santa Claus as a jolly bearded man living at the North Pole, and L. Frank Baum’s 1902 book The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus forever etched it into the collective consciousness. But this version of Santa is only about a century old.