It's easy to get stuck on our own Christmas traditions and rituals—but many wonderful things emerge when we look back in history or cast an eye to other cultures.
This festive season we're bringing you twelve curious facts of Christmas. You probably know some of these already, but it's excellent material for polite Christmas lunch conversation that's fun, festive, and is unlikely to get distant relatives into a politics debate nobody wants to hear.
1. When It Comes To Christmas Tree Species, New Zealand Naturally Wins
Apart from the various firs, spruces and pines dragged into living rooms around the world, some countries also boast natural beauty during this part of year, like New Zealand with its fiery-red national symbol.
2. Japan Has A Christmas KFC Craze
It's a baffling thing for us Westerners—in Japan many people actually queue for Christmas Kentucky fried chicken instead of turkey. But how did this start?
3. Pooping Logs Bring Christmas Cheer In Catalonia
The Christmas stocking on the mantelpiece pales in comparison to this cheerful log that poops candy, nougat, and other goodies if you beat it enough.
4. Santa Has A Special Deal With Canada Post
Thousands of postal service staff and volunteers fill in the shoes of Santa’s Elves and actually write letters back, often in the language of the sender.
5. Mistletoe History Is Murky (and don't mistake it for holly)
Mistletoe has been hung in households for centuries, and references to the sacred plant and its healing properties can be found in many accounts of both Celtic and Norse mythology. So what's the deal with kissing under it?
6. Sweden Has An Unlucky Christmas Goat
This tradition was started in 1966, and the 13-metre-high goat even made it into the Guinness Book of Records in 1985. But the goat has an unfortunate propensity to attract arsonists.
7. Glass Gherkins Are A Thing
It doesn't smell or taste like an actual gherkin, but a pickle ornament can be found on plenty of Christmas trees in the US. They say the tradition came from Germany, but Germans say it's not so.
8. Iceland Has A Vicious Yule Cat Legend
No one is certain where the scary cat idea came from, but there's a documented historical tradition of giving people new clothing for Christmas.
9. Hanging Tinsel Used To Be A Health Hazard
Tinsel was originally made out of silver—the precious metal was hammered out into thin strands and hung upon the Christmas tree, shimmering in the candlelight. But people needed cheaper alternatives.
10. The Most 'Rad' Christmas Festival Happens In Mexico
The tradition is more than a century old, and the story goes that it started out with local produce growers trying to attract the attention of customers at the town square markets. These days it has become a serious competition.
11. In Cuba, Christmas Is Anything But Quiet
According to parable, the whole thing was started by a parish priest in 1820 who noticed diminishing nightly mass attendance numbers during the Christmas season. He sent kids in the streets to make a lot of noise and now it's all gotten incredibly explosive.
12. Christmas Without Snow Is More Common Than You Think
Shrimp and champagne on the beach don't feel quite right when commercial Christmas is marketed as 'white' and 'winter'? Here in Australia and New Zealand we're actually far from alone.