Want all this in your inbox?
Get the Refinery29 Newsletter
You're in for a treat...
Thanks for signing up!
Please upgrade your browser for the best Refinery29 experience. Read more.
"O Tannenbaum" Is About Faithfulness
A Tannenbaum is actually a fir tree, and organist Ernst Anschütz set his German lyrics to the 16th century folk tune following a tradition of songs praising the trees for faithfully remaining green — unlike, you know, fickle humans, or ... maples? The literal translation (not the English lyrics), celebrate "loyal" needles that teach the singer about "hope and durability." That's a pretty good thing to have during a long winter.
"The 12 Days of Christmas" Is A Memory Game
If you have a hard time remembering the order of milkmaids, ladies dancing, and lords a-leaping, there's a reason for that. It's actually a rendition of a memory game played on the 12th night of Christmas in which players had to sing a verse and remember all the verses before it. If they forgot one of the lines, they paid a penalty in the form of a gift or a kiss. Several sites like Snopes have spent much virtual ink debunking the rumor that this song was some sort of code for Catholics when their religion was banned in England.
The Original "Deck The Halls" Was Pretty Racy
The 1794 lyrics to the Welsh song "Nos Galan" ("New Year's Night") were, "Oh! how soft my fair one's bosom/ fal lal lal lal lal lal lal lal la/ Oh! how sweet the grove in blossom,/ fal lal lal lal lal lal lal lal la/ Oh! how blessed are the blisses,/ Words of love, and mutual kisses, lal lal lal lal lal lal lal lal la."
"Jingle Bells" Is A Song About Drag Racing
James Lord Pierpont wrote this song — either in his hometown of Medford, Massachusetts, or in Savannah, Georgia, depending on whom you ask — about Medford's drag racing tradition in the early 19th century. When he moved to Georgia in the 1850s, he led a church in singing the song for Thanksgiving, and it was so popular, they brought it back for Christmas. The son of an abolitionist preacher, he wound up living in the South and promoting the Confederacy later in life. Another fun fact: His nephew was big-time banker J.P. Morgan.
"Silent Night" Inspired A Truce During World War I
On Christmas Eve 1914 — not even half a year into the war — British troops spotted the very strange sight of Christmas trees on the German side of the fight in northern France. Then they heard soldiers singing "Stille Nacht." They responded by singing the English lyrics. Eventually, the troops emerged from the trenches to meet, exchange gifts, and even play soccer together. Fighting resumed on December 26.