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Weird But True Facts You Didn't Know About Your Favorite Christmas Carols

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    Photo: Courtesy of Sony Records.

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    At this point in the holiday season, you probably fall in one of two categories. Either you feel like you might crack and start screaming old Britney Spears lyrics if you hear. One. More. Santa. Claus. Song. Or, you're trying to rally all your friends to go caroling with you this weekend and have all the Christmas specials on your DVR. This story is for both groups of people.

    Unlike, say, the offerings for Hanukkah, the sheer variety of Christmas songs written through the ages is staggering. And the stories behind many of them aren't just heartwarming tales of faith and family. Some of these tunes started off as raunchy odes to ladies or drag racing, while others were unapologetic commercial grabs for shoppers' dollars. They've also been proven useful beyond spreading yuletide cheer, too: Just ask the Americans fleeing Vietnam in 1975, or a goat farmer in Yorkshire, England. Here are a few of our favorite weird and curious stories about the Christmas songs we love (and hate).


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    "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.

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    "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.

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    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."

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    "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.

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    "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.