5 Christmas traditions that aren't as traditional as you think

Published: Tuesday, December 19, 2017 @ 4:46 PM

Here are six things you may not know about Christmas Dec. 25 wasn't the day when Jesus was born Early Romans used evergreen branches to decorate their homes in winter St. Nicholas dropped gold into the first Christmas stocking People used to open presents on New Year's Day, not Christmas Coca-Cola didn't come up with a completely original look Celtic Druids viewed kissing under the mistletoe as something that could restore fertility

Your Christmas traditions may feel like they've been around for a long time, but many aren't as traditional as you might think.

»RELATED:6 things you may not know about Christmas

They may have origins that go back for years, but, in many cases, they've evolved quite a bit. Otherwise, the popular image of Santa Claus might still be "Rough Nicholas" instead of the jolly figure we know today.

»Here are five Christmas traditions that aren't as traditional as you might think«

A man carries a gift-wrapped box on Christmas Eve 2016. (Photo by Jack Taylor/Getty Images)(Jack Taylor/Getty Images)


Romans gave each other gifts during the Saturnalia, a pagan holiday, and the tradition carried over to Christmas. In colonial times in New England, the Puritans outlawed Christmas celebrations and the holiday remained in disfavor well into the 19th century, according to The New York Times. In the South, however, people kept up the traditional English Christmas revelry, a reminder that the region has always loved a good party.

When the country was mainly rural, gifts were modest and often consisted of food, sewn items and small pieces of woodwork. When the economy became more industrial-based, workers didn't have time to make their own gifts, so they bought inexpensive manufactured items.

The Rome's official Christmas tree stands in front of the Unknown monument in Piazza Venezia Square. Despite the tree's 600 silver-colored decorative balls, the half-bare branches lend the square a forlorn rather than festive look and critics note that across town, the Vatican's Christmas tree, from Poland, looks healthy.(AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)

Christmas trees

While the origin of Christmas trees is actually quite old, they were much different than the brightly-lit and decorated trees of today. In ancient times, people would hang evergreen boughs over their doors and windows to ward away evil spirits and illness, according to Country Living. Green palm rushes were also brought inside by ancient Romans as a reminder that farms and orchards would soon be producing crops. The Druids used evergreens as a symbol of everlasting life.

The modern Christmas tree emerged in 16th-century Germany, where Christians would bring trees into their homes. Some built wooden pyramids and decorated them with evergreens and candles. America was relatively late in adopting the Christmas tree, largely thanks to the fun-stifling Puritans, who fined people for hanging Christmas decorations. Trees became popular only in the 19th century as German and Irish immigrants brought the custom to America. Their popularity soared when popular royals Queen Victoria and Prince Albert celebrated with a Christmas tree.

Santa Claus Keith Carson, of the Believe in Santa Foundation, visits children during a Christmas in July event at Palm Beach Children's Hospital on Friday, July 25, 2014 in West Palm Beach. Fake snow floated through the hospital courtyard and Santa Claus went room-to-room to deliver presents. (Madeline Gray / The Palm Beach Post)(Madeline Gray/The Palm Beach Post)

Santa Claus 

The original depictions of Santa Claus were inspired by St. Nicholas, the patron saint of children and a magical bringer of gifts. After the Protestant Reformation, the baby Jesus took over as gift-giver, while Nicholas was often assigned the role of a scary helper who helped keep children in line. With names like Ru-klaus (Rough Nicholas), he was no longer seen as saintly but was instead threatening.

Kids in the Netherlands hung on to a saintly image of Santa (though with his own threatening helpers) and brought both to the New World. Writers and artists had a hand in gradually transforming Santa into a more modern version, giving presents to good boys and girls – and switches to their "bad" counterparts. Clement Moore's "A Visit from St. Nicholas" depicted a plump, jolly Santa, but he still varied from tiny to huge. Political cartoonist Thomas Nast then created a version of Santa that's much like what we see today.

Christmas celebrations 

Think your family's Christmas celebrations get out of hand? History.com says that Christmas used to be a lot rowdier than most family gatherings are today. The church really didn't have the ability to decide how it was celebrated, so Christians attended church and then cut loose with a drunken celebration that's been compared to today's Mardi Gras.

The poor would visit rich people's homes and demand the best of their food and drink. If the rich turned them down, they might become the victims of mischief, courtesy of the poor. It all sounds a little more like Halloween's tradition of trick or treating than Christmas.

Clara and her nutcracker prince are coming back to life on the Ballet Austin stage this holiday season for the troupe’s rendition of “The Nutcracker.” Contributed by Anne Marie Bloodgood(American-Statesman Staff)

The Nutcracker

Tchaikovsky's “Nutcracker” ballet seems as though it's been performed for as long as anyone can remember, but it's newer to the U.S. than you may think. Although it premiered overseas just before Christmas in 1892, according to Nutcracker.com, it wasn't until 1944 that the ballet was staged in the U.S. First performed here by the San Francisco Ballet, T”he Nutcracker” wasn't especially popular until George Balanchine staged it in New York City in 1954, where it became a hit.

Today the ballet is performed in cities large and small. For many people, watching a performance of The Nutcracker is a Christmas tradition for the entire family.

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'Beware the Ides of March' -- What does that mean?

Published: Tuesday, March 15, 2016 @ 12:40 PM
Updated: Tuesday, March 15, 2016 @ 12:40 PM

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Today marks the Ides of March, which may vaguely remind you of a high school English class. Here are some things to know about the 15th day of the month.

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Day marks the assassination of Julius Caesar

Most famously on this date, some 2,060 years ago, Roman dictator Julius Caesar died in an assassination by senators at the Curia of Pompey.

Tensions had been simmering between senators and Caesar before his death, fueled by Caesar's continued consolidation of power. However, Caesar considered the senators his allies. Just a few years before his death, Caesar was named “dictator in perpetuity,” a move that further strained relations.

According to historians, sixty senators planned and participated in the conspiracy to kill Caesar in 44 B.C.

Death marked a turning point in Roman history

Caesar was popular with the lower class people of Rome, who saw his death as an unwelcome decision made by the aristocratic class. With Caesar no longer leading, potential leaders waged war to fill the power vacuum.

The civil wars eventually culminated in the end of the Roman Republic and beginning of the Roman Empire.

'Beware the Ides of March' made famous by Shakespeare

In case you really did forget your high school English class, it's worth noting the phrase “Beware the Ides of March” was immortalized by William Shakespeare in his tragic masterpiece “Julius Caesar.”

In the play, a soothsayer warns Caesar to be careful on March 15, although the ruler ignores the mystic with tragic consequences.

Famous line based on historical events

It may come as a surprise to know the well-known phrase was actually inspired by real events.

According to Greek historian Plutarch, a seer really did warn Caesar that he would be at the very least injured by the Ides of March.

Caesar did not heed the warning.

On the day of his death, he saw the oracle and joked that he had made it to the Ides of March, to which the seer responded the day had not yet ended.

So why is it called the "Ides of March?"

The Romans kept track of days on its calendar by dividing each month up into three separate points marking the beginning, middle and end of the month. You may have guessed it but the Ides fall in the middle of the month, on the 15th of March, May, July and October and the 13th for the rest of the year.

The Ides were sacred and marked a monthly sacrifice to the Roman god Jupiter. Various other religious observances also took place on the Ides of March.

Other famous events on this day

Today isn't the anniversary of Caesar's death. Here are a few other famous events that have happened today in history:
  • 1972: Forty-four years ago (yes, that number is right) Francis Ford Coppola's three-hour crime epic "The Godfather" first played in theaters. Before "Jaws" came along in 1976, the film was the highest-grossing film ever made. It went on to win three Academy Awards, including one for Best Picture.

  • 1917: Czar Nicholas II was forced by the revolting Russian people to abdicate the throne after ruling the country for more than 20 years. The February Revolution -- so named because Russia used the Julian calendar at the time -- broke out just four days before the czar abdicated his throne.

  • 1767: Our seventh president, Andrew Jackson, was born on this day somewhere between the Carolinas near the end of the colonial era. His exact place of birth is disputed.

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Valentine's Day 2018: 6 ways to eat for free or cheap

Published: Monday, February 12, 2018 @ 8:18 AM

Valentine’s Day Deals 2018

From flowers to a gift to dinner out, Valentine's Day can be an expensive holiday.

>> White Castle will offer romantic Valentine’s Day package, reservations again

To help you save some money, these restaurants are offering some cheap or free Valentine's Day meals.


If you're without a significant other this Valentine's Day – or even if you've found a new sweetie and want to score some free wings – participating Hooters locations will help you shred your ex. Shred online and print a coupon to take to the restaurant or bring in a photo of your former love and let Hooters shred it. In return, you can buy 10 boneless wings and get 10 free – and maybe a bit of catharsis. Learn more at www.hooters.com.

Fogo de Chão

If you make a reservation and dine at a participating Fogo's location anytime from Feb. 10 through Feb. 17, you'll be able to save on a return visit. You'll receive a complimentary churrasco dining card that you can use next time you're in the restaurant. (As is usually the case, "certain restrictions apply.") Learn more at http://fogodechao.com. 

Qdoba Mexican Eats

Take advantage of the restaurant's "Qdoba for a Kiss" promotion, and you'll be able to buy one entrée and get one free at participating restaurants on Feb. 14. Bring your significant other to kiss, smooch a photo of your favorite celebrity on your cellphone or even pucker up to a burrito – anything goes! 

On top of that sweet deal, from Feb. 6-28, if you share a kissing photo on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram with the hashtag #QdobaForAKiss, Qdoba will donate $1 to No Kid HungryFor more information, visit www.qdoba.com.

Outback Steakhouse

Outback Steakhouse offers a Valentine's Day meal for two at participating restaurants from Feb. 12-16. For a special price (which varies by location), a couple can share a Bloomin' Onion, choose two entrees (center cut sirloin, grilled salmon or Alice Springs chicken), two sides, two salads and cheesecake for dessert. Learn more at www.outback.com.

California Pizza Kitchen

Enjoy a "Sweet Deal for Two" at participating California Pizza Kitchen locations from Feb. 14 to 18, and you'll get an appetizer, two entrees and a dessert from their special menu for $35. Choose from among three appetizers, 10 entrees or four desserts. As a further incentive, if you tag your sweetie or best friend in California Pizza Kitchen's Facebook post with the hashtag #CPKgiveaway, you'll be entered to win a $100 gift card. Learn more at www.cpk.com.

Waffle House 

Waffle House probably isn't the restaurant you think of when you're picturing a candlelit dinner with cloth napkins and tablecloths, but that's just what they're doing on Valentine's Day. You can enjoy alcohol-free champagne as the lights are dimmed, and choose from breakfast favorites or special offerings like ribeye and eggs. Many locations are participating, so check for your location's phone number and contact person for reservationsLearn more at ww.wafflehouse.com.

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List ranks best U.S. cities to get married

Published: Tuesday, January 31, 2017 @ 5:16 PM
Updated: Friday, February 09, 2018 @ 7:21 AM

A couple exchanges rings as they are wed during a group Valentine's day wedding at the National Croquet Center on February 14, 2014 in West Palm Beach, Florida. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
A couple exchanges rings as they are wed during a group Valentine's day wedding at the National Croquet Center on February 14, 2014 in West Palm Beach, Florida. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Looking for a place to get married? A new study claims that there is a premiere wedding destination in our own backyard.

According to WalletHub, Orlando ranks as the top city for weddings in the United States, and Atlanta is right behind at third. The study looked at factors such as the average cost of a wedding, the number of wedding chapels, churches and bridal shops in an area and the area with the most attractions.

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WalletHub said its methodology involved comparing 15 U.S. cities in cost, activities and attractions and facilities and services.

Las Vegas lost its top spot in 2018, with Orlando now number one, and Sin City coming in at number 2.

Take a look at the rankings:

  1. Orlando, Florida
  2. Las Vegas
  3. Atlanta
  4. Los Angeles
  5. Miami
  6. San Diego
  7. San Francisco
  8. Chicago
  9. New York
  10. Portland, Oregon

Austin, Texas; Cincinnati, Ohio; Knoxville, Tennessee and Fort Lauderdale, Florida, made the list at 11th, 19th, 23rd and 28th, respectively.

Other cities on the list include Spokane, Washington, 54th; Pittsburgh 35th, Seattle 12th, Tulsa, Oklahoma, No. 46th, and Memphis, Tennessee, 51st.

The full list ranking 182 cities can be found at WalletHub.

Cox Media Group National Content Desk contributed to this story.

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Valentine’s Day takes on special meaning for parents of hospitalized babies

Published: Monday, February 13, 2017 @ 10:31 AM
Updated: Friday, February 09, 2018 @ 7:02 AM

NICU Babies Warming Hearts For Valentine’s Day

Hospitalized babies can pull at the heart strings of even the most courageous among us.

When babies are sick or born prematurely, the families of these children are under enormous emotional and, often, financial pressure.

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Some 380,000 babies, or one in every 10, are born prematurely, before 37 weeks of pregnancy, in the United States every year, the March of Dimes estimated. Most end up in the hospital in the neonatal intensive care unit, or NICU, the March of Dimes said.

In Kansas City, Missouri the March of Dimes NICU Family Support Program at Saint Luke’s Hospital is aware of the hardships parents face when their babies are hospitalized. That’s why they planned a special Valentine’s Day celebration in recent years.

Related: Valentine's Day: List ranks some of the nation's best places to celebrate

The staff and volunteers, calling it a “special celebration of love,” assembled tiny knit caps with hearts that each baby in their care will wear for a special Valentine’s Day photo shoot. They’re also making baby footprint valentines for the parents.

“Every day a child is in the NICU can be frightening and uncertain, but holidays are especially tough, as families miss the normal joys of celebrations at home,” March of Dimes NICU Family Support coordinator, Rebecca Keunen said in a press release.

>> Need something to lift your spirits? Read more uplifting news  

The nonprofit developed the NICU Family Support program to help families while their babies are in the intensive care unit, but even when these babies leave the hospital, they often face serious health challenges. The March of Dimes said these children are at higher risks for lifelong disabilities, including breathing problems, cerebral palsy and intellectual delays.

The March of Dimes is a nonprofit organization that focuses on pregnancy, baby health and conducts research into premature births.

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