Let's separate fact from fiction.
The holidays are equal parts fantasy and fun, what with the twinkling lights, flying sleighs and egg-laden booze. And what’s more fun and fantastical than a good urban legend? You know, the tall tales that circulate online and via word-of-mouth, or get whipped out at parties, usually credited to a friend of a friend.
Most are #fakenews, others are complicated by alternative facts, but some are, in fact, true. No Pop Rocks and Pepsi chemical reactions or killers in the back seat this time ’round. Courtesy of Snopes.com – “the internet’s definitive fact-checking resource” – we’re offering 12 of our favorite holiday-themed urban legends and myths, and it’s up to you to sniff out the fakes. How good is your tinsel-wrapped BS radar?
First, Snopes’ rating guide:
True – Self-explanatory
False – This one, too
Mixture – A claim has significant elements of both truth and falsity
Mostly False – Some supporting evidence may be accurate, but the meat and potatoes of the claim isn’t
Legend – The claim is too general or lacking in detail to say that it didn’t happen to someone, somewhere, at some point, so it’s really unprovable
Hint: 4 are true; 5 are false; 1 is a mixture; 1 is mostly false; and 1 is legend. Find out which is which at the bottom.
- Power Companies Fine Christmas Light Displayers
Claim: Power companies will assess a per-bulb fine to customers who keep their holiday lights up too long into the new year.
Backstory: During the 2003-2004 holiday season, residents of Albuquerque, New Mexico and Rochester, New York and Atlanta found out about new legislation in their area by way of local radio broadcasts.
2. 9-Year-Old Suspended for Saying “Merry Christmas” to Teacher
Claim: A fourth grader in San Francisco was suspended from school for a week for wishing his teacher a “Merry Christmas.”
Backstory: On Dec. 11, 2013, the National Report published an article citing the incident. It wasn’t long before links and excerpts started circulating around social media, and heated debates ensued.
3. Wal-Mart Found to be Reselling Donated Toys
Claim: Wal-Mart restocked its shelves with toys left with it to be donated to needy kids.
Backstory: In November, 2002, a Toys for Tots representative returned to a store in Sterling, Colorado to find its donation box empty and all the donated toys back on the shelves.
4. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer was Created to Comfort Daughter of Dying Mother
Claim: Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer was created by a father to comfort his daughter as her mother was dying of cancer.
Backstory: Rudolph came to life in 1939 in Chicago, the braindeer of 34-year-old Robert L. May. Before then, Santa only had eight sleigh steerers.
5. World War I Christmas Truce
Claim: German, French and British soldiers ceased fire in a spontaneous truce to instead sing carols, exchange gifts and play soccer in December during WWI.
Backstory: During a heated battle in Flanders, troops agreed to a truce. They emerged from their trenches, met in the middle, shook hands and exchanged gifts like chocolate cake, cognac, postcards and tobacco, and played games.
6. The Song The Twelve Days of Christmas is a Coded Christian Message
The claim: The song was created as a coded reference to important articles of the Christian faith.
Backstory: In Europe when Catholicism was a crime punishable by death, Twelve Days was written to help young Catholics learn the tenets of their faith. “True love” is code for “God” and “me” for “baptized persons.” And “6 Geese a-laying” means “the six days of creation,” “2 turtle doves” equals “the Old and New Testaments” and so forth.
7. Coca-Cola Invented Santa Clause
The claim: The modern image of Santa Claus was created by the Coca-Cola Company.
Backstory: In the 1930s, Coca-Cola created the red-suited fat guy and featured him in a series of ads as a way to boost revenue during the slow, winter months.
8. January is “Break-Up” Month
Claim: Divorce attorneys have long said that January and February are their busiest months for acquiring new clients, and couples just dating or living together also tend to go their separate ways during this time.
Backstory: It’s said that unhappy couples avoid breaking up right before or during the holidays and instead put it off until the new year. So, January sees these rainchecks and the relationships that would’ve ended anyway making it heartbreak heavy.
9. Christmastime is Suicide Time
Claim: The suicide rate increases significantly during the winter holiday season.
Backstory: The cheer, gifts and familial gathering of the holidays reminds those already teetering on the edge of what they don’t have compared to others, and in turn, convinces them that they have nothing to live for.
10. A Baby Was Smothered Under a Pile of Coats During a Christmas Party
Claim: A couple hosted a party during which, one by one, guests unknowingly tossed their coats onto a baby sleeping on a bed.
Backstory: One partygoer threw his or her coat on a bed not realizing that the host had left her sleeping baby on it. Others followed suit and by the time the baby was discovered, it had smothered and died.
11. Your Christmas Tree Could Give You Lyme Disease
Claim: If you use a real Christmas tree you run the risk of bringing Lyme disease-transmitting ticks into your home.
Backstory: A story started circulating around Facebook in December, 2016 and warned against ticks in your Christmas trees with the ability to spread Lyme disease, caused by the Borrelia genus of bacteria.
12. Group Boycotts Wal-Mart and Accuses it of Banning Christmas
Claim: A Christian group called for a boycott of Wal-Mart after the retailer instructed its employees to say “Happy holidays” in place of “Merry Christmas,” and after a woman complained and got a dismissive email in response.
Backstory: The woman sent an email complaint and received a response from a representative explaining that Wal-Mart’s customer are not only shopping for Christmas and picking apart the holiday’s diverse origins. Catholic League president sent the lady’s email higher up and got a similar response about Wal-Mart’s commitment to inclusiveness, at which point he called for the boycott.
1. False. The broadcasts happened, but they turned out to be hoaxes calculated by the radio stations.
2. False. The National Report did publish the article, but it was just satire poking fun at the supposed “War on Christmas.”
3. True. Blame it on a miscommunication between the store manager and his employees, and confusion surrounding whether the toys had actually been paid for before being tossed in the box.
4. Mixture. What’s true is that May’s wife did lay dying of cancer when he created Rudolph, and he did test the story out on his daughter. But, the red-nosed deer was actually dreamed up as part of a promotional campaign for the department store Montgomery Ward, for which May worked as a copywriter.
5. True. German soldiers placed little Christmas trees lit with candles on the banks of their trenches and started to sing songs. Soon, the French and British followed suit and signs started to pop up on all sides proposing a truce.
6. False. No documentation exists to support the claims, and there is no record of the tale before the ’90s, which suggests that it’s a modern creation.
7. False. Our idea of Santa Claus was created by Clement Clarke Moore’s 1822 poem ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas coupled with cartoonist Thomas Nast’s 1881 drawing that’s responsible for the modern image of Old St. Nick. Though, Coca-Cola did commission ads featuring Santa in the 1930s.
8. True. Couples put off ending things for a variety of reasons like not wanting to drop a bomb during what should be the happiest time of the year, for the kids, due to logistics and, yes, for the gifts.
9. False. Multiple studies, including those reported by the Mayo Clinic, report that suicide rates during the holidays are average or below average. Though, those around New Year’s Day are slightly higher than average, the thought being that it’s actually the end of the holiday season that does a number on already depressed people.
10. Legend. While this could certainly happen, it was more than likely circulated as a way to warn parent of the dangers of getting distracted.
11. Mostly False. Ticks could be living in your tree, but it’s very unlikely, and even more unlikely, due to their feeding schedule, that they’d be of the blacklegged variety, the only tick able to transmit Lyme.
12. True. Catholic League called for the boycott in 2005. Wal-Mart continues to instruct employees to use “Happy holidays” and the group has since called off the boycott.