What’s the true history of Christmas? Should I be scared of Krampus? Find out in these holiday stories from our scholars
Vintage color lithograph from 1898 showing Father Christmas and his reindeer flying through the sky. (Image Source: iStock.)

What’s the true history of Christmas? Should I be scared of Krampus? Find out in these holiday stories from our scholars

Dive into the rich cultural history, myths and religious traditions surrounding this popular holiday.
ByMargaret Crable

Christmas is practiced annually by 2 billion Christians and non-Christians alike around the globe. But, how did this holiday begin, has it always been so popular, and why do we associate it with a jolly man with a white beard?

These stories from scholars at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences are here to answer your Christmas questions.

How Christmas is celebrated around the world

Christmas is an exceptionally popular holiday across many cultures, but not everyone celebrates it the same way. This video featuring Rev. Dorian Llywelyn, president of the Institute for Advanced Catholic Studies at USC Dornsife, Rev. Najuma Smith-Pollard, assistant director of community and public engagement at the USC Dornsife Center for Religion and Civic Culture, and Carlos Garcia Alayon of Notre Dame University, explores how Christmas began, the way different groups honor these holy days, and traditions like Advent and the 12th Night of Christmas.

Who is the real Santa Claus?

Santa Claus is a staple of Christmas mythology, but did you know he was once a real person? St. Nicholas was a Catholic saint born in what is now modern-day Turkey. The Americanized name “Santa Claus” derives from the Dutch name for St. Nicholas, “Sinterklaus.” Lisa Bitel, Dean’s Professor of Religion and professor of religion and history,explains St. Nick’s backstory.

Crackdown on Christmas

Christmas parties are popular across America now, but the early puritan settlers weren’t so keen on such joyous celebrations of the holiday. Peter Mancall, Andrew W. Mellon Professor of the Humanities, Linda and Harlan Martens Director of the Early Modern Studies Institute and professor of history, anthropology and economics, explains why the leaders of puritan colonies cracked down on Christmas.

A very merry Krampus

If you’re on the naughty list this Christmas in the United States, you might end up with a lump of coal in your stocking. In some Alpine countries, you could get a visit from a terrifying creature with curved horns, one human foot and one cloven foot instead. Britta Bothe, associate professor (teaching) of German, explains the story of Krampus and its origins in pagan Germany.