On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

But what is Christmas, actually?

HERE are 10 myths of Christmas, which I think are appropriate for the festive season, and to have a better understanding of the festival.

Myth No 1: Jesus Christ was born on Dec 25.

Dec 25 is not his birth date. I am sorry if you have been listening to Boney M’s Mary’s Boy Child all your life. No one really knows when Jesus was born. There’s no mention of his birth date in the Bible, either. So there’s plenty of guesswork and interpretation. Some say Christmas was made a festival in the grim winter months and before long, it became a Christian festival. The date was chosen by the Roman Catholic Church.

Of course, retailers the world over hijacked the festival -– well, it is the year-end and since bonuses are usually given out to employees during this period, it’s a good time to persuade people to spend.

Restaurants also cleverly jack up the price of meals and include the “traditional” turkey as part of the courses even though having this big bird for Christmas has never been a part of Malaysian culture. Come on, admit it, the meat is just too tough for us Malaysians. It’s just good for Malaysian-style porridge to be served on Boxing Day. Now, that’s something to look forward to!

Myth No 2: The Christmas tree is a religious item.

It is not a compulsory or must-have item in Christian homes. No religious hardliner should get too excited about this. In Malaysia, we are very realistic – our plastic Christmas trees are from China. They are just as gorgeous. The Chinese probably ship them around the world. I am also very sure Father Christmas is now residing in China, busy answering letters requesting gifts.

The Christmas tree is reportedly a mid-18th century idea, and it was the Germans who took the idea to the United States. In the 1900s, then US president Teddy Roosevelt was reportedly peeved at the fad of cutting down trees for Christmas. I mean, what were these Germans thinking?

Myth No 3: “Xmas” is wrong.

Christmas isn’t X rated. It’s a wholesome family festival. Some Christians are upset with the abbreviation “Xmas”. But there’s some basis to this Xmas explanation, with some claiming that in the Greek language, the word “Christ” is written with a letter similar to X. Research on the Net says the first letter “X” or “chi”, is written as “X” in the Roman alphabet. Well, all this is Greek to me.

The only time I come across “chi” is when it is mentioned in tai chi or kung fu in the movies. I know it has to do with some power. Christ is powerful for sure. I don’t want to get into this but I know some sub-editors says “Xmas” is shorter and is easier to fit into headlines in a tabloid newspaper.

Myth No 4: Santa Claus is real.

As far as I can recall, Santa Claus is fat and bearded. I don’t know why. I also don’t understand why Santarina – the female version – must be hot, sexy and slim … Santa Claus is based on a fourth-century bishop known as St Nicholas who was said to have delivered secret gifts to the needy. In Malaysia, the term “Santa Claus” is used even during the non-Christmas season to mean one should not be expected to be too generous. Thus the expression “Eh, you think I am your Santa Claus, ah?” No, the beard of St Nicholas is not made of cotton. It’s probably real since he was of Nordic (or Turkish) origin.

Myth No 5: Rudolph is real.

Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer isn’t real. No animal pulled a fat man, dressed in a ridiculous red suit, around, as that would clearly be a violation of animal rights. Rudolph is said to have made his appearance only in 1939 in a booklet written by Robert May. According to the story, Rudolph was a neglected reindeer who caught Santa’s attention because of its glowing nose. I am sorry to tell you this but Mickey Mouse is older than Rudolph (!) as the super mouse was created in 1928 by Walt Disney.

Myth No 6: The red Christmas stockings have special powers.

Christmas stockings, no matter how big or small, are purely decorative. We Malaysians prefer our presents in boxes. Also, often even well decorated boxes are empty and are only good enough as decorations under Christmas trees. Don’t be easily fooled.

The story is this – the tradition of red socks started when Father Nicholas left a piece of gold in the stockings of a poor farmer which had been left hanging to dry near the fire place. The farmer wanted to marry off his three daughters, and it was a tradition and a requirement then to give away valuables to the bridegrooms. On hearing the plight of the farmer, St Nicholas slipped into their home at night and placed the gold in the stockings.

Again, please be reminded that one should not place such red stockings outside the gate … please be aware of the kind of attention and interpretation you would get, especially if you are a female.

Myth No 7: Candy canes are a must.

Candy canes are not compulsory items in Malaysia. We all know that Malaysia has one of the highest numbers of diabetic patients in the world. And take note – there are no sugar-free candy canes yet. These candies are supposed to represent the purity and sinless nature of Jesus Christ, according to a website, with the red stripes symbolising the blood shed by Jesus and the shape of candy canes resembling the shepherd’s staff. It is said that when the stick is turned upside down, it denotes the letter “J” in Jesus Christ. The candy canes have been reportedly in existence since the 17th century and its significance is surely one of the more meaningful ones.

Myth No 8: During the Christmas season, Christians consume turkey meat, visit the homes of relatives and friends and go to church.

Well, yes and no. It is a busy, busy time for footballers and an equally intense time for football fans as we cancel all evening functions to ensure that we watch matches “live” on TV if our favourite team pulls through in the three crazy days of English football. The champion is always decided upon during this mad period. Will it be Chelsea, Arsenal, Liverpool or Manchester City?

Myth No 9: Boxing Day is for boxing matches.

Christians do not go to boxing matches on Boxing Day, the second day of Christmas, Dec 26. The only boxing we may see, if any at all, will be on the football field when English teams play their games, a day after their one-day Christmas break.

It is called Boxing Day because in the 1830s, presents, which were delivered in boxes, were regarded as a gratuity for good service rendered on the first weekday after Christmas. There is nothing special about Boxing Day in Malaysia. In Europe, shops have Boxing Day sales but in Malaysia, we have sales throughout the year.

Myth No 10: Malaysians have a deep suspicion of each other’s religion and have become increasingly religiously intolerant over the years.

NOT true! We all love each other and respect each other’s religion. We will happily support calls for more long weekends and public holidays to celebrate each community’s religious festivals. Yes, cuti lah! I sokong!

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays to all Malaysians! Treasure the time you spend with your family, friends and loved ones. Travel safe and have a good time!