News National Christmas traditions explained: Why does Rudolph have a red nose?

Christmas traditions explained: Why does Rudolph have a red nose?

Windsor Castle
Windsor Castle's Christmas decorations. Photo: Instagram
Twitter Facebook Reddit Pinterest Email

The silly season has well and truly arrived, bringing with it some zany Christmas traditions.

Year after year, we tell the same stories about Santa Claus delivering presents to all the good boys and girls around the world.

But have you ever questioned the origin of these quirky customs?

Rudolph depicted with a red nose in 1949. Photo: Getty

Why does Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer have a red nose in the first place?

And why should you wait under the mistletoe if you’re hanging out for a smooch?

The New Daily investigates.

Why does Rudolph have a red nose?

The secret behind the most famous reindeer’s bright red nose all comes down to science.

Reindeer have lots of blood vessels in their nose – about 25 per cent more than humans, according to Dutch and American scientists.

“In colder climates and also when they are higher up in the atmosphere pulling Santa’s sleigh, the increase in blood flow in the nose will help keep the (nose’s) surface warm,” Dr John Cullen of the University of Rochester told MedPage Today.

Reindeer originally come from the Arctic and Subarctic, also known as the North Pole. Photo: Getty

The dense network of blood vessels in reindeer noses also helps them regulate their body temperature. Like many mammals, reindeer don’t sweat.

Without the extra blood keeping Rudolph warm, there’s no way he’d be able to lead Santa’s sleigh all around the world in freezing night-time temperatures.

Why does Santa wear a red and white suit?

The big-bellied, bearded figure we know as Santa Claus is a mix of cultures, religion and folklore.

But Santa hasn’t always looked donned a floppy hat and a red suit.

His unique character dates back as early as 270AD with the birth of a bishop called Nicholas.

Nicholas dedicated his life to helping the less fortunate and became famous for anonymously paying for the dowries of poor girls.

His reputation as a secret gift-giver became well known around the Roman town of Myra, especially his penchant for leaving coins or treats in the shoes of children in exchange for carrots or hay left out for his horses.

After his death, Nicholas became a Catholic saint known as St Nicholas and was named the patron saint of children, sailors and all of Greece. He was often depicted wearing a red bishop’s cloak.

A coloured engraving of St Nicholas, also called Nikolaos of Myra, in Italy, 1886. Photo: Getty

People worshipped him during the Middle Ages.

Over time, the devout figure of St Nicholas was adopted by the Dutch in the form of Sinterklaas, a friendly man who travelled from house to house leaving treats in children’s shoes in exchange for a snack for his horses.

In Dutch tradition, Sinterklaas wore red bishop’s robes, had elves for assistants and rode horses over rooftops before slipping down the chimney to deliver gifts.

Dutch immigration to the US in the 17th and 18th centuries spread the tradition far and wide, which led to the anglicisation of the name Sinterklaas to Santa Claus.

A man dressed as Santa Claus at a market in Arbil, the capital of the Kurdish region of northern Iraq. Photo: Getty

His waistline expanded in 1809 when author Washington Irving published a book A History of New York, in which Santa Claus is described as round and smoking a pipe.

By the late 1800s, Santa Claus was most commonly depicted in a red suit with a festively plump belly.

The final touch to his outfit was provided by Coca-Cola ad illustrator Haddon Sundblom, whose 1930s Santa Claus came with white-fur trim and leather boots.

Why do we put presents under the Christmas tree?

Who is the terrifying creature called Krampus?




was born out of Pagan folklore in Germany and is depicted as a half-goat demon that punishes children on Santa Claus’ naughty list.

The fearsome character has been embraced by eastern Germanic cultures over half a century and is especially famous in Austria.

Each Christmas, people in Bavaria, Germany, dress up as Krampus. Photo: Getty

Krampus is said to wander the streets in search of badly behaved children, swatting them with a broomstick made of branches, putting them in a bag and dragging them away, never to be seen again.

Bearing huge horns with hooves for feet, the evil accomplice of St Nicholas has terrified children for centuries.

During December, some places in Europe like Kaplice in the Czech Republic and the Tyrol region in Austria hold street parades where people dress up as Krampus to take part in the creepy Christmas tradition.

Where does the word ‘Kris Kringle’ come from?

The gift-exchange tradition known as Kris Kringle, also called Secret Santa, is derived from Germany.

The word ‘Kris’ comes from the German word for ‘Christ’, and Kringle relates to the word ‘kind’, which means ‘child’ in German.

‘Kind’ also shares a deeper root with ‘kin’ and other words meaning ‘family’.

In many European countries like Germany and Austria, the word Christkind translates to ‘Christ Child’, as in Baby Jesus.

The traditional giver of gifts at Christmas soon became affectionately called Christkindl.

Why should we wait under the mistletoe if we want to receive a kiss?

The myth that mistletoe increases life and fertility has been around for hundreds of years.

Celtic religious leaders living in the first century AD viewed the plant as a symbol of liveliness because it stayed green while other species lost their leaves during winter.

Some say the connection between mistletoe and a kiss comes from ancient Norse mythology in which the legend Baldur was killed by an enemy’s arrow made of mistletoe.

His mother, the goddess Frigg, wept tears onto the arrow, which turned into white berries that she carefully placed onto his wound, bringing him back to life.

Overjoyed to have her son back, Frigg blessed the mistletoe plant and promised a kiss to all who passed beneath it.

But if you think eating mistletoe will bring you extra luck, think again – mistletoe berries are highly toxic to humans.

View Comments