PRYOR, OK —
Q: What is the origin of the Christmas nativity scene? -- J.B., Port Huron, Mich.
A: According to tradition, St. Francis of Assisi visited the small town of Greccio, Italy, to celebrate Christmas in 1223. Realizing the chapel of the Franciscan hermitage would be too small to hold the congregation for midnight Mass, he located a niche in the rocks near the town square and set up the altar. To make the celebration of Mass more memorable, he borrowed some farm animals, set up a manger and added statues of Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus. Several sources say the nativity scene was popular before this date, but this makes a much nicer story.
Q: Are the names "Nutcracker" and "Nutcracker Suite" interchangeable? -- I.B., Trenton, N.J.
A: Although commonly interchanged, they are not. Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky first performed his "Nutcracker Suite" in March 1892, and it consists of eight of the orchestra pieces from the ballet. In December of that year, the ballet "Nutcracker" debuted in St. Petersburg.
DID YOU KNOW? Hallmark introduced its first Christmas card in 1915, five years after the company was founded in Kansas City, Mo.
Q: When was the first Christmas stamp introduced? -- C.F., Hurricane, Utah
A: On Dec. 7, 1898, Canada issued what is considered to be the first Christmas stamp in the world. The 2-cent stamp had a Mercator map, with the words "XMAS 1898." Some collectors insist this is not a true Christmas stamp, because it does not feature a Christmas theme. Other countries were slower in issuing holiday stamps -- the next was Austria in 1937. The United States did not issue a Christmas stamp until 1962, a 4-cent stamp with a wreath and candles.
DID YOU KNOW? Annie Lennox, Eurythmics lead singer, was born on Christmas Day in 1954.
Q: Which popular Christmas song was actually written for Thanksgiving? -- K.Y., Roseburg, Ore.
A: It's "Jingle Bells." James Pierpont wrote the song in 1850 in Medford, Mass. It was published in 1857, while he was an organist at his brother's church. When the sheet music was first published, it was sold under its original name, "One Horse Open Sleigh." Two years later, it was reissued but with a new title, "Jingle Bells."
DID YOU KNOW? Singer Jimmy Buffett, famous for "Margaritaville," was born on Christmas Day in 1946.
Q: Is "hot cockles" a holiday beverage? How is it made? -- F.D., Pensacola, Fla.
A: "Hot cockles" was a popular game played from medieval times to the Victorian era. The rules are simple: One person is blindfolded and kneels with his head on the lap of someone sitting on a chair. The blindfolded person places his hands in the small of his back, palm upwards, and calls out, "hot cockles hot." The other players take turns hitting the palm of the hand. The blindfolded player must guess the person who struck. Believe it or not, this really was a popular game.
Q: In the story "A Christmas Carol," by Charles Dickens, a now-reformed Ebenezer Scrooge says to his long-suffering employee Bob Cratchit, "... and we will discuss your affairs this very afternoon, over a Christmas bowl of Smoking Bishop, Bob!" What is a "Smoking Bishop"? -- S.L., Dallas
A: Smoking Bishop is hot mulled wine, not too unlike sangria. In his book "Drinking with Dickens," Cedric Dickens, the great-grandson of Charles, says that people in the 1800s enjoyed a whole range of "clerical drinks." "Pope is burgundy, Cardinal is champagne or rye, Archbishop is claret, Bishop is port, and so on."
(Send your questions to Mr. Know-It-All at AskMrKIA@gmail.com or c/o Universal Uclick, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.)