(WGN) – Where did all the stories of Christmas come from? From our family traditions, you might say? You’ll be surprised that many of the traditions of this beloved holiday are made up. Yes, really.

Critically acclaimed New York Times bestselling author Judith Flanders explores the Christmas holiday, from original festivals to present-day traditions, in her book “Christmas: A Biography.”

Did you know the idea of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer started in Chicago? The story was from an author from Chicago, Robert L. May, in 1939. He wrote it for Montgomery Ward.

Early depictions of Christmas

“In the middle of the 20th Century there is a store chain called Montgomery Ward, they put out a little kids book for their customers as a little pamphlet to be given away to customers, it’s the story of Rudolph, it’s the story we know,” Flanders said.

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“The brother-in-law of this writer is a songwriter and he takes the story, and writes the song Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, sung by Gene Autry and becomes a huge hit and consequently the story takes off,” she said.

Flanders explains that Christmas is all things to all people. It’s a religious festival, a family celebration, a period of eating and drinking, all events centered around celebrating at the end of the year. We discuss the myths, legends and history, deftly moving from the origins of the holiday in the Roman Empire through the first appearance of Christmas trees in Central Europe, to what might be the origins of Santa Claus in Switzerland.

We talked further about the origins of the Christmas holiday, Flanders expands on what she found surprising in her research.

Robert L. May wrote Rudolph the Red-Noised Reindeer for Montgomery Ward

“What enchanted me was this absolute conviction everyone has that their own customs are the real customs, everyone believes that whatever they eat, however they celebrate is the real customs,” she said. “You can guarantee everything by Christmas in made up.”

To learn more about this book and all the stories about how Christmas, click here to purchase the book.

Christmas: A Biography

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