UNDER THE MISTLETOE
According to the biologist Rob Dunn, though all of the legends of why we kiss under mistletoe make for good stories, its real kiss is that of its incredibly sticky seeds. Descended from parasitic ancient sandalwood that would attack the roots of trees, mistletoe evolved to grow on tree branches in order to benefit from its hosts nutrients but also the sunlight from being up higher. Being a particularly wily and industrious plant, mistletoe wasn't content to merely wait for a chance gust of wind to take its seeds to another tree. Over time the seeds became sticky and the plant sprouted berries around the seeds to attract birds. The birds would then eat the berries and spread the seeds to other trees by excreting them onto branches. But because birds aren't picky about where they choose to commode, seeds were wasted midair. In a final act of never-say-die ingenuity, the seeds evolved to became extra sticky so that they would cling to butts and feet and frustrated birds everywhere have to use sticks and branches to scrape them off, thus leaving the tree a little parasitic present.
COAL FOR THE NAUGHTY
The original crowd control – the threat of receiving a lump of Trump's favorite fossil fuel instead of X-Box for Christmas dates back as far as the 12th century and there are various iterations of this little piece of blackmail from different places around the world. The witch known as "La Befana" in Italy, Pere Fouettard or "the whipping father" from parts of France and Belgium, Knecht Ruprecht in Germany, and the forked-tongue Austrian, Krampus, were all purported to leave lumps of coal for misbehaving children (and while that may sound disappointing, they were also known to kidnap, drug, beat, and eat them so you'd be quite lucky to get coal). The exact reason for the punishment being coal is unknown but it's surmised that because most of these figures are in one way or another associated with the chimney, Santa and the rest of these terrifying beasts are just grabbing what's at hand.
THE SILENT SLIPPER
A little something left behind by one of Santa's elves. At this time of year, every house has a tiny spy wearing soft, silent, jingle bell-less slippers to make his rounds checking on the naughty and nice. This tradition calls for leaving one slipper on the bedroom floor of your tiny tot during the night that they can find as evidence when they awake.
FRANKINCENSE AND MYRRH
You might think that the wise man that brought gold was the star of that show, but it turns out that frankincense and myrrh are almost worth their weight in gold as well. Healing in a myriad of emotional, spiritual, and physical ways, these plants have been used for thousands of years as a sedative, to heal wounds and skin diseases, to relieve pain and promote digestion and treat many other chronic ailments.
THE LUCKY SCHWEIN
In German the expression "schwein gehabt” means "got lucky there!" but translates literally to "got pig!". The pig has been a symbol of luck and prosperity since the middle ages because the possession of many pigs was a sign of wealth and meant that you would never go hungry. A small pig is still often gifted around the holidays as an amulet of good fortune for the new year.
THE WHITE ELEPHANT GIFT
Buddhist mythology holds that upon conceiving him, Buddha's mother dreamed that a white elephant with six tusks entered her right side. From that time forward, the albino elephant became a sacred and holy animal in certain Asian cultures and it was forbidden to put these rare pachyderms to work. The story goes that the King of Siam, when displeased by a courtier, would gift the unfortunate underling a white elephant in a passive-aggressive attempt to ruin the person with the enormous costs of the pampered animal's upkeep. It's for this reason that the term eventually became synonymous with a burdensome possession that's difficult to get rid of and has evolved over the years into the worthless present exchange that we know today.