In November 2020, a light-hearted news story raised smiles (and eyebrows) across the land. It was the story of a couple from Bridport who had tied the knot to officially become… Mr and Mrs White-Christmas.
According to the widely-shared story, childhood sweethearts Kieran White and Tilly Christmas had first been alerted to the magical potential of their surnames at a school prom, when photos were uploaded with the hashtag “#WhiteChristmas”. As Tilly White-Christmas herself said, ‘I wanted to keep the name going. It just so happens the man I’m marrying has the perfect surname to go with it.’
Of course, these days more and more of us are curious about the histories of our surnames, thanks to easily-available insights from genealogy sites like Ancestry. In fact, Ancestry even has a surname search tool for that exact purpose. But what about Christmas, the name? Where did it originate, and have there been any notable Christmases throughout history?
The name has certainly been around, in some form or other, for a very long time. There’s evidence of the surname ‘Cristemass’ existing in the late 12th Century, and ‘Cristesmesse’ in the early 14th Century. Genealogical research has shown that Christmases (in various spelling permutations) have been particularly well represented in Essex and Sussex, and there’s a long-standing theory that the name was originally given to those born on Christmas Day. However, some question this assumption. Henry Christmas, a retired engineer who spent decades delving into the history of the name, spoke back in 2005 about his findings, and dismissed the Christmas Day/Christmas connection as ‘too easy’.
‘The original spelling was “Chrystmasse” which perhaps indicates Norman origin,’ Henry Christmas told the BBC. ‘There were also Huguenots who came with that name.’
Unlikely as it sounds, there have also been more than a few women called Mary Christmas over the decades and centuries. Indeed, records show that there have been, at the very least, 50 Mary Christmases living in the UK over the past 180 years. An early example occurred in 1837, when a Mary Cannon married a man whose surname was Christmas in Alton, Hampshire.
Having such a festive name isn’t always fun and games, as one contemporary Mary Christmas recently attested. Quoted in a 2012 article about her striking name, she said that it had been a ‘running joke’ between her husband Leeroy and his mother that ‘he ought to marry someone called Mary’, but when it actually happened they soon realised there were a few snags. Namely, an inordinate amount of prank calls (‘We’d have people ringing up and asking if they could speak to Father Christmas’), and also people’s general disbelief (‘They just don’t believe me if I ask for a table for two for Mary Christmas’).
The annals of notable Christmases include footballer Cecil Christmas, who played for Southampton in 1912 and was sadly killed in the Battle of the Somme, and Art Christmas, who was a leading jazz saxophonist who was a hero to many British musicians in the 1930s and 40s. Another Christmas musician is Keith Christmas, who played acoustic guitar on David Bowie’s album Space Oddity and performed at the first ever Glastonbury Festival.
There have also been two Irish MPs called William Christmas, serving in the Irish House of Commons in the 18th and 19th Centuries respectively. The latter William Christmas was noted as a staunch Conservative and advocate of a union between Britain and Ireland. He also criticised the very notion of democracy, which is perhaps why one of his political opponents dubbed him ‘a Christmas of the darkest and most ungenial winter.’ In a bizarre and tragic twist of fate, William Christmas was attacked by ‘ruffians’ while walking from a polling office just days after Christmas in 1866, and died a few months later.
All this being said, the most well-known Christmases of all are, unfortunately, fictitious. Movie fans will point to Lloyd Christmas, aka Jim Carrey’s character in the Dumb and Dumber movies. Fans of Modernist American literature, on the other hand, will know of Joe Christmas, a central character in the novel Light in August by Nobel Prize-winner William Faulkner.
If our brief dive into the festive (and not so festive) world of Christmases has you curious about the history of your surname, why not utilise Ancestry’s search tool to uncover revelations that may cast new light on your ancestors?