Coca Cola didn't invent Santa, Thomas Edison was the first to use fairy lights and Christmas colours of red and green came from old stain-glassed church panels.
A group of AUT academics have joined forces to present the stories behind some of our best-loved but often misunderstood Christmas traditions.
Here are their explanations of some customs we often take for granted.
1. Christmas lights
"The concept of hanging fairy lights during the holiday season came from the need to have a fire-safe alternative to putting candles in trees," says Professor Enrico Haemmerle, head of engineering, computer and mathematical sciences.
Haemmerle says during the Christmas season in 1880, Thomas Edison strung up his lab with lights on the outside as a stunt to try and win the electricity contract for Manhattan. "Edward H Johnson, Edison's right hand man, had another crack two years later when he lit up his Christmas Tree in New York with the familiar lights. In 1895 President Grover Cleveland stirred public interest in the budding tradition when he asked that the White House Christmas tree be strung with the lights.
"By the turn of the century, a lot of families lost their homes to the flames of Christmas. In response, 15-year-old Albert Sadacas, the son of a light shop owner, invented the tiny safety-conscious bulbs in 1917.They started becoming commonplace from the 1930s."
"If you ask someone about the true origins of Santa, they'll probably tell you he was invented by Coca-Cola," says Lorna Piatti-Farnell, Associate Professor of Cultural History. "But as fun as that idea is, it's not true at all."
Santa really starts with Saint Nicholas, a Greek Orthodox Bishop from 3rd century Turkey, says Piatti-Farnell.
"St. Nick was known for his charitable works and secret gift-giving, especially around the time of the year we now associate with the Christmas season. Saint Nicholas as a symbol was eventually picked up by the Protestant church, who merged him with Sinterklaas, a mythical Bishop from Dutch folklore, who would ride into town on a white horse, just in time to celebrate the winter.
"In 15th Century Britain, the English Christmas icon of Father Christmas was born. He was invented as a personification of Christmas itself, and so his attitude and personality was representative of the holiday's traditions and values. Eventually, as American culture began spreading throughout the world in the 1800s, Father Christmas began taking on similar attributes to Santa Claus, an American figure directly inspired by Sinterklaas, Saint Nicholas and even a little from Odin, the Norse God, whose gift giving had been celebrated during the Germanic winter festival Yuletide.
"In terms of his appearance, the image of Santa was popularised by the famous American poem "A Visit from St. Nick", known more commonly today as 'The Night before Christmas', which described Santa in great detail, and included the first recorded mention of his reindeer. It wasn't until the 1920s that Coca-Cola started using Santa Claus as a marketing tool."
3. Fruit Mince Pies
"The spicy mince pie itself can be traced as far back as the 12th century, when the Crusaders brought spices back to England from the Middle East," says patisserie lecturer Arno Sturney.
"Centuries later, British MP Samuel Pepys mentioned the pies in his diary on Christmas day 1662. In the 17th century, the filling still contained real meat like minced cooked mutton and beef suet, along with currants and raisins with ginger, mace, nutmeg, cinnamon, orange rind, salt and a tiny quantity of sugar. The mince pie began to get sweeter in the 18th century when cheap sugar arrived from slave plantations. By the 19th century, the Christmas mince pie had adapted to be as we know it today, with most recipes dropping the meat entirely."
4. Christmas Crackers
"Back in 1840, London sweet shop worker Tom Smith discovered the French confectionary known as the Bonbon while on a trip to Paris," says head of communication design Dr Peter Gilderdale.
"Tom's Bonbon was a sugared almond wrapped in tissue paper, which he started making and selling in his store back in England. Demand boomed during the Christmas season, so Tom added a small love note into the tissue paper of each Bonbon and profits were once again high that following December.
"Still trying to figure out how to make his Christmas treats even more successful, Tom's Eureka moment came when he threw a log on the fire and heard the crackle and pop it made as it burned. After some amateur chemistry, Tom perfected the pop caused by friction when the wrapping was opened. He dropped the sweet and the 'Bonbon' name, calling his new crackers Cosaques, but he kept the love note and added a surprise gift."
5. Christmas Cards
"Christmas Cards date back to 1842 to social reformer Henry Cole," says Gilderdale. "The idea of sending well-wishes didn't become commercial until the 1860's when Charles Goodall and Son's cards became popular. Christmas cards were originally flat and square like postcards so that people could scrapbook them or attach to their mantle piece. The amount you had showed how loved you were. By the 1920's the folded card we have today became the norm. Whilst early cards from England had holly and bells, New Zealand cards featured iconic local landscapes that aren't too dissimilar from postcards today."
6. Christmas Trees
This idea really took off in 1846 when a picture of Queen Victoria and her family around a Christmas tree was released, says Professor Len Gilman, head of science.
"Victoria's husband Prince Albert was German, and in Germany Christians had had the tradition since the 16th Century. The Americans saw the royals' tree and it soon took off there too. They decorated with homemade ornaments. German Americans continued to use traditional elements of apples, nuts and marzipan cookies. While trees are a major Christmas tradition around the world, in New Zealand pine trees can be pest and a threat to local plant life."
7. Christmas stockings
There's no factual history to explain this tradition but there are plenty of theories, says head of fashion Dr Yvonne Chan.
"Some claim stockings were a ritual invented by the Dutch in the 16th century, originally with clogs, filled with hay for Santa's reindeer. North America also claims cartoonist Thomas Nast invented the idea in his 19th century illustrations for a Christmas themed story by George P Webster. The most common legend though, tells the story of St.Nicholas providing charity for a poor father of 3 daughters. The father, impoverished and struggling, was unable to provide enough money for his daughters to ever get married. Knowing the father would refuse to take any money from him directly, St. Nicholas climbed down the family's chimney in the middle of the night and left a bunch of gold coins in each of the girls' freshly laundered stockings which were drying by the fire. St. Nick swiftly disappeared, leaving the gift to be discovered by the ecstatic family the next morning."
8. Red and green colour theme
Recent research from the University of Cambridge has found that the red and green dates back to panels from churches from the 14th to 16th centuries, says Professor Thomas Mical, head of art and design.
"It's likely the red and green were used because they are such contrasting colours, and because of pigment availability at the time. The colours also align with the weather in the Northern Hemisphere at Christmas. Evergreen plants signalled the start of spring and new life and beginnings. Red relates to berries on holly, apples which were used as decorations, and of cause, Santa."
"The exact origin is still unknown but everyone from New Zealand to Australia to Russia to Germany to America have all laid claim," says journalism lecturer and former editor of Cuisine Magazine, Dr Lyn Barnes. "One thing we know for sure is that it is named after the Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova. In New Zealand the first recorded proof of Pavlova dates back to 1911, but it isn't the marshmallowy treat we know today. Then, Pavlova was a strawberry based iced or glace dessert that was first found in Auckland and then Oamaru. It went on to be described as a four layer jelly in 1926, so the pavlova we know today definitely isn't the pavlova our ancestors would remember. "
10. Christmas Dinner
"What we know as Christmas dinner has changed a lot over the centuries," says culinary arts lecturer John Kelleher. "Beef and goose were common meats in the early days and it wasn't until the Victorian era that turkey became common. Initially it was reserved for the wealthy, but the size of the bird made it ideal for feeding large communities of the middle class, making it the dominant dinner mainstay by the 20th Century. As for Christmas dessert, way back in the Georgian era, what we now know as the Christmas Cake may have had its origins in the Twelfth Cake. This fruit and vegetable based dessert was part of a celebration known as the Twelfth Night on January 5th.
11. Advent Calendars
"The name Advent Calendar is actually inaccurate," says Piatti-Farnell. "The Advent season, which is an ancient Christian celebration of the weekends leading up to Christmas, usually falls somewhere around the end of November each year, and not necessarily December 1st, which is where modern Advent Calendars begin. In the 18th Century, the advent calendar used to be as simple as painting the doors of houses with the number of days until Christmas, before it was adapted to lighting candles- a tradition that still exists. Then, people began exchanging little pictures or poems or games, then items of food, before landing more commonly on chocolate."
12. Christmas Presents
"The obvious answer would be the three wise men, who brought gifts for the baby Jesus upon his birth," says Piatti-Farnell. "But the act of exchanging presents during winter festivities also has roots in pre-Christian Scandinavia, where people would gift each other with food, not just on Christmas day, but all winter long. Giving gifts specifically on Christmas day was established in the 18th century, and popularised by Queen Victoria, along with many other Christmas traditions."
13. Boxing Day
"The term Boxing Day dates back to the 1830's when the tradespeople and public servants like postmen or errand boys would be celebrated," says marketing, sales and retail lecturer Dr Sommer Kapitan. "As a thank you for their year of service, these individuals would receive a Christmas box of goodies from their masters or customers, usually containing food or money."
However Kapoitan says the origins of the Christmas Box potentially go back even further.
"In Samuel Pepys' 1663 diary, he mentions an old English custom wherein masters would give their servants a box of gifts to take home to their families, since the servants would have spent Christmas day tending to the masters themselves. More than 350 years later, the concept of Boxing Day has shifted dramatically to the shopping day we know today."