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Saturday, December 24, 2016

Christmas Eve links

Please accept with no obligation, implied or explicit, my best wishes for an environmentally conscious, socially responsible, low-stress, non-addictive, gender-neutral celebration of the winter solstice holiday, practiced within the most enjoyable traditions of the religious persuasion of your choice, or secular practices of your choice, with respect for the religious/secular persuasion and/or traditions of others, or their choice not to practice religious or secular traditions at all. I also wish you a fiscally successful, personally fulfilling and medically uncomplicated recognition of the onset of the generally accepted calendar year 2017, but not without due respect for the calendars of choice of other cultures whose contributions to society have helped make America great. Not to imply that America is necessarily greater than any other country nor the only America in the Western Hemisphere. Also, this wish is made without regard to the race, creed, color, age, physical ability, religious faith or sexual preference of the wishee.

Rare vintage video footage: Christmas in the 1920s.

In the Christmas In Other Cultures category, here's a Klingon Christmas Carol. Also, how to have a British ChristmasSweden's bizarre tradition of watching Donald Duck (Kalle Anka) cartoons on Christmas Eve, Strange Christmas Traditions Around the World, and why Japan is Obsessed with Kentucky Fried Chicken on Christmas.


Holiday Hairstyles Sure To Shock Santa.

At Christmas, this town builds a Giant Yule goat and then torches it.

Great Literary Christmas Tales That Aren’t A Christmas Carol.

Virginia O'Hanlon, of Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus fame, was asked about that letter for the rest of her life.

The real history of ‘Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer’ - it all started with a Montgomery Ward marketing campaign in 1939.



Little Drummer Boy, sung by David Bowie and Bing Crosby.



Supercut of movie Santas.


Here's a Christmas light version of Santa Claus urinating on ISIS sign.



10 Important Facts About A Christmas Story's Leg Lamp. Related: Ralphie teamed up with Flash Gordon in a deleted scene from A Christmas Story.

ICYMI, Wednesday's links are here, and include printable Star Wars snowflake templates, all about the winter solstice, and the classic drunken fruitcake recipe.

Friday, December 23, 2016

How to Have a British Christmas

Siobhan Thompson, explainer of all things British, on how to celebrate Christmas like a Brit
From explosives at the dinner table (aka Christmas crackers) to burning letters to Santa, Siobhan Thompson looks at 10 ways Christmas differs in Britain. (Notably, they don't call them the holidays.)


Previous post: Video: If Shakespearean Insults Were Used Today - 

Here's a day-by-day Shakespearean Insults 2017 Calendar.

This Shakespearean Insult Generator has been around since early internet days. This generate-your-own version is newer and has a heck of a lot of possibilities - choose one item from each of the four drop-down columns.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Wednesday links

December 21 is the winter solstice, the first day of winter, and the shortest day of the year. Here are science, history, and short video explanations of the celestial mechanics involved, plus descriptions of the concurrent celebrations of Saturnalia and Halcyon Days.

How The World Looked When Jesus Was Born, According to Roman Geographers.

A collection of downloadable templates for Star Wars snowflakes.

Classic Christmas drunken fruitcake recipe: Check the whiskey. Pour 1 level cup and drink. Repeat.

The 1914 Christmas truce.

The Origin of the Myth of the Poisonous Poinsettia. Related, why we kiss under the mistletoe and how the plant got that strange name (spoiler - it literally means "dung twig").

ICYMI, Friday's links are here, and include advice from ~1200 on how to survive the winter (don't forget to lay off the purging and blood-letting, and keep your hands and feet covered in wolf grease), the complicated history of humans and cats, an island where donkeys wear pajamas, and a map of the entire internet as of 1973, on one sheet of paper.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

December 21 is the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year

In the Northern Hemisphere the December solstice (wiki) marks the longest night and shortest day of the year with the latest dawn and the sun at its lowest point in the sky. I seem to remember that when I was a kid, the first day of each new season was always considered to be the 21st (of March for Spring, June for Summer, September for Autumn, and December for Winter). I guess it's more accurate now.

In seed-time learn, in harvest teach, in winter enjoy. ~William Blake

Winter is the king of showmen,
Turning tree stumps into snowmen
And houses into birthday cakes
And spreading sugar over lakes.
Smooth and clean and frosty white,
The world looks good enough to bite.
That’s the season to be young,
Catching snowflakes on your tongue.
Snow is snowy when it’s snowing,
I’m sorry it’s slushy when it’s going.

~ Ogden Nash

I wonder if the snow loves the trees and fields, that it kisses them so gently? And then it covers them up snug, you know, with a white quilt; and perhaps it says "Go to sleep, darlings, till the summer comes again.


What good is the warmth of summer, without the cold of winter to give it sweetness.

~ John Steinbeck, Travels with Charley: In Search of America

“Nothing burns like the cold.”

~ George R.R. Martin, A Game of Thrones

That time of year thou mayst in me behold
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
Bare ruin'd choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.
In me thou seest the twilight of such day
As after sunset fadeth in the west,
Which by and by black night doth take away,
Death's second self, that seals up all in rest.
In me thou see'st the glowing of such fire
That on the ashes of his youth doth lie,
As the death-bed whereon it must expire
Consumed with that which it was nourish'd by.
This thou perceivest, which makes thy love more strong,
To love that well which thou must leave ere long.”

~ William Shakespeare, Sonnets

Nature has many scenes to exhibit, and constantly draws a curtain over this part or that. She is constantly repainting the landscape and all surfaces, dressing up some scene for our entertainment. Lately we had a leafy wilderness; now bare twigs begin to prevail, and soon she will surprise us with a mantle of snow. Some green she thinks so good for our eyes that, like blue, she never banishes it entirely from our eyes, but has created evergreens.

Henry David Thoreau, Walden

The winter solstice (wiki) produces the shortest day of the year in the northern hemisphere, when darkness descends over the land to its greatest extent. For centuries, humankind has greeted the solstice with mixed emotions - with fear that the darkness might not really recede; and with hope that the cycling of the seasons would again reassert itself. 

Of the winter season, American poet Ezra Pound (1885-1972) complained,

"Winter is icumen in,
Lhude sing Goddamn,
Raineth drop and staineth slop,
And how the wind doth ramm!
Sing: Goddamn."*

* N.B. This is actually a parody of an anonymous 13th-century English song:
"Sumer is icumen in,
Lhude sing cuccu!
Groweth sed and bloweth med,
And springeth the wude nu.
Sing cuccu."
Here's a brief explanation on the mechanics of solstices and equinoxes:



And a two minute NatGeo video:


The two revolutions, I mean the annual revolutions of the declination and of the centre of the Earth, are not completely equal; that is the return of the declination to its original value is slightly ahead of the period of the centre. Hence it necessarily follows that the equinoxes and solstices seem to anticipate their timing, not because the sphere of the fixed stars moves to the east, but rather the equatorial circle moves to the west, being at an angle to the plane of the ecliptic in proportion to the declination of the axis of the terrestrial globe.


Also at this time of year:

Saturnalia (wiki):

The winter solstice festival Saturnalia began on December 17 and lasted for seven days in In Ancient Rome. These Saturnalian banquets were held from as far back as around 217 BCE to honor Saturn, the father of the gods.

Saturnalia by Antoine-Francois Callet (1741-1823) Musée du Louvre
The holiday was celebrated with a sacrifice at the Temple of Saturn, in the Roman Forum, and a public banquet, followed by private gift-giving, continual partying, and a carnival atmosphere that overturned Roman social norms.

The festival was characterized as a free-for-all when all discipline and orderly behavior was ignored.

Wars were interrupted or postponed, gambling was permitted, slaves were served by their masters and all grudges and quarrels were forgotten.

The Saturnalia would degenerate into a week-long orgy of debauchery and crime – giving rise to the modern use of the term 'saturnalia', meaning a period of unrestrained license and revelry. A mock 'king' was even chosen from a group of slaves or convicts and was allowed to behave as he pleased for seven days (until his eventual ritual execution).

Halcyon Days (wiki):

The seven days preceding, and the seven days following the shortest day, or the winter-solstice, were called by the ancients the Halcyon Days. This phrase, so familiar as expressive of a period of tranquility and happiness, is derived from a fable, that during the period just indicated, while the halcyon bird or king-fisher was breeding, the sea was always calm, and might be navigated in perfect security by the mariner. The name halcyon is derived from two Greek words: the sea & to conceive; and, according to the poetic fiction, the bird was represented as hatching her eggs on a floating nest, in the midst of the waters. Dryden thus alludes to the notion:

'Amidst our arms as quiet you shall be,
As halcyons brooding on a winter's sea.'

More on the Greek myth of Halcyon and Ceyx here.

Related posts: 

Autumnal equinox science, videos, quotes, poems, Vivaldi and Copernicus.

Spring is here: science, myths, "spring spheres" and more.