Some years ago we explored the sticky question of a municipal, state, or federal entity celebrating the Christmas holiday with the public display of an overtly denominational religious symbol, such as a manger scene. The consensus at the time (in 2011) was that the best recourse is to abide by the Plastic Reindeer Rule. This decision by the Supreme court in 1984 refers to a Pawtucket, Rhode Island, case (Lynch v. Donnelly) wherein the court ruled that the city did not violate the separation of church and state principle when it included a Nativity scene among a number of other seasonal and mostly secular holiday decorations (e.g., life-size Christmas reindeer, giant candy canes, a wishing well, a Jewish menorah, etc.) displayed in a public park.
No doubt this Solomonic decision by the Supreme Court left both religious and non-religious advocates equally unhappy. Yet that is the essential wisdom of Solomonic judgments: Everybody wins if nobody wins!
Nutcrackers and Christmas go together like hot cider and frosty snowfall. How festive to see one standing atop a mantle in his red and green soldier’s uniform or at attention beneath the Christmas tree. You may even spy some giant nutcrackers on a porch or in a yard, ready to usher in the Yuletide season.
Nutcrackers are beloved members of the Christmas decorating family, though it wasn’t until the creation of Tchaikovsky’s famed Christmas ballet, The Nutcracker, in 1892 that they became a holiday staple.
Originating in medieval times, the first nutcrackers were functional tools for—you guessed it!—cracking nuts. Some were plain, while others were crafted out of wood by skilled whittlers who made them look like animals, elf heads, or other figures from nature and folklore.
In the 17th century, a German craftsman created nutcracker dolls for children. Since these small novelty dolls were seen as symbols of protection and power, could giant nutcrackers offer even more protection (as the hero of the ballet did)? Realistically speaking, maybe not. But they most definitely could offer extra special holiday cheer!
For those who celebrate Christmas, decorating for the holiday is an exciting, meaningful activity. Whether the celebration is secular or sacred, adorning the home, church, or business for the season brings people together in joyful, creative ways. One popular activity is shopping for giant outdoor nativity sets, which illustrate the beautiful “reason for the season.”
The outdoor nativity scene is a cherished Christmas tradition. Inspired by a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, St. Francis of Assisi was the very first to enact the original Nativity, with a live recreation of the birth of Christ for the people of Greccio, Italy, in 1223. Since then, living Nativity scenes continue to be presented by churches and religious organizations worldwide. Actors pose as the Holy Family, Shepherds, and Magi. Some scenes even include a variety of animals that, according to the New Testament, attended Jesus’ birth.
Yet, putting together a live performance isn’t something many are willing to tackle. For that reason, many celebrants who want to share Christmas with neighbors and passers-by prefer to put up life-sized outdoor nativity sets for all to see. And happily, there isn’t one “right” set from which to choose; you have many options!
How the Heck Does Santa Deliver All Those Toys Around the World in One Night?
People don’t often consider the math behind Santa Claus’s worldwide Christmas Eve deliveries. Is there some scientific principle that easily explains St. Nick’s round-the-world trip in the legendary, seemingly old-fashioned Santa sleigh? It would be interesting to explore these package distributions mathematically. Let’s start by interviewing old Kris Kringle himself….
As December comes ’round again, mailboxes and email inboxes are filled with holiday greetings. These cards may feature images of rabbits hiding beneath snow-covered boughs, puppies snoozing beside a bright hearth, or kittens playing with tinsel on the lower branches of Christmas trees. Christmas and animals go together as perfectly as Christmas and eggnog and big red bows.
Yet here’s a thought experiment: What animal do you first think of when you think of Christmas? Since Santa Claus has practically cornered the market on seasonal holiday decor, the answer for most people would likely be reindeer—Santa’s faithful “steeds.” And what better way to represent these cheerful creatures than with your own life-sized, giant reindeer?
It’s the Christmas season! Look around—everywhere you’ll see snowmen and reindeer, Santa and sparkling trees, flickering candles and charmingly stoic toy soldiers decked out in red, green, and gold—not to mention a flurry of festive décor, from miniature scented elf candles to life-size nutcrackers indoors and out!
Though it may seem somewhat peculiar at first glance—if not downright counterintuitive—the association of outdoor toy soldiers with Christmas is now well established in western cultures. Proof of that fact can be found in the sudden appearance of giant toy soldier decorations on front lawns and in shopping malls nationwide when the Christmas season rolls around.
For the countless adoring fans of legendary actress and singer Angela Lansbury, her recent passing no doubt evoked visions of her most memorable roles. For many, that would no doubt be the fictional writer and sleuth Jessica Fletcher in the American whodunit series Murder, She Wrote, which ran for twelve seasons. For others, the part they remember most fondly might be the one that earned Ms. Lansbury a Tony award for the cheerfully demented Mrs. Lovett in Stephen Sondheim’s 1979 operatic musical, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.
And just to give you an insight into Ms. Lansbury’s dramatic range, consider that she also played Mrs. Lovett’s polar (get it, “polar”?) opposite, the equally cheerful role of Saint Nick’s spouse in the 1996 Hallmark Home Entertainment TV movie, Mrs. Santa Claus.
In view of the current worldwide pilot shortage, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects more than 18,000 job openings each year over the decade for pilots. Well, aren’t we fortunate that Santa is a seasoned pilot with his own non-polluting aircraft who need not endure arduous hours of initial training or mandatory recurrent training! Santa has no shortage of elf ramp agents either. And capricious fuel costs will never impact the viability of his carrot-fueled reindeer who propel the Santa sleigh at an astonishing 650 miles per second.
Beat that, Maverick, you Mach-mocking daredevil!
So how exactly does the Santa sleigh achieve this miraculous feat every Christmas? Let us investigate the aerodynamics (read “magic”) of the glowing Santa sleigh.
We can understand how Saint Nicholas/Santa Claus came to represent the generous spirit of Christmas. He is a saint, after all. But the little town of Bethlehem isn’t particularly well known for its population of outdoor reindeer (Rangifer tarandus) grazing about. So why did Santa choose that particular hoofed beast to steer his sleigh on Christmas Day?
Could it be because this graceful animal, used as a beast of burden in the regions near the Arctic Circle, is the only deer species that can be domesticated? Or perhaps because Santa doesn’t want to share his Christmas cookies? After all, outdoor reindeer like to eat moss, herbs, ferns, grasses, shoots, and leaves. Their favorite food is lichen—a moss-like fungi. Better not bake lichen cookies for Christmas, or you’ll have reindeer thundering down your chimney instead!