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Christmas 2014

December 24, 2014 - January 2, 2015

Tikalon is on a year-end holiday. The next article will appear Monday, January 5, 2015. Here are a few holiday snippets to sate your science appetite until the new year.

Christmas cookies and Christmas wafers (opłatki)
Left image, Photograph of Christmas cookies in Czech republic by Rémi Diligent, and right image, photograph of Polish Christmas wafers (opłatki) by Julo, via Wikimedia Commons.

Most people know the Twelve Days of Christmas song and its numeric progression of gifts. One holiday pastime in financial circles is seeing how the cost of these gifts changes from year to year. According to Wikipedia, the total cost for Christmas 2014 is $116,273.06.[1]

As I wrote in the article, Fossil Fig Wasp (December 20, 2013), the Christmas treat, figgy pudding, dates back to 16th century England. Unlike plum pudding, which doesn't contain plums, figgy pudding contains figs, and other delectable ingredients, such as three times as many dates, and some dark chocolate.[2]

Frankincense is an aromatic resin extracted from boswellia trees. The major chemical components are an acid resin (C20H32O4) and a form of gum arabic. One of the principal chemicals that gives frankincense its distinctive odor is beta-boswellic acid, the structure of which is shown in the figure. Frankincense appears to have both medicinal and psychoactive properties.[3]Beta-boswellic_acid

For more information on the three gifts of the Magi, see the article, Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh (December 23, 2011 - January 1, 2012).

As I wrote in the article, Newton's Chronology (March 6, 2013), this season brings a plethora of articles about what the real date of Christmas should be. The only written records are references to the reign of certain potentates. Some astronomers think it might be near the time of a conjunction of the planets, Jupiter and Saturn, in 7 BC.[4]

Santa Claus has become a popular part of Christmas, as have his reindeer. As I wrote in the article, Reindeer Ultraviolet Vision (June 2, 2011), scientists have found that the cornea and lens of the eyes of arctic reindeer are transmissive at ultraviolet wavelengths, reindeer respond to UV stimulation, and both the rods and cones of reindeer eyes respond to low-intensity ultraviolet light. Since snow-covered landscapes are nearly featureless, at least in the visible spectrum, it makes sense that being able to see things outside the normal vision range would have an evolutionary advantage for animals that live in snow.[5-6]

Reginald Fessenden (1866 - 1932)As I wrote in the article, A Hundred Years of Broadcast Radio (January 2, 2007), the era of broadcast radio began on December 24, 1906, when Reginald Fessenden (1866 - 1932), a Canadian physicist living in the US, broadcast his voice and Christmas music to ships at sea. The first word heard on radio was Fessenden's "Hello."[7]

(Photograph of Fessenden via Wikimedia Commons.)

There's been so much talk about a supposed "War on Christmas," that many people think that there's evil intent in using "Xmas" to refer to Christmas. However, the "X" in Xmas is actually a transliteration of the Greek letter, Chi (Χ), the first letter of Χριστος, the Greek word for Christ. Xmas, as a shorthand for Christmas, has been used for five hundred years.[8]

References:

  1. Twelve Days of Christmas song on Wikipedia.
  2. Figgy pudding on Wikipedia.
  3. Frankincense on Wikipedia.
  4. Star of Bethlehem on Wikipedia.
  5. Santa Claus on Wikipedia.
  6. Reindeer on Wikipedia.
  7. Reginald Fessenden (1866 - 1932) on Wikipedia.
  8. Xmas on Wikipedia.

Permanent Link to this article

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