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Holiday obsessions

Published
  • ‘Tis the season

    We’re bringing you the best of Quartz’s seasonal Obsession newsletters from years past. So, after you finish writing your holiday letter, throw a yule log on the fire and curl up with a mug of hot chocolate and a Danish butter cookie. Enjoy classic holiday tunes like “All I Want for Christmas Is You” and “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” put on a Hallmark holiday movie and Love Actually, or, if you can, simply admire the falling snowflakes

    Let’s get festive (or Krampus will come for you).

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  • By the digits

    1843: The first commercial Christmas card goes on sale in London

    5%: Share of 1,200 holiday letters analyzed by North Dakota State University researchers deemed “authentic”

    83%: Share of the sample deemed unauthentic

    47%: Respondents to an Emily Post Institute survey who can’t stand annual Christmas letters

    2.5 billion: Pieces of first class mail delivered by the United States Postal Service during the 2019 holiday season

    >23,000: Letters to Santa containing holiday wishlists collected—and anonymously fulfilled—through USPS’s Operation Santa program this year

    6: Countries represented among the more than 2,000 holiday letters in Dr. Ann Burnett’s personal collection

    142: Number of pages in the longest Christmas newsletter ever

    10: Number of pieces of personal mail the average American household receives each year, as of 2018

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  • Origin story

    Image copyright: Reuters/Ivan Milutinovic

    As with many traditions we now associate with Christmas, the yule log is a great reminder that the season is a celebration of the time when the night is longest, just before the scales tip back in favor of daylight.

    For the most part, yule log rituals involve selecting, celebrating, burning, and then saving a piece of wood—sometimes an entire trunk, sometimes a log, sometimes just a small branch. It all ties back to celebrating health and wealth—among Celtic Brits and Gaelic Europeans, with whom the practice originated, people really put a lot of hope into one little log. European winters were harsh: Famine made keeping cattle too expensive, so many were slaughtered at the advent of winter.

    In the 4th century, the Christian Church rolled the log into its campaign to create a holiday that celebrated Jesus, whose actual birthdate is still a topic for lively debate.

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  • Brief history of hot chocolate

    1502: Christopher Columbus encounters cocoa beans for the first time—but is much more interested in gold and silver.

    1657: London’s first “Chocolate House” is opened by a Frenchman, who promises the drink at “reasonable rates.”

    1828: A Dutch chemist adds alkaline salts to chocolate liquor, creating Dutch process cocoa powder.

    1961: Swiss Miss becomes the first instant cocoa brand to hit US shelves.

    1975: British soul band Hot Chocolate releases their chart-topping single “You Sexy Thing.”

    2009: Emmy-winning choreographer Debbie Allen stages the first performance of the Hot Chocolate Nutcracker, updating the festive Tchaikovsky original.

    2019: New York’s City Bakery, home of “America’s most iconic hot chocolate,” closes its doors.

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  • Fun fact!

    Although Royal Dansk is the brand with the regal title, Kjeldsens is the Danish butter cookie the real Danish royal family prefers. Since 2009, Kjeldsens has been entitled to use the phrase “By Appointment to the Danish Court” on all of their packaging and marketing.

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  • Explain it like I’m 5!

    Image copyright: REUTERS/Navesh Chitrakar
    A woman tries to catch snowflakes with her tongue.

    Snowflakes are complex and unique. But they generally have six sides, and the reason why is relatively simple. A water molecule has a “Mickey Mouse” or V-shape of two hydrogen atoms and an oxygen atom. The most efficient resulting shape is usually a hexagon, although the closer you look, the more complex the physics gets.

    One of the earliest insights into snowflakes comes from English mathematician Thomas Harriot, who was enlisted to help Sir Walter Raleigh efficiently pack cannonballs on his ships. He exchanged ideas with Johannes Kepler, who translated the thought experiment to snowflakes and conjectured that cubic or hexagonal close packing was the answer. It doesn’t exactly explain snow crystals, but it was a remarkable intuition prior to atomic theory, and proving the Kepler conjecture turned out to be one of the great feats in mathematics.

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  • Countertake

    In a backlash to recent backlash surrounding the 75-year-old holiday standard “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” some critics have argued the song, despite superficial appearances, is an anthem to women’s empowerment.

    In 2015, New Yorker food correspondent Helen Rosner stripped out the part of the apparent aggressor and concluded that the song is clearly about a “sexually aware woman worried about slut shaming.”

    “The first two verses are both: (1) I have to go. (2) I’m having a great time, but (3) I’m scared of my family’s opinions,” Rosner wrote on Twitter.

    “It’s all about how women in that era were not allowed to be unchaperoned with a man. The song is about two people who are mutually attracted and want to find an excuse to stay together,” said Karen North, a USC communications professor in an interview with NBC.

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  • Listed

    ❄️ Every movie must have snow. “They can’t be waiting for the snow, there has to be snow. You cannot threaten them with no snow,” a writer told Entertainment Weekly. Snow is non-negotiable for Hallmark.

    🏔 Quaint, wintery small town locations are key to the Hallmark formula, and many are in Canada, which provides major tax breaks. Location scouting for new spots has become a challenge, a production manager told the Wall Street Journal.

    ⛸ Most scenes have to be set in a space dripping with holiday decorations, while the characters are doing something Christmas-related like attending a holiday fair, baking, ice skating, or decorating a Christmas tree, according to two Hallmark movie writers.

    💋 There is always an “almost-kiss” and some form of (most likely awkward) interruption to stop the full kiss from happening.

    💝 Every single Hallmark movie has a happy ending.

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  • Watch this!

    On Dec. 5 in Alpine towns, young men get drunk, don horrifying costumes, and chase pedestrians through the streets in Krampuslaufs (“Krampus runs”). In this clip from Mayrhofen, Austria, a dozen Krampuses maraud on a snowy evening, breathing fire, dancing to cacophonous drums, and occasionally getting into physical altercations with the crowd.

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  • Fun fact!

    Although Royal Dansk is the brand with the regal title, Kjeldsens is the Danish butter cookie the real Danish royal family prefers. Since 2009, Kjeldsens has been entitled to use the phrase “By Appointment to the Danish Court” on all of their packaging and marketing.

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  • Membership

    Image copyright: Giphy

    Got a membership? If not, try it free for a week!

    Your first order of membership business should be to check out our latest field guide about what movie theaters will have to do to avoid extinction. Will you get to watch next year’s holiday offerings on the big screen?

    On Dec. 5 in Alpine towns, young men get drunk, don horrifying costumes, and chase pedestrians through the streets in Krampuslaufs (“Krampus runs”). In this clip from Mayrhofen, Austria, a dozen Krampuses maraud on a snowy evening, breathing fire, dancing to cacophonous drums, and occasionally getting into physical altercations with the crowd.

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