Is your Santa a Chinese physicist?

holidaysWhether you’re decorating a tree, lighting a kinara, spinning a dreidel, or just doing festivus like the rest of us, your end of the year festivities are full of science!

The holidays were first scheduled around the December solstice (“winter” solstice for those of us in the northern hemisphere, “summer” solstice for those south of the equator).  The solstice marks the time of year that the sun reaches its lowest or highest point relative to the Earth’s poles.  This year, the solstice will fall on December 21, at precisely 11:49 pm EST, when the sun will appear to stand still and then reverse direction at the Tropic of Capricorn.

33 million evergreen trees just about 7 years old (a perfect 6-8 feet tall) are cut and decorated for Christmas in the U.S. each year.

Reindeer are a type of caribou.  And despite Facebook posts to the contrary, Santa’s reindeer may or may not all be female.  They most certainly are not older males because they shed their antlers around Christmas, making it very unlikely that Santa’s reindeer would always have antlers.  However, since younger males and all female reindeer shed their antlers after the new year, we can’t tell their sex by antlers alone.

Mistletoe is actually a tree parasite.  Tell that to the creepy guy at the office holiday party who tries to trick you into standing under it.

Spinning objects like a dreidel rotate on an axis and conserve angular momentum, which causes them to keep spinning.  If no other force is applied to the spinning object, it can spin forever.  If, however, a force such as gravity is present, the spinning object will often tilt and rock until it’s angular momentum is lost.  At that point, the dreidel falls to one side and you hope for the gimmel.

A snowflake may be a singular or group of snow crystals, formed when frozen water molecules form a hexagonal array.  For more on the science and art of snow crystals, go visit a fantastic website

On the December 8th episode of the ABC sitcom Fresh off the Boat, Huang family mom Jessica enthusiastically declares to her husband, “Louis, I did it.  I improved Santa!”  At that moment, their youngest son Evan enters the room proclaiming, “Dad, did you know Santa was an aeronautical engineer and an accomplished scientist?”  After being told that Santa wasn’t even white, Evan remarks, “It totally makes sense, smart enough to understand the science of flight yet small enough to fit down a chimney?  That dude’s Chinese.”  From Santa to Saint Nick, Sinterklaas to Krampus, the legendary figures of our holidays have merged, split, and morphed over centuries into what they are today because of tales told generation after generation.  No matter what Santa’s helpers look like at the mall, consider that the legendary figure of your holiday may take on any form–race, sex, or size.

However you celebrate your holidays, may you do it with peace, love, and science.

Image credit: premium prep
Image credit: premium prep

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