Why Do Canadians Drink Milk in Bags?

Annashou/iStock/Getty Images Plus
Annashou/iStock/Getty Images Plus

Take a walk through any Ontario-area grocery store and you'll see something a little unusual: shoppers hefting an item into their cart that looks like a plastic package of diapers, weighs roughly nine pounds, and requires some minor effort to enjoy.

It’s a large, tasty bag of milk.

fw_gadget, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

Actually, it’s three medium-sized bladders of milk, packaged together in one large sack. At home, the milk is placed in a pitcher and one corner of the polyethylene plastic is snipped off with scissors for pouring. (Some Canadians snip a second, smaller hole to let air out.) Because it’s not fully sealed, the milk needs to be enjoyed relatively quickly.

For dairy enthusiasts used to the convenience of a resealable container, all of this might seem unnecessary—yet at least 75 percent of all milk sold in Ontario comes in this unique delivery system. The bags of milk can also be found in Quebec and the Maritimes.

Why? Thank the metric system.

By the late 1960s, glass bottles were still being used for milk, but officials knew they were causing a considerable amount of waste and expense: The heavy bottles were a pain to transport and broke easily. A few years later, Canada was busy converting to the metric system, requiring liquids to be sold in liters. Manufacturing plants producing plastic jugs or cartons (which had debuted around 1915) found that their machines would have to be dramatically altered to allow their containers to be re-sized to meet the new requirements. But the process for injecting milk into plastic bags, which were introduced by DuPont in the late 1960s [PDF], needed only minor tweaks. The bags also produced less packaging waste, since they require less plastic to hold the same amount of milk. Suddenly, pouring milk into giant, floppy sacks seemed like the most obvious thing in the world.

Andrea Vall, Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0

By the early 1980s, the metric system was fully adopted in Canada; in 1978, 4-liter packages of milk became the norm in Ontario [PDF]. Buying bagged became habitual for shoppers, who realized that some of the perceived drawbacks were actually beneficial. Sure, the milk could lose its freshness quickly, but because the packaging was broken up into three bags, there was always a new one to open; unused bags could be stored horizontally in refrigerators in spots where a tall jug wouldn’t fit.

While the unusual packaging confuses even Canadians in other parts of the country, it’s slowly been gaining support in other parts of the world. UK-based Sainsbury’s rolled out two-pint bags around 2010, offering a free pitcher as an incentive for people to make the switch and cut down on waste. Some schools, like Golden Hills Elementary near Omaha, Nebraska, let kids sip from tiny, Capri Sun-esque milk pouches. You can also find them in South Africa, Hungary, and China, which also happens to traffic in bagged beer.

Not planning on traveling outside the country? Try hitting up a Kwik Trip or Kwik Star convenience store, where locations in Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Iowa sell bagged milk by the half-gallon. Though they caution first-timers might need to get used to the pouring technique—there’s apparently a learning curve—they promise customers “will grow to appreciate” the lactose customs of other parts of the world.

This story first ran in 2016.

Friday’s Best Amazon Deals Include Digital Projectors, Ugly Christmas Sweaters, and Speakers

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As a recurring feature, our team combs the web and shares some amazing Amazon deals we’ve turned up. Here’s what caught our eye today, December 4. Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers, including Amazon, and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we only get commission on items you buy and don’t return, so we’re only happy if you’re happy. Good luck deal hunting!

Why Do We Celebrate Christmas on December 25?

If Jesus wasn't born on December 25, does this rule still apply?
If Jesus wasn't born on December 25, does this rule still apply?
Jon Tyson, Unsplash

Each December, Christians throw a collective birthday bash to celebrate the anniversary of Jesus’s arrival on Earth. But without a birth certificate—or any other official record of his actual birthdate—in existence, December 25 seems like an arbitrary day for all our Christmas traditions. So how did early observers choose it?

When Was Jesus Really Born?

Since the Bible doesn’t name a month or even a season for Jesus’s birth, historians have relied on other context clues to estimate when it occurred. Shepherds tend sheep in the Nativity story, which people often cite as evidence that Jesus was more likely born during the spring. Others argue that Israel’s mild winter temperatures allow sheep to graze even in December. According to Slate, it’s also possible that sheep set aside for religious sacrifices may have been given free rein, frigid night or not.

The Adoration of the Shepherds by Sebastiano Conca, 1720.J. Paul Getty Museum // Public Domain

One clue pointing specifically to December 25 comes from the story of Mary’s cousin Elizabeth, who approached old age without having given birth to any children. One day, her husband, a priest named Zacharias, was burning incense in the temple when the angel Gabriel appeared to him with good news: Elizabeth would bear a son. Early Christians guessed that Zacharias was probably in the temple for Yom Kippur, which they believed always took place on September 24 (it actually shifts year to year based on the Jewish lunisolar calendar). Nine months after September 24 is June 24, so they chose that as the birthdate—and feast day—of Elizabeth and Zacharias’s son, John the Baptist. When Gabriel later visited Mary to let her know that she’d bear a son, too, he mentioned that Elizabeth was in her sixth month of pregnancy. That means Jesus would’ve been conceived in late March, and born in late December—the night of December 24, to be exact, or the early hours of December 25.

Another theory suggests that Christians arrived at December 25 based on an ancient Jewish idea that prophets die on their birthday. During the 3rd century CE, theologists like Tertullian and Hippolytus dated Jesus’s crucifixion to March 25, since it happened around Passover. But to Sextus Julius Africanus, it was less about when Jesus was born and more about when he first came to Earth; in other words, he believed Jesus’s death and conception coincided on March 25, and thus his birth occurred on December 25 [PDF].

The Early History of Christmas

Even if Zacharias was in the temple on September 24, Gabriel did visit Mary exactly six months later, and Jesus was born right on his due date, it’s still possible that we celebrate Christmas on December 25 for a different reason altogether.

While 3rd-century Christians were busy worshiping the Son of God, some of their pagan counterparts were busy worshiping the Sun God. In the 270s, Roman emperor Aurelian popularized the cult of Sol Invictus, or “The Unconquered Sun,” whose feast day was celebrated on December 25. According to John Carroll University history professor Joseph F. Kelly, other Romans revered a Persian god, Mithra, whose feast day also may have fallen on December 25. There was also Saturnalia, an annual Roman festival that ran from December 17 to December 23. In short, many ancient Romans were well-accustomed to celebrating something in late December by the time Christianity entered the mainstream.

A painting of Saturnalia festivities by Antoine Callet, 1783.Themadchopper, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

That happened during Constantine’s rule over Rome in the early 4th century. In 313, Constantine and his fellow ruler Licinius issued the Edict of Milan, which basically legalized Christianity and condemned the ongoing persecution of anyone who practiced it. Constantine was a devout Christian himself, and he spent the rest of his reign spreading the religion throughout the empire. The first known record of December 25 as Jesus’s official birthday is from 336, the year before Constantine died. Because it’s mentioned in a volume containing other important religious dates, some have assumed that a celebration probably occurred on that day, and 336 is often cited as the first known “Christmas.”

Whether Christians celebrated Christmas on December 25 before 336 may forever be unknown, but we do know that the custom quickly caught on (spending the holiday watching A Christmas Story marathon wouldn't come until much later). By the end of the 4th century, Christian bishops were holding Christmas Mass all over Rome, and pagan festivals soon fell out of fashion. The fact that Christmas essentially replaced those earlier December traditions could be a coincidence, but some believe it was by design: Since Romans were already primed for parties on December 25, the Church could’ve been trying to co-opt a built-in subscriber base.

In summary, the origins of Christmas are just as subject to interpretation as Jesus’s actual birthdate—so feel free to play Christmas music whenever you want.

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