16 Innovative Origins of Holiday Traditions

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1. Hi, I'm John Green, welcome to my salon, this is Mental Floss on YouTube, and did you know that artificial snow dates back to 1950? That's when three engineers from Milford, Connecticut attached a garden hose to a compressor and used a spray nozzle to cover a hill in 20 inches of snow. Before that, ski slope owners used ice. In 1949, for instance, the owner of Mohawk Mountain in Connecticut spent $3500 on 500 tons of ice, which he broke up with a pick, then spread the chips over a slope.

And that's just one of many origins of holiday traditions that I'm gonna share with you in this video today brought to you by Intel.

2. The Christmas tree in Manhattan's Rockefeller Center is 65 feet tall, 555 pounds, contains 30,000 LED lights, and costs the city of New York over $1.5 million. To find the perfect tree every year, the city sends out helicopter crews on surveying flights all over New England.

3. In 1851, Mark Carr because the first logger ever to set up a Christmas tree stand on a New York City sidewalk. He paid $1 to rent the space for that season. He was so successful that the next year, his rent was up to $100.

4. Christmas trees in 18th century Germany were often lit with candles fixed to the branches with wax, making them fire hazards. In 1882, Edward Johnson, vice president of the Edison Electric Light Company made the first electric Christmas lights for his family tree. The 80 walnut-sized electrical individual bulbs were red, white, and blue. Oh, so they looked kinda like our Nutcracker, red, white, and blue ... and Picard.

5. Holiday lights went commercial in 1901, but you had to plug each light in—meaning you probably couldn't have more than a couple on your tree. Ever-Ready solved that problem two years later, selling strings of lights with up to eight little bulbs in a row.

6. While mistletoe has been linked to fertility in lots of ancient cultures, the practice of kissing under it really took off in Victorian England, where some jerks circulated the myth that girls who refused to kiss under the mistletoe wouldn't receive any marriage proposals in the following year.

7. Speaking of mistletoe, it isn't native to the United States, but unwilling to let the tradition die, American entrepreneurs sourced the plants from France and began shipping the clippings over by steamship in the 19th century.

8. The most popular place to eat on December 25 in Japan is KFC. It's so common that you have to make reservations months in advance, despite the fact that only 1 percent of the population even celebrates Christmas. The tradition goes back to 1974, when the fast-food chain launched a commercial offering foreign visitors their next best thing to a traditional turkey, but instead, it unexpectedly caught on with locals.

9. Festivus from Seinfeld actually existed long before the TV show. The holiday, which features traditions like using a stark aluminum pole instead of a Christmas tree, and the Feats of Strength, where someone had to wrestle the head of the household, is credited to staff writer Dan O'Keefe. But O'Keefe's father actually invented it when he began researching obscure European holidays and bundled them together as an excuse to gripe about his magazine job he worked for, Reader's Digest. According to Dan, the family was forced to attend the celebration for years and it was much stranger than anything he could write about for the sitcom.

10. The first Christmas cards were designed by the Englishman John Callcott Horsley in 1843. He printed up a thousand cards with three little drawings side by side, none of which were, like, Santa or reindeer—instead, his cards featured a family sitting together at a table in the middle with two images of them helping the poor on either side.

That's lovely, but I don't understand what it has to do with holidays. Where was the Xbox?

11. Dr. Seuss's How The Grinch Stole Christmas is loosely based on Seuss himself. The day after Christmas in 1956, Seuss (a.k.a. Theodore Geisel) realized he never enjoyed the holidays. So he wrote the book in an attempt to remind himself about the true spirit of the season. According to his stepdaughter, there's a little Seuss in all of his characters. As she put it: "I always thought that the cat was Ted on his good days, and the Grinch was Ted on his bad days."

12. Christmas pickles are not supposed to be a thing. The idea comes from a German tradition where families hide a dill in their Tannenbaum's branches—the lucky child who finds it the next morning gets an extra gift from Saint Nick. But the story is actually completely untrue! Before F.W. Woolworth, Americans used to trim trees with candy and fruit and paper, but on a trip to a little town in Germany, Woolworth noticed an opportunity— people had started to make and use glass ornaments. Once he started importing the glass trinkets, Woolworth's team concocted the idea of Christmas pickles, along with the fake tradition story to boost sales of their new line at department stores.

Huh, can I start a Christmas tradition of playing Nintendo games all day?

13. Advent calendars first took off in America when a picture of President Eisenhower opening one up with his grandkids showed up in newspapers across the nation. But unlike the Christmas pickle, this tradition actually is German! The calendars were first produced by the German printer Gerhard Lang was inspired to recreate the handcrafted calendars his mother had made for him in the early 1900s. Before Lang, most Germans used to mark the advent by lighting candles or hanging pictures on advent clocks.

14. Now obviously, American customers want the postal service to make holiday stamps, right, because that's the only time we ever send mail anymore. But the service always struggled to figure out how to make a stamp that pleased everyone without offending anyone. In 1962, Jim Crawford came up with a simple design that worked, featuring two candles and a wreath. It was very popular. The postal office sold out its first run of 50 million stamps in no time. By the end of 1962, it had distributed over 1 billion of the stamps.

15. In 2007, the sport Major League Dreidel was formed in New York City. The tournaments occurred during Hanukkah, and the winner is the Dreideler with the longest time of spin.

16. And finally, I return to my salon to tell you that in 1951, artificial trees started outselling natural trees in the United States. But artificial trees aren't new. In fact, the first ones came from Germany in 1913 as a way to lessen deforestation. They were originally made out of goose feathers dyed green and fixed to a wooden pole. But goose feathers are messy and shed all over people's houses, so the toilet brush company Addis Brush Company stepped in, and using the exact same technology as brings toilet brushes into the world, made artificial Christmas trees.

Keep Your Cat Busy With a Board Game That Doubles as a Scratch Pad

Cheerble
Cheerble

No matter how much you love playing with your cat, waving a feather toy in front of its face can get monotonous after a while (for the both of you). To shake up playtime, the Cheerble three-in-one board game looks to provide your feline housemate with hours of hands-free entertainment.

Cheerble's board game, which is currently raising money on Kickstarter, is designed to keep even the most restless cats stimulated. The first component of the game is the electronic Cheerble ball, which rolls on its own when your cat touches it with their paw or nose—no remote control required. And on days when your cat is especially energetic, you can adjust the ball's settings to roll and bounce in a way that matches their stamina.

Cheerable cat toy on Kickstarter.
Cheerble

The Cheerble balls are meant to pair with the Cheerble game board, which consists of a box that has plenty of room for balls to roll around. The board is also covered on one side with a platform that has holes big enough for your cat to fit their paws through, so they can hunt the balls like a game of Whack-a-Mole. And if your cat ever loses interest in chasing the ball, the board also includes a built-in scratch pad and fluffy wand toy to slap around. A simplified version of the board game includes the scratch pad without the wand or hole maze, so you can tailor your purchase for your cat's interests.

Cheerble cat board game.
Cheerble

Since launching its campaign on Kickstarter on April 23, Cheerble has raised over $128,000, already blowing past its initial goal of $6416. You can back the Kickstarter today to claim a Cheerble product, with $32 getting you a ball and $58 getting you the board game. You can make your pledge here, with shipping estimated for July 2020.

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The Long, Fascinating History of Chocolate

Wikimedia Commons//Public Domain
Wikimedia Commons//Public Domain

Walk into just about any grocery or convenience store today and you're sure to find row upon row of chocolate in every imaginable form. While we have come to associate this sweet treat with companies like Hershey, chocolate has been a delicacy for centuries.

All chocolate comes from the cacao tree, which is native to the Americas, but is now grown around the world. Inside the tree’s fruits, or pods, you’ll find the cacao beans, which—once roasted and fermented—give chocolate its signature rich and complex flavor. While we don't know who first decided to turn cacao beans into chocolate, we certainly owe them an enormous debt of gratitude.

In this episode of Food History, we're digging into the history of chocolate—from its origins to the chocolate-fueled feud between J.S. Fry & Sons and Cadbury and much, much more. You can watch the full episode below.

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