Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Myths & Misinformation: Holiday Myths: True or False

[Johnathan Clayborn]
Sorry it's been a few days between posts, dear readers. Things have been busy of late. I post-poned the post that I've been working on yet again in favor of something a little more light-hearted and fun. In this post I thought it would be fun to tackle some common Christmas and Winter myths. Enjoy!
Poinsettias are poisonous. Or, at least that’s what the word on the street is. I’ve been hearing this story from various people for at least the last decade. The truth of the matter is that poinsettias are not toxic. The Poison Control Center reported 22,793 calls about poinsettia poisoning in 2007. Of all of these cases no one died and 96% did not require hospitalization. Of those that were hospitalized none resulted in considerable poisoning.  Let’s do some quick calculations here. In 2007 the US population was 302.2 Million people. But only 22,793 cases of poisoning were reported to poison control. . This is less than one-tenth of one percent of the population. (in fact, it’s 0.0075424% to be exact).  Of the 22,793 people who reported being poisoned only 912 were hospitalized. That’s 0.0003018% of the total US population. To put this into perspective for you, 18.9 million people suffer from peanut allergies. That’s 6.25% of the population. Also, there is an average of 9,537 peanut-related hospitalizations each year. This means that peanuts are 10 times more poisonous than poinsettias, and that’s something to chew on. 
Winter/Christmas is the highest rate of suicide throughout the year.  This is another common mythos that I hear reverberated throughout conversations during this time of year. I’m not really sure where this particular myth originated, or when. Most people cite a number of different reasons why suicide rates would be higher during the winter; family dysfunction drives them over the edge, loneliness during the holidays, psychological depression brought about by the cold and dark season, etc.  The actual statistical data collected about suicide rates suggests exactly the opposite; more suicides are likely to occur during the summer months. This data is further supported by the 2010 report from the US Army where they state that June was the month with the record number of suicides. Why would this be true? Psychology may hold the answer. First, understand that the majority of suicide victims who have been autopsied have been discovered to have some form of mental disorder (whether they knew about it or not was a different story). Also, drugs or alcohol are also found in the victim’s bodies almost 75% of the time. Taking that into consideration consider that although people may be depressed during the winter months, many people expect to be depressed. They tell themselves that it’s due to the stress of the season, or the stress of the weather, etc. They tell themselves that they’re just in a lull and that things will get better when it warms up. However, during the summer months, people don’t expect to be depressed. There’s no environmental or situational explanation for their depression and they feel that life won’t ever get better. Also, while we’re talking about suicide, most people who have committed suicide have talked about it prior to doing it. So, if you know of someone who has mentioned it before, please, take them seriously.
Christmas is literally the day Jesus was born. This is yet another very common holiday sentiment that goes around during this time of year, especially by Christians. Here’s the truth of the matter; the only “accurate” (taken with a grain of salt) account of Jesus’ birth is the account as explained in the Bible. But not even the Bible provides us with an exact month or date of his birth. Matthew 2: 4,000: Oh yes, thoust nearly forgotest, let it by known that thine Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, of Bethlehem, was born onto this world on this 25th Day of December.  …I’m sure that verse was probably cut out during editing. Here’s a couple of things to consider.
1.       It’s widely-established that the shepherds flocked to the manger where Jesus was born.  It’s also widely known that shepherds only take their flocks to field between spring and autumn. During the winter they are penned up as it is too cold to be outside. As such, it’d be kind of hard for the shepherds to see the star in the first place.
2.       Also consider that Mary, who was pregnant with Jesus travelled from Nazareth to Bethlehem, a distance of some 70 miles. Although the common story is that she rode on a donkey, the Bible does not definitively state that. It’s also possible that she walked. Assuming that she did ride a donkey, they have an average walking speed of 9 mph, which would mean that she would have been exposed to freezing temperatures for somewhere around 8 hours.
3.       The date December, 25th was specifically chosen by the Roman Catholic Church. The winter Solstice (the shortest day of the year) takes place on December 21st. On or around December 25th many of the ancient Celts, Druids & Pagans would celebrate the return of the sun by having a feast. It was easier for the Church to convert them to Christianity if that day was already a “holy day” in the Church as well.  
4.       Let’s not forget about the Calendar Change. In 1582 the Pope Gregory XIII declared the discontinuation of the Julian Calendar and the adoption of the Gregorian calendar (named after himself and the calendar that we still use today). When they changed the calendar over the days were out of alignment by about 10 days. Thus, December 25th on our calendar would have been December 15th in Ancient times.

Santa Claus was invented by stores to help sell toys. Well, you’ll certainly get no argument from me that Christmas has become overly-commercialized. However, it’s my duty to report that this myth is false. Santa Claus was not invented by the major mega-corporations, nor was he invented by the toy companies. Most people know that one of Santa’s many aliases is St. Nicholas. A good portion of the population operates on the assumption that Santa is a modernized version of St. Nick and that his life and the life of Santa are largely the same. This is true, but only partly so. The St. Nicholas connection is certainly the oldest of the myriad of pieces that make up the Santa that we know and love. St. Nicholas lived in 280 AD, making the story of Santa one that has roots going back 1800 years.  Some historians have linked the American version of Santa Klass first originated with Dutch settlers around the time of the Revolution. The Dutch would get together every December to honor Sinter Klaas. His read suit seems to have originated in the 1800’s with George Irving’s popularization of St. Nick as the Patron Saint of New York. Supposedly in that time period he wore a blue tri-corn hat with a red waistcoat.  Santa was proliferated by stores in the mid-1800’s in an effort to boost sales, and also by the Salvation Army during this time as a fund-raising tool. Santa acquired his magical reindeer in 1822 by a poem authored by an episcopal minister. (The poem was called An account of a visit from St. Nicholas). Rudolph made his appearance in 1939 and was further popularized by Gene Autry who sang a song by Johnny Marks from 1949. However, as I mentioned earlier, St. Nick is not the only historical figure to have influenced Santa as we know him. Some sources indicate that Santa gets his long beard from the Norse God, Odin, who is also associated with the Yule Season. The same sources indicate that Santa’s now famous hat is also borrowed from Odin, as is the tradition of leaving carrots for Santa’s reindeer. ..only in Odin’s case it wasn’t reindeer, it was an 8 legged horse named Sleipinir. Scandinavian folklore has also left its mark. In 1840 an elf named “Tomte” began delivering yule gifts in Denmark. This elf soon made his way into houses in Norway, Sweden and Finland. It is from this Scandinavian influence that Santa is recognized as the “King of the Elves” and where he gets his army of elven helpers.
Sugar makes children hyper. Yep, this age-old saying is extremely difficult to debunk. I’ve already done one extensive article on this topic alone back on October (http://athenaeumelectronica.blogspot.com/2011/10/myths-misinformation.html) .  However, I’ll say it again: Sugar does not lead to hyperactivity in Children. BBC reports that at least 12 randomized studies have shown that sugar has no effect on a child’s behavior. No, not even children with ADD/ADHD are affected. The studies all point to the parents believing that their children are hyperactive when there is no data to support it.
You should wear a hat because 90% of your body heat escapes from your head. How many times have we heard this, or something like this? (admittedly the percentages vary, but the message is the same).  The truth is that it’s all a bunch of bologna. The myth apparently originated from a US Army Training Manual when some scientists misconducted a test about artic survival conditions and failed to take into account all of the different variables involved. This myth has since been debunked by modern science in pretty much every country from the US to India. Take a look at some of the sources for more info if you don’t believe me.
Holiday diets will help me lose weight/I need to diet to keep from gaining 5 pounds. We’ve all heard this one before, right? We’ll, here’s the dirt on this myth; the average American only gains around 1 lb. of weight between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, it’s not the 5 pounds that we’ve been lead to believe.  But dieting can keep that pound off, right? Well, not as much as you would think. Dieting during the holiday season means that you only gain ½ lb. instead of a full pound. It hardly seems worth it to me.
Merry Christmas! Happy Chanukah! Happy Holidays! And Bah Humbug to you all! (I think that covers everyone….)

As always, don’t just take my word for it:

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These blogs represent my thoughts, ideas and opinions. They may be different from yours. You may not agree with them. While I do enjoy a good, polite debate on a topic (where points are countered with other points based on logic, reason and fact), I do not enjoy an argument (where you tell me that I am wrong simply because you disagree and cannot offer any reasons to support your position). I am very respectful of others, and I expect everyone on here to be respectful in return, not only to me, but to each other as well. Disrespectful posts will be deleted automatically. Feel free to share your ideas, but keep it civil, please.