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Published on December 19th, 2017 | By: April Gocha

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Science behind the season—exploring the science of holiday gatherings and Christmas movies

Published on December 19th, 2017 | By: April Gocha

[Image above] Credit: Jim Lukach; Flickr CC BY 2.0

 

 

Christmas is less than a week away. Kwanzaa begins in just one week. And Hanukkah is almost over.

 

Anyone else left wondering where 2017 went?

 

No matter how much I marvel at the expediency with which my year seems to have evaporated, however, there’s no changing the fact that the year is almost over and the year-end holiday season is most definitely here.

 

For many of us, the holidays are marked by a celebration of sorts—gathering with family and friends, sharing a special meal, and often exchanging gifts. Many people have traditions that they turn to, and sometimes look forward to, every year—a special way of demarcating and celebrating the holiday season.

 

But have you ever considered the science behind how we behave around the holidays?

 

According to anthropologist Dimitris Xygalatas, our repetitive rituals and traditions are more than just habit—they create significance and establish lasting memories of special occasions. Rituals provide a sense of identity and membership, allowing us to feel connected to one another, Xygalatas explains in an article on The Conversation.

 

Although individual holiday traditions often vary from family to family, two of the biggest hallmarks of most holiday celebrations is gathering for a special meal and exchanging gifts. But again, Xygalatas says, these aren’t repeating acts that we do just because they’re what we do—they serve critical social functions to society.

 

Gathering for a meal is a tradition shared across cultures, communities, and ages, because food sharing helps foster a sense of community. And, even in a sometimes seemingly materially obsessed world, the act of exchanging gifts is a significant component of maintaining social ties, Xygalatas says.

 

So our holiday traditions are an important social component of fostering those feelings of belonging and togetherness, a key ingredient of the holiday celebration.

 

Another critical ingredient of the holidays is watching that favorite holiday-themed movie that never seems to get old—whether “Elf,” “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer,” “The Grinch That Stole Christmas,” “A Christmas Story,” “A Christmas Carol,” or any of a long list of others.

 

While the stories are made up, these movies can help get us into the holiday spirit. But is there any legitimacy to those plotlines?

 

Experts from Johns Hopkins University have taken a festive and fun analysis of a few of our favorite holiday classics to see if there’s any science to back up the stories.

 

For example, is Rudolph’s sleigh-guiding, glowing red nose a biological plausibility? Watch the short video below to hear biologist Steve Farber explain how bioluminescence could theoretically account for a creature with a glowing red nose.

Credit: Johns Hopkins University; YouTube

 

And how about the Grinch’s suddenly growing heart? Cardiologist David Kass tried to diagnose the Grinch’s condition—hear his expert patient assessment below.

Credit: Johns Hopkins University; YouTube

 

But what about the way that Scrooge time-travels in “A Christmas Carol”? Check out theoretical physicist Ibrahima Bah’s analysis of the feasibility of time travel.

Credit: Johns Hopkins University; YouTube

 

So regardless if you believe in the far-fetched scientific explanation or prefer to buy into a holiday miracle, this year you can bring a little scientific conversation to the table. And no matter what your holiday tradition or form of celebration, raise a glass and toast to science!

 

 

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