Answers to all those Xmas questions (well, three of them anyway)

December 19, 2011 • 6:06 am

by Matthew Cobb

One of my jobs at the University of Manchester is to edit our Life Sciences podcast. This is a fortnightly 10-minute programme, which is produced and presented by two young colleagues, Ceri Harrop (a post-doctoral researcher into snot) and Greg Counsell (a second year Zoology student who’s working with me for a year). It’s not at all po-faced, and we try to make it fun and informative. The latest episode is a festive special focusing on three Xmas-related questions:

• Why does Santa use reindeer to pull his sleigh?

• What is it with mistletoe and holly at Yuletide?

• And above all, Why do we laugh (ho ho ho).

You can listen to this episode here (it’s an MP3 file), and listen to both this and previous episodes here.

18 thoughts on “Answers to all those Xmas questions (well, three of them anyway)

  1. I must say that’s some shoddy (snotty?) reindeer science; the ‘expert’ missed the most important of all the features: they have magical flying powers!

  2. Why doe Santa give amazing presents to rich kids and cheap or even no presents to poor kids?

    Doesn’t seem very nice.

    (Cue Santa Apologetics…)


    1. Because Santa doesn’t give a fuck about poor people. His image, and the capitalist system that promotes it are only concerned with one thing — money.

      That’s right kids, Santa hates most of you. If only your parents had a lot of money, things might be different.

    1. It may be because mistletoe is toxic. She said “arrow made with mistletoe,” not “arrow shaft.” So yeah, it wasn’t clear, but I took it to mean a poisoned arrow.

  3. When I was growing up and languishing in a Catholic elementary school (somewhere around fourth grade) the teacher-nunbot told us why the holly plant had red berries and why it was part of Christmas. It seemed the baby Jesus pricked his finger on a holly leaf and the drops of his blood became the berries. I asked if the berries were the holly seeds and the teacher said they were. I then asked where the holly Jesus pricked his finger on came from without seeds and for that got exiled to the back porch of the convent for the rest of the day.

    It seems that the fairy tales of the bible weren’t enough – they had to invent all kinds of new bull to bully us with. It was all that made-up crap (which we were expected to believe no less than the printed stuff) more than the ridiculous regular dogma that killed any possibility that I would enter adolescence as a practicing Catholic.

    1. I remember a similar story about dogwood trees, and why they only grew to be a certain height and thickness. Then I cried and cried and cried when I found out the tree it was my decision to either let remain on our property or cut down had been a dogwood.

      I was like five or something.

      I hadn’t thought of that in many years until your berry story. Yes, these mythical stories are all harmless and to give kids something to enjoy – right?

      1. “Native in the countries of the Mediterranean, it is now a protected species in some parts of Europe due to wild predation as Christmas decoration. Holly is found in western Asia and Europe in the undergrowth of oak forest and beech forest in particular, although at times it can form a dense thicket as the dominant species.”My maternal aunt lived in Washington, and on the west coast, Holly is often used as a decorative tree (in some places out there, it’s considered an invasive species and a nuisance). She had two in our backyard, and each December we received a large box of holly cuttings to use in decorating our home. The leaves are very sharp and pointy, and quite capable of inflicting deep stratches and drawing blood.

  4. From high school days:

    Q: Why do Mr. & Mrs. Claus have no children?

    A: Because Santa only comes once a year, and then down the chimney!

    1. I don’t know about that – where else would all those elves come from? (Don’t forget, he is described as a “jolly old elf”.)

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