Need a break from toy shopping, tinsel hanging and chestnut roasting? Pour yourself some eggnog and take five with some fun facts about the holiday season. From the weight of the New Year’s Eve ball to the number of lights on the Rockefeller Center tree, these bits of winter wisdom will give you a needed reprieve from the holiday hoopla—and they’re also great conversation starters for the company Christmas party.
In 1847, a process was developed to allow confectioners to mold chocolate into shapes, paving the way for candy bars and chocolate Santas. In the 1920s, the first chocolate gelt was made, allowing Jewish families to use candy in lieu of actual coins for the custom of giving money to their children during Hanukkah. Today, the winter holidays rank third, behind Halloween and Easter, in terms of U.S. candy sales, and National Confectioners Association reports that approximately 150 million chocolate Santas will be made for the season.
While the candy cane is a seasonal staple in the U.S. today—1.8 billion canes in traditional peppermint, super sour, and tropical fruit flavors were made for the holidays this year—it has a storied past. The first canes were created in 1670 by a German choirmaster, who gave out all-white sugar sticks—bent like the shape of a shepherd’s staff—to keep children in his congregation occupied between hymns. In the U.S., the treat began as a straight, white stick of sugar until the turn of the century. The jury’s out on who exactly brought the stripes and shape to America.
American consumers took advantage of Black Friday sales, spending a record-high $52 billion this year, with the average shopper shelling out around $400 over the course of the weekend. The National Retail Association predicts that the total holiday spending this year will reach approximately $465.6 billion and, to accommodate all the extra shoppers between Thanksgiving and Christmas, retailers expect to hire roughly 490,000 seasonal employees.
Between January and September 2011, $79.7 million worth of artificial Christmas trees were imported from China to the United States. However, real trees still outsell artificial trees 3-to-1. To accommodate the demand, Christmas tree farms in North America planted an estimated 40 million new seedlings in the winter and spring of this year to replace harvested trees and meet future needs.
In 1931, construction workers raised a 20-foot tree on the muddy site that would become Rockefeller Center. They had no idea that, 70 years later, tens of thousands of people would crowd the sidewalks for the ceremonial lighting of this year’s 74-foot Norway Spruce, which features 30,000 bulbs attached to 5 miles of wiring. The glitzy star atop this year’s tree weighs a whopping 500 pounds and is adorned with 25,000 Swarovski crystals.
Run by U.S. Marine Corps Reserve, Toys for Tots began in 1947, when 5,000 toys were collected outside Warner Bros. Studios in Los Angeles and given to local children. Since the nonprofit’s launch, more than 500 million holiday gifts have been donated and distributed to underprivileged kids throughout the country. Last year’s campaign collected a record 16.7 million toys for almost 7.2 million children. Let’s try to beat it this year!
Following the 1966 Watts Riots in L.A., Maulana Karenga, Ph.D., professor and chairman of Africana Studies at California State University, Long Beach, created Kwanzaa as a way to unify the African-American community. Swahili for “fresh fruits,” Kwanzaa was inspired by traditional African harvest celebrations and honors not only family and cultural heritage, but also values like unity, self-determination, creativity and faith.
The largest gingerbread house in the U.S. was fittingly constructed inside the largest mall in the U.S. when a 67-foot-tall gingerbread abode was built inside Minnesota’s Mall of America in 2006. The house, which took nine days to construct, could have fit the country’s largest gingerbread man, also made in 2006, who stood over 20 feet high and weighed over 1,308 pounds. In 2009, a potentially record-breaking gingerbread man was created in Madison, Wis., but Guinness World Records has yet to officially recognize the achievement.
The U.S. produces an estimated 1 million tons of additional waste per week between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day. This includes 38,000 miles of decorative ribbon, enough to tie a bow around the entire globe. If each family in the U.S. sent just one less holiday card, then the nation would save 150,000 cubic feet of paper, enough to fill 25,000 wheelbarrows.
Starting with Jimmy Carter in 1979, each U.S. president has attended a menorah-lighting ceremony to recognize Hanukkah. President Bill Clinton began the tradition of placing a menorah in the Oval Office in ’93, and President George W. Bush threw the first White House Hanukkah party in ’01. While the past three commander in chiefs have acknowledged Kwanzaa, the White House does not have an established set of customs surrounding the holiday.
According to American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers, between 2000 and 2010, the most-performed holiday song was “Winter Wonderland,” which was written in 1934. While recordings by The Andrews Sisters and Perry Cuomo popularized the song in the ’40s, versions by Eurythmics, Jewel and Air Supply are frequently heard on radio today.
When fireworks were banned in 1907—just three years after the first New Year’s Eve celebration in Times Square—officials lowered a ball from a flagpole to signal the end of one year and the start of another. The new tradition wasn’t out of the blue, though: For decades, residents of various U.S. cities synchronized their watches using a giant globe that would descend from a pole in a public space. In 1907, the New Year’s orb was composed of iron and wood and weighed 700 pounds. Today’s ball contains 32,256 LED lights and 2,668 crystals, tipping the scale at 11,875 pounds.
Movies releasing during the holidays typically rake in big dough. In 2009, Sherlock Holmes grossed about $24.6 million dollars on Christmas Day, setting an all-time single-day record for Dec. 25. Avatar ranks first in New Year’s Day sales, having made nearly $25.3 million on Jan. 1, 2010. Also ranking high on the charts for both days is 2004′s Meet the Fockers, grossing $19.5 million on Christmas and $18.3 million on New Year’s Day.
By Julie Fishman
Reposted: MSN- Glo