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How Far Can You Drive on Empty?

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Getty Images

Gas lines are currently stretched across New Jersey and other states hit by Hurricane Sandy. If you're struggling to find a place to fill up, you might be asking yourself this very question, which we originally posted last year.

It’s a question that plagues every driver: Just how far can you drive with your car’s “fuel empty” light illuminated? The detailed answer depends on all sorts of variables like the age and model of your car, how much weight you’re carrying, and what kind of driving you’re doing.

The more fun answer is “Find out the hard way!” Justin Davis runs a site called that lets drivers record just how far they’ve driven certain types of cars after their empty lights came on. You can poke around and see how your car has fared. The results are a little less than scientific, though. Even for a car with a large number of data points, the estimates aren’t super-precise. The Honda Civic, for example, has 248 entries and an average range of 44.38 miles after the light comes on, but the standard deviation of the data is almost 24 miles.

Of course, the major question in play asks when the car’s fuel light comes on in the first place. Sure, driving conditions and number of passengers will affect your car’s range after the light comes on, but if you can pinpoint how much gas is left in the tank when the warning appears, you can at least ballpark what sort of range you’ve got left.

Click and Clack of Car Talk fame have estimated that most cars’ “empty” lights come on once the gas level dips below an eighth of a tank or so, but they have also advocated driving until the light comes on, then immediately stopping to fill all the way up, and then comparing how much fuel your car took with the tank’s capacity published in your owner’s manual. Once you repeat this process a few times, you should have a pretty good estimate of how much gas is left.

If you’re a bit more daring, you can always try the tactic consumer reporter John Stossel employed for a 2008 piece for ABC’s 20/20. Stossel got behind the wheel of his minivan and drove until he ran out of gas. He ended up making it 65 miles after his gas dial claimed the car was empty, including 40 miles after his van’s computerized estimate of its remaining fuel range hit zero.

What about you? Have you ever pushed the limits of your car’s tank, like Cosmo Kramer did on that Seinfeld episode?

Big Questions
Why Is Holly a Symbol of Christmas?

Santa Claus. A big ol’ red-and-white stocking hung by the fire. Nativity scenes. Most classic Christmas imagery is pretty self-explanatory. Then there’s the holly, genus Ilex, which found its way onto holiday cards through a more circuitous route. 

Christmas is kind of the new kid on the block as far as holly symbolism is concerned. The hardy plant’s ability to stay vibrant through the winter made it a natural choice for pre-Christian winter festivals. The Roman feast of Saturnalia, celebrated at the darkest time of the year, celebrated the god of agriculture, creation, and time, and the transition into sunshine and spring. Roman citizens festooned their houses with garlands of evergreens and tied cheery holly clippings to the gifts they exchanged.

The Celtic peoples of ancient Gaul saw great magic in the holly’s bright "berries" (technically drupes) and shiny leaves. They wore holly wreaths and sprigs to many sacred rites and festivals and viewed it as a form of protection from evil spirits. 

Christianity’s spread through what is now Europe was slow and complicated. It was hardly a one-shot, all-or-nothing takeover; few people are eager to give up their way of life. Instead, missionaries in many areas had more luck blending their messages with existing local traditions and beliefs. Holly and decorated trees were used symbolically by new Christians, just as they’d been used in their pagan days.

Today, some people associate the holly bush not with the story of Jesus’s birth but with his death, comparing the plant’s prickly leaves to a crown of thorns and the berries to drops of blood. 

But most people just enjoy it because it’s cheerful, picturesque, and riotously alive at a time when the rest of the world seems to be still and asleep.

NOTE: Holly is as poisonous as it is pretty. Please keep it away from your kids and pets.

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What Are the 12 Days of Christmas?

Everyone knows to expect a partridge in a pear tree from your true love on the first day of Christmas ... But when is the first day of Christmas?

You'd think that the 12 days of Christmas would lead up to the big day—that's how countdowns work, as any year-end list would illustrate—but in Western Christianity, "Christmas" actually begins on December 25th and ends on January 5th. According to liturgy, the 12 days signify the time in between the birth of Christ and the night before Epiphany, which is the day the Magi visited bearing gifts. This is also called "Twelfth Night." (Epiphany is marked in most Western Christian traditions as happening on January 6th, and in some countries, the 12 days begin on December 26th.)

As for the ubiquitous song, it is said to be French in origin and was first printed in England in 1780. Rumors spread that it was a coded guide for Catholics who had to study their faith in secret in 16th-century England when Catholicism was against the law. According to the Christian Resource Institute, the legend is that "The 'true love' mentioned in the song is not an earthly suitor, but refers to God Himself. The 'me' who receives the presents refers to every baptized person who is part of the Christian Faith. Each of the 'days' represents some aspect of the Christian Faith that was important for children to learn."

In debunking that story, Snopes excerpted a 1998 email that lists what each object in the song supposedly symbolizes:

2 Turtle Doves = the Old and New Testaments
3 French Hens = Faith, Hope and Charity, the Theological Virtues
4 Calling Birds = the Four Gospels and/or the Four Evangelists
5 Golden Rings = the first Five Books of the Old Testament, the "Pentateuch", which gives the history of man's fall from grace.
6 Geese A-laying = the six days of creation
7 Swans A-swimming = the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, the seven sacraments
8 Maids A-milking = the eight beatitudes
9 Ladies Dancing = the nine Fruits of the Holy Spirit
10 Lords A-leaping = the ten commandments
11 Pipers Piping = the eleven faithful apostles
12 Drummers Drumming = the twelve points of doctrine in the Apostle's Creed

There is pretty much no historical evidence pointing to the song's secret history, although the arguments for the legend are compelling. In all likelihood, the song's "code" was invented retroactively.

Hidden meaning or not, one thing is definitely certain: You have "The Twelve Days of Christmas" stuck in your head right now.


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