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Why Do Nebraska and Maine Split Electoral Votes?

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In the majority of the United States, one candidate gets all of the state’s electoral votes. That holds true whether the state has 55 electoral votes to give, like California, or a scant 3 votes to offer, like Montana. Two states, however, don’t have to go the all-or-nothing route: Nebraska and Maine. Those states have opted to use the Congressional District Method, where electoral votes are distributed according to the state’s congressional districts instead of the state as a whole.

Although Nebraska and Maine adopted this method in 1992 and 1972, respectively, it didn’t really matter until recently, since each state’s congressional districts have historically voted the same way. The first time either of the states split votes was in 2008, when Nebraska’s 2nd congressional district, Omaha, went for Obama and the rest of the state went for Republican candidate John McCain.

But why use the split method when no one else does? First of all, there’s precedent. Way back in the 1804 (Thomas Jefferson), 1812 (James Madison) and 1820 (James Monroe) elections, Massachusetts used the Congressional District Method. Maine seceded from Massachusetts to become its own state in 1820 but kept their split votes method until 1828.

This served everyone just fine until 1968, when people got their feathers ruffled about the Nixon-Humphrey-Wallace race. Reformists thought that a three-way contest made electoral votes an unfair way to decide the state, because a candidate could win the whole pot of electoral votes even if he had just 34 percent of the state’s popular vote (if the other two candidates split 33 percent/33 percent or some variation thereof). Therefore, the electoral votes weren’t necessarily a good indicator of how the popular vote actually felt. Sound like a familiar issue?

As a result of those ruffled feathers, a bill was passed in 1969 (but wasn’t actually used until the ‘72 election) that would allow Maine to split their votes by congressional district as they had more than 100 years earlier. Nebraska followed suit 20 years later. Officials have tried at least three times since then to overturn the Congressional District Method, but so far, Cornhuskers seem content to keep things separate.

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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