Gift-Giving Strategies

With the holiday shopping season upon us, it's time for me to think about giving gifts to friends and family. In the past I've tried some different strategies, but I'm wondering if the mental_floss audience can help me figure out what to do this year! Here's a roundup of past strategies:

Wish lists - these days it's typically the Amazon wish list, but generally this strategy involves asking each person what he or she wants, then buying something. Pro: people get stuff they want, and I get to pick how much I spend. Con: not everybody has a wish list, and sometimes it's spendy. Also: Mom and Dad sometimes just ask for "a hug," which is hard to mail.

Here, enjoy my taste in music - I've given out a couple of favorite albums to pretty much everyone in my family -- notably Bob Dylan concerts from the mid 60's and anything by Vince Guaraldi. These are recordings I love, and love to listen to with family, but you never know if they're going to mean much to someone else. Pro: might be a big hit, and makes you look like you know stuff about music. Con: might end up collecting dust, and/or your family may feel obligated to play it when you're around.

Gift cards - I was going to buy my brother some new music for his birthday this year, but I realized that he probably had most of what I was going to buy him. After a few probing questions (like "Do you have the new Feist?") I realized that, indeed, he was way ahead of me and had already bought everything I could think of. So I just gave him an iTunes Gift Card. Pro: broad choice for the giftee. Con: picking a dollar value can be dicey.

Make something - I'm worst at this, but it may actually be the best strategy. I haven't really made gifts for people since I was a kid, as I'm not sure what to make. But this year I'm looking at making MOO Cards from digital photos. Pro: giftee says "awww," and it's cheap. Con: time spent to make stuff.

Gift of the Magi - only applicable if you're in a relationship where one of you has long hair and the other a prized watch. Pro: touching/heartfelt. Con: tragic.

So let's hear it. What gift-giving strategy works best for you? Also: bonus points if you have a story of a horribly failed gift.

Bleat Along to Classic Holiday Tunes With This Goat Christmas Album

Feeling a little Grinchy this month? The Sweden branch of ActionAid, an international charity dedicated to fighting global poverty, wants to goat—errr ... goad—you into the Christmas spirit with their animal-focused holiday album: All I Want for Christmas is a Goat.

Fittingly, it features the shriek-filled vocal stylings of a group of festive farm animals bleating out classics like “Jingle Bells,” “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” and “O Come All Ye Faithful.” The recording may sound like a silly novelty release, but there's a serious cause behind it: It’s intended to remind listeners how the animals benefit impoverished communities. Goats can live in arid nations that are too dry for farming, and they provide their owners with milk and wool. In fact, the only thing they can't seem to do is, well, sing. 

You can purchase All I Want for Christmas is a Goat on iTunes and Spotify, or listen to a few songs from its eight-track selection below.

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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