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4 Other Notable People Who Passed Away on July 4th

CNN is reporting that North Carolina Senator Jesse Helms passed away at the tender age of 86. And while his legacy is certainly a polarizing one, I was surprised to learn how many other famous people passed away on the 4th. Here's a short list of people who died on that most American of U.S. holidays (other than Jefferson and Adams):

1. Bob Ross

You know him as: PBS instructional painter, creator of happy trees and their little friends.

Surprising facts (other than the one about him dying on the 4th): The ultra-mellow Ross picked up painting when he was in the Air Force. He was also pretty financially savvy- he turned his public broadcasting show into a multi-million dollar cash cow by selling how-to books and branded art supplies.

2. Hannibal Hamlin

You know him as: VP to Abraham Lincoln. Or maybe you don't.

Surprising facts: Despite only lasting one term with Lincoln, and playing a quiet role in the White House, the Republican from Maine did urge the creation of the Emancipation Proclamation. He also supported arming African Americans during the Civil War.

3.  Charles Kuralt

You know him as: American journalist, well known for his "On the Road" segments.
Surprising facts: He was good friends with John Steinbeck, and was heavily inspired by Travels with Charlie. Even stranger: Salon claims that he had a mistress and a second family that he hid in Montana, which would explain all that extra time on the road. Savvy readers can judge for themselves.

4. Barry White

You know him as: Singer, songwriter, general soundtrack for romantic nights/probable inspiration for your younger sibling.
Surprising facts: According to Wikipedia, the Sultan of Soul was jailed at 17 for stealing $30,000 Cadillac tires. Even stranger, he apparently had a life-changing moment in prison when he heard Elvis crooning "It's Now or Never," and decided to go straight. He was also supposedly offered the role of Chef on South Park, but turned it down because of the crass humor.

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Bleat Along to Classic Holiday Tunes With This Goat Christmas Album
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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.

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What Are the 12 Days of Christmas?
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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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