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Remembering the Old Man of the Mountain

New Hampshire is a pretty nifty state. Aside from having one of the most gleefully in-your-face mottos, it also was home to the Old Man of the Mountain. The “Old Man” – not a bearded grumbling cave dweller – was a formation of ledges in the White Mountains above Profile Lake in Franconia Notch State Park . In profile, the ledges looked exactly like a man. First recorded in 1805 and discovered by the author of this piece in an overlong road trip up the Eastern Seaboard in 1995, the Old Man collapsed in May of 2003.

If you look closely when you’re tailgaiting a New Hampshire driver, you’ll notice that the Old Man of the Mountain sits smack dab in the middle of a New Hampshire license plate. Check your change jar—you’ll find it on the state quarter, too.

The Old Man of the Mountain inspired America’s great writers and thinkers. Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote his short story “The Great Stone Face” after seeing the Old Man. Daniel Webster wrote of it, "Men hang out their signs indicative of their respective trades; shoemakers hang out a gigantic shoe; jewelers a monster watch, and the dentist hangs out a gold tooth; but in the mountains of New Hampshire, God Almighty has hung out a sign to show that there He makes men." Yes, the Old Man of the Mountain was kind of a big deal to Webster.

Though it would seem that a natural phenomenon would be built to last, the Old Man’s forehead developed tiny cracks due to natural springtime thawing in the 1920s. It remained held together by chains until 1957, when the New Hampshire State Legislature used elaborate methods of recovery to keep it together. Despite that, the never-ending push of nature and age overtook the Old Man. It fell on May 3, 2003.

There is a memorial for the Old Man of the Mountain at the location it fell and, from experience, Franconia Notch State Park is beautiful and is a must see for all. If you are devastated that you were never be able to see a rock formation that looked like a human, fear not. There are some in Canada, Finland, Guinea, Hong Kong, Israel, Mexico and more! And who knows, you may find one yourself in your backyard. Just make sure it’s not a garden gnome.

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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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