CLOSE
Original image

25 Facts About Famous Christmas Movies

Original image

Enjoy these elf-sized facts about some of the movies you'll catch on TV every holiday season.

Scrooged

1. It just goes to show you: don't mess with the Ghost of Christmas Present. During the scene where Carol Kane grabs Bill Murray’s lip, she really latched on and accidentally tore it so badly that they had to stop filming for a few days so Bill could heal and his injuries wouldn’t be so obvious on camera.

2. All of Bill Murray’s actor brothers are in the movie – that would be Brian Doyle-Murray, Joel Murray and John Murray.

3. That’s Paul Shaffer leading the street carolers Bill Murray insults. The other carolers are Miles Davis (yep, that Miles Davis), famous saxophone player David Sanborn and Grammy-winning jazz guitarist Larry Carlton. It’s a pretty illustrious group of carolers to be heckling, really.

It’s a Wonderful Life

4. The movie was mentioned in an FBI file in 1947, when an analyst passed along the concern that the film was an obvious attempt to discredit bankers, a “common trick used by Communists.”

5. Among other people, the notoriously cynical Dorothy Parker contributed some rewrites to the script. Maybe she had a soft spot for Christmas (or maybe the money was just that good).

6. Does George look strangely sweaty to you when he and Clarence are on the bridge? That’s because it was 90 degrees out the day that scene was filmed. But I think it works –- I always assumed he looked damp because of the snow and because he was in the middle of his nervous breakdown.

Babes in Toyland

7. The movie that is now a cult classic was, as many cult classics are, a colossal flop at the box office when it debuted.

8. A bunch of the pieces from the movie – Mary’s garden, the shoe house, the pumpkin house and the trees – were an attraction at Disneyland’s Opera House for about a year following the release of the movie.

9. Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color went behind the scenes for the movie’s wrap party… except since the whole wrap party was scripted and choreographed, it wasn’t really “behind the scenes,” exactly. Annette Funicello co-hosted it with Walt and it featured performances by many cast members.

Miracle on 34th Street

10. The scenes of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade are actually taken from the 1946 parade. The movie is credited with bringing the traditional parade to the national spotlight, and Macy’s employees were given half a day off so they could see the first showing of the movie. In fact…

11. Most people didn’t realize that Edmund Gwenn, Santa Claus in the movie, also played Santa Claus during the real 1946 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. He even played to the crowd from the marquee of Macy’s when the parade ended to open the “official” Christmas shopping season.

12. Kris Kringle tries to prove that he’s quite mentally competent by reciting various bits of knowledge, including that Daniel D. Tompkins was John Quincy Adams’ Vice President. Except… he wasn’t. John C. Calhoun was Adams’ Veep; Tompkins served under James Monroe.

A Christmas Story

13. For anyone keeping count, Ralphie says he wants the Red Ryder BB Gun 28 times throughout the course of the movie.

14. Jack Nicholson was very interested in playing Ralphie’s dad. But casting (and paying) Jack would have been too expensive. Director Bob Clark has said Darrin McGavin was the perfect choice.

15. Mythbusters tested whether it was possible to get your tongue truly stuck on a piece of cold metal. Guess what? It is. So don’t triple dog dare your best friend to try it.

National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation

16. The Capra family must have Christmas in their genes. The assistant director of Christmas Vacation, Frank Capra III, is the grandson of the legendary Frank Capra, who directed It’s a Wonderful Life. The part where Clark “fixes” the newel post by sawing it off with a chainsaw is an homage to It’s a Wonderful Life – the newel post at the Bailey’s house was also loose. Also, Russ is watching It’s a Wonderful Life on TV when his grandparents arrive.

17. I can always relate to the scene where the two grandpas are asleep in the armchairs while the Christmas parade is on TV in the background. This always happens at our Thanksgivings and Christmases – grandpas, dads, uncles. What makes the scene even funnier is that the actors who played the grandpas were supposedly both really asleep.

Elf

18. According to some reports, when the movie was first discussed back in 1993, Jim Carrey was going to play the lead.

19. Gimbels Department Store was a real department store and competitor of Macy’s until it closed in 1987. It was also featured in Miracle on 34th Street. The Gimbels exterior in the movie is actually the 34th Street Macy’s in Manhattan with a bit of digital alteration.

20. Ming Ming the elf from the beginning of the movie is Peter Billingsley, the actor who played Ralphie in A Christmas Story. Billingsley and director Jon Favreau (along with actor Vince Vaughn) are good friends.

Home Alone

21. Like so many other Christmas movies, Home Alone slips in a reference to another Christmas classic: while (most) of the family is in the hotel room in France, they’re shown watching It’s a Wonderful Life.

22. Macaulay Culkin still has physical evidence of Kevin McAllister – in the scene where Harry bites Kevin’s finger, Joe Pesci bit harder than he'd intended and left Mac with a scar.

23. Daniel Stern wasn’t crazy about having to film a scene with a tarantula on his face, but agreed to it in the condition that they do just one take. His scream had to be dubbed in later because a real scream would have scared the tarantula.

The Polar Express

24. When the conductor says “11344 Edbrooke” near the beginning of the film, he’s referring to director Robert Zemeckis’ actual childhood home in Chicago.

25. Polar Express author Chris Van Allsburg gets a reference to his hometown in, too – when Hero Boy looks at a picture of himself on Santa’s lap, you can see that it was taken at Herpolsheimer’s. That was a real department store in Allsburg’s hometown of Grand Rapids, Michigan, which is also where the movie premiere was held.

Original image
iStock
arrow
holidays
Autumn Equinox 2017: Today Is the First Day of Fall
Original image
iStock

On September 22, at 4:02 p.m. ET, the Sun will shine directly over the equator—the midpoint of the Earth. The whole world will thus experience a day and night of equal length. In the Northern Hemisphere, we call this the autumn equinox. It marks the first day of fall. Around the world, people are marking the day with ceremonies, some of them ancient (and some less so).

You might be wondering two things: 1. Why on almost every other day of the year (the vernal equinox being the other exception) do different parts of the world have days and nights of differing length? 2. What do they call the day in the Southern Hemisphere?

A DAY AT THE BEACH

The answer to each of these questions resides in the Earth's axial tilt. The easiest way to imagine that tilt is to think about tanning on the beach. (Stay with me here.) If you lay on your stomach, your back gets blasted by the Sun. You don't wait 30 minutes then flop over and call it a day. Rather, as you tan, every once in a while, you shift positions a little. Maybe you lay a bit more on one side. Maybe you lift a shoulder, move a leg a little. Why? Because you want the Sun to shine directly on a different part of you. You want an even tan.

It might seem a little silly when you think about it. The Sun is a giant fusion reactor 93 million miles away. Solar radiation is hitting your entire back and arms and legs and so on whether or not you adjust your shoulder just so. But you adjust, and it really does improve your tan, and you know this instinctively.

An autumn equinox celebration at the Neris River waterfront in Vilnius, Lithuania.
Petras Malukas/AFP/Getty Images

The Earth works a lot like that, except it's operating by physics, not instinct. If there were no tilt, only one line of latitude would ever receive the most direct blast of sunlight: the equator. As the Earth revolved around the Sun, the planet would be bathed in sunlight, but it would only be the equator that would always get the most direct hit (and the darkest tan). But the Earth does have a tilt. Shove a pole through the planet with one end sticking out the North Pole and one end sticking out the South, and angle the whole thing by 23.5 degrees. That's the grade of Earth's tilt.

Now spin our little skewered Earth and place it in orbit around the Sun. At various points in the orbit, the Sun will shine directly on different latitudes. It will shine directly on the equator twice in a complete orbit—the fall and spring equinoxes—and at various points in the year, the most direct blast of sunlight will slide up or down. The highest latitude receiving direct sunlight is called the Tropic of Cancer. The lowest point is the Tropic of Capricorn. The poles, you will note, are snow white. They have, if you will, a terrible tan—and that's because they never receive solar radiation from a directly overhead Sun (even during the long polar summer, when the Sun never sinks below the horizon).

WHEN DO THE SEASONS CHANGE?

A Maya priestess conducts an autumn equinox ceremony at El Salvador's Cihuatan Archeological Park.
Jose Cabezas/AFP/Getty Images

The seasons have nothing to do with the Earth's distance from the Sun. Axial tilt is the reason for the seasons. The Sun is directly over the Tropic of Cancer (66.5 degrees latitude in the Northern Hemisphere) on June 21 or 22. When that occurs, the Northern Hemisphere is in the summer solstice. The days grow long and hot. As the year elapses, the days slowly get shorter and cooler as summer gives way to autumn. On September 21 or 22, the Sun's direct light has reached the equator. Days and night reach parity, and because the Sun is hitting the whole world head-on, every latitude experiences this simultaneously.

On December 21 or 22, the Sun is directly over the Tropic of Capricorn in the Southern Hemisphere, meaning the Northern Hemisphere is receiving the least sunlight it will get all year. The Northern Hemisphere is therefore in winter solstice. Our days are short and nights are long. Parity will again be reached on March 21 or 22, the vernal equinox for the Northern Hemisphere, and the whole process will repeat itself.

Druids on London's Primrose Hill marking the autumn equinox.
Matt Cardy/Getty Images
Now reverse all of this for the Southern Hemisphere. When we're at autumnal equinox, they're at vernal equinox. Happy first day of spring, Southern Hemisphere!

And welcome to fall, Northern Hemisphere! Enjoy this long day of sunlight, because dark days are ahead. You'll get less and less light until the winter solstice, and the days will grow colder. Take solace, though, in knowing that the whole world is experiencing the very same thing. Now it's the Southern Hemisphere's turn to get ready to spend some time at the beach.

Original image
iStock
arrow
holidays
11 Sweet Facts About Rosh Hashanah
Original image
iStock

The first Rosh Hashanah supposedly occurred in the Garden of Eden. But what does this important Jewish holiday involve today?

1. IT LITERALLY TRANSLATES AS "HEAD OF THE YEAR."

Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, can fall any time between the fifth of September and the fifth of October on the Gregorian Calendar. On the Jewish calendar, it is the first day of the month of Tishrei and marks the start of the High Holy Days. These days are also known as the days of awe, ushering in the final phase of atonement. The holiday celebrates the anniversary of the creation of the world.

2. FOR THE MONTH BEFORE, JEWS ASK FOR FORGIVENESS FROM FRIENDS AND FAMILY.

In order to have a clean slate going into the New Year, Jews ask for forgiveness from those close to them. The idea here is that God cannot forgive transgressions against people until those wronged have forgiven.

3. TRADITIONALLY, ROSH HASHANAH HAPPENS OVER TWO DAYS.

These days are combined into the yoma arichta, or "long day." At sunset on the first evening, candles are lit by the lady of the house. Then blessings are recited: a traditional holiday blessing over the candles, followed by the shehecheyanu, a thanksgiving prayer for special occasions. Both evenings also feature a festive meal.

4. UNLIKE DECEMBER 31, THE JEWISH NEW YEAR IS A TIME OF SERIOUS REFLECTION AND REPENTANCE.

Getty Images

Even Jews who go to synagogue at no other time of year will often go on the high holidays, which include Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Religious poems called piyyutim are recited and a special high holy day prayer book called the machzor is used. The service is often longer than Sabbath services, and centers around the theme of God’s sovereignty, remembrance, and blasts of the shofar (see below).

5. DESPITE NOT BEING A HUGE PARTY, JEWS ARE EXPECTED TO ENJOY THE YOM TOV, OR HOLIDAY.

People often get fresh haircuts and new clothes in order to celebrate. The tradition is to wear white clothing as a sign of purity and renewal. Some avoid wearing red, since it's the color of blood.

6. ACCORDING TO THE TALMUD, ON ROSH HASHANAH, GOD INSCRIBES EVERYONE'S NAMES INTO ONE OF THREE BOOKS.

The metaphorical understanding is that good people go into the Book of Life, and evil ones into the Book of Death; those who are in the middle are put in an intermediate one and have judgment put off until Yom Kippur. Since virtually no one is all good or all evil, you're supposed to assume you fall somewhere in the middle, and in order to be inscribed in the Book of Life for the coming year, it is important to do everything possible to atone before Yom Kippur.

7. THE SOUNDING OF THE SHOFAR IS THE MOST ICONIC IMAGE OF THIS HOLIDAY.

iStock

The shofar is a ram’s horn that is curved and bent. It is hollowed out and blown during religious ceremonies to make three different sounds. Hearing it is meant to call you to repent.

8. WHILE SOME JEWISH HOLIDAYS INVOLVE FASTING, ROSH HASHANAH INVOLVES A FEAST.

It is traditional to eat apples dipped in honey to represent having a sweet year ahead. A round challah bread symbolizes the cycle of the year (another interpretation is that it represents a crown and thus God’s sovereignty). Sometimes a fish, or just its head, is included, possibly to represent that as fish cannot survive without water, Jews cannot survive without the Torah. Pomegranates contain many seeds, which have long been associated with the commandments that Jews follow, so by eating them they remind themselves to be good in the coming year. Other common foods include dates, leeks, gourds, and black-eyed peas, all of which are mentioned in the Talmud as foods to eat on New Year’s.

9. SOME BRANCHES OF JUDAISM PARTICIPATE IN THE RITUAL OF TASHLIKH, OR "CASTING OFF."

The ritual involves standing near water, like a river, and reciting prayers. Then participants symbolically cast away their sins by throwing bread crumbs or stones into the water. This is supposedly derived from the Biblical passage “You will cast all their sins into the depths of the sea” (Micah 7:19), although most Jewish sources trace it back to 15th century Germany. In New York City, large groups gather on the Brooklyn Bridge, while in Israel—where there is much less open water—people might use something as small as a fish pond.

10. THERE ARE VARIOUS TRADITIONAL GREETINGS FOR ROSH HASHANAH.

L'Shana Tova Tea-ka-tayvu is Hebrew for “May you be inscribed for a good year,” referring to that person’s name being put in the Book of Life. This is often shortened to Shana Tova, which just means “Good Year.” This isn’t to be confused with wishing each other a “Happy New Year.” Happy implies a level of superficiality, while the Jewish wish for a good year hopes the person will achieve their purpose.

11. THE HAVDALAH PRAYER IS PERFORMED AS NIGHT FALLS ON THE SECOND AND LAST DAY.

It involves saying blessings over a full cup of kosher wine or grape juice, although other drinks can be used in a pinch. After this, Rosh Hashanah is over.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios