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10 Thoroughly Modern Menorahs

The beginning of Hanukkah is only a couple days from now -do you know where your chanukiyah, the nine-branch menorah, is? Using the Hanukkah menorah your grandparents used may be a family tradition, but do-it-yourself, arty, or high-tech menorahs have the same symbolism. Here are a few interesting ones found around the internet.

1. LED Hanukkah Menorah Kit

Evil Mad Scientist Laboratories posted their first LED Menorah project back in 2006. A microcontroller keeps the LEDs in order, so that each time you turn it on, the correct configuration of lights of that day of Hanukkah are displayed -as long as you start on the right date. So many people were interested that they started making kits for sale, which have been improved and updated over the years. But if you want to provide your own parts, the code is open source and available through the Evil Mad Scientist Wiki.

2. Star Trek Menorah

Once you have the parts and the instructions, your own imagination can make your homemade menorah special and even reflect your personal interests. Joyce and Kaufman made this Star Trek menorah with the above-mentioned LED kit and character heads from PEZ dispensers.

3. Recycled Circuit Board Menorah

If you like the LED idea but don't want to make your own, this LED menorah from Zion Judaica also lights sequentially and runs on batteries. Environmentally-friendly, too, as it's constructed of recycled circuit board! And since it is sold through Amazon, they have instructions on how to get it shipped by December 25th. Heh.

4. Robot Menorah

It is possible to light a menorah with your mind instead of your hands. Or, more accurately, a remote control guiding a robot you made yourself. YouTube member NoviceSMML built this machine using a LEGO Mindstorm NXT system. Warning: chipmunk music.

5. iMenorah

For those who are traveling or just want an extra menorah with you at all times, there's the app iMenorah, available for iPhone or iPad, by Mike Jutan. It automatically keeps track of the correct number of candles, but you light them yourself with a touch of a finger. The candles "melt down" onscreen in 30 minutes.

6. Children's Menorahs

The Jewish Museum has quite a selection of traditional and modern menorahs. In the children's section, I particularly like this menorah featuring children in various national costumes. There's also a pink princess castle menorah, a firetruck menorah, and several versions of Noah's ark menorahs.

7. Pipe Menorah

You can construct a menorah out of just about anything, as long as it has nine places to set a candle or electric light and a stable base. Avi Solomon made his from pieces of plumbing pipe, including plenty of galvanized elbows and connectors. His has LED lights, easily wired through the pipe, although this design would work with candles as well. Solomon posted pictures of the build at his site.

8. Bowling Pin Menorah

Yes, just about anything -including old bowling pins. This menorah was created for the Chabad Hanukkah Bowling Party 2007. Photograph by Flickr user Templar1307.

9. Rube Goldberg Menorah

Eyal Cohen, Tomer Wassermann, Matan Orian, and Dvir Dukhan of the Israel Institute of Technology (known as Technion) built a Rube Goldberg contraption that lights a Hanukkah menorah! There's also a video about the making of the machine.

10. Last Minute Dormitory Menorah

Still, if you are celebrating Hanukkah away from family for the first time and don't have your own menorah, any combination of nine candles (or other lights) will work. Redditor abrussels posted this one ready to be used in a college dormitory. Happy Hanukkah!

See also: 8 Chanukah Mysteries Revealed, Menorah or Chanukiyah? and Why Do Jews Eat Potato Pancakes During Hanukkah?

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The Legal Reason Why Public Christmas Displays Feature Reindeer
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The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment says “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.” But in practice, not everyone agrees on what abiding by that clause means in real-life situations. For instance, can a courthouse or a public park feature a nativity scene?

According to the Supreme Court, maybe not—or at least not unless it includes a menorah and a plastic reindeer, too. In the 1984 case of Lynch v. Donnelly, the court established a precedent that became known as the “reindeer rule," a legal standard that has governed public displays of holiday cheer ever since.

The case hinged on a Rhode Island display that was owned by the city of Pawtucket but was located in a park owned by a nonprofit organization. The annual display, which dated back 40 years, included a nativity scene (also known as a creche or crèche) in addition to other Christmastime symbols like reindeer pulling Santa’s sleigh, a Christmas tree, and a “seasons greetings” banner. The justices ruled in favor of the nativity scene, arguing that there was a secular argument to be made about including the religious reference:

The display is sponsored by the city to celebrate the Holiday recognized by Congress and national tradition and to depict the origins of that Holiday; these are legitimate secular purposes. Whatever benefit to one faith or religion or to all religions inclusion of the creche in the display effects, is indirect, remote, and incidental, and is no more an advancement or endorsement of religion than the congressional and executive recognition of the origins of Christmas, or the exhibition of religious paintings in governmentally supported museums.

In the case, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor put forth a legal rule of thumb called the “endorsement test,” writing that governments can run afoul of the Establishment Clause by appearing to endorse a specific religion or a belief, rather than being inclusive of a variety of beliefs. “Endorsement sends a message to nonadherents that they are outsiders, not full members of the political community, and an accompanying message to adherents that they are insiders, favored members of the political community,” O'Connor explained.

According to the National Constitution Center, “Court observers at the time saw the presence of the reindeer as broadening the purpose of the display.” And so the reindeer rule was born.

Then, a 1989 Supreme Court ruling in reference to two holiday displays inside and outside the Allegheny County courthouse in Pittsburgh made this standard even more clear. A nativity scene inside the courthouse that prominently displayed a banner that read, in Latin, “Glory to God for the birth of Jesus Christ,” with no secular objects on display, was ruled unconstitutional. Meanwhile, a display outside the courthouse with a menorah, a Christmas tree, and a sign that declared the city’s “salute to liberty,” as the case ruling puts it, was allowed to stay. With the overtly Christian indoor display, nothing counteracted the government endorsement of “a patently Christian message.”

As Justice Harry Blackmun wrote in his opinion, “Although the government may acknowledge Christmas as a cultural phenomenon, it may not observe it as a Christian holy day by suggesting that people praise God for the birth of Jesus,” while the menorah display combined “with a Christmas tree and a sign saluting liberty does not impermissibly endorse both the Christian and Jewish faiths, but simply recognizes that both Christmas and Chanukah are part of the same winter-holiday season, which has attained a secular status in our society. The widely accepted view of the Christmas tree as the preeminent secular symbol of the Christmas season emphasizes this point.” This ruling only applies to government property and government sponsored displays, though, which is why it's completely fine for private entities like churches to erect public displays of nativity scenes on their property.

Though the reindeer rule seems pretty clear, it hasn’t stopped towns from testing the boundaries of the court’s ruling over the decades since it was established.

In 2014, Cherokee County, Texas, for instance, got into a spat with the American Humanist Association over the constitutionality of a nativity scene in front of the county courthouse. The state attorney general publicly supported the county, and there was no forced removal of the display. That same year, similar controversies took place in towns in Virginia and Arkansas. Some cities have groups like the Thomas More Society and the American Nativity Scene Committee, which work to get Christian displays erected in public places across the country, to thank for their nativity scenes. The former calls nativity scenes “classic free speech.”

But some towns have proven to be a little more inclusive of other holiday decor—or at least wary of litigation. The Florida Capitol building in Tallahassee, for instance, has approved holiday displays that include not just nativity scenes, but privately funded decorative contributions from the Satanic Temple, Seinfeld fans (a Festivus pole), and Pastafarian followers of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

But the U.S. remains a very Christian country, despite its longstanding religious freedom laws, and according to a 2014 Pew Research Center survey, 44 percent of American adults think Christian symbols are OK to display on government property, even in the absence of symbols from other faiths. It should be noted that a Pew survey that year on religion found that 71 percent of Americans identified as Christians, though the percentages of residents practicing other faiths or identifying as atheists has been rising. Still, that doesn’t mean that nativity scenes get total respect in America. Plenty of baby Jesuses get swiped out of their mangers every year.

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11 Cozy Mugs for Everyone on Your Holiday Gift List
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A mug is the perfect all-purpose gift. It’s just as appropriate for your office Secret Santa as it is for your best friend. But in a world stacked to the brim with cool drinking vessels for warm beverages, which to choose? Take a look at these 11 whimsical, wonderful mugs that will please just about everyone on your holiday shopping list.

Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we only get commission on items you buy and don’t return, so we’re only happy if you’re happy. Thanks for helping us pay the bills!

1. GAME BOY HEAT CHANGE MUG; $13

A mug decorated to look like a Game Boy
Firebox

Need a gift for a video game master, or just someone who’s nostalgic for the ‘90s? Try a drinkable Game Boy. The two consoles on either side of this mug "turn on" in response to heat, revealing a start screen and a classic shot from a game of Mario. This way, your caffeine-swilling friend will get to watch their Game Boy power on at the same time they do.

Find it: Firebox

2. PERSONALIZED MAP CITY MUG; $10

Three mint-green and white mugs stacked on top of each other
Etsy

Let someone on your list show off their hometown pride with a map mug customized to showcase their favorite place. Geek Group’s personalized mugs can be tailor-made to map out the boundaries of a certain city or even a single neighborhood, down to specific coordinates. The 11-ounce, fade-resistant mugs come in a variety of different color schemes, including black and white, pink, mint (above), and multi-colored. Even better, the shop helps fund programming at the Geek Group National Science Institute in Grand Rapids, Michigan, a nonprofit dedicated to science and technology education.

Find it: Etsy

3. HEAT CHANGING CONSTELLATION MUG; $16

Amateur star-gazers will be wowed by this star-chart morph mug from the Unemployed Philosopher’s Guild. Featuring a dark image of the night sky, as it warms up, it reveals the 11 major constellations within. It's a perfect companion for someone who likes sitting out on the porch with some hot chocolate and finding the real constellations.

Find it: Amazon

4. EMBER CERAMIC MUG; $80

There’s nothing worse than going to take a sip of coffee and realizing it’s gone ice-cold. With Ember, your giftee will never have to worry about their coffee or tea cooling down, because the mug is designed to keep their drink at the exact temperature they specify. It links up with a smartphone app so that the user can remotely adjust the ideal temperature, and get a notification once their beverage has hit that temperature.

Find it: Ember

5. ANATOMY OF … MUGS; $11

Two images of a mug that reads 'Anatomy of a Maine Coon' with a drawing of a cat on it
Etsy

Your favorite animal lover will go gaga over these cutesy mugs by UK-based illustrator Sophie Corrigan. Her "Anatomy Of" mug series covers cats, dogs, birds, betta fish, cows, giraffes, hedgehogs, and basically any other animal that could be construed as adorable. No matter what kind of animal—pet or otherwise—tickles your friend’s fancy, Corrigan has a whimsical illustration to go with it.

Find it: Society 6

6. CLIMATE CHANGE MORPH MUG; $16

Two mugs depict a world map and rising sea levels.
Amazon

Perfect for the environmental activist in your life, this mug is a daily reminder of the effect humankind has on the planet. The heat-activated mug reflects what’s happening as the Earth warms, slowly causing continents to disappear as the polar ice caps melt and sea levels rise. Goodbye, Florida. Not all of your friends will be delighted to deal with the grim realities of climate change over breakfast, but for particularly ardent environmentalists, it will make a great conversation piece when their science-denying relatives come to visit.

Find it: Amazon

7. ANIMAL SNOUT CUPS; $13

A woman raises a white cup to her mouth that is shaped like a dog’s snout.
Firebox

These 6-ounce cups are sure to make any breakfast companion laugh, and they make a great novelty gift for an animal lover in your life. When they tip the cup up to their lips, they will suddenly have a new snout. The mugs come in either the shape of a dog’s nose or a pig’s, but there’s nothing stopping you from gifting both.

Find it: Firebox

8. BANNED BOOKS MORPH MUG; $12

Two mugs feature the titles of books that have been banned, one with the titles blacked out.
Uncommon Goods

Your literary friends and family will fight over this morphing mug decorated with the titles of classic books that have been banned at some point. As the mug warms up, the black lines censoring the titles—from To Kill a Mockingbird to Naked Lunch—reveal themselves.

Find it: Uncommon Goods

9. DONUT WARMING MUG; $16

A coffee mug lies on its side to reveal a platform to hold a donut, while another sits with a donut on top nearby.
Amazon

Give your favorite donut lover the perfect breakfast with this donut-warming mug, which will keep their breakfast pastry warm from the heat of their coffee. The top of the mug features a built-in lid that serves as a resting place for a small pastry (or cookie), warmed by the steam of a good cup of joe.

Find It: Amazon

10. MONDRIAN COLOR-CHANGING MUG; $24

A mug features a Mondrian-inspired design.
Amazon

Your beloved art connoisseur can take inspiration from this morphing mug from the Museum of Modern Art’s design store. Before you pour in hot liquid, it looks like it just features a black and white grid. Once it heats up, its color-changing surface reveals a design inspired by the artist Piet Mondrian.

Find it: Amazon

11. OPTICAL ILLUSION MUG SET; $20 FOR FOUR

Four black-and-white mugs feature optical illusions.
SFMOMA Museum Store

Help make someone’s coffee or tea time more fun (and mind boggling) with these optical illusion mugs from the San Francisco Museum Of Modern Art Museum store. Each one of the four mugs features a different illusion to test the eyes. And at $20 for the whole set, they won’t test your wallet.

Find it: SFMOMA Museum Store

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