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The People Behind 4 Iconic Valentine's Day Candies

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It’s that time of year when we can kind of, sort of indulge in some guilt-free chocolate goodness—after all, if your Significant Other has gifted you with some Valentine’s sweetness, you don’t want to hurt their feelings and reach for the celery instead, right? But while you’re sneaking yet another morsel, have you ever wondered about that name on the lid of the box? Is that a real person adding an inch or two to our waistlines?

1. Russell Stover

Russell Stover and Clara Lewis both grew up on hardscrabble farms in Iowa in the late 1800s, and after they married in 1911, they moved to Saskatchewan, Canada, to raise wheat and flax on a 580 acre farm of their own. Sadly, a year of bad weather and a flood washed away their livelihood. With the pluck so typical of tenacious farm folk of the time, Russell and his wife moved to Winnipeg, where he got a job working in a candy factory. He spent the next few years learning everything he could about candy making, and eventually, after the couple had moved to Iowa, his wife started experimenting with different recipes in their home kitchen. Stover’s watershed moment came in 1921 when a young soda jerk presented him with an idea for a vanilla ice cream bar encased in a crunchy chocolate coating. The young man’s version melted easily and had other flaws, so Russell went to work fine-tuning the manufacturing process. When Russell introduced the Eskimo Pie a few months later, he sold a quarter million units in 24 hours in Omaha alone. Sadly, despite the popularity of the product, Stover spent the bulk of his profits on defending his patent against a host of imitators. He finally sold the Eskimo Pie business and used the $30,000 to launch a line of hand-dipped chocolates that Clara had been perfecting back at home.

2. Stephen Whitman

Stephen Whitman was just 19 years old when he opened a confectionary “shoppe” on Philadelphia’s Market Street in 1842. Because it was near the shipyards, he had a steady stream of sailors among his customers, and this turned out to be providential; seafarers brought him samples of exotic candies purchased abroad, and once he cracked a particular recipe, they were also able to bring him the necessary ingredients from overseas. Whitman was also something of a marketing genius and was one of the first to advertise his products in newspapers and magazines. He eventually packaged bite-sized pieces of his various chocolates in a “best of”-type box, which he called a Sampler. Walter Sharp, who took over as company president in 1911, came up with the Sampler box design based on a cross-stitch his grandmother had made. Sharp also used his marketing savvy to get the Samplers placed in “better drugstores” around the country, and also instituted a money-back guarantee that is still in place today.

3. Fannie May

Founded in Chicago in 1920, Henry Teller Archibald named his candy company “Fannie May” to give the impression of a kindly old grandmother tirelessly hand-dipping chocolates in her country kitchen. Fannie May soon became a leading retailer of fine chocolates in the Midwest, even though they were forced to close many stores during World War II due to the rationing of necessary ingredients (rather than switch to inferior substitutes). Fannie May has had further financial ups and downs over the years, including a bankruptcy filing, but today the company is owned by the folks at 1-800-FLOWERS and is still selling their Pixies and Buttercreams to dedicated customers. Interestingly enough, Mrs. Archibald—the woman whose family provided the seed money back in 1920 to fund her husband’s company—made headlines in 1930 when she was awarded a then-substantial (it was the Great Depression, after all) $1 million divorce settlement on the grounds of desertion. It seems Ol’ Henry had run off and married another woman in Florida without officially severing his previous marital ties.

4. Laura Secord

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During the War of 1812, a loyalist named Laura Secord, whose husband had been injured at the Battle of Queenston Heights, received some intelligence information and walked 20 miles across the Niagara Peninsula to warn British forces of an impending American attack. Her effort helped the British to stop the U.S. invaders at Beaver Dams, and 47 years later Edward VII rewarded her with £100. What does this have to do with chocolate? Nothing, except that Frank O’Connor decided to capitalize on her fame when he founded his candy company in Toronto in 1913. Six years later, he expanded his operation south of the border, but since the name Laura Secord wasn’t recognizable to American ears, he chose another famous name, Fanny Farmer, after the culinary expert who was famous for her cookbooks.

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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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