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The Fleeting Fame of the New Year’s Baby

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Being born on New Year's Day can bring you fame and a little bit of luck—that is, if you’re first and at the right hospital.

It’s not clear precisely when newspapers and television broadcasts began announcing the arrival of the year’s first babies. But the image of a baby representing a fresh start dates back to ancient Greece. Each year, Greeks celebrated the rebirth of Dionysus, the god of fertility and wine. Part of the festivities included placing a baby in a basket and parading the infant through town.

While there are fewer (if any) baby parades now, there’s still a ton of attention when it comes to the tiny face of a new year. Between 1906 and 1943, The Saturday Evening Post featured its own rendition of the New Year baby on every first-of-the-year issue. And classic films like Rudolph’s Shiny New Year reinforced the tiny icon’s popularity while showing just how hard New Year babies have it (hint: they get a lot of attention).

By J. C. Leyendecker (Public domain), via Wikimedia Commons

So, it’s no wonder that being the first baby born in a given year is a pretty big deal. And maybe that’s why some New Year’s babies have scored prizes of all sizes, scholarships, and free meals for their parents. While it’s not a universal rule that the first baby born on January 1 gets gifts, it’s been a common marketing tool for businesses to donate prizes to the newly birthed for decades.

Take Bonnie Lee Little from Cambridge, Massachusetts, who won a bundle of gifts for being born right after midnight in 1960. But not all those gifts were for her. Along with gift certificates to local stores, a crib mattress, and a comb and brush set, Little’s parents also received “two deluxe dinners” at a nearby Italian restaurant, 14 dozen donuts, and $10. In 2007, Toys "R" Us held a "First Baby of the Year Sweepstakes" in the U.S. with a $25,000 savings bond prize. Diapers.com gave away a year’s worth of free diapers to the first baby of 2015 born in New York City, along with a free cab ride home. Car seats, strollers, and gift cards are also common gifts. In some regions, hospitals will release New Year babies with gift baskets or certificates for things they’ll need during their 12-month reign as New Year's royalty.

But those gifts are tame compared to the pandemonium of potentially having a globally famous millennium baby. In 1999, a British TV show Birthrace 2000 featured families looking to bring home the first baby of the new century. Some baby stores even sold $50 “Millennium Conception Kits” to help couples aim for the perfect date (March 25 through April 1, 1999 was considered the prime window for conceiving a millennium New Year baby).

So, what about babies that just miss the midnight delivery? There’s still a prize for parents in the form of a tax deduction for the year. While the 2000 New Year's baby competition seemed intense, some doctors say their patients aren’t overly concerned with precisely meeting the midnight deadline because there’s no exact way to know if a baby is truly first. Larger cities with multiple hospitals often have several New Year's babies with no clear winner, and it's nearly impossible to determine a national first baby. But, that doesn’t mean being a New Year's newborn is normal—the odds of having a baby within the first minute of the ball drop is close to that of being struck by lightning.

As for babies born first in coming years, they could be a little less famous. Many hospitals are nixing the New Year's publicity as a safety precaution against increasing child abductions. Instead, some families have to contact news stations on their own. But that doesn’t mean the New Year's birth tradition isn’t something to strive for—babies born on the first day of the year supposedly have the best luck throughout their long lives.

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Big Questions
What's the Difference Between Stuffing and Dressing?
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For carbohydrate consumers, nothing completes a Thanksgiving meal like stuffing—shovelfuls of bread, celery, mushrooms, and other ingredients that complement all of that turkey protein.

Some people don’t say “stuffing,” though. They say “dressing.” In these calamitous times, knowing how to properly refer to the giant glob of insulin-spiking bread seems necessary. So what's the difference?

Let’s dismiss one theory off the bat: Dressing and stuffing do not correlate with how the side dish is prepared. A turkey can be stuffed with dressing, and stuffing can be served in a casserole dish. Whether it’s ever seen the inside of a bird is irrelevant, and anyone who tells you otherwise is wrong and should be met with suspicion, if not outright derision.

The terms are actually separated due to regional dialects. “Dressing” seems to be the favored descriptor for southern states like Mississippi, Tennessee, South Carolina, and Georgia, while “stuffing” is preferred by Maine, New York, and other northern areas. (Some parts of Pennsylvania call it "filling," which is a bit too on the nose, but to each their own.)

If “stuffing” stemmed from the common practice of filling a turkey with carbs, why the division? According to The Huffington Post, it may have been because Southerners considered the word “stuffing” impolite, so never embraced it.

While you should experience no material difference in asking for stuffing or dressing, when visiting relatives it might be helpful to keep to their regionally-preferred word to avoid confusion. Enjoy stuffing yourselves.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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High School's Anonymous Pantry Offers Discreet Access to Necessities
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Being a teenager is tough enough without having to worry where your next meal is coming from. At Washington High School in Washington, North Carolina, students are able to access an in-house pantry stocked with basic resources, away from the prying eyes of their peers.

In 2015, the high school’s former principal Misty Walker opened a hygiene closet in partnership with Bright Futures, an organization dedicated to helping schools in the community. She told the Huffington Post that she got the idea after being approached by students looking for basic items like toothbrushes and toothpaste. Today, the pantry stocks food, clothing, and school supplies provided by local donors.

If students ever wish to use the closet, all they need to do is confide in a teacher, counselor, or administrator. They will then be taken by a staff member to one of the school’s pantries where they can shop in a private setting free from stigma. Because the program is anonymous, there are no flyers hung up advertising the pantry. Instead, the administration relies on word of mouth to spread the news.

Washington High School's assistant vice principal Melissa Harris took over the project following Walker's departure, and she tells Mental Floss that today it's stronger than ever. "The food pantry is being replenished by partners and student organizations," she says. "Our carpentry kids are also participating in the overhaul and design of the new space. The toiletry closet and clothes closet are in constant use and our partners are assisting in keeping that replenished and it has been a blessing to our students."

Some high schools across the country have followed Washington's lead in recent years. William Penn High School in New Castle, Delaware, and Northridge High School in Layton, Utah, are just a few of the institutions with similar programs.

But Washington High remains ahead of the curve. In preparation for the holidays, the school is hosting food drives for its December backpack program: The plan is to send students home with backpacks filled with two weeks' worth of supplies to get them through the long break. 

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