CLOSE
iStock
iStock

Why Can’t You Pump Your Own Gas in New Jersey?

iStock
iStock

New Jersey is a state that distinguishes itself in so many ways. One example of New Jersey's unique charm may come as a surprise to visiting motorists, however, when they discover that it's illegal to pump your own gas in the Garden State.

Until quite recently, New Jersey wasn't the only state that didn't allow motorists to pump their own gas. For years, Oregon drivers had to sit in their cars as well, waiting for an attendant to fill ‘er up. However, effective January 1, 2016, Oregonians in rural counties are allowed to dispense their own gasoline at night. The measure was designed to keep motorists from getting stranded in remote areas after gas station staff had gone home for the night—a very real problem in the state’s sprawling terrain.

But let’s get back to New Jersey, a state that has made it illegal for people to pump their own gas. Why is this the case?

Enacted in 1949, the Retail Gasoline Dispensing Safety Act and Regulations banned drivers from pumping their own gas in New Jersey, and the rules are still in effect. Like so many laws, the statute claims the ban is for drivers’ own good:

Because of the fire hazards directly associated with dispensing fuel, it is in the public interest that gasoline station operators have the control needed over that activity to ensure compliance with appropriate safety procedures, including turning off vehicle engines and refraining from smoking while fuel is dispensed.

But the government version may not be the whole story. The passage of the Act was motivated by something a little less pure than safety: money. In the 1940s, when self-service was unheard of in most of the country, a gas station owner named Irving Reingold offered lower prices to customers willing to pump their own gas. The gimmick was wildly popular and soon became a threat to competing gas stations. According to Bergen County's The Record, "rival station owners reacted by persuading state lawmakers to outlaw self-serve," and the state legislature made Reingold's tactics illegal.

As more and more states around the country began to offer self-serve gas stations in the 1970s and '80s, New Jersey stayed put. Nowadays, some politicians will even refer to the matter as a source of state identity and pride. In a 2011 radio interview, Governor Chris Christie said, "People in New Jersey love the idea that they’ve got somebody to pump their gas," adding, "I don’t see that changing."

In 2015, New Jersey General Assemblyman Declan O’Scanlon introduced a bill that would lift the ban. “I am offended by people that argue that New Jerseyans are mentally incapable of pumping their own gas without setting themselves on fire," O'Scanlon said in a press statement.

O'Scanlon made one semi-concession to the old law, recommending that stations hang signs on gas pumps reminding people to turn off their engines. The recommended text seemed to mirror the assemblyman’s exasperation: “Do not, UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES, set yourself on fire!!”

Despite this helpful suggestion, O’Scanlon’s bill was not to be, as State Senate President Stephen Sweeney blocked the vote. "I will oppose any attempt to rescind the law that has effectively served the best interests of the state's motorists for decades," Sweeney said in a press statement. "As long as I am Senate President, the ban on self-serve will stay in place."

"We've been doing it the right way in New Jersey,” Sweeney concluded. “We should not change."

nextArticle.image_alt|e
iStock
arrow
Big Questions
Why Is Holly a Symbol of Christmas?
iStock
iStock

Santa Claus. A big ol’ red-and-white stocking hung by the fire. Nativity scenes. Most classic Christmas imagery is pretty self-explanatory. Then there’s the holly, genus Ilex, which found its way onto holiday cards through a more circuitous route. 

Christmas is kind of the new kid on the block as far as holly symbolism is concerned. The hardy plant’s ability to stay vibrant through the winter made it a natural choice for pre-Christian winter festivals. The Roman feast of Saturnalia, celebrated at the darkest time of the year, celebrated the god of agriculture, creation, and time, and the transition into sunshine and spring. Roman citizens festooned their houses with garlands of evergreens and tied cheery holly clippings to the gifts they exchanged.

The Celtic peoples of ancient Gaul saw great magic in the holly’s bright "berries" (technically drupes) and shiny leaves. They wore holly wreaths and sprigs to many sacred rites and festivals and viewed it as a form of protection from evil spirits. 

Christianity’s spread through what is now Europe was slow and complicated. It was hardly a one-shot, all-or-nothing takeover; few people are eager to give up their way of life. Instead, missionaries in many areas had more luck blending their messages with existing local traditions and beliefs. Holly and decorated trees were used symbolically by new Christians, just as they’d been used in their pagan days.

Today, some people associate the holly bush not with the story of Jesus’s birth but with his death, comparing the plant’s prickly leaves to a crown of thorns and the berries to drops of blood. 

But most people just enjoy it because it’s cheerful, picturesque, and riotously alive at a time when the rest of the world seems to be still and asleep.

NOTE: Holly is as poisonous as it is pretty. Please keep it away from your kids and pets.

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

nextArticle.image_alt|e
iStock
arrow
holidays
What Are the 12 Days of Christmas?
iStock
iStock

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.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios