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14 Incredible Holiday Light Displays

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Once upon a time, you could hang up a string of lights and call your house decorated for the merriest season. But these days, LEDs, computerized Christmas lights, and projection lights have added new dimensions to decorating—and people are creating bigger and better light shows with each passing holiday season.

1. SARAJEVO 12/24

Robert Pechous of Wheaton, Illinois, synchronized more than 35,000 Christmas lights by computer to create this lovely display in 2013. (The video features just one song—Trans Siberian Orchestra's "Christmas Eve/Sarajevo 12/24"—but the show had three songs total.) Pechous expands the light show every year, raising money for the Muscular Dystrophy Association in honor of his young cousin, who has Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy.

2. DUELING JINGLE BELLS

The Brown family of Stafford, Virginia, staged a Christmas light show from 2008 to 2013 to benefit the Fredericksburg Area Food Bank. In 2012, they got a little silly and slipped a novelty song in among the Christmas Carols. You can see their other selections on YouTube.

3. TECHNO MIX

It's a Christmas rave! This home went techno for Christmas in 2011. We don't know where the home is located, or the identity of the people who so joyfully decked it out, but they've been at it for a while: You can see their other displays here.

4. MUSIC BOX DANCER

Victor Johnson of Paxton, Illinois, used 140,000 lights on his home to create this display in 2013. The music was broadcast on an FM channel so that those driving by could hear it without disturbing the neighbors. You can see more of his Christmas displays over the years at Lighting Up Paxton.

5. CHRISTMAS CAN-CAN

Tom BetGeorge of Tracy, California, is a legend among Christmas light fans. Every year, his meticulous light display helps to raise funds for local charities, and in 2013, the display included the hilarious "Christmas Can-Can" by Straight No Chaser. The 2016 show will still feature his popular Star Wars sequence, in addition to Harry Potter music and, according to BetGeorge's Facebook page, a "to-scale computer-lighted model of Hogwart's [sic] castle." The show kicks off December 16.

6. LET IT GO

A family in Texas, which goes by ListenToOurLights, syncs many songs to their lights every year, and in 2014, the blue lights lent themselves well to the songs of the Disney movie Frozen. You can see the lights dance to other songs in this playlist. The cactus is a family tradition that acts as their signature.

7. AMAZING GRACE

Richard Holdman of Pleasant Grove, Utah, began programming his Christmas lights in 2006. They grew every year, and in 2009, the town was treated to the sequence you see here. A donation box raised $40,000 for the Make-A-Wish Foundation that year. Holdman no longer puts on a show at his home, but he started a company, Holdman Lighting, and now decorates homes all over the country.

8. PURPLE RAIN

Mike Staudt of Chaska, Minnesota, puts on an annual lights show called Lights on Pascolo. That's not far from Prince's home, Paisley Park, so this year's show includes a tribute to the artist, complete with purple lights. You can see the full 2016 show here. Donations from those who enjoy the show this year will go to Ronald McDonald house charities.

9. STAR WARS/UPTOWN FUNK

In Auckland, New Zealand, where Christmas falls in the middle of summer, Logan Carpenter mixed his own music and programmed lights to match. Take a tour of Carpenter's yard to see the variety of Christmas decorations and lights.

10. EL PASO CHRISTMAS LIGHTS

Fred and Maria Loya of El Paso, Texas, won the The Great Christmas Light Fight in 2014. Their home display has only grown from there. This is their light show for 2016, featuring 450,000 lights.

11. JOLLY'S DEPARTMENT STORE

The new trend in Christmas lights is projection. You can project lights on your house for very little cost, but the most amazing displays use computerized projection mapping. This display on the front of Jolly's Department Store in Bath, UK, in 2014 shows the possibilities of this technology.

12. WESTERN MALL

In 2006, Joe Noe of Crooks, South Dakota, staged a computerized light show at his home, and the show grew so much every year that it had to eventually be moved to the Western Mall in Sioux Falls. The video above shows the 2011 display. In those years, the light display raised over $225,000 for the Make-A-Wish Foundation. There isn't a display this year, but organizers hope it will return in 2017.

13. DUBSTEP AT THE ZOO

Matt and Melissa Johnson of San Antonio, Texas, started doing computerized Christmas lights in 2013 at their home, and within a couple of years they were featured on The Great Christmas Light Fight. The display went over so well that Matt started his own lighting business, which was brought aboard to put on a light show at the San Antonio Zoo. See more of the Johnson Family Light Show at their website.

14. WALT DISNEY WORLD

Two years ago, Walt Disney World in Orlando unveiled a show called "A Frozen Holiday Wish," centered around the movie Frozen. The show leads up to the lighting of Cinderella's Castle with projected Christmas lights every evening during the season. The actual lighting begins six minutes into the video.

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Big Questions
Why Do Fruitcakes Last So Long?
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Fruitcake is a shelf-stable food unlike any other. One Ohio family has kept the same fruitcake uneaten (except for periodic taste tests) since it was baked in 1878. In Antarctica, a century-old fruitcake discovered in artifacts left by explorer Robert Falcon Scott’s 1910 expedition remains “almost edible,” according to the researchers who found it. So what is it that makes fruitcake so freakishly hardy?

It comes down to the ingredients. Fruitcake is notoriously dense. Unlike almost any other cake, it’s packed chock-full of already-preserved foods, like dried and candied nuts and fruit. All those dry ingredients don’t give microorganisms enough moisture to reproduce, as Ben Chapman, a food safety specialist at North Carolina State University, explained in 2014. That keeps bacteria from developing on the cake.

Oh, and the booze helps. A good fruitcake involves plenty of alcohol to help it stay shelf-stable for years on end. Immediately after a fruitcake cools, most bakers will wrap it in a cheesecloth soaked in liquor and store it in an airtight container. This keeps mold and yeast from developing on the surface. It also keeps the cake deliciously moist.

In fact, fruitcakes aren’t just capable of surviving unspoiled for months on end; some people contend they’re better that way. Fruitcake fans swear by the aging process, letting their cakes sit for months or even years at a stretch. Like what happens to a wine with age, this allows the tannins in the fruit to mellow, according to the Wisconsin bakery Swiss Colony, which has been selling fruitcakes since the 1960s. As it ages, it becomes even more flavorful, bringing out complex notes that a young fruitcake (or wine) lacks.

If you want your fruitcake to age gracefully, you’ll have to give it a little more hooch every once in a while. If you’re keeping it on the counter in advance of a holiday feast a few weeks away, the King Arthur Flour Company recommends unwrapping it and brushing it with whatever alcohol you’ve chosen (brandy and rum are popular choices) every few days. This is called “feeding” the cake, and should happen every week or so.

The aging process is built into our traditions around fruitcakes. In Great Britain, one wedding tradition calls for the bride and groom to save the top tier of a three-tier fruitcake to eat until the christening of the couple’s first child—presumably at least a year later, if not more.

Though true fruitcake aficionados argue over exactly how long you should be marinating your fruitcake in the fridge, The Spruce says that “it's generally recommended that soaked fruitcake should be consumed within two years.” Which isn't to say that the cake couldn’t last longer, as our century-old Antarctic fruitcake proves. Honestly, it would probably taste OK if you let it sit in brandy for a few days.

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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A Brief History of Black Friday
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The unofficial start of the holiday shopping season is often referred to as the busiest shopping day of the year. But where did this tradition start and just how big is it? Here are the answers to a few frequently asked questions about Black Friday. Hopefully they'll give you some good talking points tomorrow, when you line up outside Best Buy at 4 a.m.

HOW DID BLACK FRIDAY BECOME SUCH A BIG SHOPPING DAY?

It's hard to say when the day after Thanksgiving turned into a retail free-for-all, but it probably dates back to the late 19th century. At that time, store-sponsored Thanksgiving parades were common, and once Santa Claus showed up at the end of the parade, the holiday shopping season had officially commenced.

In those days, most retailers adhered to an unwritten rule that holiday shopping season didn't start until after Thanksgiving, so no stores would advertise holiday sales or aggressively court customers until the Friday immediately following the holiday. Thus, when the floodgates opened that Friday, it became a huge deal.

SO RETAILERS WERE ALWAYS HOPING FOR AN EARLY THANKSGIVING?

You bet. They weren't just hoping, though; they were being proactive about it. In 1939, the Retail Dry Goods Association warned Franklin Roosevelt that if the holiday season wouldn't begin until after Americans celebrated Thanksgiving on the traditional final Thursday in November, retail sales would go in the tank. Ever the iconoclast, Roosevelt saw an easy solution to this problem: he moved Thanksgiving up by a week. Instead of celebrating the holiday on its traditional day—November 30th that year—Roosevelt declared the next-to-last Thursday in November to be the new Thanksgiving, instantly tacking an extra week onto the shopping season.

BRILLIANT! HOW DID THAT WORK OUT?

Not so well. Roosevelt didn't make the announcement until late October, and by then most Americans had already made their holiday travel plans. Many rebelled and continued to celebrate Thanksgiving on its "real" date while derisively referring to the impostor holiday as "Franksgiving." State governments didn't know which Thanksgiving to observe, so some of them took both days off. In short, it was a bit of a mess.

By 1941, though, the furor had died down, and Congress passed a law that made Thanksgiving the fourth Thursday in November, regardless of how it affected the shopping day that would become known as Black Friday.

WHY CALL IT BLACK FRIDAY?

If you ask most people why the day after Thanksgiving is called Black Friday, they'll explain that the name stems from retailers using the day's huge receipts as their opportunity to "get in the black" and become profitable for the year. The first recorded uses of the term "Black Friday" are a bit less rosy, though.

According to researchers, the name "Black Friday" dates back to Philadelphia in the mid-1960s. The Friday in question is nestled snugly between Thanksgiving and the traditional Army-Navy football game that's played in Philadelphia on the following Saturday, so the City of Brotherly Love was always bustling with activity on that day. All of the people were great for retailers, but they were a huge pain for police officers, cab drivers, and anyone who had to negotiate the city's streets. They started referring to the annual day of commercial bedlam as "Black Friday" to reflect how irritating it was.

SO WHERE DID THE WHOLE "GET IN THE BLACK" STORY ORIGINATE?

Apparently store owners didn't love having their biggest shopping day saddled with such a negative moniker, so in the early 1980s someone began floating the accounting angle to put a more positive spin on the big day.

DO RETAILERS REALLY NEED BLACK FRIDAY TO TURN AN ANNUAL PROFIT?

Major retailers don't; they're generally profitable—or at least striving for profitability—throughout the entire year. (A company that turned losses for three quarters out of every fiscal year wouldn't be a big hit with investors.) Some smaller outlets may parlay big holiday season sales into annual profits, though.

IS BLACK FRIDAY REALLY THE BIGGEST SHOPPING DAY OF THE YEAR?

It's certainly the day of the year in which you're most likely to be punched while reaching for a Tickle Me Elmo doll, but it might not be the busiest day in terms of gross receipts. According to Snopes.com, Black Friday is generally one of the top days of the year for stores, but it's the days immediately before Christmas—when procrastinators finally get shopping—that stores make the serious loot. Black Friday may, however, be the busiest day of the year in terms of customer traffic.

Snopes's data shows the 10-year span from 1993 to 2002, and in that interval Black Friday was never higher than fourth on the list of the year's busiest shopping days by sales volume. In 2003 and 2005 Black Friday did climb to the top of the pile for sales revenue days, but it still gets stiff competition from the week leading up to Christmas, particularly the Saturday right before the big day.

DO PEOPLE REALLY GET INJURED ON BLACK FRIDAY?

Sadly, yes. One of the most tragic Black Friday incidents happened in 2008, when 34-year-old seasonal employee Jdimytai Damour was killed after a crowd of hundreds of people from the approximately 2000 people waiting outside knocked him own and stampeded over his back after the doors opened at 5 a.m. at the Wal-Mart on Long Island, New York.

In 2010 in Buffalo, New York, several shoppers were trampled trying to get into a Target. One of the victims, Keith Krantz—who was pinned against a metal door support and then shoved to the ground—told a CNN affiliate he thought he would be killed. “At that moment, I was thinking I don't want to die here on the ground,” Krantz said.

In Murray, Utah, 15,000 shoppers swamped a mall with such force, the local police had to respond to break up skirmishes and fistfights, and keep shoppers from ransacking stores.

In 2008, a fight broke out between a young girl and a man at another Wal-Mart store in Columbus, Ohio, over a 40-inch Samsung flat-screen television. It was $798, marked down from $1000. The New York Times reported that the not-so-aptly-named Nikki Nicely, 19, leaped onto a fellow shopper’s back and began pounding his shoulders violently when he attempted to purchase the television. “That’s my TV!” shouted Ms. Nicely, who then took an elbow to the face. “That’s my TV!” The fight was broken up by a police officer and security guard. “That’s right,” Nicely cried as her adversary walked away. “This here is my TV!”

HOW CAN THIS KIND OF THING BE AVOIDED?

In an effort to keep a few would-be clients from personal injury law firms, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) created a special checklist for retailers expecting large crowds.

So what’s OSHA’s advice? Consider using bullhorns. Hire a team of police officers. Be prepared for “crowd crushing” and “violent acts.” Set up barricades. And, above all else, if charging shoppers come running, stay out of the way.

Haley Sweetland Edwards contributed to this story, portions of which originally appeared in 2009.

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