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Look Up Tonight! The Geminid Meteor Shower Is Here

The Geminid meteor shower makes an appearance over ESO's Paranal Observatory in Chile in December 2012. Image credit: ESO/G. Lombardi

 
It's the time of the year when a mysterious visitor showers all the world with wonder and joy. That's right: Asteroid 3200 Phaethon is coming to town. Its dust particles’ collision with our atmosphere will produce the Geminid meteor shower, which peaks overnight tonight, December 13. It's the only such annual shower with an asteroidal origin.

So why does this happen, and how do you see it?

THE GEMINIDS

The Geminid meteor shower—so named because it appeared to burst forth from the constellation Gemini—graces the night skies midway through December ever year. The Geminids are serious stargazing business: They're often one of the best meteor showers of the year. Alas, in 2016, there's a catch (because this is 2016 and nothing can go right). A supermoon will correspond to the Geminids' peak, meaning the skies will be washed out with moon glow.

This doesn't necessarily doom this year's meteor shower to oblivion. The Geminids are hearty, and the sheer volume of meteors—up to 120 an hour in an average year—promises that something is likely to break through. Should you put some time into it and abscond to a light pollution–free area, you can expect something on the order of 40 events per hour—which is still an awful lot of meteors.

MEET 3200 PHAETHON

The debris responsible for December’s light shows aren’t coming from Gemini, but rather a strange object now known as 3200 Phaethon. Astronomers aren't exactly sure what Phaethon is—an asteroid or a comet. It seems to have originated in the asteroid belt, and yet as it approaches the Sun in its orbit, it grows quite the tail. That's not typical asteroid behavior, but very comet-like. The catch: Comets hail from the Kuiper Belt, located beyond Neptune, not from the asteroid belt like Phaethon.

Since its discovery in 1983, researchers have called it a "rock comet." Over the course of Phaethon's orbit, the Sun heats it up, leading to the ejection of its debris. Comets do this because they are essentially dirty space snowballs: As their volatiles vaporize, trails of particles remain. But asteroids aren't snowballs. They're rocks. So where is Phaethon's tail coming from? One hypothesis [PDF] to explain this strange ejection of dust from a heated asteroid is that as the asteroid heats, the water bound to the rock is lost, leading to stress and cracking. (Think of how mud cracks in a drying lake.) All of this produces dust, which the Sun organizes into that comet-like tail.

Phaethon's 17-month orbit around the Sun brings it inside Mercury's orbit and then out again between Mars and Jupiter. (You can see a visualization here.) It's named after the son of Helios, the Sun god in Greek mythology. Phaethon's orbital path is highly elliptical and intersects with that of Earth every December. Earth plows through Phaeton's trail of dust particles, which collide with our atmosphere at tens of thousands of miles per hour. As they burn away, they release energy that we see as streaks of light and sometimes call shooting stars.

In a sense, Phaethon is astronomy's version of answering a question with a question. For well over a century, astronomers were vexed by the mysterious parentage of the Geminid shower. When they found Phaethon, there was much rejoicing—at first. But soon everyone realized that the answer—a bizarre "rock comet" was its source—was even weirder than the question.

HOW CAN I SEE THE SHOW?

The best time to see the show is from late tonight, December 13, through the first few hours of tomorrow the 14th. If the weather doesn't cooperate, you still have a shot at catching something the following evening. If laying outdoors on the winter ground at midnight in mid-December isn't your thing, you can crank up the heater at home, swaddle yourself in a warm blanket on the sofa, and watch the show live on Slooh.

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30 Cold, Hard Facts About Die Hard
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What do you get when you mix one part action movie with one part holiday flick and add in a dash of sweaty tank top? Die Hard, John McTiernan’s genre-bending Christmas action masterpiece for the ages, which sees a badass NYPD cop take on a skyscraper full of bad guys in the midst of an office holiday party. Here are 30 things you might not know about the movie.

1. IT’S GOT A LITERARY BACKGROUND.

Think some action-loving Hollywood scribe came up with the concept for Die Hard? Think again. The movie is based on Roderick Thorp’s 1979 crime novel Nothing Lasts Forever, which is a sequel to his 1966 novel, The Detective. In 2013, Thorp’s long out-of-print book was resurrected to coincide with the film’s 25th anniversary.

2. IT WAS INSPIRED BY THE TOWERING INFERNO.

The idea for Nothing Lasts Forever was inspired John Guillermin’s 1974 disaster flick, The Towering Inferno. After seeing the film, Thorp had a dream about a man being chased through a skyscraper by a group of men with guns. He eventually turned that snippet of an idea into a sequel to The Detective.

3. FRANK SINATRA GOT FIRST DIBS ON PLAYING THE ROLE OF JOHN MCCLANE.


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Because he had starred in the big-screen adaptation of The Detective, Frank Sinatra had to be offered the role in its sequel. At the age of 73, he smartly turned it down.

4. BRUCE WILLIS’ BIG-SCREEN DEBUT WAS WITH FRANK SINATRA.

In 1980, Willis made his film debut (albeit uncredited) in the crime thriller The First Deadly Sin. He has no name and if you blink you’ll miss him, but the role simply required that Willis entered a diner as Sinatra’s character left it. Maybe it was kismet?

5. CLINT EASTWOOD PLANNED TO TAKE A STAB AT THE PART.

Originally, it was Clint Eastwood who owned the movie rights to Nothing Lasts Forever, which he had planned to star in in the early 1980s. That obviously never happened.

6. IT WAS NEVER SUPPOSED TO BE A SEQUEL TO COMMANDO.

This is one of the most popular internet stories about Die Hard. But according to Stephen de Souza, the screenwriter of both Die Hard and Commando, while there was a sequel to Commando planned, the only similarity with Die Hard is that they both took place in buildings. According to de Souza, Escape Plan is the closest to his original Commando 2 idea and Die Hard was never supposed to be anything but Die Hard.

7. BRUCE WILLIS WASN’T EVEN THE STUDIO’S THIRD CHOICE FOR THE ROLE.

If Die Hard was to be a success, the studio knew they needed a bona fide action star in the part, so they set about offering it to a seemingly never-ending list of A-listers of the time. Rumor has it that Sylvester Stallone, Harrison Ford, Robert De Niro, Charles Bronson, Nick Nolte, Mel Gibson, Richard Gere, Don Johnson, Burt Reynolds, and Richard Dean Anderson (yes, MacGyver!) were all considered for the role of John McClane. And all declined it.

8. BRUCE WILLIS WAS CONSIDERED A COMEDIC ACTOR AT THE TIME.

Die Hard’s producers had nothing against Bruce Willis, of course. He just wasn’t an immediate choice for the role because, up until that point, he was known solely as a comedic actor, not an action star. Following the success of the film, the action genre really became Willis’ bread and butter, and although he has two Emmys for his comedy work, it has remained as such to this day.

9. BRUCE WILLIS WAS BARELY EVEN SEEN ON THE MOVIE’S POSTERS.

Bruce Willis stars as John McClane in 'Die Hard.'
Twentieth Century Fox

Because the studio’s marketing gurus were unconvinced that audiences would pay to see an action movie starring the funny guy from Moonlighting, the original batch of posters for the film centered on Nakatomi Plaza instead of Willis’ mug. As the film gained steam, the marketing materials were altered, and Willis was more prominent in the promos.

10. WILLIS WAS PAID $5 MILLION TO MAKE THE MOVIE.

Even with all the uncertainly surrounding whether he could pull the film off, Willis was paid $5 million to make Die Hard, which was considered a rather hefty sum at the time—a figure reserved for only the top tier of Hollywood talents.

11. WILLIS SUGGESTED THAT BONNIE BEDELIA PLAY HIS WIFE.

Though we suspect that she wasn’t paid $5 million for the gig.

12.  BRUCE WILLIS WAS ABLE TO SAY YES THANKS TO A WELL-TIMED PREGNANCY.

The first few times Bruce Willis was asked to star in the movie, he had to say no because of his commitments to Moonlighting. Then costar Cybill Shepard announced that she was pregnant. Because her pregnancy wouldn’t work within the show, producer Glenn Caron gave everyone 11 weeks off, allowing Willis to say yes.

13. SAM NEILL WAS ORIGINALLY APPROACHED FOR THE PART OF HANS GRUBER.

But Neill ended up turning the film down. Then, in the spring of 1987, the casting director saw Alan Rickman playing the dastardly Valmont in a stage production of Dangerous Liaisons and knew they had found their Hans.

14. DIE HARD WAS ALAN RICKMAN’S FEATURE FILM DEBUT.

Though Rickman may have played the part of Hans as cool as the other side of the pillow, it was actually his first role in a feature film.

15. JOHN MCTIERNAN TURNED THE MOVIE DOWN, TOO.

And not just once, but on a few different occasions. His reason was that the material just seemed too dark and cynical for him. “The original screenplay was a grim terrorist movie,” McTiernan told Empire magazine in 2014. “On my second week working on it, I said, 'Guys, there's no part of terrorism that's fun. Robbers are fun bad guys. Let's make this a date movie.’ And they had the courage to do it.”

16. MCTIERNAN SEES IT AS A SHAKESPEAREAN TALE.

In the original script, the action in Die Hard takes place over a three-day span, but McTiernan—inspired by Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream—insisted that it be condensed into a single evening.

17. NAKATOMI PLAZA IS ACTUALLY FOX PLAZA.


Yes, the corporate headquarters of 20th Century Fox—the very studio making the movie—proved to be the perfect location for the movie’s much-needed Nakatomi Plaza. And as it was still under construction, there wasn’t a whole lot they needed to do to the space to make it movie-ready. The studio charged itself rent to use its own space.

18. THE ROOM WHERE THE HOSTAGES ARE BEING HELD IS LITERALLY SUPPOSED TO BE FRANK LLOYD WRIGHT'S FALLING WATER.

"In this period, Japanese corporations were buying America," production designer Jackson De Govia said in the Die Hard DVD audio commentary. "We posited that ... Nakatami Corporation bought Falling Water, disassembled it, and reassembled it in the atrium, like a trophy."

19. THAT PANORAMIC VIEW OF THE CITY BELOW? IT’S NOT REAL.

A 380-foot-long background painting provided the illusion of a breathtaking city view in the movie. And it was a state-of-the-art one, too, with animated lights, moving traffic, and the ability to change from night to day. The painting is still the property of the studio and has been used in other productions since.

20. THE FILM’S SUCCESS SPAWNED A BONA FIDE FRANCHISE.

In addition to its four sequels, Die Hard has spawned video games and comic books, too.

21. JOHN MCCLANE’S TUMBLE DOWN A VENTILATION SHAFT WAS AN ACCIDENT.

Or maybe “error” would be a better word. But in the scene in which McClane jumps into an elevator shaft, his stunt man was supposed to grab onto the first vent. But he missed. By a lot. Which made the footage even more exciting to watch, so editor Frank J. Urioste kept it in the final cut.

22. ALAN RICKMAN’S DEATH SCENE WAS ALSO PRETTY SCARY.

At least it was for Rickman. In order to make it look as if he was falling off a building, Rickman was supposed to drop 20 feet onto an air bag while holding onto a stunt man. But in order to get a genuinely terrified reaction out of him, they dropped him on the count of two—not three, as was planned.

23. BRUCE WILLIS SUFFERED PERMANENT HEARING LOSS.


Twentieth Century Fox

In order to get the hyper-realism that director John McTiernan was looking for, the blanks used in the guns in the movie were modified to be extra loud. In one scene, Willis shoots a terrorist through a table, which put the action star in extremely close proximity to the gun—and caused permanent hearing loss. He referenced the injury in a 2007 interview with The Guardian. When they asked Willis his most unappealing habit, he replied that, “Due to an accident on the first Die Hard, I suffer two-thirds partial hearing loss in my left ear and have a tendency to say, ‘Whaaa?’”

24. ALAN RICKMAN WASN’T FOND OF THE NOISE EITHER.

Whenever he had to shoot a gun in the film, Rickman couldn’t help but flinch. Which forced McTiernan to have to cut away from him so that his reactions were not caught on film.

25. GRUBER’S AMERICAN ACCENT POSED NOTHING BUT PROBLEMS.

The scene in which Rickman, as Gruber, slips into an American accent and pretends to be yet another hostage who got away was insisted on by screenwriter Steven de Souza, who wanted them in a room together to duke it out. But McTiernan was never happy with Rickman’s American accent, saying, “I still hear Alan Rickman’s English accent. I was never quite happy with the way he opened his mouth [in that scene] ... I shot it three times trying to get him to sound more stridently American ... it’s odd for someone who has such enormous verbal skills; he just had terrible trouble getting an American accent.”

26. HANS GRUBER’S GERMAN IS MOSTLY GIBBERISH.

And the bulk of his German cohorts were not German either. Bruce Willis, on the other hand, was actually born in West Germany to an American father and a German mother.

27. BRUCE WILLIS HAS FOUR FEET.

As Willis spends much of the movie in his bare feet running through broken glass, he was given a pair of rubber feet to wear as a safety precaution. Which is great and all, but if you look closely in certain scenes, you can actually see the fake appendages.

28. YOU CAN SEE—BUT NOT TOUCH—JOHN MCCLANE’S SWEATY TANK TOP.


Getty Images

In 2007, donated the blood-soaked tank top he wore in Die Hard to the National Museum of American History at the Smithsonian.

29. “YIPPEE-KI-YAY” STOLE THE MOVIE.

It was a simple line: “Yippee-ki-yay, motherf*cker!” But it became the film’s defining moment, and the unofficial catchphrase that has been used in all four Die Hard sequels as well.

30. CREDIT FOR THE LINE IS OWED TO WILLIS.

In a 2013 interview with Ryan Seacrest, Bruce Willis admitted that “Yippee-ki-yay, motherf*cker!” was really just a joke. “It was a throwaway,” said Willis. “I was just trying to crack up the crew and I never thought it was going to be allowed to stay in the film."

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25 Questions about Hanukkah, Answered!
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From proper spellings and whether to call it a menorah or hanukkiah, to how to celebrate in space and where you can find a competitive dreidel game, we have the answers to 25 pressing questions about the Festival of Lights.

1. HOW DO YOU SPELL IT?

"Happy Hanukkah" spelled with blocks.
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According to the Oxford English Dictionary, variant spellings of the celebration include: Chanucha, Hanuca, Hanucka, Khanukah, and most every other combination imaginable, with the most common spellings today being Hanukkah and Chanukah. The reason for all the spellings is because Hanukkah isn't a native English word—it's not even from a language that uses the Latin alphabet.

When converting between alphabets, there is a choice whether to preserve the pronunciation or the spelling, and sometimes the results don't match [PDF]. In the case of Hanukkah and Chanukah, Hanukkah represents the spelling, while Chanukah more closely represents the original pronunciation, with a Ch like the Scottish pronunciation of loch.

2. WHAT DOES IT COMMEMORATE?

Wood engraving from the 19th century.
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The story is that in the second century BCE Judea was under the rule of the Seleucid Empire. The Empire began forcing Jews to convert to Greek culture and religion, resulting in the Maccabee Revolt. Eventually the Maccabees emerged victorious and needed to rededicate the Temple and light the menorah. But there was a problem: They could only find one jug of oil that was still pure, which was enough for one day. Miraculously the oil lasted for eight days, which was enough time to get new oil. But historians still debate certain parts, such as how much of the Maccabee revolt was over Hellenization versus a power struggle between different factions of Judaism, and even when the story of the oil appeared in the record.

3. ON WHAT DATE DOES HANUKKAH START?

Calendar with December 12 noted as first day of Hanukkah.
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According to the Gregorian calendar, in 2017 Hanukkah will begin on the evening of December 12, while in 2018 it begins on the evening of December 3 and in 2019 on December 22. The first day can fall anywhere from November 27 to as late as December 26.

4. WHY DOES IT ALWAYS CHANGE DATES?

Star of David decorations.
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It changes dates for the same reason that there are so many spellings—conversion issues. In the Hebrew calendar the first day of Hanukkah takes place on the 25th of Kislev each year. But unlike the solar Gregorian calendar, the Hebrew calendar is lunisolar, meaning that the Gregorian and Hebrew calendars don't perfectly correspond to each other. So while followers of the Gregorian calendar see Hanukkah moving around, to a follower of the Hebrew calendar, dates like Christmas move around—being celebrated on 7th of Tevet one year, and the 17th of Tevet the next.

5. HOW MANY ARMS SHOULD A MENORAH HAVE?

A stone menorah outside the knesset.

Benjamin, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

This isn't as straightforward a question as it may appear. Outside the Knesset (the Israeli parliament) is a statue of a menorah with only seven arms. This represents the menorah of the Temple, which had seven arms and has long been one of the symbols of Judaism. And Hanukkah's miracle of the oil made use of the seven branched version.

6. SO HOW DID THE HANUKKAH VERSION APPEAR?

Menorah above
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There are multiple hypotheses for the nine-branched menorah used for Hanukkah celebrations. One is that it was forbidden to make replicas of the seven-branched Temple menorah, so adding extra arms got around that prohibition. The other possibility is that the practicalities of an eight day celebration lent itself to a nine-branched menorah.

7. SHOULD I ACTUALLY CALL IT A MENORAH THEN?

Menorah and Star of David.
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According to historian Steven Fine, the Hanukkah fixture and many other types of lighting were all called menorahs until the late 19th century, when Hemda Ben Yehuda, the wife of Eliezer Ben Yehuda, who was the driving force behind the reemergence of Hebrew as a language, decided that the Hanukkah lamp needed to be distinguished from the seven-branched menorahs that were starting to become widespread. Eventually, they came across a Balkan word, hanukkiah, to describe the lamp.

Today, some people maintain that menorah is fine to describe the Hanukkah candelabra, while others maintain that it should be referred to as a hanukkiah or chanukiah.

8. WHAT'S THE DEAL WITH THE MIDDLE CANDLE?

Close-up of a menorah.
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On a standard hanukkiah, one of the candles is raised, lowered, or otherwise separated from the other eight. This candle is called the shamash and is considered distinct from the main candles (in other words, on the first night of Hanukkah there are actually two candles lit—the first candle and the shamash). It serves multiple purposes, such as being used to light the other candles of the hanukkiah. The extra candle is also important because it's forbidden to use the main Hanukkah lights for non-religious purposes like reading or to derive a benefit from them. Part of the purpose of the shamash is to offload any benefit gained onto a non-important candle (although some Jews have other lights available to avoid even the shamash light).

9. WHAT DOES A TRADITIONAL HANUKKAH CELEBRATION ENTAIL?

Family lighting a hanukkiah.
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While there are regional and even family differences as to specifics, one of the most common orders of events is that the shamash is lit, and then blessings, or brachot, are recited. On the first night there are three blessings, including the Shehecheyanu, which is only recited on the first night, meaning the other nights have two blessings. Following the brachot the candles are lit, and then traditionally Hanerot Halalu is recited and songs are sung.

10. HOW DO I LOAD AND LIGHT THE HANUKKIAH?

Rabbi lighting a hanukkiah.
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According to the Talmud, this was a debate between two of the major sages of first century BCE Judaism, Hillel and Shammai, and their schools of thought Beit Hillel and Beit Shammai. Hillel argued that on the first night, only one light should be lit (not including the shamash), and then on the second night two lights, and so on until eight lights are lit on the eighth day. Shammai argued for the reverse; on the first night eight lights should be lit, decreasing by one until the last day. Each side backed up their argument with theological evidence (Shammai compared it to the bulls of the Festival of Succot, where the sacrificed bulls decreased by one each day, while Hillel argued that holiness should increase, not decrease). A vote was held and Hillel’s thought won and is the common practice today.

So on the first day, one candle is placed on the rightmost holder on the hanukkiah and lit. On the second day, a candle is placed in the rightmost holder and then another candle in the second rightmost holder. When it comes to lighting, the order is reversed. After lighting the shamash, the newest candle is lit first and then the previous candle, and so on. So the hanukkiah is loaded right to left, but lit left to right.

11. DOES IT HAVE TO BE CANDLES?

A battery-operated menorah.
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No. In fact, olive oil (with cotton wicks) is considered the ideal fuel as that is likely the oil used in the original miracle. Beyond that, beeswax candles and many other candles and oils are considered perfectly acceptable for use in a hanukkiah, as long as the light doesn't flicker. Where the debate occurs is in electric hanukkiahs. Some view them as a fine update on the tradition, especially for people who can't have or don't want open flames. According to Chabad.org though, there are issues. One of the major ones is that "fuel" (electricity) gets continually added, while one of the requirements of the lighting is that the required fuel needs to be present at the beginning, although they concede that battery-powered hanukkiahs likely fulfill this requirement. There are also issues with how the light is generated, so many people say to use electric hanukkiahs only for display purposes or if a traditional hanukkiah isn't possible.

12. WHAT HAPPENS ON SHABBAT?

Shabbat candles and bread.
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Since Hanukkah ranges over eight days, it will inevitably overlap with the Shabbat (sunset Friday to sunset Saturday), which has its own lighting tradition. In that situation, the Hanukkah candles should be lit first, as it is forbidden to light candles after the Shabbat candles are lit and the blessings said. But to ensure that the candles last at least half an hour after dark, special candles are recommended.

13. HOW TRADITIONAL ARE LATKES?

Plate of latkes.
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Not as traditional as one might think. Potatoes are native to South America and weren't encountered by Europeans until the 16th century. Before then, it's thought that latkes were based on an Italian ricotta pancake. Eventually the potato came to dominate, possibly thanks to the available frying oil. One theory for the change is that in Eastern Europe the pancakes were fried in chicken fat as opposed to a plant oils. As dietary laws prohibit Jews from mixing meat and dairy, the ricotta had to go, likely in favor of things like buckwheat. Meanwhile, another theory (not mutually exclusive) says that as crops failed in Eastern Europe in the mid-19th century, potatoes became a popular replacement crop. Come Hanukkah, people fried what was available to them.

14. HOW DID CHEESE ALWAYS END UP ON THE MENU?

Wine and cheese plate.
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The 16th century Rabbi Moses Isserles wrote "There are those who say to eat cheese on Hanukkah because the miracle was done through milk, which Judith fed the enemy."

The Judith in question was a beautiful widow in the town of Bethulia. As the town was under siege, the story goes, she went into the enemy camp and fed the enemy commander salty cheese to get him thirsty, then wine to get him drunk. After he got suitably drunk Judith cut off his head and ended the siege of the town.

According to NPR, despite the events of the Judith story taking place centuries before Hanukkah, medieval Jews began conflating the two, turning Judith into a close relation of Judah Maccabee. Judith's close association with cheese made it a natural Hanukkah dish.

15. WHY SO MANY FRIED FOODS?

Latkes frying in a pan.
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Fried foods are a very traditional part of the Hanukkah celebration for Jews around the world, and this is for a very simple reason—to recognize the miracle of oil.

16. WHAT OTHER TRADITIONAL FOODS SHOULD I MAKE FOR HANUKKAH?

Plate of sufganiyot.
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Gil Marks's Encyclopedia of Jewish Food contains several other traditional Hanukkah foods from all over the world. These include zangula, a type of fried batter from North Africa; sefengor kindel, an Algerian plum filled fried dough; and even a Yemeni dish called laches djezar, which Marks describes as a carrot sauté.

17. WHAT'S THE STORY BEHIND THE DREIDEL?

Four dreidels.
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The dreidel is a traditional spinning top game. The top has four sides each with a letter on it, and depending which side comes up after a spin, the player has to do nothing, put a piece into a pot, or get some or all of the pot. The traditional story is that the letters represent the phrase nes gadol haya sham or "a great miracle happened there," in reference to the Hanukkah miracle of the oil. Some versions go further, saying that the top was a tool persecuted Jews used to study the Torah. But modern historians tend to doubt this story, suggesting that it traces to a top game called teetotum or just totum. These tops traditionally had the letters of the action (Take all, take Half, Nothing, and Put) and when this was adapted for the Hebrew alphabet, the current dreidel appeared.

18. ARE THERE UNNECESSARILY COMPETITIVE DREIDEL LEAGUES?

Child spinning a dreidel.
JONATHAN NACKSTRAND/AFP/Getty Images

You bet: Major League Dreidel. In 2008, NPR explained that the contest, which featured such athletes as Tasmanian Dreidel and Jewbacca, wasn't the same as the traditional game. Instead, "Spinners compete on how long their dreidel spins on progressively smaller surfaces." And the puns don't stop at the player names: their "court" is referred to as the "Spinagogue," also the name of their tabletop game. This year, the Major League Dreidel championship will be held in Brooklyn on December 15, the fourth night of Hanukkah.

19. WHERE DID HANUKKAH GELT COME FROM?

Bag of chocolate gelt.
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There are several different origin stories for Hanukkah gelt, the foil wrapped chocolate coins of every Hanukkah celebration. One version says that it derives from the coinage that the Maccabees minted after independence. Another story relates it to the word hinnukh, or education. This hypothesis says that due to the pronunciation and possible etymological relation between hinnukh and Hanukkah, coins were given to teachers and students at that time of year. There are other possibilities, but these were all real coins. According to The Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets, the chocolate may have come from an entirely different holiday figure: Santa Claus. The books says that in Belgium and the Netherlands people celebrated St. Nicholas' feast day on December 6 by giving both chocolate and real coins to students and children, although they caution "it would be a mistake to draw too close a connection between this Christian tradition and Chanukah gelt." No matter what, the first Hanukkah chocolate gelt is believed to have been from a chocolatier in the 1920s.

20. WHY ARE THE COLORS BLUE AND WHITE?

Israeli flag.
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Likely because of the Israeli flag. In the 19th century, the Jewish poet Ludwig August von Frankl wrote that "blue and white are the colors of Judah," likely basing the assertion on the Jewish prayer shawl the tallit. Eventually, the colors became associated with Israel and Judaism, and eventually Hanukkah.

21. WHAT'S THE TALLEST HANUKKIAH IN THE WORLD?

Mayor Michael Bloomberg attends the menorah lighting in New York City in 2013.
Getty

The largest hanukkiah in the world is generally thought to be in New York City near Central Park, which stands at 36 feet high, weighs two tons, and has been a New York fixture since 1977.

There's a reason that the hanukkiah is only 36 feet tall. That’s the generally agreed limit on how high above ground the candles are supposed to be placed, because any higher and people won't be able to look at the lights. This causes a problem for Jews living in a high floor of an apartment complex. According to New York's Lincoln Square Synagogue, people in this situation should place the hanukkiah by the front door as opposed to in the window. But they say some authorities maintain that if there are apartment buildings opposite that are clearly visible from your apartment, the window is an acceptable place for the hanukkiah.

22. HOW DO ASTRONAUTS CELEBRATE HANUKKAH?

AFP/Getty Images

In 1993, astronaut Jeffrey Hoffman went up to help fix the Hubble Space Telescope. But he wasn't going to let that ruin the Hanukkah celebrations. The mission broadcast him playing with a dreidel as he attempted to "reinterpret the rules for space flight, since there's no up or down." He then broke out a small hanukkiah, although he refrained from lighting it.

23. AND HOW ABOUT IN ANTARCTICA?

Sunset in Antarctica
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In 2015, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory published a blog post detailing how Hanukkah was celebrated at McMurdo Station. And there were problems. The first is that for safety reasons, open flames (like from a candle) are banned [PDF]. Special dispensation had to be granted for the hanukkiah that required the fire marshal to be present and it be lit in the McMurdo galley. The other issue was lighting the candles at sunset—in the Antarctic summer, there is no sunset. According to blog author Jenna Kloosterman, one person argued that they should go with New Zealand sunset, another voted for Jerusalem time, and someone else suggested United States sunset. In the end, Kloosterman says, "we just had to go with the time that the fire marshal was available, which was 7:15 p.m."

24. BUT WHAT IF YOU CROSS THE INTERNATIONAL DATELINE?

Menorah lights along a skyline.
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According to Ohr Somayach's "Ask The Rabbi," there are a few possibilities for how to handle traveling and Hanukkah (but you should consult your own Rabbi for specific cases). The first case involved someone who is traveling. Ohr Samayach recommends appointing an agent to light the hanukkiah in the traveler's home and recite the brachot when lighting both the traveler's hanukkiah and the agent's personal hanukkiah.

But if the traveler crosses the International Dateline and skips one of the nights of Hanukkah, Ohr Somayach recommends that the agent light a hanukkiah without a corresponding bracha (the singular form of brachot).

25. WHAT'S CHRISMUKKAH?

Hanging a Star of David on a Christmas tree.
Bodo Marks/AFP/Getty Images

Chrismukkah is a portmanteau of Christmas and Hanukkah introduced in 2003 on the TV show The O.C. But that wasn't the first time those two holidays were combined. In late 19th-century Germany, the term "Weihnukka" appeared, combining Hanukkah with Weihnachten, the German word for Christmas. But according to Cary Nathenson in the Journal of Jewish Identities, Weihnukka had little to do with celebrating the day, writing "The Christmas these Jews celebrated was less about the birth of Jesus Christ than it was about fitting in with neighbors. Christmas was widely seen as belonging to and defining of the German nation rather than a religious festival, and therefore celebrating the holiday was just something that 'real' Germans did, regardless of their religion."

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