Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Gift-givers and Tidbits

Saint Nicholas was a 4th century bishop known for giving gifts to children, but only after asking if they had been good throughout the previous year. His name in Dutch is Sinterklaas, which was corrupted into Santa Claus. In the 16th century, the Protestants said the one bringing the gifts was the Christ Child—or Christkindl—which got corrupted into Kris Kringle.

As I mentioned in an earlier post (Attics and Creative Sparks), the tidbits that define my posts will be a part of the interactive website of my children’s adventure novel. There are about 150 tidbits throughout the 30-odd chapters. And it was incredibly fun researching every one of them.

Each new fact, fable or bit of trivia was like unwrapping a little gift. I often had to wade through pages and pages of information about a given subject to finally find the one little nugget that became the tidbit. Whenever I reached an “I didn’t know that” or “That’s interesting” moment, I knew I had something. (Then I had to verify that it was actually true.)

Here are some favorites that I uncovered…

Light travels faster than sound, which is why you generally see lightning before you hear thunder. The lightning super heats the air, causing pressure that results in a sonic boom. This boom is the thunder. The rolling or rumbling of thunder is caused when the shock wave moves along the lightning’s path.


In medieval times, the poor slept on mattresses stuffed with straw. The rich, however, enjoyed luxuriously soft featherbeds, sometime set on top of a straw or woolen-stuffed mattress. Curtains or embroidered hangings surrounded the bed to keep out the cold. The bed and bedding were considered so valuable that they were often passed down in the owner’s will.


The term for sun reflecting off a still body of water is “sun glint.” When waves break up the reflected light, it’s called “sun glitter.”


Black, oolong, green, yellow and white tea all come from the same plant—the camellia sinensis or common tea plant. The difference in the types of tea stems from the manufacturing process, not the plants themselves.


If it wasn’t for the bubonic plague, beer steins might never have been invented. In the early 1500s, people still had no idea what caused the “Black Death.” Fearing that the hoards of flies in their midst might cause another outbreak of the deadly plague, the government of what is now Germany passed a covered-container law.

To comply with this law, common beer mugs had to have a lid. Someone cleverly made the lid hinged with a thumb piece so people could drink their beer with one hand—and the beer stein was born.

Around this same time, new techniques for firing earthenware were developed. Higher temperatures turned clay into a more solid, stone-like material. Beer steins were made of this new stoneware. The word “stein” is short for “Steinkrug”, which means “stone jug” in German.


The smoke produced by a fire is a mixture of water vapor, gases and extremely tiny particles—about 40 times smaller than the width of a human hair. The actual make-up of the particles and gases depends on what’s burning, which is why smoke can have different smells and be black or white.

As the fire is extinguished, the smoke particles cool and adhere to everything they touch. This is why the smell of smoke can linger long after a fire.


The term “scapegoat” comes from the Yom Kippur ceremony of Judaism where a goat is driven into the wilderness (escape goat) to carry away the sins of the people.


Most rainbows appear to be an arc, but that’s because we’re only seeing part of them. If you could view the whole thing (such as from an airplane), you would see a full circle.


I hope you enjoyed these little gifts of knowledge. And I hope that Santa Claus, Kris Kringle, Pére Noel, Babbo Natale, Joulupukki or whichever incarnation you prefer fills your holiday with friends, family and fun.

1 comment:

  1. A jaunty blog for the holidays. The gift of knowledge is appropriate for any occasion.