Merry Christmas!

XmasTree2013Forget the annoying ads and the holiday songs that have been blaring in malls since October. The best thing about Christmas is being together with my husband and having our whole family home for the holiday week. As far as we’re concerned, that’s the best Christmas gift of all.

Of course, science hasn’t stood still while I’ve been running around buying gifts, cleaning house, and meeting client deadlines. Here are a few of this year’s Christmas science scoops, courtesy of AlphaGalileo:

New flash! The bulk of holiday preparation work falls on Mom. So says a new study from Kristine Warhuus Smeby at Norwegian University of Science and Technology. Smeby’s study falls into the category of what I call “Duh! Science.” As in: “Really? Tell me something I didn’t know!”

Gender inequality is one of those unfortunate facts of life where studies say that women still do more double duty than men. However, Smeby says, the differences are most pronounced at Christmas. Having done the bulk of holiday gift shopping and wrapping, hours of cleaning, and wrangling a live Christmas tree to put up by myself, I totally get the point. But there’s something reassuring about Smeby’s sociology dissertation that makes me feel justified in saying, “Okay, someone else handle the main dish for Christmas day. I’m exhausted!”

Another “Duh! Science” study comes from Esther Martinez at Rey Juan Carlos University and other researchers in Spain. Did you know that toy ads still send sexist messages to boys and girls? Strength and spatial skills figure prominently in toy ads for boys. Toy ads targeted at girls stress beauty and education. Again, the conclusion isn’t a surprise. Nonetheless, it helps to have some statistics to back up one’s gut feeling.

A more startling study from Spain finds that half the National Lottery’s sales in that country come from the Christmas lottery. It’s not clear from the study why this is so. Nonetheless, the National Lottery moves around 3 percent of the country’s Gross National Product and employs almost 80,000 people. On a national scale, that “cannot be irrelevant,” says sociology professor Gómez Yañez at Universidad Carlos III de Madrid.

Last but not least, don’t worry whether present-day light pollution would have kept the Wise Men from finding their way to Bethlehem. Research from Germany based on the “Loss of the Night” app shows that even in bright urban skies, some stars are still bright enough for people to see—and presumably be guided by.

Of course, the original Star of Bethlehem wasn’t just about astronomy. It was about faith and hope and the search for salvation. Here’s hoping that wherever we live, we don’t lose sight of the true meaning of the holiday season.

Merry Christmas to all. And to all, a good night!

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