Sunday, January 21, 2018

A Bunch Of Alligators Is Called What?

I was watching a quiz show on television (probably Jeopardy) and one of the questions referred to the collective group name for a bunch of crows. My first thought was that I knew the answer…a murder of crows. My second thought had to do with why a bunch of crows would be referred to as a murder of crows rather than a flock of birds.

We've all used the commonly known term of herd when referring to a bunch of cattle or horses or buffalo. Different groups of animals are collectively referred to by specific designations. And many of those collective group names make us scratch our heads and wonder who called them that and why.

So, my curiosity got to me and I did a little digging into collective group names for various animals.

Here's some that I found particularly interesting…and strange.

Alligators? They congregate in a congregation. However, crocodiles group together in a bask or a float. And rattlesnakes are a rhumba.

Barracudas are referred to as a battery (seems more appropriate for a group of electric eels). Jellyfish group together in a smack. And sharks form into a shiver (a name that seems very appropriate and properly descriptive).

Buzzards bunch into a wake. Eagles form a convocation or an aerie. A group of owls is a parliament or a stare. Ravens form an unkindness or a storytelling (shades of Edgar Allen Poe). And swallows give us a flight or gulp (which seems to fit with swallow).

Cats…as a general collective they can be a clowder or clutter or pounce or dout or nuisance or glorying or a glare. Wild cats specifically form into a destruction.

Giraffes group into a tower (seems very appropriate).

Gnus are an implausibility (seems only right for an animal that starts with a silent letter).

Porcupines come in a prickle (again, an appropriately named collective).

Wolves, in general, group into a pack. However, if the wolves are moving they are known as a route or rout.

Zebras are known as a zeal or crossing or dazzle or cohorts in addition to the traditional herd.

And in the rodent community…we have ferrets grouped into a business. Squirrels are known as a dray or scurry.

But what about people, you might be asking. Well, here's a suggestion that I came across that might be appropriate:  a nag of wives and a jerk of husbands.  :)

Sunday, January 14, 2018


Companies have been suing each other for ages, especially over copyright infringement.  Some of the biggest brands in the world have taken each other to court.  The outcome of some of these lawsuits have altered entire industries some of which might look very different today if the outcome of the lawsuit had gone the other way.

10)  DYSON VS. HOOVER (2000)
Duration of lawsuit:  one year
Winner:  Dyson
Damages:  $4.9 million

Dyson claimed Hoover infringed on its patent for the bagless cleaner which uses a dynamic similar to a centrifuge to pull the dust from air.  The court found that Hoover used the same technology which did infringe on James Dyson's invention.  Hoover appealed twice and lost both times.  The court instructed Hoover to stop selling its Vortex model.

9)  ORACLE VS. SAP (2007)
Duration of lawsuit:  seven years
Winner:  Oracle
Damages:  $357 million

Center of the lawsuit was SAP's TomorrowNow unit which Oracle claimed had illegally downloaded copyrighted documents and programs from Oracle.  SAP admitted it had infringed on copyright and tried to settle out of court before a jury awarded Oracle $1.3 billion in damages, an amount later brown down to $357 million. Both sides accepted the lower amount.

Duration of lawsuit:  two years
Winner:  Universal Studios
Damages:  Unknown

After 20th Century Fox successfully released the first Star Wars movie in 1977, Universal Studios decided it needed a space epic of its own and launched Battlestar Galactica.  Fox accused Universal of copyright infringement, citing 34 specific things allegedly copied.  The case was settled out of court.  ABC television network, where Battlestar Galactica aired, canceled the show in 1979.  [I worked for Fox during this time and the series I worked on used material from Star Wars.  The Fox legal department kept a very close eye on how we were using the film footage to make sure it didn't give any ammunition to Universal for the lawsuit.]

7)  GUCCI VS. GUESS (2009)
Duration of lawsuit:  four years
Winner:  Gucci…and Guess
Damages:  $4.6 million

In 2009 Gucci started a four-year-long legal battle, accusing Guess of copying Gucci's logo on a line of shoes.  They also accused Guess of counterfeiting, unfair competition, and trademark infringement.  They demanded $221 million in damages. Gucci files two lawsuits, one in New York and the other one in Milan, Italy.  The New York case was closed in favor of Gucci and they were awarded $4.7 million in damages.  The Milan court ruled in favor of Guess, stating the use of the "G" was common in the fashion industry.

Duration of lawsuit:  six years
Winner:  Microsoft
Damages:  Unknown

Apple licensed parts of their Macintosh computer to Microsoft for its Windows 1.0 software.  When Microsoft released Windows 2.0, it added other features, including overlapping windows, which could also be found in the Macintosh's software.  Apple filed a lawsuit claiming copyright infringement and listed 189 parts of the interface that had been copied.  After six years, the court dismissed 179 of Apple's claims and said the remaining ten in dispute could not be copyrighted.

Duration of lawsuit:  five years
Winner:  A&M Records
Damages:  $26 million

Napster originally launched as a pirated music marketplace, allowing anybody to download music for free.  Music labels didn't wait long to sue.  Even though the plaintiff was referred to as A&M Records, it actually included all members of the recording Industry Association of America.  After the case was concluded, Napster was forced to shut down.  The brand was later acquired by the software company Roxio and relaunched as a legal music store, but it eventually died.

Duration of lawsuit:  five years
Winner:  Microsoft
Damages:  $14.5 million

Microsoft accused Motorola of charging excessively to license its patented technologies.  Motorola was charging a 2.25% royalty amounting to $4 billion.  The court decided it wasn't fair and reasonable, fined Motorola, and ordered them to pay Microsoft $14.5 million for breach of contract.

Duration of lawsuit:  five years
Winner:  Settled out of court
Damages:  Unknown

After the Deepwater Horizon  oil spill that killed eleven workers and polluted the Gulf of Mexico with millions of barrels of oil, BP was levied with fines and clean-up costs running into $40 billion.  BP believed their partners at the time of the  spill, Transocean Offshore and Halliburton, should share the costs of the fines and demanded $15 billion.  The companies settled in 2015 in a series of legal deals.

2)  APPLE VS. SAMSUNG (2011)
Duration of lawsuit:  Ongoing since 2012
Winner:  not yet determined
Damages:  not yet determined

This lawsuit is one of the biggest in the technology industry.  It goes back to the first iPhone which Apple accused Samsung of copying for its Galaxy 5 series.  A jury in 2012 decided that Samsung had infringed on Apple's patents.  Samsung originally faced $1 billion in damages, which was reduced to $548 million before dropping down to $399 million.  The current state of the lawsuit is a discussion about the basis for Samsung to pay the damages.  The U.S. Supreme Court reversed the decision of the $399 million in damages and returned the lawsuit to the federal court.  A number of similar lawsuits between the pair are ongoing in countries around the world.

Duration of lawsuit:  one year
Winner:  Ericsson
Damages:  Not disclosed

Apple filed a lawsuit against Ericcson claiming the patents it owns on wireless LTE connections are essential to the industry and the company was demanding excessive royalties.  Ericsson countersued and accused Apple of infringing on over 40 patents.  They settled out of court with Apple having t pay an undisclosed amou8nt.  With Apple originally pay8ing royalties as a percentage of total device cost, it's most likely a significant amount.  Apple wasn't the first smartphone maker to take legal action against Ericsson.  Samsung and Ericsson reached a confidential out of court settlement in 2014.

Out of the ten biggest brand lawsuits, two of them involved Microsoft and three of them involved Apple—biggest lawsuits/biggest companies.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Those We Lost in 2017

2017 is now behind us. As with every year, the world lost many notable people...most notable for positive contributions but some notorious for bad deeds. The list of those who died in 2017 was very long.  I've presented a cross section here representing various professions and geographic locations. The names are listed in chronological order.

Jan 12: William Peter Blatty, 89. A former Jesuit school valedictorian who conjured a tale of demonic possession and gave millions the fright of their lives with the best-selling novel and Oscar-winning movie The Exorcist.

Jan 16: Gene Cernan, 82. A former astronaut who was the last person to walk on the moon.

Feb 8: Peter Mansfield, 83. A physicist who won the Nobel Prize for helping to invent MRI scanners.

Feb 18: Norma McCorvey, 69. Her legal challenge under the pseudonym "Jane Roe" led to the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark decision that legalized abortion but later she became an outspoken opponent of the procedure.

Feb 25: Bill Paxton, 61. A prolific and charismatic actor who had memorable roles in such blockbusters as Apollo 13 and Titanic along with his work in One False Move and other low-budget movies and in the HBO series Big Love. Complications due to surgery.

Mar 6: Robert Osborne, 84. The genial face of Turner Classic Movies and a walking encyclopedia of classic Hollywood.

Mar 10: Robert James Waller, 77. His best-selling, bittersweet 1992 romance novel The Bridges of Madison County was turned into a movie starring Meryl Streep and Clint Eastwood and later into a soaring Broadway musical.

March 16: Carl Clark, 100. A California man who was recognized six decades after his bravery during World War II with a medal of honor that had been denied to him because he was black.

March 18: Chuck Berry, 90. He was rock 'n' roll's founding guitar hero and storyteller who defined the music's joy and rebellion in such classics as Johnny B. Goode, Sweet Little Sixteen, and Roll Over Beethoven.

Mar 22: Francine Wilson, 69. Her trial for killing her abusive husband became a landmark spousal abuse case and the subject of the 1984 TV movie The Burning Bed. Complications from pneumonia.

Apr 6: Don Rickles, 90. The big-mouthed, bald-headed comedian whose verbal assaults endeared him to audiences and peers and made him the acknowledged grandmaster of insult comedy.

Apr 19: Aaron Hernandez, 27. The former New England Patriots tight end was sentenced to life behind bars for a 2013 murder and committed suicide in prison.

Apr 24: Robert M. Pirsig, 88. His philosophical novel Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance became a million-selling classic and cultural touchstone after more than 100 publishers turned it down.

May 14: Powers Boothe, 68. The character actor known for his villain roles in TV's Deadwood and in the movies Tombstone, Sin City, and The Avengers.

May 18: Roger Ailes, 77. He transformed TV news by creating Fox News Channel, only to be ousted at the height of his reign for alleged sexual harassment.

May 19: Stanislav Petrov, 77. A former Soviet military officer known in the West as "the man who saved the world" for his role in averting a nuclear war over a false missile warning at the height of the Cold War. I recently saw a segment of a tv show about this—Soviet radar detected a launch of five missiles from the U.S. headed toward Russia. Petrov had the responsibility of determining a glitch or declaring an attack and about one second to make the decision to launch Soviet missiles or not. He reasoned that the U.S. would launch hundreds and maybe even thousands of missiles if they were attacking, not a mere five missiles. He declared it a glitch which is exactly what it turned out to be.

May 23: Roger Moore, 89. The suave star of several James Bond films and prior to that he portrayed Simon Templar, The Saint, in several films. He also co-starred with Tony Curtis in a 1970s television series, The Persauders.

May 27: Gregg Allman, 69. A music legend whose bluesy vocals and soulful touch on the Hammond B-3 organ helped propel The Allman Brothers Band to superstardom. Formerly married to Cher. Cancer.

May 29: Manuel Noriega, 83. A former Panamanian dictator and onetime U.S. ally who was ousted as Panama's dictator by an American invasion in 1989.

Jun 9: Adam West, 88. His straight-faced portrayal of Batman in a campy 1960s TV series of the same name lifted the caped crusader into the national consciousness. He also voiced several animated characters, most notably Mayor West on the Family Guy series.

Jun 16: Helmut Kohl, 87. The physically imposing German chancellor whose reunification of a nation divided by the Cold War put Germany at the heart of a united Europe.

June 19: Otto Warmbier, 22. An American college student who was released by North Korea in a coma after almost a year and a half in captivity.

Jul 10: Betty Dukes, 67. The Walmart greeter who took the retail giant all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court in the largest gender bias class-action lawsuit in U.S. history.

Jul 15: Martin Landau, 89. The chameleon-like actor who gained fame as the crafty master of disguise in the 1960s TV show Mission: Impossible, then capped a long and versatile career with an Oscar for his poignant portrayal of aging horror movie star Bela Lugosi in 1994's Ed Wood.

Jul 25: Marian Cleeves Diamond, 90. She was a neuroscientist who studied Albert Einstein's brain and was one of the first to show that the brain can improve with enrichment.

Aug 8: Glen Campbell, 81. The affable superstar singer of Rhinestone Cowboy and Wichita Lineman whose appeal spanned country, pop, television, and movies.

Aug 20: Jerry Lewis, 91. The manic, rubber-faced showman who rose to fame in a lucrative partnership with Dean Martin, settled down to become a self-conscious screen auteur and found an even greater following as the host of the annual muscular dystrophy telethons.

Aug 22: Tony de Brum, 72. He saw the effects of rising seas from his home in the Marshall Islands and became a leading advocate for the landmark Paris Agreement and an internationally recognized voice in the fight against climate change.

Sep 6: Kate Millett, 82. The activist, artist, and educator whose best-selling Sexual Politics was a landmark of cultural criticism and a manifesto for the modern feminist movement.

Sep 19: Jake LaMotta, 95. An iron-fisted battler who brawled his way to a middleweight title and was later memorialized by Robert De Niro in the film Raging Bull.

Sep 20: Liliane Bettencourt, 94. The L'Oreal cosmetics heiress and the world's richest woman.

Sep 27: Hugh M. Hefner, 91. The Playboy magazine founder who revved up the sexual revolution in the 1950s and built a multimedia empire of clubs, mansions, movies, and television.

Sep 30: Monty Hall, 96. The genial TV game show host whose long-running Let's Make a Deal traded on love of money and merchandise and the mystery of which door had the car behind it.

Oct 2: Tom Petty, 66. An old-fashioned rock superstar and everyman who drew upon the Byrds, the Beatles and other bands he worshipped as a boy and produced new classics such as Free Fallin', Refugee, and American Girl.

Oct 3: Jalal Talabani, 83. The Kurdish guerrilla leader who became Iraq's president after the U.S. toppled Saddam Hussein and who embodied hopes for a unified, peaceful future.

Oct 8: David Patterson Sr., 94. A Navajo Code Talker who used his native language to outsmart the Japanese in World War II.

Oct 24: Robert Guillaume, 89. He rose from squalid beginnings in St. Louis slums to become a star in stage musicals and win Emmy Awards for his portrayal of the sharp-tongued butler in the TV sitcoms Soap and Benson.

Nov 19: Charles Manson, 83 (pictured above). The hippie cult leader who became the hypnotic-eyed face of evil across America after orchestrating the gruesome murders of pregnant actress Sharon Tate and six others in Los Angeles during the summer of 1969.

Nov 19: Della Reese, 86. The actress and gospel-influenced singer who in middle age found her greatest fame as Tess, the wise angel in the long-running television drama Touched by an Angel.

Nov 21: Joseph L. White, 84. A psychologist, social activist, and teacher who helped pioneer the field of black psychology to counter what he saw as rampant ignorance and prejudice in the profession. Heart attack.

Nov 30: Jim Nabors, 87. The Alabama-born comic actor who starred as TV's dim but good-hearted Southern rube Gomer Pyle, a character first introduced on The Andy Griffith Show and later spun off to his own series of Gomer Pyle U.S.M.C. who constantly surprised audiences with his twang-free operatic singing voice.

Dec 4: Christine Keeler, 75. The central figure in the sex-and-espionage Profumo scandal that rocked Cold War Britain.

Dec 19: Clifford Irving, 87. His scheme to publish a phony autobiography of billionaire Howard Hughes created a sensation in the 1970s and stands as one of the all-time literary hoaxes.

Dec 20: Cardinal Bernard Law, 86. The disgraced former archbishop of Boston whose failure to stop child molesters in the priesthood sparked what would become the worst crisis in American Catholicism.

Dec 28: Sue Grafton, 77. She was the author of the best-selling alphabet series of mystery novels.

Wishing everyone a happy and healthy 2018.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

History of New Year's Celebrations

New Year's Day is tomorrow (Monday)…welcome to 2018.  This has become a traditional time of celebration.  We party on New Year's Eve and celebrate the moment the clock strikes midnight signaling the beginning of a new year.

And, of course, when the year 2000 arrived we celebrated for twenty-four hours as each time zone around the world welcomed the new millennium on live television broadcasts.

But why and how did the New Year's celebrations become part of our annual routine?  The earliest recorded account of a celebration in honor of the new year dates back four thousand years to ancient Babylon.  For the Babylonians, the first new moon following the vernal (spring) equinox announced the arrival of the new year.  They celebrated this spring time event with a massive 11 day religious festival called Akitu.  It was during this time that a new king was crowned or the current ruler's mandate renewed.

Throughout antiquity, civilizations around the world developed more sophisticated calendars with the first day of the year associated with an agricultural or astronomical event.  For example, in Egypt the year began with the annual flooding of the Nile which coincided with the rising of the star Sirius.  In China, the new year occurred with the second new moon after the winter solstice…a day they still celebrate.

The early Roman calendar had 10 months and 304 days with each new year beginning at the vernal equinox.  Tradition holds that it was created by Romulus, the founder of Rome, in the eighth century B.C.  Numa Pompilius, a later king, is credited with adding the months of Januarius and Februarius.  Over the ensuing centuries, the Roman calendar grew out of sync with the sun.  In 46 B.C., Julius Caesar introduced the Julian calendar which closely resembles the more modern Gregorian calendar used today by most countries.

As part of his reform, Julius Caesar declared January 1 as the first day of the year and Romans celebrated by exchanging gifts, decorating their homes, and attending raucous parties.  In medieval Europe, Christian leaders temporarily replaced January 1 as the first day of the year with days carrying more religious significance, such as December 25 as the anniversary of Christ's birth and March 25 as the Feast of the Annunciation.  It was Pope Gregory XIII in 1582 who re-established January 1 as New Year's Day.

In many countries, New Year's celebrations begin on New Year's Eve and continue into the early hours of January 1st.  These celebrations often include specific foods that are said to bring good luck for the coming year—grapes in Spain, round fruits in the Philippines, suckling pig in Austria, soba noodles in Japan, rice pudding in Norway, and black-eyed peas in the southern United States.  Other customs that are common worldwide include making new year resolutions (a practice started by the Babylonians) and watching fireworks displays.
In the United States, the most famous New Year's tradition is the dropping of the giant ball in New York City's Times Square.  This event, first instituted in 1906, occurs at the stroke of midnight.  The original giant ball was made of iron and wood weighing 400 pounds.  A total of 7 versions of the Ball have been designed over the more than a century since the first drop of the ball occurred.

Today's giant ball is a brightly patterned sphere 12 feet in diameter and weighing nearly 12,000 pounds.  Each year, the 2688 intricate Waterford crystals that make up the skin of the huge orb are replaced with new ones.  This year's theme is Serenity. For this year, 288 new panels have been designed to look like intertwining butterflies. The ball was lit in place on December 27, 2017, ready for the New Year's drop.

The 2,688 Waterford crystal triangles are bolted to 672 LED modules which are attached to the aluminum frame of the ball.  The ball is capable of displaying a palette of more than 16 million colors and billions of patterns that create a spectacular kaleidoscope effect as the ball drops down a flagpole at the stroke of midnight Eastern Standard Time.

So, however you celebrate the arrival of the new year…whether you go out to a party, have family or a few friends to your home, or simply curl up by a cozy fire and watch the festivities in Times Square…I wish everyone a happy and healthy 2018.

And peace on earth.

Sunday, December 24, 2017


It's that time of year when people of all faiths gather together with family and friends in celebration, whether religious, spiritual, or secular.

It's a time of reflection on the last twelve months and speculation about the coming year.

For those traveling this holiday season, I wish you a safe trip. And for everyone, I wish you PEACE ON EARTH.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Ancient Roots Of The Christmas Celebration

Early Europeans celebrated light in the darkest days of winter.  They rejoiced during the winter solstice, the time when the worst of winter was behind them and they could look forward to extended hours of sunlight.

In Scandinavia, the Norse celebrated Yule from the Winter Solstice on December 21 through January.  In recognition of the return of the sun, fathers and sons would bring home large logs and set them on fire.  The people would feast until the log burned out which could be as long as twelve days.

In Germany, people honored the pagan god Odin during the mid-winter holiday.  Germans were terrified of Odin.  They believed he made night flights through the sky to observe his people and then decide who would prosper or perish.

In Rome, where winters weren't as harsh as in the far north, Saturnalia was celebrated beginning the week before winter solstice and continuing for a full month.  It was a hedonistic time with lots of food and drink.  For that month the social order was turned upside down with slaves becoming masters and peasants in charge of the city.  Business and schools were closed so everyone could join in.

Also around the time of the winter solstice, Romans observed Juvenalia, a feast honoring the children of Rome.  In addition, on December 25 members of the upper classes celebrated the birthday of Mithras, the god of the unconquerable sun.

It wasn't until the fourth century that Christian church officials decided to institute the birth of Jesus as a holiday.  The Puritans denied the legitimacy of the celebration, pointing out that the Bible does not mention a date for his birth.  Pope Julius I chose December 25.  The common belief is that the church chose the date in an effort to adopt and absorb the traditions of the pagan Saturnalia festival.  By the end of the eighth century, the celebration of Christmas had spread all the way to Scandinavia.

By the Middle Ages, Christianity had mostly replaced pagan religion.  Christmas was celebrated by attending church then celebrating in a drunken carnival type of atmosphere similar to today's Mardi Gras celebration.

In the early seventeenth century, a wave of religious reform changed the way Christmas was celebrated in Europe.  In 1645, Oliver Cromwell and his Puritan forces gained control in England and vowed to do away with decadence.  As part of their agenda, they cancelled Christmas.  When Charles II regained the throne, he restored the holiday.

The pilgrims who came to America in 1620 were even more orthodox in their Puritan beliefs than Cromwell.  As a result, Christmas was not a holiday in early America.  In fact, from 1659 to 1681, the celebration of Christmas was outlawed in Boston.  In contrast, Captain John Smith reported that Christmas was enjoyed by all in the Jamestown settlement.

Some Christmas facts:

Each year 30-35 million real Christmas trees are sold in the United States.

Christmas wasn't officially a holiday in early America until June 26, 1870, when Congress declared it a federal holiday.

The first eggnog made in the United States was in 1607 in the Jamestown settlement.

Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer was created by Robert L. May in 1939 as part of an advertising campaign to help lure customers into the Montgomery Ward department store.

The first tinsel decoration was made from real silver and originally used to reflect light from candles placed on Christmas trees (in the days before electric lights replaced candles).  Tinsel came into popularity in 1610 in Germany.  Silver was hammered out and cut into thin strips to hang on the tree.  Real silver tarnished, so the tinsel rarely lasted more than one season.  Silver tinsel was used until the early 1900s and was seen as a status symbol.  Today's tinsel is made of PVC.  Due to its environmentally unfriendly nature, it has mostly gone out of style.

Wishing everyone a happy holiday season.  And most of all—PEACE OF EARTH.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

The Legend of St. Nicholas

Saint Nicholas

Who is that man in red? The man who, every Christmas Eve, brazenly breaks into people's homes, helps himself to cookies and milk, and leaves things behind resulting in a mess of wrapping paper and ribbon for others to clean up the next morning. Reindeer and a heavily laden sleigh can't be good for the roof. Soot from a chimney tracked all over the floor…something else left behind for others to clean.

Yet every year we anxiously anticipate his arrival, track his progress through the skies, and welcome him into our homes.

Santa Claus can be traced back hundreds of years to a monk named St. Nicholas. It is believed that Nicholas was born sometime around 280 A.D. in Patara, near Myra in modern-day Turkey. Much admired for his piety and kindness, St. Nicholas became the subject of many legends. It is said that he gave away all of his inherited wealth and traveled the countryside helping the poor and sick. One of the best known of the St. Nicholas stories is that he saved three poor sisters from being sold into slavery or prostitution by their father when he provided them with a dowry so they could be married. Over the course of many years, Nicholas' popularity spread and he became known as the protector of children and sailors. His feast day is celebrated on the anniversary of his death, December 6. This was traditionally considered a lucky day to make large purchases or to get married. By the Renaissance, St. Nicholas was the most popular saint in Europe. Even after the Protestant Reformation, when the veneration of saints began to be discouraged, St. Nicholas maintained a positive reputation, especially in Holland.

Sinter Klaas Comes to New York
St. Nicholas made his first inroads into American popular culture towards the end of the 18th century. In December 1773, and again in 1774, a New York newspaper reported that groups of Dutch families had gathered to honor the anniversary of his death.

The name Santa Claus evolved from his Dutch nickname, Sinter Klaas, a shortened form of Sint Nikolaas (Dutch for Saint Nicholas). In 1804, John Pintard, a member of the New York Historical Society, distributed woodcuts of St. Nicholas at the society's annual meeting. The background of the engraving contains now-familiar Santa images including stockings filled with toys and fruit hung over a fireplace. In 1809, Washington Irving helped to popularize the Sinter Klaas stories when he referred to St. Nicholas as the patron saint of New York in his book, The History of New York. As his prominence grew, Sinter Klaas was described as everything from a rascal with a blue three-cornered hat, red waistcoat, and yellow stockings to a man wearing a broad-brimmed hat and a "huge pair of Flemish trunk hose."

Shopping Mall Santas
Gift-giving, mainly centered around children, has been an important part of the Christmas celebration since the holiday's rejuvenation in the early 19th century. Stores began to advertise Christmas shopping in 1820, and by the 1840s, newspapers were creating separate sections for holiday advertisements, which often featured images of the newly-popular Santa Claus. In 1841, thousands of children visited a Philadelphia shop to see a life-size Santa Claus model. It was only a matter of time before stores began to attract children, and their parents, with the lure of a peek at a live Santa Claus. In the early 1890s, the Salvation Army needed money to pay for the free Christmas meals they provided to needy families. They began dressing up unemployed men in Santa Claus suits and sending them into the streets of New York to solicit donations. Those familiar Salvation Army Santas have been ringing bells on the street corners of American cities ever since.

A Santa by Any Other Name
18th-century America's Santa Claus was not the only St. Nicholas-inspired gift-giver to make an appearance at Christmastime. Similar figures were popular all over the world. Christkind or Kris Kringle was believed to deliver presents to well-behaved Swiss and German children. Meaning Christ child, Christkind is an angel-like figure often accompanied by St. Nicholas on his holiday missions. In Scandinavia, a jolly elf named Jultomten was thought to deliver gifts in a sleigh drawn by goats. British legend explains that Father Christmas visits each home on Christmas Eve to fill children's stockings with holiday treats. Pere Noel is responsible for filling the shoes of French children. In Russia, it is believed that an elderly woman named Babouschka purposely gave the wise men wrong directions to Bethlehem so that they couldn't find Jesus. Later, she felt remorseful, but could not find the men to undo the damage. To this day, on January 5, Babouschka visits Russian children leaving gifts at their bedsides in the hope that one of them is the baby Jesus and she will be forgiven. In Italy, a similar story exists about a woman called La Befana, a kindly witch who rides a broomstick down the chimneys of Italian homes to deliver toys into the stockings of lucky children.

The Ninth Reindeer
Rudolph, "the most famous reindeer of all," was born over a hundred years after his eight flying counterparts. The red-nosed wonder was the creation of Robert L. May, a copywriter at the Montgomery Ward department store.

In 1939, May wrote a Christmas-themed story-poem to help bring holiday traffic into his store. Using a similar rhyme pattern to Moore's 'Twas the Night Before Christmas, May told the story of Rudolph, a young reindeer who was teased by the other deer because of his large, glowing, red nose. But, when Christmas Eve turned foggy and Santa worried that he wouldn't be able to deliver gifts that night, the former outcast saved Christmas by leading the sleigh with the light of his red nose. Rudolph's message—that given the opportunity, a liability can be turned into an asset—proved popular. Montgomery Ward sold almost two and a half million copies of the story in 1939. When it was reissued in 1946, the book sold over three and half million copies. Several years later, one of May's friends, Johnny Marks, wrote a short song based on Rudolph's story (1949). It was recorded by Gene Autry and sold over two million copies. Since then, the story has been translated into 25 languages and been made into a television movie, narrated by Burl Ives, which has charmed audiences since 1964.

Wishing everyone a happy holiday season and PEACE ON EARTH.