Christmas in Wisconsin

This is the first year that Ariela and I are spending the Winter Holiday season away from our families. We decided to spend Christmas, Kitzmas, Squidmas, Festivus, and the Solstice in Madison to relax, keep warm, and save some money. Since We’ve been in Wisconsin, we’ve traveled five times to California, mostly for wedding-related business. Now that we have a house, finances are suddenly a big thing!

Last night, after a delicious and reasonably healthy dinner (followed by a delcious and reasonably unhealthy See’s Candy dessert), Ariela and I went down into the basement to rip nails out of boards and remove ceiling panels. We’ve got a lot to do downstairs to make it look the way we want it to, and some odd bits of construction to fix. And old man once owned this house – it shows.

We also sang some Christmas songs. With Ariela’s growing piano playing skills, she was able to sight-read these songs (while inebriate) and I sung along, inventing alternate scientific lyrics as we went along.

(sung to Do you Hear what I Hear?)


A fossil, a fossil,

buried in the ground

let us dig it up to the light.

Let us bring it up to the light!

Christmas is an interesting holiday. It was originally a pagan Solstice holiday, co-opted by Christianity in true Roman tradition. Take the day, take the location, take the tree and hope that no one notices! Many Christians still do not know that if Jesus existed, he wasn’t born this time of the year, and would have been born June or July. And not in a barn. Oops!

The holiday took a very American turn (before the commercialization) and incorporated Dutch and other European traditions, helped along by a children’s story, ultimately being reborn as a holiday where a jolly old elf that lives on the (melting) North Pole delivers gifts in the middle of the night. And the Christians, who believe it is a sin to lie, regularly lie to their children that there really is a fat man dressed in red that comes every year – and will even go after teachers and other kids who tell them the truth. That “metaphor” attempt at a save doesn’t cut it – you really were telling them that there is an actual Santa Claus. I don’t think that the Santa myth should go, in fact, I think it is an excellent first lesson in skepticism for a child, if done properly. Instead of teaching kids how to rationalize why there is no evidence for Santa, they can be presented with a puzzle to figure out, and the sooner they look behind the curtain, the better.

Christmas, inevitably, became secularized in our culture. The hodge-podge of traditions, decorations, and music seems artificially attached to the religion it was supposedly based on. That is because it was not originally nor consistently based on it. Togetherness, warmth, hope for the returning of the light, gift giving, celebrating the winter season, and peppermint, have more in common with constant human values that have endured for long before and will endure even longer after.

Atheists have been making cultural inroads, and recently have been able to pull together advertisements breaking the Spiral of Silence over nonreligion. Whether this is achieved with the Imagine no Religion billboards, the Solstice sign that is causing so much conflict in the Washington State capitol, or the cute and goofy Reason’s Greetings signs, these are all good efforts to that end. A mixture of friendly and confrontational approaches not only tests tolerance, but brings the crazies out of the woodwork, while pointing out the ever-ignored presence of the nonreligious. Making Bill O’Reilly angry is the whipped cream on the pumpkin pie. Mmm… pumpkin pie.

The War on Christmas, although it is mostly a figment of Bill-O’s imagination, does show us one thing: the angered frustrations of a group with social and political power – who’s power is slipping.

Hopefully this winter will not endure as long and as hard as the last one here in Wisconsin, and that I can get to plowing up and planting our back yard with some yummy fruits and veggies. And I hope that all of you are tucked in somewhere warm to relax and dream of brighter days, a way out of the sorry state that our economy is in. Barack Obama is soon to be sworn in as President, and he has already released his picks for Science and Ag related cabinet positions. The future will be brighter, may we all rejoice at the returning of the light!

Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas, and Reason’s Greetings!

And we’ll have a little Kitzmas present for everyone tomorrow!


Published by

Karl Haro von Mogel

Karl Haro von Mogel serves as BFI’s Director of Science and Media and as Co-Executive Editor of the Biofortified Blog. He has a PhD in Plant Breeding and Plant Genetics from UW-Madison with a minor in Life Sciences Communication. He is currently a Postdoctoral Scholar researching citrus genetics at UC Riverside.