I have been authorized to reproduce the following. Enjoy!
12 Days and 12 Facts for This Holiday Season
By Caroline Taggart,
Author of I Used to Know That: Stuff You Forgot From School
Ever catch yourself saying I Used to Know That?
Each holiday season brings another round of cocktail parties, family get-togethers, and corporate gatherings — and invariably, lots of small talk. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed when discussing politics, literature, and other intellectual “stuff,” especially when what is thought to be general knowledge is often long-forgotten. Enter I Used to Know That: Stuff You Forgot From School. From English and Literature to Math and Science, from History and Geography to Religion and Other-Worldly Topics, this book leaves you equipped to handle any topic of conversation.
Here we’ve cherry-picked twelve fun facts for the holiday season — one for every day of Christmas (or whatever holiday you prefer!) Quiz yourself to see how much “stuff” you need to brush up on before hobnobbing with the boss or office crush.
1. On building sentences: Just what is a “clause”? (Not to be confused with Santa Claus.)
Answer: A clause contains a subject and a verb and may stand alone as a sentence or as part of a sentence (when it is often called a subordinate clause): Santa Claus loves cookies but can’t eat them without milk.
2. How many bones is the spine made up of?
Answer: 26 small bones called vertebrae (Be careful lifting all those heavy holiday boxes.)
3. Acclaimed author Charles Dickens (1812-70) wrote which Christmas classic?
Answer: A Christmas Carol. The miserly Ebenezer Scrooge tries to ignore Christmas and is haunted by the ghost of his former partner, Marley, and by the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Yet to Come, who show him the error of his ways.
4. The fist chapter of this famous book opens with “Call me Ishmael.” Name the book and author. (Hint: it makes a whale of a gift!)
Answer: Moby Dick by Herman Melville. Melville is also the author of Pierre and the unfinished Billy Budd.
5. There’s a name for the process of watering your Christmas tree? Who knew?
Answer: Grab the kids and give them this science factoid as they nurture the family tree: Osmosis is a form of diffusion that is specific to the movement of water. Water moves through a selectively permeable membrane (that is, one that lets some types of molecules through but not others) from a place where there is a higher concentration of water to one where it is lower.
6. Can you name all 6 wives of Henry VIII, father of the Church of England?
Answer: (Listed in order) Catherine, Anne, Jane, Anne, Catherine, Catherine. They are often remembered as divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived. Sure makes you think twice when complaining about bad relatives.
7. Who was the 16th President of the United States?
Answer: Abraham Lincoln (R, 1861-65) and yes — he really was born in a log cabin on a winter’s day. Notably famous for many reasons including his Gettysburg Address: “Four Score and Seven Years ago our fathers brought fourth upon this continent a new nation conceived in Liberty . . . ”
8. ‘Tis the season to be jolly giving! Don’t forget to tip well this season — etiquette coaches will tell you that means no less than 18%. So just how much should you tip on a bill of $50?
Answer: Percent means by a hundred, so anything expressed as a percentage is a fraction (or part, if you prefer) of 100. So 18% is 18 parts of 100, or 18/100 or .18. If your bill is $50, multiply 50 by .18 to get your tip total of $9. If you’re feeling generous, a 20% tip would require you to multiply 50 by .20, for a total of $10.00
50.00 x .18 = 9.00
50.00 x .20 = 10.00
Percentages can also be holiday-relevant when it comes to figuring out in-store sales. In this case, you want to multiply by the inverse of the percentage listed. So if you have a $50 sweater that’s on sale for 25% off, multiply 50 by .75 for your total of $37.50. That same $50 sweater on sale for 40% off would equate to $30, or $50 multiplied by .60.
50.00 x .75 = 37.50
50.00 x .60 = 30.00
9. Brr, it’s cold outside. But just how cold does it have to be to get some snow around here?
Answer: Did you know that the freezing point of water is 32 degrees Fahrenheit? Keep an eye on the temperature and watch your footing for ice on the ground. (See previous fact about those treasured vertebrae!)
10. Everyone knows Santa and his elves live in the North Pole. But what about the South Pole (aka Antarctica)?
Answer: The South Pole was discovered by Roald Amundsen (1872-1928, Norwegian), who was also the first to sail though the Northwest passage, the sea route from Pacific to Atlantic along the north coast of North America. Antarctica is the only continent that contains no countries — instead, it is a stateless territory protected from exploitation by an international treaty. A good place for the elves to protest low wages?
11. Which Ocean is bigger: the Pacific or the Atlantic?
Answer: The Pacific Ocean is larger at 69,374 square miles — that’s almost double the Atlantic, which comes in at 35,665 square miles. Making it evenmore astonishing that St. Nick can cross the globe in just one night.
12. Remember the reason for the Season! Can you name a few things that both Judaism and Christianity have in common?
Answer: Both are monotheistic religions that share the first five books of the Christian Old Testament. Both religions view Jerusalem as a sacred site, the former for the Wailing Wall (contains the remains of the temple that was thought to be the place where God resides on earth) and the latter for Christ’s burial and resurrection site.
Happy Holidays to all!
©2009 Caroline Taggart, author of I Used to Know That: Stuff You Forgot From School
Caroline Taggart, author of I Used to Know That: Stuff You Forgot From School, has been an editor of non-fiction books for nearly 30 years and has covered nearly every subject from natural history and business to gardening and astronomy. She has written several books and was the editor of Writer’s Market UK 2009.