Thursday, December 07, 2006

National Geographic Channel Explores The Myths, Traditions And Science Of Christmas

UNWRAPPING YULETIDE LORE - National Geographic Channel Explores The Myths, Traditions And Science Of Christmas

From the Evolution of Jolly Saint Nick to the Science of Holiday Shopping, CHRISTMAS OUT OF THE BOX Shows You There′s More to the Holiday than Ornaments and Mistletoe

Christmas is a "magical time of year," exploding with activity and ritual. It′s steeped in a host of vivid symbols: from candy canes to carolers, from red-nosed reindeer to heavily trafficked window displays. With warm, familiar images in mind, this enchanting holiday leaves little room for surprise. Or does it?

Do you know why North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) started simulating Santa′s Christmas Eve flight with its radar? Or what commercial product helped shape Santa′s modern-day image? Got a clue to what the best-selling Christmas toy of all time is?

Premiering Wednesday, December 20, at 9 p.m. ET/PT on the National Geographic Channel (NGC), Christmas Out of the Box unwraps the myths and shines the lights on the scientific and historical reasoning behind this celebrated holiday. From the physics behind Santa′s global trek, to the analysis of real reindeer noses (hint: they don′t light up), to new theories behind the biblical star of Bethlehem, the show digs into the little-known factoids and pop culture conventions.

For millions of children, Santa is one of the most well-loved and recognizable holiday figures, known instantly by his red velvet suit, white beard and big laugh. But do we really know the jolly man and where he came from? Christmas Out of the Box reveals the changing historical nature of Santa Claus, from the leaner, more solemn Father Christmas in England and Sinterklaas in Holland, to the 1823 poem giving Saint Nick a bag of toys and a chimney to climb, to the 1931 Coca Cola ad campaign that would set the pattern for future Santas.

And for those of you who don′t depend on Santa for your holiday gifts, find out how retailers use science to maximize their annual $450 billion jackpot. Christmas Out of the Box talks to Paco Underhill, a so-called retail anthropologist, who deconstructs the logistics behind Santa′s placement in retail stores, the use of alluring smells and music that makes people dig into their wallets.

"If I′m a good merchant," says Underhill, "I′m conscious of finding ways to tickle every sense that I possibly can. So I give them a good smell, the right music. What merchants are doing is tapping into those warm, intimate moments when I watched Mama decorate the tree."

Which toy will be this year′s hottest "must-have?" Meet Chris Byrne, who makes a living studying new toys that come on the market. Will it be the latest electronic gizmo or a kid-powered favorite? Regardless of its technical complexity, Byrne says the best toy is one that sticks around for a decade or more. "Fundamental elements of play don′t change no matter how technological the world becomes."

The show details the origins of how NORAD got into the Christmas spirit, using radar to simulate Santa′s around-the-world flight. After a newspaper in 1955 misprinted a "Santa hotline" number, inserting NORAD′s instead, NORAD was flooded with calls from kids. Staffers responded by saying they would check their radar images on Christmas Eve and alert callers to Santa′s whereabouts . and the tradition continues today.

Move over, Starship Enterprise! Physicist Gabriel Durkin calculates that Santa would need to travel over 780 times the speed of the space shuttle, or roughly 3,800 miles per second, to get the job done. Christmas Out of the Box explores the science behind other aspects of the traditional holiday, including the polar environment surrounding Santa′s workshop, and - while it doesn′t light up - the truly incredible abilities of a reindeer′s nose.

Christmas Out of the Box also reveals how our farmers grow Christmas trees to live up to our expectations; how Hallmark unintentionally influenced our use of wrapping paper; and how the famous Macy′s scenic Christmas windows have evolved over 100 years. Other experts included in the program include Karal Ann Marling, professor of art history and American studies, Tim Connaghan, professional Santa Claus and astronomer Michael Molnar.