Top 10 Winter Holiday Myths
With Hanukkah kicking off today and Christmas and New Year's Day still ahead, the holiday season is in full swing.
Given the mix of stories and superstitions that constitute holiday preparations and celebrations, seasonal myths can carry over year to year along with the traditions themselves. Consider those myths debunked.
Anyone flying home for the holidays last week probably saw a familiar sight at the airport: frantic passengers, long lines at the security screening and a cramped seat on a plane. The day before Thanksgiving certainly does feel like the busiest air travel time of the year.
Except it's not. In fact, some years it's not even in the top 10. In 2006, it was the 36th busiest and 55th in 2007.
The busiest travel days of the year aren't anywhere near the winter holiday season, but rather take place in the summer, on Friday in June, July and August.
Wild TurkeySasha Kopf, Wikimedia Commons
If you're still recovering from that food-induced coma you received on Thanksgiving, don't blame the tryptophan in your turkey. Despite the widespread belief that the amino acid triggers sleepiness, it's actually not the turkey's fault for causing drowsiness after a Thanksgiving meal.
Rather, it's the massive amount of carbohydrates and often alcohol that lead to that inevitable post-meal nap.
Library of Congress
Despite celebrating in what we believed the fashion of the Pilgrims at Plymouth, Thanksgiving today in no way resembles similar occasions that would have been held in the 17th century. Such events weren't organized or ritualized, according to a religious scholar at Davidson University.
When clergy did find occasion to call together parishioners to give thanks to God, Puritans didn't spend all day feasting, but rather sitting in church.
Our modern conception of Thanksgiving can be credited to a 19th-century magazine editor named Sarah Hale, who saw the holiday as a means of uniting Americans during a time of increasing factionalism.
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) can lead to the winter blues, affecting some 5 percent of Americans. But the dark days of winter aren't as big a driver of depression in others, despite the lack of light being cited as a leading cause. Stress, sickness and other sources are more likely to blame.
Suicides don't spike during the holiday season, a grim myth with no statistical support. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the suicide rate is at its lowest in December. It's actually at its highest in the spring and fall.
Everyone expects to put on a little weight during the holidays. It's inevitable when you have a steady rotation of Thanksgiving turkey or Christmas cookies.
However, the degree to which the average person puts on holiday pounds has been often exaggerated, according to a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine. The researchers found that the typical person gains a single pound on average over the holiday season, as opposed to the more commonly cited five to 10 pounds.
That gain might be higher, however, for people who are already overweight or obese, other studies have found.
With the temperatures dropping -- at least in the Northern Hemisphere -- and the holidays here, no one wants to get sick. But cold weather season is peak time for cold and flu outbreaks.
It's not the weather, however, that causes illness, despite common conceptions. Viruses cause colds and flu, and those multiply in warm, dry climates, like those indoors where people are likely to be when it's cold outside. Cold weather may even stimulate the immune system, according to a study published by the Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine.
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We just learned winter weather won't make you sick, in that you won't get a cold or flu. But hypothermia? Frostbite? These conditions and others are still lurking in the cold. So how best can you keep yourself warm?
The answer is simple: cover up everywhere. And while there is an oft-repeated myth that 80 percent of body heat escapes the head, the truth is that any exposed skin surface causes you to lose heat.
There are lots of good reasons to have a drink this holiday season, but warming up shouldn't be one of them. While drinking alcohol can give the sensation of feeling warmer, it actually lowers core body temperature.
The temporary warm feeling is the result of blood vessels dilating, which causes blood to move closer to the skin's surface and leading to heat loss.
New Year's Eve might be a dangerous time to be on the road. But is it really the deadliest holiday to be on the road?
While New Year's Eve does typically see a spike in fatalities, the deadliest holiday for American drivers is Memorial Day weekend, followed by Independence Day weekend, according to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.