- The Washington Times - Monday, December 25, 2000

Holiday numbers offer a telling portrait of America as we stand knee-deep in wrapping paper and awash with both sentiment and eggnog today.

Christmas provides much scientific inspiration, apparently.

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game, for example, has determined that Santa Claus' entire team of reindeer was female "from Rudolph to Blitzen."

Researchers found that male reindeer in the wild drop their antlers by early December while the ladies retain theirs until spring. Based on popular depictions, the group deduced that Santa has an all-girl team.

"We should have known that when they were able to find their way," noted one ranger.

Then there are those culinary statistics.

English physicist Len Fisher created a Gravy Index just in time for Christmas something to keep in mind, perhaps, between 2 and 6 p.m. today.

Using the formula W minus (D/S) over D = 100 which has much to do with liquids, solids, absorption and displacement theory Mr. Fisher determined that the "optimum gravy amount" on each plate should be 3 tablespoons, lest waste occur.

He calculated that hapless Britons waste 150,000 gallons of gravy per week, noting that gravy itself "is worthless as an alternative power of propulsion if [gasoline] supplies run low."

Using another theory, Mr. Fisher also calculated the ideal length for dunking a cookie into milk before it disintegrates: 3.5 seconds.

And what of the dreaded fruitcake?

One poll of 1,200 people back in 1992 found that most of us felt the cherry-studded chunk was best suited as landfill or doorstop.

Time marches on.

Sales have risen by as much as 20 percent at such fruitcake baking sites as the Trappist Assumption Abbey in Missouri, Harry & David's in Oregon and the Collin Street Bakeries down in Texas.

"We've had solid growth," said a spokesman at Harry & David.

Christmas gifts and their inherent dramas are also a gauge of the American persona.

According to a new poll from Roper Starch, almost half of us feel "insecure" about that gift we have chosen that "might not have succeeded."

There is some truth to this. Another retail group estimated that we spend up to $13 billion buying presents that are not exactly what the recipient had in mind.

Half of us, meanwhile, concede that we are "difficult" to buy for. But we are etiquette conscious: 75 percent of us will use or wear that unwanted gift nonetheless, according to Roper Starch.

We're also practical. Forty-seven percent would consider donating it to charity and 23 percent will "re-gift" industry parlance for rewrapping the thing and passing it on to someone else.

Then there are those pesky gift issues between the sexes.

According to Maritz Research, men spent an average $874 on their Christmas gifts this year. They came home with a total of 17 gifts. Women, ever the savvy shoppers, spent $783 on 24 gifts.

Judging from activity at Neiman Marcus this year, meanwhile, the economy may be not be in such fine fettle. The luxury store did not sell its "Ultimate Gift" which was a $20 million, 188-foot custom submarine this year.

But 200 special-edition Ford Thunderbirds, each priced at $42,000, were gone in the first two hours they went on sale back in September.

Despite gift angst, though, Christmas remains our national favorite. A 1998 Scripps Howard survey found that 83 percent of us including Jews, Muslims and atheists put up a Christmas tree. Fifty-nine percent said the day was their "favorite holiday."

Weather has not been overlooked this season.

After analyzing three decades of weather data, the prediction service Stormfax astutely concluded that chances are 100 percent that revelers in Hibbing, Minn., and Marquette, Mich., will be experiencing a white Christmas today.

Florida and Georgia have a zero chance, Stormfax stated, along with garden spots such as Las Vegas and Alameda, Calif. The District has been given a 13 percent chance of snow today.

One thing's for sure: We crave our tinsel come winter.

Almost two-thirds of us bought assorted adornments, gewgaws and collectibles for our homes this year to the tune of $3.4 billion, according to Unity Marketing, which tracks such things.

Sales of snowmen inched by images of Santa Claus, according their analysts, who reason that a Frosty has more staying power than Santa, come January anyway.

And while Christmas is also the birthday of American Red Cross founder Clara Barton, actor Humphrey Bogart, singers Cab Calloway and Jimmy Buffett, and former football player Larry Csonka, some look to tomorrow as another reason to celebrate.

It is Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Boxing Day, Junkanoo (Bahamas), the Day of the Wren (Ireland) and St. Stephen's Day (Austria).

Tomorrow also marks National Whiners' Day, according to Kevin Zaborney of Midland, Mich., who has invented the day, and dedicates it "to whiners, especially those who return Christmas gifts and need lots of attention."

He plans to announce the most "famous" whiner of the year and encourages Americans "to be happy about what they do have, rather than unhappy about what they don't have."

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