- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 24, 2003

Yes, we’re having an orange Christmas, and yes, the bills for holiday revels will arrive with a thud come January. But never fear, there’s still some cheerful news to ponder today.

The popularity of one traditional figure has not budged, for example.

Jim Pollard, a Kentucky-based actor who has been playing Santa Claus for 45 years, has made dozens of goodwill appearances on radio, TV and in print in the past month after announcing in a broadcast trade publication that the “Real Santa” was available for interviews.

“I probably did more interviews this month than Howard Dean, and he’s only got eight competitors,” Mr. Pollard said yesterday.

“I have thousands of other Santas to compete with, and I don’t even have a publicist. After doing 175 media interviews, I’m exhausted and might not be able to drive the sleigh,” Mr. Pollard observed.

The steadfast popularity of the holiday hasn’t budged, either.

A new Gallup poll found that 95 percent of us celebrate Christmas, according to a survey of 1,000 adults released Tuesday.. And we’re still a little giddy about it: 68 percent said they prefer a surprise gift, rather than something from a carefully orchestrated wish list.

Gallup also noted that among pet owners, 63 percent bought a gift for the dog and 58 percent for the cat.

Meanwhile, researchers are determined to plumb the true depths of holiday spirit.

Cinnamon and candles rather than pine scent and classical music enhance the “magic,” at least according to scientists at Neurosense, a London-based research group that placed headsets and “nasal tubes” on 30 volunteers in order to measure their reactions to typical sensory delights of the season.

The subjects were asked to rate various combinations.

Candles, Christmas carols and cinnamon received the top rating of 7.3, followed by candles, carols and orange with a score of 6.2. The “least Christmassy combination” was candles, classical music and the smell of pine, which scored 2.95.

The subjects also ate more pie under the influence of the cinnamon factor, the scientists found.

“This study is the first of its kind to investigate sight, smell and olfaction simultaneously within a real-world context,” observed Oxford University psychologist Charles Spence.

The Scots, meanwhile, remain fierce about their holiday.

First Minister Jack McConnell called on public bodies Tuesday not to “separate the link between Christianity and Christmas” after outraged voters complained that the Edinburgh Royal Hospital for Sick Children banned a Christmas disc recording from the hospital “in case it offended” non-Christians.

“Trying to ignore the core message of the Christmas celebrations is political correctness gone mad,” Mr. McConnell told national church leaders. “This is the main Christian celebration, and we should be able to talk about Christianity and its meaning at this time of year.”

Folks can be in the spirit no matter where they are, however.

On Monday, workers in Ohio’s massive Cedar Point amusement park finally gathered up all the change that had fallen from guests’ pockets when they were visiting the park this year.

It added up to $7,000, said NBC affiliate WKYC. The money was donated to a children’s charity.

Meanwhile, a gaggle of New York singers believe they have set the new Guinness record for Christmas caroling. The 519-member group gathered near Madison Square Garden on Monday and sang uninterrupted for 16 minutes and 17 seconds — one minute and 17 seconds longer than the previous record held by a 517-member group.

But there are rules. Guinness requires that singers know the lyrics and that they collectively hold forth for at least 15 minutes without a break.

Christmas tunes have a different function, however, in the Columbia City, Tenn., courtroom of Judge Tom DuBois, who offered to waive fines and court costs for traffic violators this week if they sang a seasonal before the bench.

“Would you like to sing a solo and donate five canned goods for the Second Harvest Food Bank?” Mr. DuBois asked local offender David Craig.

“Whatever pleases the court,” he said, and sang “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.”

Bradley Clark told the judge he knew only “Hickory, Dickory, Dock,” though he eventually managed “Jingle Bells,” the Tennessean newspaper reported Tuesday.

“And while Jackie Bills didn’t exactly abide by the ‘Christmas carol’ rule, his rousing version of ‘My Precious Lord’ brought the house down,” the paper added.

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