12/26/2012

2012 in Review


Here it is - my annual review of the year that was.  Like most years that have come before, it was a year of highs (the Olympics) and lows (renewed fighting between Israel and Palestine), of celebrations (Obama's re-election) and disasters (Hurricane Sandy), of hope (elections in Egypt) and despair (the Sandy Hook shooting).

I prepare this review every year as a record for my family, but have started sharing it here.  The info is pulled from all over the internet but edited by me, so yes, there's a certain amount of bias.  But you can't beat the convenience of having all this information gathered in one place!

News Stories of the Year

  1. 2012 presidential election. After months of relentless campaigning, Obama bested Romney in the November election. The victory appeared to come as a surprise to the Republicans who, despite polling to the contrary, seemed to expect a Romney victory. The Obama victory appeared to be a mandate for sensible tax reform (more taxes on the wealthy) and continued slow but steady economic recovery. Meanwhile, Congress remains divided, with Democrats controlling the Senate and Republicans the House. Anyone else find it ironic that after the most expensive election in history – and the first in which 25% of all funds were contributed by anonymous sources and SuperPACs – almost nothing changed? Like all presidential elections, this one featured plenty of silliness. Here are some of the lowlights of the campaign: 
    1. 47% - Romney’s estimate of the number of voters who automatically wouldn’t vote for him because they rely on the government to give them “stuff.” The things candidates will say to a room full of supporters, when they don’t realize they’re being surreptitiously filmed by cameraphone!
    2. You Didn’t Build That – Taken out of context, the quote seemed to suggest Obama was dissing entrepreneurs.
    3. Romney’s Binder Full of Women – In context, the remark was understandable; taken out of context, the possibilities proved too much for late-show comics to resist
    4. The Empty Chair. Clint Eastwood seemed the perfect speaker for the Republican National Convention – until he spent all 20 minutes railing at an empty chair that was apparently meant to represent President Obama. Republicans dubbed the performance “eccentric"; Democrats resorted to generally less flattering adverbs
    5. However, there was at least one moment of grace: I think the whole nation was in awe of the citizens of New York and New Jersey who – despite being surrounded by death, devastation, and massive power outages – somehow managed to open and run enough polling places (often powered by generators and lit by candle-light) to ensure that all citizens were able to participate in the electoral process
  2. Economic Recovery. The economy continued on a path of slow but steady recovery, with unemployment falling below 8% for first time in 3+ years.
  3. State Amendments. 3 states approved gay marriage, and 2 approved legalization of marijuana. It’s a new world.
  4. The Looming “Fiscal Cliff.” Unable to reach a debt ceiling compromise in spring, Congress punted, creating a device whereby huge economic penalties would kick in by the end of the year if a compromise was not reached. Sometimes you have to wonder what we’re paying these guys for.
  5. Dismantling of the "Occupy" movement. In this case, “dismantling” is meant literally as well as figurative as various local governments, fed up with tent cities in their municipal parks, required “Occupiers” to move on. Deprived of their physical loci, they never did manage to establish a virtual loci, and their influence on politics has been dwindling ever since. Looks like the 99% are going to need to start looking for a new champion.
  6. Supreme Court Upholds Obamacare. Though the decision was based on a narrow consideration, the Supreme Court ruled that the tax clause of the Constitution does allow the federal government to force citizens to purchase health care.
  7. Hurricane Sandy decimates the East Coast. Dubbed “Frankenstorm” by the media, the storm – part nor-easter, part hurricane - lived up to its moniker, causing billions in damage and over 85 deaths. New York and New Jersey were particularly brutalized, bearing the brunt of 100mph winds, 26’+ waves and a 15'+ storm surge.
  8. 2012 Olympic Games in London. Headlines included the U.S. girls gymnastics team earning a gold medal, Michael Phelps winning more medals than any other athlete in Olympic history, and a uniquely eccentric Opening Ceremony featuring pretty much every British icon imaginable, from Sherlock Holmes to Harry Potter to Mr. Bean.
  9. The Mayan Apocalypse that wasn't. The world did not end on 12/21/12, in spite of dire predictions to the contrary.  However, we did get some funny commercials out of it.
  10. Oil Prices Decline. Gas prices declined through the second half of the year as U.S. production increased. Indeed, some consultants are now predicting that the U.S. will soon surpass the Middle East in domestic oil production.
  11. No Troops in Iran. Early on the morning of Dec. 18, 2011, after nine years, 4,487 troops killed, more than 32,000 wounded and some $800 billion spent, the last 400 American troops in Iraq rolled into Kuwait, and literally shut the gate behind them. 2012 was the first year since 2003 without any American troops in Iraq, and the country, which for most of the decade dominated the headlines, was largely forgotten.
  12. Mass shooting in Aurora, Colorado theater. 12 people died and 58 were wounded in the worst mass shooting in U.S. history
  13. Mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School. A horrified nation stood by as a disturbed gunman slaughtered over 25 staff members and students. Though the aftermath is still unfolding, looks like the incident may give rise to the first serious U.S. debate about gun control in decades.
International News Stories of the Year
  1. Kim Jong Eun succeeded his father, Kim Jong Il, as leader of North Korea
  2. Over 40,000 people perished in Syrian as the result of a brutal civil war
  3. The celebration of Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee (the 60thAnniversary of her coronation) took place throughout the year in various Commonwealth countries, ensuring plenty of Royal news for months. But the crowning event was the Diamond Jubilee Pageant in London, during which the Queen and the Royal family led a flotilla of more than 1,000 boats down the Thames.
  4. Egyptians elected their first president, who then promptly attempted to wrest power away from people, leading to yet more revolts in the streets.  The promise of Arab Spring faded fast in 2012, but is not entirely extinguished.
  5. New hostilities erupted between Israel and Gaza, culminating in days of shelling.
  6. In Libya, four Americans were killed in an attack on the Benghazi consulate.  The resulting furor centered on the extent to which Washington DC tried to conceal from the media lapses in security at the embassy
  7. China unveiled its first aircraft carrier, as the country officially surpassed the U.S. as world's largest trading partner
  8. EU continues to struggle. Greeks rioted against austerity, and anti-immigrant groups harking back to the continent’s fascist past drew energy from the despair. Spain, Portugal and Italy struggled to right themselves and offer a way forward to an emerging generation that has never tasted opportunity.
  9. Kony 2012, a video created for you-tube that went almost instantly viral, brought attention to the plight of Ugandans under the hands of guerrilla leader Joseph Kony, who has abducted more than 60,000 children and converted them into foot soldiers in his Lord’s Resistance Army.
  10. In October, U.S. homeowners banded together to file a class action against Bank of America, Citigroup, UBC, and other large banking institutes, accusing the banks of falsely inflating LIBOR rates in order to increase homeowners’ mortgage rates over the course of 10 years. Forbes estimates that the banks earned hundreds of millions, if not billions, off the rate manipulation; the banks deny the allegations
People Who Had a Good 2012
  1. Adele. The 21 year old torch singer swept pretty much every music award imaginable.
  2. Abraham Lincoln. First there was "Team of Rivals," Doris Kearn Goodwin's new Lincoln bio. Then came the movies: "Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Slayer" and "Lincoln." Theaters were definitely more friendly to our 32nd pres in 2012 than in past years!
  3. Nate Silver, the New York Times polling guru who drew the ire of conservatives during the campaign for his prediction that President Barack Obama would win the 2012 Electoral College, only to be vindicated when the election results almost exactly tallied with his predictions.
  4. Skydiver Felix Baumgartner, who jumped from more than 39,000 meters above New Mexico, breaking the speed of sound and a height record held since 1960.
  5. Boy Bands. They’re back, with One Direction leading the charge.
  6. Jeremy Lin, the unlikely semi-savior of yet another hapless New York Knicks season. Lin, an undrafted point guard out of Harvard, was almost released by the Knicks until coach Mike D’Antoni rolled the dice and let the 23-year-old play: Lin erupted for 25 points, five rebounds and seven assists. America does love an underdog.
People Who Had a Bad 2012
  1. General George Petraeus, master of the Iraq/Afghan “surge” strategy and potential 2016 presidential candidate, who was forced to resign in wake of sex scandal.
  2. Penn State Asst Coach Jerry Sandusky, who was indicted on multiple counts of child abuse. Meanwhile, Coach Joe Paterno (blamed for not taking appropriate action) was fired and his wins vacated; he died within months of the humiliation.
  3. Lance Armstrong, who was found guilty of steroid use and his 7 Tour de France victories vacated
  4. Karl Rove, whose evident shock at Romney's loss on election night became the stuff of viral legend
  5. Todd Akin, the Missouri senate candidate whose comments on “legitimate rape” became the target of criticism and mockery.
  6. Donald Trump, whose antics during the presidential campaign – questioning Obama’s citizenship, “considering” a presidential run, offering a $5M bounty to Obama if he would publish his college transcripts - proved once and for all that he really is a crackpot.
  7. Secret Service agents, for getting caught partying with prostitutes on a junket in Columbia. Bet it’s hard running alongside those cars when you’re hung over.
  8. George Zimmerman, the neighborhood watch volunteer who shot and killed an unarmed African-American teen, igniting a racial firestorm that dominated news coverage for weeks.
  9. Rush Limbaugh, who revealed the limits of his intellectual repertoire by resorting to invectives (“slut,” and “bitch” among them) to berate a female college student who had the temerity to testify before Congress in support of mandatory insurance coverage of contraception.
  10. Chick fil-a, whose owner dared to air his support of “traditional marriage.” His comments set off a series of protests and counterprotests — Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day was helmed by former presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, while Same-Sex Kiss Day was supported by LGBT activists — that had everyone from citizens to mayors and even the Muppets picking sides.
  11. Twinkies. After a prolonged strike by the company’s bakers, Hostess announced that it would shut down its snack business entirely. Farewell, fruit pies; so long, ho hos; arrivaderci, weird pink snowball things covered with coconut!
Notable Deaths
  1. Whitney Houston, Donna Summer, Andy Williams (singers)
  2. Neil Armstrong, Sally Ride (astronauts)
  3. Dave Brubek (jazz pianist)
  4. Art Ginsberg (“Mr. Food”)
  5. Phyllis Diller (comedian)
  6. Thomas Kincade, LeRoy Neiman (artist/painter)
  7. Marvin Hamlish (composer & conductor)
  8. Ray Bradbury, Gore Vidal, Maurice Sendak (author)
  9. Dick Clark (television personality)
  10. Charles Durning, Jack Klugman, Ernest Borgnine, Andy Griffith (actor)
  11. Senator George McGovern, Senator Arlan Specter, Senator Daniel Inouye (politicians)
  12. Rev. Sun Myung Moon (head of Unification Church)
  13. Norman Schwartkopf (US Army)
Sports News
  1. 2012 Olympics (see above)
  2. Giants vs. Patriots in Superbowl. Super Bowl XLVI pitted the New York Giants against the New England Patriots; by the time the commercials were over, the Giants had bested the Patriots 21-17.  In addition to winning their fourth Super Bowl in team history, the Giants set a new record for the lowest regular season record (9–7, win percentage of 56.3%) by a Super Bowl champion. The Patriots entered the game with an AFC-best 13–3 regular season record, and were also seeking their fourth Super Bowl win. The game was a rematch of Super Bowl XLII, in which New York won, 17–14, spoiling New England's perfect 2007 season.
  3. Giants vs. Detroit in World Series. Everyone loves a comeback, and the Giants delivered. Down 1-3 against 2011 champion St. Louis Cardinals in the playoffs, they wound up taking the series all the way, finally defeating the Cardinals with a decisive 9-0 victory in Game 7. From there, the Giants headed to the World Series, where they shut out Detroit in four quick games to claim the team’s second championship title in three years.
  4. NFL replacement referees. After failing to reach an agreement with the union representing NFL referees, the league decided to field replacements for the first three weeks of the season.  The results would have been laughable if they weren't so infuriating, as the results of more than one game were impacted by bad calls and an uneven understanding of the official rule book.
  5. "Bountygate."  A group of New Orleans Saints players pooled their money to reward anyone who successfully inflicted injuries on opposing players.  The NFL - "shocked, shocked! to find that gambling is going on in here!" (to paraphrase Capt Renault in Casablanca) - promptly fined the organization and suspended the worst offenders. 
  6. Ordinarily I’d add a token mention of hockey at this point, but since over half the season was sacrificed to a player lockout, I don’t feel like they really earned a mention this year.
  7. I’ll Have Another won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness but had to be withdrawn from the Belmont, ending all hope that he would be the first triple crown winner since Affirmed managed the feat in 1978.
Television News
  1. Top Television Shows: Breaking Bad, The Good Wife, Mad Men, Parks & Recreation, Parenthood, Game of Thrones, Girls, Homeland, Louie
  2. Still Popular: Big Bang Theory, Downton Abbey, Walking Dead, Sons of Anarchy, Justified, Raising Hope
  3. Shows that jumped the shark in 2012: Glee, 2 ½ Men, The Office, How I Met Your Mother
  4. Worst Television Shows: Smash, Alcatraz, Anger Management, Mob Doctor, The Newsroom, Kim & Kourtney Take New York (good lord … someone please put an end to the Kardashian family’s 15 minutes of fame!)
  5. In some ways it was hard to notice the regularly scheduled programming this year because of the outrageous glut of political ads. In some markets, networks scrambled to carve out even more commercial time to sell to superPACs panting for slots. 
  6. Though temporarily buoyed by election coverage, analysts continue to record precipitous drop-offs in the number of viewers tuning in to evening news programs, as 20-somethings increasingly relied on online/digital sources for the latest news 
  7. Best Superbowl commercial: a tie between Clint Eastwood’s homage to Detroit and the car industry (“Halftime in America”) and that dog that ate the cat and then tried to bribe the witnesses with Doritos.
Movie News
  1. Most popular movies of the year (based on ticket sales): The Dark Knight Rises, Marvel’s The Avengers, Hunger Games, Twilight Saga-Breaking Dawn II, Skyfall, Spiderman, Brave, Ted
  2. Best movies of the year: The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, Skyfall, Frankenweenie, Zero Dark Thirty, Anna Karinina, Life of Pi, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Amour, Argo, Lincoln, The Dark Knight Rises, Silver Lining Playbook, Deep Blue Sea, Django, Looper, Holy Motors, The Masters
  3. Movies based on books: Anna Karenina, Life of Pi, The Hobbit, Hunger Games, Twilight Breaking Dawn II, The Lorax, The Bourne Legacy, Diary of a Wimpy Kid-Dog Days, Abraham Lincoln Vampire Slayer
  4. Best documentary: Ken Burns' Dust Bowl (of course)
  5. Worst movies of the year: The Lorax; Abraham Lincoln Vampire Slayer; John Carter of Mars, Snow White and the Huntsman, Magic Mike, Red Dawn
Entertainment News (Music, Books, etc.)
  1. The Hunger Games continued to dominate both book sales and movie theaters
  2. Anyone not reading one of the Hunger Games books was probably reading 50 Shades of Grey, the first in a trilogy of erotic bondage tales … though few of them would willingly admit to it.
  3. Most listened to songs (according to Facebook): Fun’s “We Are Young,” Gotye’s “Somebody That I Used to Know,” Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe” and One Direction’s “What Makes You Beautiful.”
  4. On Broadway, top shows were Clybourne Park, Other Desert Cities, Peter and the Starcatcher, Venus in Fur, Leap of Faith, Newsies, Nice Work if you Can Get It, Once, Bonnie & Clyde, One Man Two Guvnors, and lots of revivals (Porgy & Bess, Evita, Death of a Salesman, etc.)
  5. Top video games of the year: Halo 4, Assassins Creed III, Guild Wars II
  6. Honey Boo Boo, the adorable tot with the grotesque mother, dominated reality TV
  7. Tom Cruise/Katie Holmes announced that they are divorcing. What a shock.
  8. Oh … and Kate Middleton, Prince William’s wife, is preggers.
Memes of the Year
  1. Texts from Hilary. A photo of Hilary Clinton texting proved the perfect opportunity for wonks/wonkets to get their snarky on.
  2. Impossibly photogenic guy. Photo of a good-looking young guy running a marathon.
  3. McKayla is Not Impressed. A picture of McKayla Maroney’s scowl at the Olympics as she accepted the silver (not gold) medal for women’s vault
  4. “Gangnam Style," a music video featuring the infectious, meme-ready dance moves of a little-known South Korean rapper named Psy, became the most-watched video in YouTube history in 2012
  5. First world problems. Photo of a comfortable white woman complaining about rich white people problems
  6. The Most Interesting Man in the World (“I Don’t Always … But When I Do ….”) This meme began on TV as an advertising gimmick for Dos Ecces before going viral on the web.
  7. Condescending Willy Wonka. Willy Wonka condescends to listen to your complaints.
  8. Boromir. “One does not simply …."
  9. Eastwooding/Invisible Obama. Inspired by Clint Eastwood’s eccentric performance at the Republican National Convention, empty chairs began popping up all over the internet.
  10. Grumpy Cat. No description needed.
  11. YOLO. “You only live once.” Think Carpe Diem for the generation that never saw Robin Williams in Dead Poet’s Society.
Technology News
  1. iPhone 5. Bigger screen + the ability to take panoramic pictures = more long lines at Apple stores
  2. Galaxy Note. If the iPhone has a competitor, this is probably it.
  3. After years of eschewing hardware, Microsoft finally entered the fray with the Surface Tablet, a sleek little tablet PC good enough to be taken seriously
  4. Kindle/Nook. Upgrades have turned these into iPad stand-ins that just happen to also work as book readers
  5. SOPA. In the beginning, movie/music executives backed the House’s Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA). But supporters of internet “freedom” were appalled at SOPA’s potential to block access to offshore websites that might host illegal content, and Google even blacked out their logo in protest. Ultimately, Congress shelved the legislation as too hot to handle, thus depriving millions of middle-schoolers of their go-to topic for persuasive essay assignments.
  6. Nintendo introduced the Wii U. It’s key innovation is its GamePad, a game controller with a built-in 6.2” touchscreen. 
  7. Instagram. The wildly popular photo-sharing app expanded from the iPhone to Android this year, adding legions of new users and a seemingly non-stop flood of new photos.
Science/Environmental News
  1. Scientists at Cern, the particle physics lab near Geneva, apparently proved the existence of the Higgs-Boson particle (aka “The God Particle”). It was an answer to one of the most basic but bedeviling questions imaginable: Where does mass come from?
  2. After over a year of travel through space, NASA’s Curiosity rover finally landed on the surface of Mars and began transmitting spectacular images back to Earth.
  3. Meanwhile, Earth-based scopes discovering an Earth-sized exoplanet in our neighbouring star system, α Centauri, a mere 1.34 parsecs (4.4 light years) away.
  4. In October, SpaceX sent its capsule Dragon on the first commercial resupply mission to the International Space Station. The craft has been so successful that the company, based in Hawthorne, California, is even considering a trip to Mars.
  5. After two decades of drilling, a Russian team broke through 3.8 kilometres of Antarctic ice in February to reach Lake Vostok, a huge subglacial lake isolated for millions of years. Alas, early sample analysis has not found any signs of the life many scientists hoped the lake might host.
  6. In the wake of the disastrous 2011 earthquake and tsunami that almost resulted in the meltdown of a nuclear power plan, Japan is now considering going entirely nuclear-free
  7. The United States proposed rules for the booming shale-gas fracking industry, which have enabled the US electric-power industry to shift 10% of its generating capacity from coal to gas. Still to be resolved: is fracking linked to mysterious earthquakes that tend to occur in close proximity to fracking operations?
  8. Got Global Warming? The summer’s dramatic melt of sea ice in the Arctic set a record that exceeded the predictions of climate models, as the U.S. faced its most extensive drought in half a century. Even Richard Muller, professor of physics at the University of California, Berkely, a MacArthur fellow and co-founder of the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature project – but perhaps better known as one of the most prominent global warming skeptics over the past decade – changed his tune, concluding that global warming is real and greenhouse-gas emissions from human activity are the main cause.
  9. In September, a consortium of some 440 scientists released 30 papers from the ENCODE project (the Encyclopedia of DNA Elements), estimating that at least 20% of the genome can influence gene expression. Other ambitious projects to crunch big biological data included the first results from an effort to map the circuit wiring of the entire mouse brain, and a project to track gene activity in some 900 anatomical parts of the human brain.
  10. The US Food and Drug Administration approved two weight-loss drugs — Belviq (lorcaserin) and Qsymia (phentermine plus topiramate) — the first since 1999. The agency also gave a green light to Truvada, the first drug designed to prevent HIV infection.
  11. After being ignored as useless genetic garbage, the vast 98% of the human genome that does not code for genes finally has a purpose. Scientists announced that these supposedly  insignificant portions of DNA are the true genetic masterminds - metabolic switches that regulate how and when genes function as well as how prolifically genes churn out their respective proteins. Scientists are already exploiting the newly discovered trove of biological information and pursuing new ways of controlling, and possibly even curing, diseases with the flick of a genetic switch.
  12. From 30% to 90% of honeybee colonies have collapsed worldwide since 2006, with the figure standing at 50% in the U.S. After considering disease, infestations by competing insects and other variables, investigators at the Harvard School of Public Health announced that the pesticide imidacloprid appears to play a big role in the mass melissacide.
  13. Remember that mysterious blue eyeball? The one in the picture that kept popping up on local news broadcasts and on the internet? Turns out it wasn't a relic of some unknown, ancient species; it came from an ordinary swordfish
Food News: 2012 was the year of seaweed, salted caramel, and healthy chips; meanwhile, organic foods remained popular despite studies that appeared to show no nutritional difference between organic and non-organic products.

Education News: Looks like No Child Left Behind will be left to die of neglect, replaced by waivers demanding that states adopt tough teacher accountability standards and "Common Core Standards."  This was too much for Chicago teachers, who went on strike demanding fair wages, fair treatment, and fair evaluation procedures. (Those who branded teachers as  "union thugs" earlier in the year might wish to consider that it was those same teachers who gave their lives protecting other people's children at Sandy Hook Elementary School.  Just saying.) 

Quote of the Year. "When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, "Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping." To this day, especially in times of disaster, I remember my mother's words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world." – Fred Rogers (of “Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood”)

12/19/2012

Book Look - The Science of Sherlock Holmes, by E.J.Wagner



For years now, I've wondered how much of the forensics science described in the Sherlock Holmes canon was factual. Given the currency of shows like CSI, it can be difficult to imagine that as early as the 1880s (when the Holmes stories were being penned) police were already utilizing trace evidence to solve crimes.

Turns out I'm not the only one wondering! The author, E.J. Wagner, combines his skills as a historian and his credentials as a Holmes fan to map the Sherlock Holmes stories against actual Victorian crimefighting techniques.

Devoting a chapter each to poisons, fingerprints, footprints, handwriting evidence, insect evidence, disguise, ballistics, dust/fiber analysis, blood evidence, how crime scenes were processed, and the science of autopsies, Wallace describes the methods that were actually being utilized at the time, gives examples of each in the Holmes canon, and then regales the reader with scores of real-life cases from the Victorian era in which the techniques were employed.

Though he's writing about science, Wagner's prose is breezy, his tone light, and his scientific descriptions highly accessible. Nor is a knowledge of the Holmes stories a prerequisite, as the author is diligent in ensuring that all quotes from the stories are accompanied by a sufficiently detailed description of context.

There's really something for everyone here. Historians will appreciate the opportunity to learn more about not-often-addressed aspects of the Victorian era. Fans of true & fictional crime will delight in the author's engrossing tales of notorious Victorian crimes (a combination of the usual "Victorian greatest hits of crime" - Lizzie Bordon, Jack the Ripper, Madame Lafarge, Dr. Crippen, etc. - enhanced by scores of lesser known but equally engrossing tales). And Sherlockians will relish the opportunity to learn more about how police methods influenced the Holmes tales ... and, even more fascinating, how the Holmes tales influenced police methods.

This is one book that deserves more attention than it has apparently gotten. Highly recommended!

12/05/2012

It's Beginning to Taste a Lot Like Christmas!


Christmas is a multi-sensory experience: Christmas lights blinking, bells jingling, the smell of clove and evergreen in the air ... mmmmm!  And then there are the foods that we associate with the holiday season:  cinnamon and peppermint, chocolate and eggnog, savory roasts with a side of pudding ... oh, my!  Probably doesn't matter what country or culture you come from: food is an indispensible part of the season.

Attached is my list of foods that are traditionally and/or sentimentally associated with the holidays.  Either they feature prominantly in Christmas literature, rate a mention in Christmas carols, or are indelibly linked with the season.  I freely admit that this list is Eurocentric, but since Europe gave us St. Nikolas and Christmas trees, I figure that's only fair.  Enjoy the list ... just don't drool on your keyboard as you read!
  1. Roast goose (alt: pheasant, duck).  What's the first thing Scrooge does after waking up on Christmas morning?  That's right ... he sends an urchin off to buy him the biggest goose in the window!  Roast goose was the traditional Christmas dish back in Dickens' day, and - by the way - also plays a feature role in the Sherlock Holmes holiday tale, The Blue Carbuncle
  2. Oysters (alt: oyster stew).  Many 18th and 19th century accounts of Christmas festivities make special mention of oysters and oyster stew.  Why?  Back in the day Catholics considered it bad form to eat meat the day before religious festivals like Christmas, so seafood was the only alternative, and oysters were one of the few types of seafood still plentiful (and affordable) in winter.
  3. Mincemeat pie.  According to the food historians, mincemeat pie dates back to Medieval times. At that time, this recipe did, indeed, include meat. It also often contained dried fruits, sugar, and spices. The distinction between mincemeat and mince was drawn in the mid-nineteenth century when meat began disappearing from the recipe, leaving the fruit, nut, sugar, spice, and suet product we know today. Late 19th century cookbooks contain several recipes for both mincemeat and mince, some containing meat, others not.
  4. Sweetmeats/nuts (alt: roasted chestnuts).  The term "sweetmeats" hints at the tradition behind that bowl of mixed, shelled nuts your aunt used to leave out on the mantle every December.  For thousands of years, nuts have been considered an exotic delicacy.  Kind of makes you appreciate why people made a big deal out of their nutcrackers.
  5. Stollen/bishop's bread/fruitcake.  Possibly the most reviled holiday treat, which is really unfair.  Believe it or not, back in the 18th century fruitcakes were so associated with wealth and decadence that they were briefly outlawed as an example of "sinful excess". Sure, everyone's probably had at least one bad experience with fruitcake, but don't knock it until you've tried the genuine article, homemade from an old family recipe, stuffed with lightly preserved fruits, sweetmeats, honey, and a generous portion of brandy ... yum!
  6. Buche de Noel/yule logs.  Not actual yule logs - those big trees maneuvered into fireplaces and ignited in honor of Christmas or Twelth Night.  What I'm referring to are those thin layers of cake topped with rich cream, then rolled into logs and frosted to resemble their namesake.  You don't see them in the grocery stores like you used to, but plenty of specialty bakeries still sell them. 
  7. Plum pudding. Christmas pudding has its origins in medieval England, and is sometimes known as plum pudding ("plum" being the old English word for raisins - go figure) or figgy pudding, as in "Now bring us some figgy pudding/ Now bring us some figgy pudding/ Now bring us some figgy pudding/ And put it right here!"
  8. Gingerbread.  We have the Germans to thank for this ubiquitous holiday food.  Since the middle ages Germans have observed the custom of creating gingerbread shapes to celebrate various seasons, and in the 19th century the custom of shaping gingerbread into lebkuchen - little gingerbread houses, began. 
  9. Cookies.  Though names and recipes vary, every family seems to do some version of shortbread, and I nurse a special place in my heart for cookie-press cookies with little dabs of jelly in the middle that were practically ubiquitous in the '70s.
  10. Candy canes.  The first historical reference to the familiar cane shape goes back to 1600s, when priests used to hand out sugar-sticks twisted into canes meant to represent a shepherd's staff.  Later, they were used to decorate Christmas trees.  These days they come in all kinds of colors, but everyone knows the red and white ones are the only ones that genuinely taste like Christmas.
  11. Ribbon candy.  I'm not sure how or when ribbon candy came to be so associated with the holidays (though the elegance of the treat and its resemblance to actual ribbon perhaps explains it) ... all I know is that my grandmother always had a bowl filled with ribbon candy for snacking during the holiday season.
  12. Eggnog (alt: posset).  Historians argue over whether the origins of this beverage stretch back to colonial times ("egg and grog" was a popular drink made with rum), or even further back, deriving from hot milk possets popular in medieval England.  All I know is that anything that combines egg, cream, sugar and booze can't be a bad thing. 
  13. Wassail (alt: mulled cider, mulled wine).  The word "wassail" comes from the Old English "Waes hael" — that is, "Good Health!" - and starts popping up in carols as far back as the 5th century, making wassail one of the more ancient and traditional of holiday foods on this list.
  14. Christmas punch (alt: hot buttered rum).  A beverage so traditional, even Charles Dickens had his own recipe - which, in case you're wondering, called for "the rinds of three lemons, cut very thin ... a double-handfull [sic] of lump sugar (good measure), a pint of good old rum, and a large wine-glass full of brandy — if it not be a large claret-glass, say two."