Thursday, December 23, 2010

Merry Christmas!

I'm going out of town to be with family for Christmas, so the Daily Apple will go on vacation, too, for a few days. 

Have a very Merry Christmas, everyone!

(image from Pulp Jello)

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Apple #499: Christmas in Australia

Continuing my series of entries on Christmas in various parts of the world, I thought I'd go to a climate very different from our last locale, which was Antarctica, and slide up to Australia.

  • Like Antarctica, Australia is in the Southern Hemisphere.  So they're enjoying the middle of their summer, with the longest, sunniest days of the year, when Christmas happens.

That's Australia, between the Pacific and Indian Oceans. Beneath it, blown way out of proportion, is Antarctica.
(Map from the Australia Bureau of Meteorology)

  • Unlike Antarctica which is covered with snow even in summer, Christmas in Australia is hot!  An estimated 40,000+ people go to Bondi Beach near Sydney on Christmas Day.

Australians celebrating Christmas at the beach.
(Photo from

  • Even though there's no snow there on December 25, Santa still does come to Australia.  Except he usually doesn't arrive by reindeer-driven sleigh.  Sometimes his sleigh is pulled by kangaroos.

If the Australian Embassy says that Santa's sleigh is pulled by kangaroos, it must be true.
(Photo from Truth and Beauty Bombs)

  • More often, he arrives on something entirely other than a sleigh.  His vehicle may choice has included just about every craft imaginable:  boat, jet ski, waterskis, unicycle, fire truck, parachute from a plane.

Santa arriving in Australia by boat
(Photo from the National Archives of Australia, sourced from the Australian Government site)

That rubber craft in the background was how Santa got to the beach.
(Photo from Tom Wills' Christmas in Australia page)

  • People actually worry about Santa getting heat stroke while he's in Australia.  That outfit just isn't made for hot weather.
  • For the most part, Australians do a lot of the same things that northerners do: send out Christmas cards, make a lot of food in advance, sing carols, put up the Christmas tree, and so on.  But some of those things have a little bit of an Aussie twist to them.

People in different parts of Australia celebrate Christmas in slightly different ways.
(Map of Australia from International Travel Tours)

  • One tradition in Australia--Melbourne, in particular--is known as "Carols by Candlelight."  This event was started by a radio announcer named Norman Banks in 1937.  In the same way that people gather for a fireworks display in the summer, at around dusk, all sorts of people go to their local park or beach or lake, and they bring picnic baskets and rugs and chairs and things to drink and candles (carefully shielded from the wind).  But instead of fireworks, they also bring sheet music of Christmas carols.  All these people, adults and children, sing Christmas songs together.
  • Sydney, meanwhile, hosts a different event called Carols in the Domain.  Here, famous musicians and performers such as Josh Groban, Altiyan Childs, and even The Wiggles sing Christmas carols and perform their own music.  Events begin in the afternoon and continue until 11 p.m. This is usually televised throughout Australia. This year's Carols in the Domain took place on December 18.
  • Favorite Australian foods at Christmas include cold turkey or ham -- too hot to cook! -- seafood, salads, ice cream, and puddings.  
  • A favorite dessert is Pavlova, which is a meringue cake with a marshmallow center, whipped cream on top, and fresh fruit on top of that. Sounds delicious!

Pavlova, the popular Christmas meringue dessert in Australia and New Zealand. Of course you'll want to put kiwi fruit on top!
(Photo and recipe from Joy of Baking)

  • Lots of flowering plants in Australia bloom around Christmas time, and they've become known as Christmas plants.

Christmas bush, or Christmas mintbush (Prostanthera lasianthos). This is the less common, pink variety. More commonly, the flowers are white and a little spikier, less bell-shaped.
(Photo from the Australian Plant Society)

Speaking of bells, there is a plant called Christmas Bells. There are two species of them, actually.  This is Blandifora nobilis.
(Photo by Greg Miles on Flickr)

The Christmas orchid (Calanthe triplicata)
(Photo from eating chaos)

  • Very different than holly and ivy and pine boughs, aren't they? 
  • The Aussis have their own version of the Twelve Days of Christmas, too:
On the first day of Christmas, my true love sent to me
A kookaburra in a gum tree.

Two cockatoos........
Three parakeets.........
Four great galahs.......
Five opals black......
Six 'roos a-jumping........
Seven emus running.......
Eight koalas clinging.........
Nine wombats waddling........
Ten dingoes dashing.......
Eleven snakes a-sliding.......
Twelve goannas goin'.......

On the twelfth day of Christmas, my true love sent to me
Twelve goanna goin,
Eleven snakes a-sliding,
Ten dingoes dashing,
Nine wombats waddling,
Eight koalas clinging,
Seven emus running,
Six 'roos a-jumping,
Five opals black,
Four great galahs,
Three parakeets,
Two cockatoos,
And a kookaburra in a gum tree.
  • Oh, and here's how the kangaroos celebrate Christmas:

(Photo from PRLog)

Psst.  Did you notice, this is entry #499?  That means Daily Apple #500 is coming up next.  Any guesses what it'll be about?

Sources, Christmas in Australia
Australian Government Culture and Recreation, Christmas season celebrations in Australia
Tom Wills, Christmas in Australia

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Apple #498: Chapped Lips

I'm going to interrupt my series on Christmas in different countries because I must learn about chapped lips.  Now that winter is here for real, my lips are getting chapped again, and this is bugging me.

Chapped lips are really unpleasant.
(Photo from nature Medical lip balm)

  • The primary cause of chapped lips in the winter time is dehydration.  Not that they get cold, but that they lose moisture.
  • In the winter, the cold air is much drier than in the summer, and that dries out your lips faster.
  • Your saliva also contributes to chapped lips is frequent contact with your saliva.  I had thought saliva made your lips chapped because when the saliva evaporates, that also takes moisture away from your lips.  Turns out that's only part of the reason.
  • Saliva also contributes to chapped lips because there are enzymes present in saliva that are there to help begin digesting food.  When saliva is on your lips, those enzymes don't know they're sitting on lips, they think it's food.  So they go to work on your lips.  This robs your lips of moisture as well as a thin layer of protective outer cells on already thin skin; thus, chapping.
  • It's also possible your lips could be sunburned.  For most people, this isn't much of a factor in the wintertime because it's generally less sunny.  But for people who ski or snowboard or are otherwise active outside in the winter, the sun glinting off the snow combined with the very cold and dry winter wind can really do a number on your lips.
  • Another thing people do sometimes is chew at the loose skin or bite their lips or otherwise obsessively gnaw at them.  Sometimes this happens during sleep so you may not be aware that you're doing it.  But if you notice in the morning that there are torn or ragged places on your lips, sometimes torn to the point of bleeding, that may be what's going on.

If your lips are bloody like this in the morning, it could be because you've chewed on them in your sleep.
(Photo from Health Rookie)

  • It could also be that you've breathed through your mouth all night long.  The air rushing in and out past your lips on a regular basis for hours will dry out your lips in your sleep.  If you snore a lot, you may wake up to discover your lips are very chapped.
  • Smoking depletes your body of moisture and vitamins both, and can contribute to chapped lips.  But if you smoke, chapped lips are probably the least of your worries.
  • Related to the sunburn issue, eating or drinking citrus can also contribute to chapped lips.  Orange juice, oranges, grapefruit, etc., can leave behind a residue on your lips that is what's known as phototoxic.  This means when the substance is exposed to ultraviolet light, the skin beneath it suffers greater damage than it would by itself.  So citrus is kind of like the anti-sunscreen.  It's the "Here, Sun, Come Screw Up My Skin" screen.
  • Any of the aforementioned things may be contributing to chapped lips.  But if your lips seem like they are always (chronically) chapped and they have been for a long time, and if that's combined with swelling or itchiness, or even dizziness, you may have developed an allergy. 
  • All sorts of products have been discovered to be related to allergies that give people chapped lips.  They range from various fragrances in whatever lip product you may wear, to too much Vitamin A, to medications (especially those that treat acne), to toothpaste.  If you think you might have an allergy or chronically chapped lips, check out this list in bullet points of possible causes of chronically chapped lips.

  • Drinking lots of water will help hydrate your lips from the inside out.
  • Using a dehumidifier may also help.  If the air is moist, it will be less likely to dry out your lips.
  • If your lips are painfully chapped, steer clear of very salty or very spicy foods for a while. Both will steal moisture from your lips, and they'll also make your already sensitive lips hurt even more.
  • Instead of breathing through your mouth which keeps air moving over your lips and increasing the rate at which moisture evaporates, breathe through your nose as much as possible. I know this isn't always possible if you're out in the cold walking or doing something even vaguely strenuous, but you know what I mean.
  • Wear a scarf so that it covers your mouth.  This will protect your lips from the cold, the wind, and the sun.

  • My go-to lip balms, Chapstick and Burt's Beeswax get an "OK" rating from dermatologists.  They are  wax-based, and while the waxes do provide some barrier against the cold, the barrier isn't all that great.  And these balms don't contain much that will address the problem of a lack of moisture.
  • Those camphor-based lip balms -- the ones that people tend to get addicted to -- can actually make things worse instead of better.  Too much camphor can steal moisture from your lips, which will make you reach for the camphor balm again, which will dry out your lips even more, etc., ad nauseam.
  • You'll also want to avoid any cosmetics that contain alcohol.  Alcohol steals moisture. Think of how fast it dries when you dab in on your skin.  Putting alcohol on your lips will steal what little moisture  they have that much faster.
  • For example, a lot of people say they really like Aquafina Hydrating Lip Balm (yes, the bottled water company).  People say they can't live without it, they put it on all the time.  That makes me think, hmm, there's probably a reason people feel like they need to use it all the time; in other words, maybe it actually makes things worse instead of better.  So I checked the ingredients

Aquafina Hydrating Lip Balm comes in metallic-looking tubes like these or else in white plastic tubes.
(Photo and product available from Walmart)

  • True, this lip balm has antioxidants and beeswax and various feel-good ingredients like jojoba and sweet almond oil.  But it also has menthol and two types of alcohol.  So it taketh even as it giveth, hence people feeling the need to use it continually.
  • Other products that hydrate will probably work better.  People disagree about petroleum-based products. Vaseline works really well at holding in moisture (it's also great on chapped skin on other parts of your body like your feet or your elbows).  But some people are wary of using petroleum-based products on their lips.
  • Murad's Soothing Skin and Lip Care does contain petrolatum, but it also has lanolin and vitamin E to help promote moisture.  A touch of salicylic acid is supposed to help exfoliate the skin to keep those ragged little bits from hanging around.  As for the price, you know it's going to be high: it's $15 a tube pretty much everywhere ($14.50 on Amazon).

Murad Soothing Skin and Lip Care, according to Newsweek, was voted the number one lip balm in the country.  I don't know who does these polls, but that's what they said, anyway.
(Photo from  Murad)

  • B. Kamins Lip Balm with SPF 20 has petrolatum, as well as a bunch of different kinds of wax (beeswax, paraffin, carnauba wax), plus vitamin E, plus it has three types of sunscreen, and it has maple flavoring. (You can also get a version without the maple flavor.) This one sells for the oh-so-low price of $19 a tube.  Sorry, this time Amazon doesn't save you anything.

B. Kamins Lip Balm with sunscreen.  And, if you wish, with maple flavor.
(Photo from DERMAdoctor)

  • The old-school Palmer's Cocoa Butter Lip Balm has a few different types of wax, plus cocoa butter which is supposedly a natural moisturizer, and Vitamin E and beta carotene, and a little bit of sunscreen.  No alcohol or menthol, but it does have fragrance.  Some people may be allergic to the fragrance or may develop an allergy.  But still, I'm surprised the ingredients in an old-school product like this match up as well as they do with current dermatologists' recommendations.

Palmer's has the additional benefit of being cheaperoo.  You can get a pack of 12 of these for what you'd pay for one tube of the fancy kind.
(Photo from Ishizawa Labs)

  •  Eucerin Acute Lip Balm (I think Aquaphor is the US verion) is good for extremely dry, chapped lips.  It's got a bunch of lubricants like glycerin and castor oil and magnesium stearate, plus various antioxidants such as Vitamin E and Vitamin B5, plus an extract of licorice root which is supposed to be helpful for those who suffer from eczema.  No fragrance, no preservatives.

German version of Eucerin's lip balm. 5.87 Euros or 7.76 US dollars.
(Photo from Bennewitz)

  • I should probably let you in on how I deciphered the ingredients lists.  I had to use a dictionary.  Here are some "translations" for the terms you may see in lists of ingredients:
    • BHT = antioxidant
    • Pantothenic acid = Vitamin B5
    • Tocopheryl Acetate = Vitamin E
    • Oxybenzone = sunscreen
  • One last thing: if you've got cracks at the corners of your mouth, this generally isn't a dehydration issue, but rather due to a deficiency in riboflavin.  Time to hit the B2 supplements.

DERMAdoctor, Chapped Lips
Lawrence E. Gibson, M.D., Mayo Clinic, Chapped Lips: What's the best remedy?
Articlesbase, Chapped Lips - Causes, Symptoms and Treatment, April 1, 2008
Valerie Latona, 7 Tips for beautiful lips, bnet Health Publications, March 2002
Adam Waters, eZine Articles, Kiss Chapped Lips Goodbye
4 Reasons You're Getting Chapped Lips, Cosmopolitan
Ingredient lists for individual products
OneLook dictionary

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Apple #497: Christmas in Antarctica

The next place to visit in our little trip to Christmases in different places is Antarctica.

In Antarctica, instead of a sleigh, Santa arrives on a Ski-doo.
(Photo from Professor Eric Hiatt's page about McMurdo Station)

  • Christmas in a place where everything is going to be covered in snow, guaranteed might sound really great.  But there are some unusual things about Antarctica that make Christmas a little unusual.
  • Since Antarctica is in the Southern Hemisphere, Christmas happens at the height of summer.  A snowy summer, yes, but it's still summer.
  • Also because of its position on the globe, on Christmas Day, daylight lasts twenty-four hours, or close to it.  The darkest it may get is about an hour's worth of dusk.

Isn't that nice? The penguins in Antarctica send Christmas cards.
(Cards available from
(Actually, check out what the penguins are really doing on Christmas. This is a beautiful photo, but I suspect it's copyrighted.)

    • Most of the people in Antarctica are there working at a research station, or they're on a cruise ship.  
    • Because of the relative lack of TV and radio and stores all decorated for the holiday, there's less of a general build-up to the holiday.  
    • Most of the people at the research centers come from lots of different places from around the world, which can make it difficult to share traditions together.
    • It's also hard for people to get stuff shipped to them in Antarctica.  For example, live Christmas trees tend to be in pretty rough shape by the time they make it down there.

    There are three research stations in Antarctica, McMurdo, Amundsen/Scott, and Palmer. For some reason, this map only shows two, not Scott.
    (Map from Christmas in Antarctica)

    • Of the three research centers, McMurdo is by far the largest with about 1200 people, so it's like a small town. 
    • Scott base is much smaller, with about 100 people, while Palmer has only 43.  Most of the people at Palmer go to Scott or McMurdo at some point around Christmas to celebrate.
    • In McMurdo, since it's more like a town, there are a lot more activities.  People go caroling, they host parties, or they go out to one of the nightclubs or coffee shops.  McMurdo also has a Christmas buffet. Judging from some of the more recent blog postings about Christmas there, they seem to be doing all right in the food department in general.

    This is the food room at McMurdo.  This is where the food is stored for everyone on base.  These researchers are organizing food that they'll take with them when they go out on a field expedition.
    (Photo from Professor Eric Hiatt's page about McMurdo Station)

    • At Palmer, they start baking weeks in advance, and they have a sugar cookie bake-off.  At Scott, they have a big dinner around 7 pm on Christmas Eve.  One year they had turkey, ham, and new potatoes, to name a few of the dishes.

    These folks all work together at McMurdo, and they're having their Christmas feast.  On the menu: prime rib, roast duck, crab legs, shrimp, and lots of desserts.
    (Photo from Hot Stuff in Antarctica)

    • While there isn't a whole lot of present-exchanging on Christmas Day, in the days leading up to the 25th, an "elf" may deliver a stocking or a jingle bell ornament or a present to an unsuspecting person. 
    • People also find ways to decorate.  Some people spray paint the cables in Christmas colors.  Others hang all sorts of things from kitchen utensils to scientific equipment from the ceiling with red ribbons.  Though they can't get live trees, they do have artificial trees.

    Here are some of the decorations in McMurdo, 2008.  That stuff beneath the gingerbread houses is a huge tray of lots of different kinds of cheese.
    (Photo from Hot Stuff in Antarctica)

    • Fancy-dress, or costume, parties are also a big hit around Christmas time. The costumes are quite home-made, given the relative lack of stuff available.  One such costume was a guy who came as a snowman.  He shaved his head, painted the top half of his body white and wore a white skirt.  
    • December in Antarctica is relatively balmy (it's about 30 degrees there right now).  But still, going shirtless in 30 degree weather shows true dedication!
    • One Christmas Day activity that has become something of a tradition is the Race Around the World.  Participants go to the true South Pole and, using their means of transport of choice (sleds, skis, snowboards, snowshoes, snowmobiles, even stilts!), they race each other in a circle around the South Pole.  Though they turn in a fairly small circle (three times around is 2.5 miles), they step in each of the time zones of the world so when they are finished, they say they have traveled around the world.

    Racers, heading off on the course around the world. It's a bit of a wacky event, and some people dress in costumes, or they wear flags as capes.
    (Photo from PolarTrec)

    Carpenters, participating in the race.
    (Photo from PolarTrec)

    • Usually most people take some time out of the day to communicate with family members back home. They might exchange e-mails, or post notices on their blogs, or if possible, phone home using a satellite link.
    • Other people take walks to various nearby points of interest, or they have a barbecue.  Most people stay active for most of the day because of the 24 hours of daylight.
    • By the time the Christmas celebrations have ended, one student spending the holidays in Antarctica writes, "our group will be half-way through our one-week supply of fresh food and well into our days without showers."

    Merry Christmas from the South Pole!
    (Elke Bergholz, just after completing the Race Around the World. Photo from PolarTrec.)

    Cool Antarctica, Christmas in Antarctica 
    Patty Inglish, HubPages, Christmas in Antarctica
    University of Waikato, White Christmas in Antarctica
    Elke Bergholz, PolarTrec, Race around the world at the South Pole
    Carol Fey, Hot Stuff in Antarctica, Christmas in Antarctica

    Monday, December 6, 2010

    Apple #496: Christmas in Romania

    I decided to find out how different countries celebrate Christmas.  I'm especially interested in how people decorate their trees, but it's hard to find photos of Christmas trees that regular people have in their houses, especially since I don't speak their language.  So I thought I'd find a few details here and there about about different countries' traditions.

    I picked Romania to start with because that was, for some reason, the first country that came into my head.

    Romania is shown in yellow on this map
    (Map from Aries Shipping Agency)

    • It's traditional in Romania to fast before Christmas.  Then on December 20th, which is the feast day of St. Ignatius, they break the fast by slaughtering a pig, cooking it, and eating it.
    • I'm not sure how many contemporary people still fast, and I'm sure that Romanians who live in cities don't kill a pig.  But a lot of Romanians do still eat pork on the 20th.  That includes bacon and pork sausages. Pickles and plum brandy are also usually part of the Ignat feast.
    • One of the ways children anticipate Christmas is by going from house to house singing songs and carrying symbols of Christmas. In Transylvania, they hold up a pizãrã, which is a fancy handkerchief tied to a lance.  In other parts of Romania, they make a large star out of colored paper.  Sometimes the stars are lit up from the inside, and sometimes they're decorated with foil and bells.
    • There's more cooking the last few days before Christmas, for about 2 or 3 days straight.  Romanians make pork sausage, cabbage leaves stuffed with pork and rice, and cozonac, which is a cake that sometimes has nuts and raisins in it.
    Cozonac, traditional Romanian Christmas cake
    (Photo from Alecssandra on International Christmas)

    • Gifts are exchanged on Christmas Eve rather than Christmas morning.  The guy who brings their gifts is not Santa but Moş Craciun.
    • Traditional Christmas presents included lots of different kinds of nuts, fruit such as oranges or apples or raisins, and bread that's twisted or knotted, all of which were supposed to symbolize gifts of a fruitful harvest the next year.  Children also sometimes get coins.
    • Christmas morning, starting early, there's lots of singing and musicians playing instruments in the streets. Children join in the singing too, and sometimes

    Children singing Christmas carols and carrying the twisted, circular bread.
    (Photo from Alecssandra on International Christmas)

    Here's what some Romanian Christmas tree ornaments look like:

    These are mouth-blown and hand-painted ornaments made in Romania.  They're not vintage but "vintage style." Unfortunately, you have to buy them in a box of 96, and at just under $7, a box will set you back $317.
    (Photo from

    These are actual, vintage Romanian ornaments, made of glass
    (Photo was available at Vintage Christmas Decorations)

    Porcelain "lace" ornaments like this one also seem to be popular in Romania. This one will set you back $55.
    (Photo from Carousel of Gifts)

    A porcelain ornament decorated with "Merry Christmas" in Romanian
    (Photo and ornament from Cafe Press)

    I have a feeling those ornaments might be too fancy for most of Romanians.  Here's one person's Christmas tree in Romania:

    (Photo from Christmas tree in)

    Christmas tree in downtown Braşov, Romania.
    (Photo from Eu Sunt un Romerican)

    Institute for Cultural Memory, Romanian Christmas
    Pocket Cultures, Christmas in Romania
    Santa's Net, Christmas in Romania
    Holiday Spot, Christmas in Romania, Romania Christmas Traditions
    Miss Bimbo, International Christmas and Other Holidays!