12 days of holiday myths

Happy holidays! This blog is a bit later than normal in order to perfectly time it with the beginning of the actual 12 days of Christmas! Yeah, I'm just kidding. I decided that putting up lights and drinking eggnog were more important. I just got lucky with the timing.

I decided this month to basically make a mish-mash post of other people's rigorously researched posts... because that tree is not going to decorate itself! Plus, citing lots of other writers is just good science.


1) The tryptophan in turkey makes you sleepy.

Let's start with the most popular one. Mainstream enough that Mythbusters even tested it out. People like to blame the holiday turkey for their tiredness post-meal. Nope, sorry, you just ate and drank WAY too much. Long story short, turkey has lots of tryptophan, which is the precursor to the hormone that makes you tired (serotonin). As sciencey and logical as that sounds, lots of foods have similar levels of tryptophan and don't give the same effect.

2) The eggs in raw cookie dough make it unsafe to eat.

I have tried and failed to find any sort of scientific evidence that commercial eggs carry enough bacteria (commonly Salmonella) to harm anyone. I get the theory, Salmonella is a happy little bug in the chicken's digestive tract. Chickens have an odd little tube called a cloaca, which can release both poop and eggs. Gross. Which means that poop can get on the outside of the eggs.

But the US and Canada have strict sanitization requirements for commercial eggs, so contamination from that route is unlikely. Plus, eggs are generally sterile inside when they're laid. Granted, if the eggshells are wet for a while, bacteria are able to get through. But I still think it's a small enough risk to not stop me, and I'm not the only one. Especially considering the tiny amount of egg containing tiny amounts of bacteria that would be in each raw cookie I eat. All bets are off with store-bought, mass-produced dough. But if we're talking the homemade stuff, I just don't get the fuss.

3) 90% of your body heat is lost through your head.

It's a toque manufacturer conspiracy! Or just your parents trying to make sure you didn't get frostbite. Either way, not true. Think about how cold you'd be if you went outside in a speedo and a warm woolen hat. Besides becoming an internet sensation, you'd likely just get hypothermia and die.

4) Exposure to cold makes you sick.

It's funny, this one makes so much sense I never really looked into it before now. Sure, you need some sort of bacteria or virus to actually get sick, but I figured the cold would probably lower your immune system or something. Turns out, it's the exact opposite. Cold weather can actually boost your immune system in small doses, plus being inside just means your chances of catching something from the people around you is higher.

5) Alcohol warms you up.

Nope, it just dialates your blood vessels so you FEEL warm. It also makes you feel like you love everyone around you and can rock at karaoke, and we both know that's not true, right? In this case, the dialated vessels move more blood by your skin, which actually allows heat to escape and cools you down.

6) You get drunk faster in an airplane.

The though was that lower oxygen at high altitudes means your body can't process the alcohol as well and you get drunk faster. In actuality, the low oxygen by itself leads to tiredness and sometimes light headedness, so you just feel more drunk.

7) Reindeer can fly.

This one was obvious right? I mean, clearly Santa's reindeer are light weight, sophisticated robots designed to be resistant to cold and fly at high speeds. And of course, Rudolph's bright red nose is the nuclear reactor powering this set-up. They don't survive on cookies and milk. Let's not be ridiculous.

8) Sugar makes kids hyper.

Ok, this one may actually be controversial, but there have been a number of controlled, randomized trials that don't show a difference in the behaviour of kids given sugar or a placebo. The main difference? The parents tend to rate their kids are more active if they think the had sugar. Which is exactly why blinded trials are essential to science!

9) Closing the apps on your iPhone or iPad makes it run faster.

Yeah, I know, I'm stretching the definition of "holiday myth". But twelve is a lot! And we all know that we're going to be spending a lot of time with our phones (face time, if you will) when the crowds of people get annoying. Plus, this one really irritates my husband. As an iOS developer, he really, really wants people to know that this is nonsense! In fact, it may actually slow your phone down because closing the programs stops them from doing quick updates in the background. So when you go to open that app again, it has to do the whole info dump at once and it takes longer.

10) Cranberry juice can treat urinary tract infections.

Cranberries are essential to Christmas dinner, so this counts right? Anyway, it turns out that the evidence isn't very strong for cranberries helping your UTI. It's possible this horrible fruit (you know it's true) could help prevent the infection though. It's not a definite no and it certainly doesn't hurt to eat/drink them, but I'm listing it as a myth anyway. Because twelve!

11) Santa will read your letters.

These days, it's all about delegating and out-sourcing. The elves do the reading and organizing, of course. Good thing they have modern technology to help them and they never close their background apps!

12) Pointsettias are poisonous.

I never really heard this one, but I've asked a few people and apparently it's a common myth. The sap apparently can upset your kid's or pet's stomach, but it's not life threatening.

I made it! Hurray! And all of those were totally legit holiday myths. Just let me have that one guys.

Have a great Christmas, Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, Flying Spaghetti Monster Day, whatever holiday you celebrate. I'll catch you again in February, because I plan to be too tired on January 1st from lighting fireworks to post anything.