Tag Archives: Christmas

No gift this Christmas? No hard feelings

“God never gives someone a gift they are not capable of receiving. If he gives us the gift of Christmas, it is because we all have the ability to understand and receive it.” Pope Francis

By Alex P. Vidal

WHY do we give gifts especially during Christmas?

Is the giving of gifts mandatory in Yuletide season?

We give gifts to promote the reputation that we are nice, generous people.

And we do it to put pressure on the recipient to reciprocate, says Roger Highfield, author of The Physics of Christmas.

When, for example, we take a basket of fruit to a friend in the hospital, it is because we would like him to do the same for us.

“Gifts have the power to make or break a relationship, for they are indices of how we interpret the status, power, taste, and emotion of our peers,” Highfield observes.

According to Adrian Furnham, a psychologist at University College, London, they reveal how socially aware we are in perceiving others.

It’s not just the issue of whom we choose to give presents to or how much or how little we spend on those presents, but what sort of gifts we select.

And when our motives for giving a particular gift are incorrectly interpreted, our faux pas is on display for all to see.

For example, the gift of a fluorescent fluffy toy might be thought an insult by someone who perceives himself or herself so sophisticated.

“As a channel of communication (a gift) has limited capacity because the range of messages is few and the language not well known,” Furnham says.


“Perhaps the gift-phobics who discover the exchange of gifts between family and friends do so because they don’t speak the language and agree with Wittgenstein, who so wisely noted: ‘Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.’”

Whitfield says psychologists have now started to decode the language of gifts in an effort to unwrap this seasonal ritual.

They have studied different gift occasions and assessed the various stages in the gift-giving process, the function of gifts, and the norms that govern who may give what to whom and why certain gifts—for instance, money—are often considered inappropriate.

Men and women behave very differently when it comes to Christmas gift giving, adds Highfield.

At the University of Winnipeg in Manitoba, David Cheal had great difficulty interviewing as many men and women for one study of Christmas gift giving.

The reason soon become clear: women remain the principal actors in gift transactions.

The annual hunt for that ideal present is overwhelmingly seen as women’s work. Indeed, among couples it is usually the women who maintain the gift economy.

Men tend to give more valuable gifts, less often. Part of the reason is that men generally earn more than women.

But women have been said to dominate Christmas giving perhaps because it is seen as a family festival and women are the “kin keepers,” taking more responsibility for maintaining family and social ties.


One of Cheal’s respondents explained that her reason for giving is “to be a message. You have interest in that person, whatever the message is at the moment.”

Highfiled explains that other studies have shown that we are little different from the Hazda in that gift giving often puts the recipient under an obligation, exploiting a reciprocal instinct that places the act closer to pure barter.

Much of Christmas giving actually reveals a more calculated character, following certain rules and obeying certain taboos.

Carole Burgoyne and Stephen Lea of the University of Exter, England say: “To violate these rules, to give too little, or indeed to give too much, can be insulting.”

One traditional taboo is the gift of money, according to Highfield.

If we hand out checks and cash, he explains, “the materialist underbelly of Christmas is laid bare for all to see. As a result, money is not a universally acceptable medium of exchange.”

Gifts of money also imply a lack of effort and insight on the part of the giver, according to a study of 92 students conducted by Burgoyne and David Routh of Bristol University in England.

Another study by Lea showed that this was particularly so when money was given by a child to a parent, but not when it was a gift from a grandparent or parent to a child.

Highfield says today’s psychologists see gifts as a way of initiating and maintaining relationships—just as we observed in the case of Henry III.

According to Bourgoyne, Christmas tends to differ from other giving rituals, such as birthdays, because it is more likely to involve a simultaneous exchange.

In relationships where reciprocity is expected, there can be serious consequences of the failure to give a gift.

These are more likely to occur in closer relationships, such as between siblings, parents and children, or girlfriend and boyfriend.

“The nonappearance of  a gift is likely to lead to broken relationships and family row unless there is a very good explanation for it,” Burgoyne says.


Nevertheless Christmas is an occasion for the relaxation of other rules of gift giving, notes Highfield.

Because seasonal presents are handed out more widely they are often less intimate and personal than birthday presents. This, of course, can be an advantage for those who are trying to start up a relationship, he adds.

But gently does it, warns Burgoyne: “Gifts that are too expensive may signal a level of commitment and impose a sense of obligation that is not wanted by the recipient. Thus an inappropriate gift—one that is either too cheap or expensive—or one that seems to expose a lack of taste on the part of the donor—carries the risk of rejection.”

Gifts are also excellent way of atoning for sins, but they may be rejected if judged as not sufficiently compensatory, Highfield remarks.

“If they are too compensatory, however, they also can cause an offense. Precise reciprocity could be seen as an unfriendly act if one breaks the rule of approximate worth—that is, giving a return gift of approximately the same monetary value,” he warns.

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Posted by on December 25, 2014 in CHRISTMAS


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Chocolate we eat on Christmas 

“All you need is love. But a little chocolate now and then doesn’t hurt.” Charles M. Schulz

By Alex P. Vidal

IS too much chocolate-eating dangerous to our health?

Can it cause diabetes and obesity as feared?

Over eating of chocolate can be tantamount to slow motion suicide but it contains health benefits if we eat moderately.

Some of the health benefits of chocolate are:

–Cacao, the source of chocolate, contains antibacterial agents that fight tooth decay. However, chocolate with high sugar content will negate this benefit, according to Cocosymposium. Dark chocolate contains significantly higher amounts of cacao and lower amounts of sugar than white chocolate, making it more healthful.

–The smell of chocolate may increase theta brain waves, resulting in relaxation.

–Chocolate contains phenyl ethylamine, a mild mood elevator.

–The cocoa butter in chocolate contains oleic acid, a mono-unsaturated fat which can raise good cholesterol.

–Men who eat chocolate regularly live on average one year longer than those who don’t.

–The flavanoids in chocolate help keep blood vessels elastic.

–Chocolate increases antioxidant levels in the blood.

–The carbohydrates in chocolate raise serotonin levels in the brain, resulting in a sense of well-being.

The health risks of chocolate are:

–Chocolate may contribute to lower bone density.

–Chocolate can trigger headaches in migraine sufferers.

–Milk chocolate is high in calories, saturated fat and sugar.

–Chocolate is a danger to pets (chocolate contains a stimulant called theobromine, which animals are unable to digest).


Christmas is a time for eating chocolate.

Consumption has come a long way since the first “eating” chocolate was introduced in England by the Bristol firm of Fry and Sons in 1847.

Much debate and mythology surround people’s craving for this confection, which has been blamed on depression, the menstrual cycle, sensory gratification, or some of the 300 plus chemicals that it contains.

The sensuous properties of chocolate depend on the fat it contains.

Roger Highfield explains in The Physics of Christmas that

Cocoa butter can solidify in half a dozen different forms, each of which has a different effect on “mouthfeel” and palatability.

Form V predominates in the best chocolate, making it glossy and melt in the mouth.

Unlike other plant edible fats, which are usually oils, Highfiled explains that cocoa butter is enriched in saturated fatty acids so that it is solid under normal conditions and has a sharp melting point of around 34C, just below the temperature.

Heat is absorbed when this occurs, giving a sensation of coolness on the tongue.

“Another reason we like chocolate is the stimulatory effects of caffeine and related chemicals. Every 100 grams of chocolates contain 5 milligrams of methylxanthine and 160 milligrams of theobromine (named after the cocoa tree, whose botanical name, Theobroma cocoa, means “food of the gods”). Both are caffeinelike substances,” Highfield points out.

Originally, chocolate was a stimulating drink. The name is derived from the Aztec word xocalatl, meaning “bitter water.”


In the 17th century a physician from Peru wrote how it is “good for soldiers who are on guard.”

Highfield stresses that indeed, some people have suggested that it was Casanova’s favorite bedtime drink—to give him a boost when he needed it.

Medical textbooks do note, however, that when taken in large quantities, these stimulants can induce nausea and vomiting.

This effect can also be observed in children (and others) who of overindulge on Christmas Day.

He cites that every 100 grams of chocolate also contains 660 milligrams of phenylethylamine, a chemical relative of amphetamines, which has been shown to produce a feeling of well-being and alertness.

“This may be why some people binge on the stuff after an upsetting experience—or perhaps to cope with the stress of Christmas shopping,” Highfield theorizes.

He also observes the following:

-Phenylethylamine may trigger the release of dopamine, a messenger chemical in the brain that plays a role in the “reward pathway” that governs our urge to eat or have sex.

-Phenylethylamine raises blood pressure and heart rate, and heightens sensation and blood glucose levels, leading to the suggestion that chocoholics “self-medicate” because they have a faulty mechanism for controlling the body’s level of the substance.

However, if a person consumes too much phenylethylamine or has an inability to remove it due to the lack of a key enzyme (monoamine oxidase), blood vessels in the brain constrict, causing a migraine, according to Highfield.


More recently, it has been found that chocolate also contains substances that can act like cannabis on the brain, intensifying its other pleasurable effects.

Highfield says three substances from the N-acylethanolamine group of chemicals can mimic the euphoric effects of cannabis, according to a study by Daniele Piomelli, Emmanuelle di Tomaso, and Massimiliano Beltramo of the Neurosciences Institute in San Diego.

Their works date back in 1990, when scientists found a site in the brain that responds to cannabinoids, the class of compounds that include the active ingredient in cannabis.

Recently they have discovered the specific substances in the brain that bind to this site. One is a fatty molecule dubbed anandamide after the Sanskrit word for “bliss.”

Piomelli investigated chocolate, which is rich in fat, because he correctly suspected that it might contain lipids related to anandamide.

Piomelli was first inspired to look into the mood-altering effects of chocolate when he became addicted to the stuff one gray winter in Paris.

Now that he has moved to California, which is as sunny as his homeland of Italy, he is no longer a chocoholic.




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Posted by on December 24, 2014 in CHRISTMAS


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We pray amid poverty in Christmas

“Silent night! Holy night! Guiding star, lend thy light!” J. MOIER

By Alex P. Vidal

CAN prayers save us from poverty? Will there be a miracle if we pray hard for gifts and for Santa Claus and his reindeer to knock on our doors this Christmas season?

Francis Galton, the progenitor of human genetics, said in his 1872 Statistical Inquiries into the Efficacy of Prayer, that he could find no evidence that prayer is effective. Galton found no scientific grounds for believing that prayers are answered. But he conceded that “prayer can strengthen resolve and relieve distress.”

Because of poverty, many of us continue to find it increasingly impossible to enjoy “the most exciting season of the year”, the season that carries a strong emotional resonance for many Filipinos. We continue to pray nonetheless. We believe that “prayers can move mountains,” as the saying goes.

As obedient Christians, we continue to follow the church-mandated traditions on how to celebrate Christmas.

Christmas is probably ideal only for those who don’t have a daily bout with financial difficulties.

Many people now begin to believe and realize that society celebrates the so-called season of the birth of Christ heavily from the commercial point of view. We equate Christmas with material possessions.

When think of gifts, decorations, parties, wines, caroling, merrymaking, vacation, etcetera, we think of extra funds and extra expenses.


Christmas has become synonymous to expenses and money. Without extra funds, many Christians tend to develop a morbid feeling of insecurity and inadequacy.

How can one actively take part in Christmas parties and gift-giving binges if he does not even have enough to buy a decent meal for his family?

However, we can always celebrate the Yuletide season on a different perspective: embracing the spirits of love, humility, simplicity, forgiveness, hope and understanding.

Expecting nothing and continue living a simple life is a key to overcoming anxiety, stress, emotional and mental anguishes if we don’t have economic capacity and abundance in life.

A very interesting piece about science and Christmas has rekindled the debate whether the scientific worldview somehow undermine the religious beliefs that are the basis of Christmas for so many people.

Science has been viewed suspiciously as a force that turned people away from God ever since 1916, according to Roger Highfield, author of The Physics of Christmas. In that year, an oft-cited survey by James Leuba of Bryn Mawr University found that 60 percent of American scientist did not believe in God.

Highfiled revealed that the finding caused a scandal at that time, prompting warnings from politicians about the evils of modernism and accusations that scientists were leading college students away from religion.


Leuba himself predicted that disbelief among scientists would only increase in the future.

“But research conducted recently, repeating the 1916 survey word for word, has proven Leuba wrong,” Highfield contends. “The proportion of scientists who believe in God has remained almost unchanged in the past eight years, despite the enormous leaps of discovery made during this century.”

Highfield cited Edward Larson, from the University of Georgia, and Larson’s colleague Larry Witham, from Burtonsville, Maryland, who questioned 600 scientists listed in the 1995 edition of American Men and Women of Science. It reportedly achieved the same results as Leuba: about 40 percent of scientists believe in God.

“The future of Christmas and Hanukkah in our increasingly technological age seems assured,” concludes Highfield.

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Posted by on December 22, 2014 in CHRISTMAS


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