From Star Wars to seasonal allergies, the truth -- or not -- behind these holiday myths: Internet Scambusters #418
Was there ever a one-off festive Star Wars show? Do Christmas trees cause allergies? Or are these just holiday myths?
And what about the man who microwaved himself on Christmas Day, Santa's kidnap list, and the real Whoville where The Grinch tried to steal Christmas?
We have all this, plus the lowdown on a couple of Christmas superstitions, in this week's seasonal Scambusters issue.
'Tis the Season -- 7 Holiday Myths, Legends, Hoaxes and Superstitions
At this time of year, holiday myths and hoaxes add to the spice of the season -- though they're not always laden with good will.
Many urban legends about Christmas, especially religious ones, have been around for years and yet they still reappear each year.
Three, in particular, were highlighted in a previous issue of Scambusters, Are These Three Christmas Urban Legends True?. And we can report that they're still alive and kicking today.
If you check out that report, you'll also see that one of these holiday legends turns out to be true: the musical Christmas lights video that you can still see on YouTube and that has, to date, attracted more than six million views.
That's the thing about holiday myths, of course -- some of them are true. But separating fact from fiction is not always an easy task.
This year, we explore a range of myths, legends, hoaxes and legends, with 7 less well-known and offbeat supposed happenings to report. Some of them are just a tad gruesome -- so don't read them after you've just finished your festive dinner.
The Star Wars holiday special
Let's start with a true one. The story goes that a special holiday episode of the classic movie Star Wars was made for TV but was only shown once and has never been seen again.
If you're a Star Wars fan or were around watching TV in 1978, you may have witnessed this genuine CBS showing but, for those who didn't, it has become something of a holiday myth. It actually was made (and shown around Thanksgiving time) but without the full participation of Mr. Star Wars himself, George Lucas.
Indeed, Lucas was said to have loathed the show so much that he bought the rights to it and declared that, if he could, he would destroy every copy.
Seems like he didn't manage that because bootleg copies apparently do exist, but, unless The Force is with you and you've got the right connections, don't expect to see it any time soon.
The man who microwaved his brain
Hold on to your hats for this one. It was Christmas Day, 1998, when a shivering night watchman at a Canadian telephone relay depot snuggled up to the humming equipment to garner a little warmth.
He didn't know that the equipment emitted microwave radiation (which truly can superheat human tissue just as well as anything else) as he settled down on a deck chair with a 12-pack to wait out his solitary Christmas.
Meanwhile, according to this story, the phone company boosted the power at the installation so it could handle the increased seasonal phone calls, and the poor guy was found 12 hours later with his brains fried and his unfinished cans exploded.
Humbug! The source seems to have been an email supposedly reporting on the famed "Darwin Awards" for human idiocy. It's one of several variations of thankfully untrue urban legends about people who died or killed their pets with microwaves.
Origin of "How The Grinch Stole Christmas"
This famous Dr. Seuss story tells the tale of a mountain-dwelling creature that tries to prevent the people of nearby Whoville from enjoying Christmas.
According to a holiday myth that always circulates around this time each year, Dr. Seuss based his story on the city of Charlottesville and its University of Virginia sports team, the Wahoos (or The Hoos as they are usually called -- hence "Hooville").
There's no truth in this, although one local claims the college president used to read the story aloud from the balcony on the eve of Christmas break -- and that's where this holiday hoax sprang from.
Christmas trees and allergies
Worried about the trend towards the use of artificial substitutes, the Christmas tree industry runs a special service to try to expose holiday myths about their precious crop.
One of the most common beliefs, they say, is that the trees cause allergic reactions.
While it's true that some people are allergic to tree pollens, they say, "a Real (Christmas) Tree itself is unlikely to produce pollen during December, and even if it did, pollens from pines are not a known allergen."
Santa letters and kidnap victims
Author Ngaire Genge (who wrote The Buffy Chronicles) reports on this shocking holiday myth in his book "The As-Complete-As-One-Could-Be Guide to Modern Myths."
In the late 1990s, he says, parents were warned in public service broadcasts and news bulletins not to participate in newspaper supplements carrying photographs of children with letters they had written to Santa.
Often children's names, schools and home locations were listed in these publications.
The warning, which became widespread in the US and the UK, suggested that evil-doers were selecting child victims to kidnap and, indeed, as Genge notes, the media reported that "hundreds of unsuspecting and innocent children" had already been snatched.
The claim was dismissed as an urban legend by the Center for Missing and Exploited Children, though the organization warns, nevertheless, of the dangers of giving out information about the identity of children, which we wholeheartedly support.
At least two holiday hoax emails will almost certainly emerge in time for the season this year.
The first is the Merry Christmas virus email that warns of a message with a "Merry Christmas" subject heading.
When you open it, so this holiday hoax claims, an image of a log fire springs to life and, in the heat of the moment, your hard drive becomes toast. Not true (at least up till now).
The other holiday hoax message preys on human sympathies, inviting recipients to send a Christmas card addressed to "A Recovering American Soldier" at the Army's Walter Reed Medical Center.
This is just a chain letter and such a card would not be delivered to the Center -- not least because, for security reasons, USPS doesn't accept mail to unnamed service personnel.
The hospital itself says that if you feel moved to show support for our soldiers, you should make a donation to an armed services-linked charity.
Oh, and ditch the email. Please don't pass it on as you are urged to do.
Many holiday myths are founded on superstitions that have been around for centuries. For example, bringing holiday and other greenery into the home was believed to be a way of ensuring the return of natural greenery the following year.
Some superstitions surround supposed bad-luck gifts. Give a person a knife and they will cut themselves or injure you. Buy them shoes and they will leave you.
No one is really sure why kissing under the mistletoe is supposed to have special significance. In fact, it was once regarded as bad luck or even an evil omen and was banished by some religious groups.
Happily that's not the case today (as far as we've been able to ascertain), so feel free to hang your mistletoe and find your "victim."
That's it for a seasonal round-up this year. However you plan to spend the season, we offer our best wishes -- and a warning to steer clear of the microwaves and keep a skeptical eye out for those holiday myths!
Time to close -- we're off to take a walk. See you next week.