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The Christmas tree might not seem like a tradition older than the holiday itself. But as Texas A&M historian Troy Bickham explains, erecting evergreen plants during winter solstice celebrations is a ritual that predates Christianity. When Christmas became a holiday, the practice was simply adapted – and even then, really took place only among Protestants.

It was only in the 19th century that the ritual became popularized. England had an outsize influence on middle-class culture in the English-speaking world, and Bickham tells the story of how an image of Queen Victoria and her tree went viral, launching a tradition that has now become commonplace around the world – even in places where Christianity isn’t the dominant religion.

This week we also liked stories about snow days being on thin ice, the latest research on wearing masks and ways to reduce food waste.

Nick Lehr

Arts + Culture Editor

Public Christmas trees, like Rockefeller Center’s famous tree, didn’t start appearing in the U.S. until the 20th century. Nicholas Hunt/WireImage via Getty Images

The Christmas tree is a tradition older than Christmas

Troy Bickham, Texas A&M University

Evergreens have long served as symbols of life during the bleakness of winter. But Queen Victoria spurred the tradition that has become a global phenomenon.

Hanukkah creates opportunities for families to celebrate their heritage – especially in the kitchen. zilber42/iStock via Getty Images

‘Untraditional’ Hanukkah celebrations are often full of traditions for Jews of color

Samira Mehta, University of Colorado Boulder

Multicultural Jewish families and Jews of color are innovating food-centered holidays to bring their whole selves to the table.

Treat Kitty to a new box or pet-safe treat, but not scraps from holiday meals. Cyndi Monaghan/Moment via Getty Images

Holiday foods can be toxic to pets – a veterinarian explains which, and what to do if Rover or Kitty eats them

Leticia Fanucchi, Oklahoma State University

Keeping human foods away from pets is one way to avoid emergency veterinary hospital runs during Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa or New Year’s.

The Conversation Quiz 🧠

  • Here’s the first question of this week’s edition:
    Plans are moving forward to develop what in California, which would be the first in the United States?

    1. A. Floating offshore wind farm
    2. B. Live-in snow globe
    3. C. State-run space program
    4. D. Completely free university

    Test your knowledge