Happy Feast of Saint Nicholas! Or that "jolly old elf," as we've come to know him. Though in fact - as this recent facial reconstruction from his 1,600-year-old-skull shows - he was a tough, olive-skinned battler for Christian orthodoxy back in Asia Minor, or what we know today as Turkey. And, yes, he was born into a patrician family and used that wealth to help others, hence the reason so many Americans who can't afford basics go into credit card debt at Christmas buying stuff.
The draw of the season is so powerful, in fact, that a sizeable minority of atheists in one study liked to go to church more than a year. Christmas is a good bet for one of those times. "Our research shows just how tightly linked religion and family are in U.S. society - so much so that even some of society's least religious people find religion to be important in their private lives," said Rice University sociologist Elaine Howard Ecklund, a lead researcher in the study.
Speaking of Christmas, Time magazine's Joe Klein mounts an interesting defense-cum-explanation of Newt Gingrich's seemingly Dickensian remarks about the silliness of child labor laws. Pro-lifers debate whether Newt is getting a pass on his fluctuating definitions on when life begins.
Awkward Video Moment: "Miss Bachmann, my mommy's gay but she doesn't need fixing," 8-year-old Elijah whispered to Michele Bachmann at a book signing. The candidate did not seem converted.
Reuters has a powerful tick-tock on the case of accused child porn purveyor and priest, Father Shawn Ratigan. It details what Kansas City-St. Joseph Bishop Robert Finn knew, and when, and it doesn't look good for the bishop, who is facing a trial on charges that he did not report Ratigan to authorities.
Evangelicals debate whether it was morally wrong for American Airlines to file for bankruptcy.
A few good menschen: A Hasidic rabbi has won his battle to join the U.S. Army without shaving his beard.
Former Miss USA Rima Fakih, the first Muslim and Arab-American to win that crown, has been arrested for drunk driving in Michigan. Her lawyer says Fakih is "very saddened and very apologetic for the situation that she is in right now."
It's easy to make fun of Mormons - too easy, argues Max Mueller. "Why is Mormonism different?" he asks.
Speaking of blasphemy, or just everyday barnyard epithets, studies have shown that swearing helps some people tolerate pain better. Now researchers say your brain becomes habituated to the effect, which diminishes the level of pain relief. Dang.