A Special Christmas Briefing

A huge Christmas tree stands in front of the Rathaus in Basel, Switzerland. A terminus for many Rhine River cruises, Basel gets its share of holiday tourists.Credit…Basel Tourism

‘The most wonderful time of the year’

At a dairy farm in New York this month, carolers serenaded a herd of 28 cattle. Across Europe, Christmas markets popped up like fairy-dusted street fairs. And there’s cheer to be found even in the farthest reaches of the cosmos — the winking lights of the Christmas Tree Galaxy Cluster shine from approximately 4.3 billion light-years away.

For much of the Northern Hemisphere, late December brings the shortest days of the year. The holidays are a welcome explosion of light, cheer and respite from the darkness.

You don’t need to be celebrating Christmas proper, either. It’s the season of Kwanzaa, founded less than a century ago by a Southern Californian Black Power activist providing an alternative to a “white” Christmas. Hanukkah wrapped up a few weeks ago — but latkes and doughnuts are a welcome addition to any table.

Perhaps you plan to spend today watching “Die Hard,” or “A Christmas Story,” or “The Snowman.” You might have started your Monday at Christmas Mass, or be finishing it with Chinese food and a movie. You may be visiting family, or setting time aside to volunteer, or be grateful for a day of relative quiet to be spent in blissful solitude. You might be moonlighting as Santa Claus. (And if today is another work day for you, we raise our hats to you.)

Whatever kind of Christmas Day you’re hoping for, we’re wishing you a joyful one. (We’ll return to normal programming tomorrow.)

For now, your briefing writers in Melbourne, Australia (Natasha) and London (Amelia) are toasting to you, and to another year together.

Great holiday reads:

  • Which of these 12 Christmas vibes is yours?

  • A seven-foot Norway Spruce Christmas tree takes 10 years to grow and costs $105. Here’s why.

  • Real Christmas trees have surprising ecological benefits — even if they are grown to be culled.

  • Forget festive joy. For some, Christmas is about the painful pleasure of truly scary ghost stories.

  • An orphan’s guide to celebrating Christmas.


The Year to Come

“Steamboat Willie,” Mickey Mouse, 1928.Credit…LMPC, via Getty Images
  • Jan. 1: A troublemaker version of Mickey Mouse enters the public domain.

  • Feb. 19: The Eastern & Oriental Express sleeper train returns to service.

  • April. 19: A total solar eclipse plunges North America into daytime darkness.

  • July 26: Paris hosts the Summer Olympics.

  • Nov. 5: American voters go to the poll to choose their next president. Read about more events coming in 2024.

Those We Lost

Credit…From left: George Tames/The New York Times; Bob Henriques, via Magnum Photos; Associated Press

A pioneering Supreme Court justice, a 1950s pop superstar turned civil rights activist, a significant first lady, a producer who changed the sitcom, one of the most fearsome players in football history and many more remarkable people died in 2023. We looked back and remembered them.

Five Firsts in 2023

Credit…Indian Space Research Organization, via Associated Press
  • India became the first country to successfully land near the moon’s south pole.

  • Researchers drilled into the Earth’s mantle in May, retrieving sample after sample of the coveted dense rock.

  • For the first time on record, at least one in 10 people in Japan is over the age of 80.

  • Using data from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory and the James Webb Space Telescope, researchers confirmed the existence of the universe’s oldest known black hole.

  • From November 2022 to October 2023, Earth experienced its hottest 12 months on record. Read more firsts.


1. Can you name the four people pictured above?

2. Which word — slang for “style, charm or attractiveness” — did Oxford pick as its 2023 Word of the Year?

3. What was the first name of half of all the authors shortlisted for this year’s Booker Prize?

4. The puggle is the young of what egg-laying species?

5. Where did this year’s U.N. climate summit take place?

6. What is the name of the founder of the crypto trading firm FTX?

7. The global tour of which U.S. pop singer has been responsible for lifting local economies around the world?

8. To the nearest century, for how long was Britain under Roman rule?

9. What is the name of the baking technique in which butter is folded and rolled into dough?

10. What color is the gemstone peridot?

The answers to this quiz are at the end of this email.


Your holiday memories

We asked readers to share their treasured recollections of the holidays. These have been lightly edited and condensed.

“To make sure our boys didn’t wake us at dawn on Christmas morning, we asked Santa to leave them one present by their beds to keep them occupied till a reasonable hour. Always a book!” — Jacqueline Pepper in England

“Every year in Michigan, my grandma would ship us large tins packed with homemade Christmas cookies. On Christmas Eve, we’d drive around town, cookie tins in tow, listening to Christmas music and stories, and looking at the lights. We’d make stops anywhere poor souls had to work, and each of us would donate some cookies to the lonely workers.” — Michael Hilliard in Xi’an, Shaanxi, China.

“We lived in a middle-class neighborhood in Erie, Pennsylvania, with a mixture of cultural backgrounds. On Christmas Eve, we would have a big tree-trimming party for our family and all our adult Jewish neighbors. There was no sense of ecumenism or any religious difference — it was just neighbors sharing their different cultures and joy with others.” — Michael Warner in India

“Every Dec. 24, we go to church in the evening to hear Christmas Mass. At midnight, our family enjoys a simple “Noche Buena” meal. Christmas morning, gift giving is the highlight of the day from our “Ninong/Ninang” (Godfather/Godmother) or to our “Inaanak” (Godchild). Filipino Christmas. This is what it’s all about.” — JT Cuenca in the Philippines.

“As the only child of divorced parents, Christmas could be tricky. There were no big, boisterous family gatherings. But my mom and I developed a “just right” tradition. Christmas Eve, we would eat Chinese takeout straight out of the square containers, imprinted with cheerful, Christmas-red Dragons. Then we’d drive around the city, looking at the lights.” — Sascha Gleckler in Berlin, Germany


Credit…Romulo Yanes for The New York Times

Drink: A classic champagne cocktail is celebratory and bittersweet.

Watch: You don’t need to celebrate Christmas to love “A Charlie Brown Christmas.”

Listen: 10 new albums for a jazzy or pop-punk or country little Christmas.

Move: Combat holiday sluggishness with this 10-minute workout.

Connect: There’s no shame in feeling lonely, especially at the holidays.

Play the Spelling Bee. And here are today’s Mini Crossword and Wordle. You can find all our puzzles here.

That’s it for today’s briefing. Happy holidays. — Amelia and Natasha

Reach the team at [email protected].

The answers to the quiz are as follows: 1. Matthew Perry, Ice Spice, SZA, Xi Jinping. 2. Rizz. 3. Paul. 4. Echidna. 5. Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates. 6. Sam Bankman-Fried. 7. Taylor Swift. 8. 400 years. 9. Lamination. 10. Yellowish-green.

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