NPR Staff

This holiday season, one popular Christmas carol has been raising some questions here at NPR headquarters. Namely:

"Oh, bring us some figgy pudding, oh, bring us some figgy pudding, oh — "

Wait. What is figgy pudding?

First of all, it's "absolutely delicious," says Debbie Waugh, who recently served the dish at a tea at the Historic Green Spring House in Alexandria, Va.

Figgy pudding — also known as plum pudding or Christmas pudding — is a staple of the British Christmas table, she says.

Christmas is coming, and by now you've probably heard all the standards, whether you want to or not — the chestnuts, the jingle bells, the usual deal. But if you're looking for something different this year and your politics lean left, then Grammy-winning soul singer Macy Gray has something for you.

During a sensitive time of global scrutiny surrounding Islam and Muslims, one unexpected image relating to the religion drew a more positive light.

Ali Kadri, a Muslim man living in Brisbane, Australia, posted a picture to his Facebook page last weekend that got the attention of tens of thousands of people. The picture showed Kadri with an imam, taking part in evening prayers at a Mormon church after having been invited to the Christmas program by his Mormon friend Michael Bennallack.

Interviewing a sitting president is no small deal. There are the physical logistics of it — getting together the interviewer, editors, producer, engineer, and a five-person video crew, plus all that audio and video equipment. And then, importantly, the preparation that goes into asking timely, tough and interesting questions.

When NBC announced The Wiz -- the African-American version of The Wizard of Oz, presented as a hit Broadway musical and a movie — would be produced as a live television production, some TV watchers may have groaned.

Previous live telecasts of other musicals have gotten attention mainly as a target for hate-watching. But The Wiz Live! seems to have broken that spell: When it aired earlier this month, it earned 11.5 million viewers — and more if you count DVR replays.

In municipal council races in Saudi Arabia a week ago, 21 female candidates were elected to office. In the country's third-ever elections, the monarchy gave women the right to vote, as well as to seek election to office.

Nearly 1,000 women ran throughout the country, but while there were 1.36 million men registered to vote, according to the Wall Street Journal, only 130,000 women could vote.

Election campaigns are scripted. Every TV ad, every email, every stump speech, every meet-and-greet: It's all planned down to the most minute detail.

And then, there are the debates. The debate stage can create breakout moments that go down in political history — but even the most well-practiced one-liners can fall flat on delivery.

One of the hottest gifts of the season is a little too hot — hot enough to catch fire.

Hoverboards have been burning up because of problems with their lithium-ion batteries.

By the time standup comedian John Mulaney was 30, he'd had a successful comedy special called New In Town, an Emmy nominated turn writing for Saturday Night Live and was on his way to the comedy promised land — his own sitcom.

But in 2013 Mulaney hit a bit of a wall. His self-titled Fox sitcom -- a classic live studio audience show about a young comedy writer living in New York — was panned and canceled.

Pain, grief and emotional loss follow mass shootings in America, and there are also other costs that add up to violence's financial toll. It's Ted Miller's job to crunch numbers on social ills like mass shootings. He's a health economist with the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation.

Serena Williams, one of the greatest athletes in the world, had one of the greatest years in sports. For this, Sports Illustrated named her the 2015 Sportsperson of the Year. The article highlighted some of her achievements:

Aja Raden's new book, Stoned, is about jewelry, but on the first page she lays out a bold statement: "The history of the world is the history of desire."

"There's no more powerful statement than 'I want,' " Raden tells NPR's Audie Cornish. " 'I want that. I want them.' ... Even if it's an issue of survival, you still are driven by what you want and what you are compelled to take or have or maintain."

Donald Trump has earned headlines — and, in some circles, ire — for incendiary comments throughout his presidential campaign. Recently, Trump called for a ban on Muslims entering the U.S. and a database to keep track of them — comments that other candidates in the GOP have denounced as intolerant and wrongheaded.

But some media commentators and news organizations have taken it a step further, stating that the man himself is racist and that his policies are fueled by racism.

"Usually when you illustrate a book, you're working on something that nobody's read before," notes Jim Kay.

But when you get tapped to add the illustrations to new editions of the entire Harry Potter series, as Kay did, the situation is more than a little bit different.

"It took a long time to get over the sort of terrible panic which grabs you," Kay says, "because you don't want to ruin the most successful children's book franchise in history."

Former Attorney Gen. Eric Holder's career has been a series of firsts.

As the first African-American to serve as this country's top law enforcement official, he came into office in 2009 promising to rebuild the Justice Department's Civil Rights division.

The Manchester, N.H., regional airport put out a special holiday message this year. And no, it wasn't about trying to bring liquids on board or keeping watch for Santa Claus on radar.

It's meant for people who will get drones this holiday season. "Aircraft operating within a five-mile radius of the airport must contact the airport communications center," they wrote.

In the 1970s, Mary Shepherd parked her home (a van) on a street in an artsy London neighborhood. She was cranky, religious, profane and indomitable, and the neighbors muttered about her — but some also brought her gifts. One neighbor, playwright Alan Bennett, took a particular interest in Shepherd and invited her to move her van into his driveway. She stayed there for 15 years.

A new film, The Lady in the Van, tells Shepherd's story. It was adapted from Bennett's memoir and play about his guest, and it stars Alex Jennings as Bennett and Maggie Smith as Shepherd.

Christopher Buckley's new novel is a historical heist caper, the story of a scam: An attempt to counterfeit the Shroud of Turin, believed by some to be the burial shroud of Jesus of Nazareth. As Jesus himself never said, "Talk about chutzpah!"

The 16th-century Holy Roman schemers include Dismas, a former mercenary who now deals in religious relics, from foreskins to fingerbones, and Albrecht Dürer, the real life artist and engraver. It's a road story, of a kind, that brings the duo to into contact with brothels, damsels, foreplay and swordplay.

How do you make a subject as complicated as the subprime mortgage crisis into a really good movie? That's the challenge director Adam McKay took on when decided to turn The Big Short, Michael Lewis' best-selling book about the people who profited from the crisis, into a film. The result (also called The Big Short) has bad guys and heroes — but even the heroes are kind of jerks.

"She had red hair — it was red hair out of a bottle, but it was still red hair. And she was a spitfire," Chloe Longfellow begins. "If you messed with her and she didn't think it was right, she would tell you."

Longfellow is speaking here of her grandmother, Doris Louise Rolison, on a recent visit to StoryCorps. When Longfellow was just a child, her father died and her mother took up multiple jobs in order to support the family. That left Longfellow with a lot of time to spend at her grandparents' house in Arizona.

Clare Vaye Watkins is an acclaimed writer: Her debut novel, Gold Fame Citrus, is a sharp post-apocalyptic tale of drought and survival that won critical raves. And she recently published an essay about how, for all her success, she felt that she wasn't herself on the page, that she was changing her writing to appeal to male readers and critics. She called it "On Pandering."

For Molly Crabapple, art is a tool for action.

She has illustrated court proceedings at Guantanamo and documented the war in Syria with her pen and paper. Her work has been featured in Vanity Fair and The New York Times, and she's a columnist for Vice.

In her new memoir, Drawing Blood, she describes growing up in New York City and working her way through art school as a "naked girl for hire," as she puts it, posing for art classes and acting in music videos.

What you think is funny and what you think is downright offensive says a lot about you.

In this episode of Hidden Brain, Shankar Vedantam explores why some of us think, say, jokes about nut allergies are hilarious, while others are already crafting angry emails to NPR.

Gender, race, cancer, your mom—these are touchy subjects, but also ones that garner big laughs. Why? Comedian Margaret Cho explains it this way: "You're laughing because someone is actually playing with fire, and this may erupt into something incredibly explosive."

Children's personal information isn't supposed to be an online commodity. But whether kids are using Google apps at school or Internet-connected toys at home, they're generating a stream of data about themselves. And some advocates say that information can be collected too easily and sometimes, protected too poorly.

The ongoing conflict in the Gaza Strip has damaged hospitals, clinics and other medical facilities, leaving major gaps in health care.

Children with cancer, in particular, struggle to get the proper treatment they need. They often have to travel to Israel or much farther.

So one American nonprofit — called the Palestine Children's Relief Fund — aims to change that. The PCRF is building a large new pediatric cancer center in Gaza.

The former president is remembered for progressive views on the state, but his views on race were decidedly regressive. With his legacy at Princeton now disputed, Brian Balogh and Peter Onuf, historians and co-hosts of the public radio show BackStory, weigh Wilson's complex history.

Wayne Horvitz is one of those musicians who does almost everything — from leading a small group of improvisers to conducting a big band, and from composing for symphony orchestra to running a nightclub. The Seattle-based keyboard player turned 60 this year, and he's celebrating by adding even more to his schedule: playing birthday concerts on both coasts.

The Pentagon has been debating the role of women in combat for generations. Women began serving in the military in support positions, far from the actual fighting. But the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan essentially erased ideas of front lines — and even if women weren't allowed in combat, technically, they were anyway.

Last week, Secretary of Defense Ash Carter made the shift official.

The attack in San Bernardino that left 16 people dead, including the shooters, came just five days after the shooting at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs.

When U.S. soldiers and Marines returned from Iraq and Afghanistan, many left behind local translators who they'd worked closely with. These people often became the target of reprisals and death threats, forcing them to flee their own country.

For the past few months, Aaron Fleming, a former Marine sergeant, has been trying to help his former translator, Sami Khazikani, make it to the U.S. after he had to leave Afghanistan. Khazikani's now stuck in limbo in Germany waiting to hear if he'll be given asylum in Europe, get a visa to the U.S., or be sent back to Afghanistan.

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