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Advent Calendars Now Offer Treats For Grown-Ups

Dec 23, 2017

For kids who celebrate Christmas, there is something irresistible about an Advent calendar. In households where treats are doled out sparingly, knowing that you'll be getting one chocolate a day for 24 days in a row feels like a kind of miracle.

But eventually, those kids grow into adults who can buy their own candy whenever they want and the traditional Advent calendar loses its childhood appeal.

Editor's Note: This story was updated on Dec. 29 to reflect the new closing date for the exhibition.

At first glance, it seems like a charming exhibition: Ten old-fashioned suitcases, with a miniature diorama in each. The models, with their meticulously detailed furnishings, remind you of dollhouses.

Then you spot snaking tangles of exposed wires, rubble-strewn streets and blasted chandeliers. A child's tricycle is gritty, covered in dust.

Even with unprecedented national developments crowding our news feeds all year, the NPR Parallels blog readers have kept a keen eye on dramatic events unfolding worldwide — and the U.S. role in the world. North Korea's nukes, the aftermath of President Trump's first military strike in Yemen, Russia's kompromat tactics and South Korea's ongoing efforts to seek justice for comfort women were some of the stories you were most interested in.

It may sound like the plot of a movie: police find a young man dead with stab wounds. Tests quickly show he'd had Ebola.

Officials realize the suspects in the case, men in a local gang, may have picked up and spread Ebola across the slum. These men are reluctant to quarantine themselves and some – including a man nicknamed "Time Bomb" – cannot even be found.

This scenario actually unfolded in the West African country of Liberia in 2015. And what followed was a truly unconventional effort by epidemiologists to stop a new Ebola outbreak.

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Every time a U.S. service member is killed, it's followed by a choreographed ritual — that requires a very human touch — to return the dead to their families. It's part of war the public rarely sees.

But for Army Sgt. 1st Class A.G. Shaw, this work has been his life for 25 years. He's a "92 Mike" — that's military-speak for a specialist in mortuary affairs.

The job requires reverence and discretion. Thanks and recognition are rare. Shaw's comfort came from a supportive grandmother.

Aurelie Garat still can't get over how she found her Pere Noel this year. She's the Christmas pageant organizer for the tiny Normandy town of Vimoutiers.

"I was parking when I saw a nice young man with a beautiful beard sitting in his car on the phone," says Garat. "So I said to him, your beard speaks to me. Would you be our Father Christmas this year?"

Garat says they had been looking everywhere and had almost given up hope. She says it was as if this Pere Noel — as the French call Santa Claus — had just fallen out of the sky.

The first time I heard about Caga Tió, or Tió de Nadal, my family was getting settled into our life abroad in Barcelona this fall. A new friend's teenage daughter was telling us about the Catalan traditions she celebrates in school.

"During Christmas, there's a log that you feed scraps of food, and then he poops presents when you hit him with a stick and sing a song!"

Then she sang:

Children all over the United States will have a big decision to make on Christmas Eve: Would Santa Claus prefer a chocolate chip cookie for a snack or perhaps a peanut butter and jelly sandwich?

The International Olympic Committee says it is banning 11 of Russian athletes for life as part of its investigation into doping at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.

Ruling on the last 11 of the 46 cases it has been investigating, the IOC said all were now disqualified from the Sochi Games. The IOC has now banned 43 Russian athletes and stripped 13 medals from the country, according to NBC Sports. Three of the 46 were cleared.

For many of the estimated 170,000 children who go online for the first time each day, the virtual universe will offer new possibilities to connect with the world — and access to unbounded knowledge and services.

But the virtual world can also present dangers. And kids who don't yet have the awareness to navigate the Web safely could fall prey to those threats.

Laurence Chandy, UNICEF's director of data, research and policy, says that while a third of all Internet users are kids, consumer protections don't always have children in mind.

A new report by the Committee to Protect Journalists says that at least 42 journalists worldwide were killed in 2017 in retaliation for their work — which marks a drop from the 48 killed last year.

But one country defied what appears to be a downward trend — Mexico.

According to the New York-based nonprofit, six journalists were killed in Mexico this year, putting it just behind Iraq and Syria as the deadliest places in the world to work in the media.

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Pro-independence parties won this week's elections for a regional Parliament in Catalonia. Spain's government was hoping that election would tamp down a separatist movement. Guy Hedgecoe reports on what happened instead.

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Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, is ending the year on a rather thoughtful note.

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Vice President Pence made a surprise visit to Afghanistan on Thursday. It is the first visit to the country by the president or vice president under the Trump administration, and comes four months after Trump unveiled his strategy for the United States' role in the country.

"I bring greetings from your commander in chief," Pence told troops at the Bagram Airfield, north of Kabul. "Before I left the Oval Office yesterday, I asked the president if he had a message for the troops.

"He said, 'Tell them I love them,' " Pence said.

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Let's go to England now to the city of Leicester, where a municipal parking lot has been crowned a protected monument. That's because of what was found underneath it five years ago - the remains of King Richard III.

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Forget the party dresses and uncomfortable shoes. Toss the fussy canapés — and instead, simmer the soup.

At writer and radio producer Anne Ford's holiday party this year, it's all about comfort. "I like the idea of having some kind of holiday celebration, but not the kind where you have to wear sequins and high heels and drink champagne cocktails. I want to sit ... with a blanket and eat latkes and just be chill about it."

Updated at 8:20 p.m. ET

Nearly three months since Catalans cast their votes for independence from Spain, setting off a weekslong showdown between their regional government and Madrid, Catalonia opened its polls again on Thursday — and promptly put pro-independence parties back in control, by a very slim margin.

The 2017 news roller-coaster did not just hit the United States. From North Korea's missiles to Russia's maneuvers to the fall of one of Africa's longest-serving leaders, major events have come to a head this year, each posing challenges to the world order and the new U.S. administration.

Here, NPR international correspondents take a look at some of the global figures who finished a tumultuous year on top.

Updated at 1:30 p.m. ET

The United Nations General Assembly has overwhelmingly rejected the Trump administration's decision to recognize the disputed city of Jerusalem as Israel's capital. By a 128-9 vote Thursday, the diplomats gathered in New York City ignored U.S. objections and approved a nonbinding resolution calling on countries to avoid moving their embassies to Jerusalem.

Susan Adolphus James has one vivid memory of childhood Christmases on the island of Beaulieu, Grenada: black cake.

"Christmas don't feel like Christmas if you don't have a piece of black cake," says James, who moved to the U.S. as a teen.

It has been roughly eight months since cholera first took hold in war-torn Yemen. In that brief span, the waterborne disease has exacted a staggering toll on the country's population — and that toll only continues to rise by the day.

The number of suspected cases of cholera has crossed one million, the International Committee of the Red Cross announced Thursday. Of those who have contracted the disease since April, the World Health Organization believes more than 2,200 people have died of it — almost a third of whom are children.

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