The magical unicorn fund
"Wait, so you work in that department? I had no idea!" Plus the Christmas/holiday songs poll. And, 7 other things worth your time.
Not too long ago, I included a link in the "7 other things" section to a story about a little girl in Los Angeles named Madeline, 7 years old, who had sent a letter to county officials asking if she could get a permit to keep a pet unicorn.
Cute enough, right? The head of the Los Angeles County Department of Animal Care and Control played along, writing back with a unicorn license, plus five rules for unicorn-keeping -- things like agreeing to feed the unicorn watermelon (a favorite treat), and polishing the unicorn’s horn “at least once a month with a soft cloth.”
They held an event on Madeline's birthday to present her with a (stuffed) unicorn, and used the publicity to set up a way for people to support the Los Angeles County Animal Care Foundation's work: the Madeline's Magical Unicorn Fund.
(Donate $25, and they'll send you a unicorn license and certificate.)
The story went viral, as they say—blowing up on social media and then covered in everything from the Los Angeles Times to the New York Times. Readers here really liked that we shared it, too.
Now for the plot twist, from Understandably's perspective: It turns out that Marcia Mayeda, the head of the animal control department in LA County who put all this together, happens to be a longtime, highly valued reader of Understandably.
I'd had no idea—and still would not, but for the fact that she commented on the story. But then, we decided to do a video interview.
We have a lot to pack into today's newsletter before we go on low power mode starting tomorrow for the Christmas holiday season, so I'm going to keep this part short, and include video of our interview below. (It runs maybe 15 minutes.)
But, I did want to make sure I pulled out one insightful thing (out of many) that Marcia had to say. It's basically about why this story took off like it did—as if it were riding a magical unicorn:
"What we learned from this is how people really want to hear happy stories. They want to hear innocence and joy in their lives. So many people said, especially now with all the negativity in the world, that this just really made them so happy."
It really sort of blew my mind that I could pick up on a story like this and find out afterward that the person behind it has been behind this newsletter for a long time.
But as for keeping an eye out for happy stories, and innocence and joy? It sounds good to me, and it’s a great day to focus on it.
Christmas & Holiday Song Poll(s)
Finally, we have our nominations for best Christmas/Holiday songs! Tech issues aside, readers nominated 189 songs over the last two days, and I’ve identified the 5-most nominated in two categories: traditional/classic and pop.
Why 2 categories? It just made more sense. Why 5 nominations? Because Substack’s poll tool only lets you have 5 options. Feel free to “write-in” other choices via the comments. The polls are below.
For traditional/classic songs, we have O Holy Night; Mary, Did You Know; Silent Night; Little Drummer Boy; and The First Noel.
There were many other “honorable mentions” for this category. They might not have made the final here, but they’ll make the playlist I’ll put together for our travels over Christmas. Among them: Joy to the World; and Good King Wenceslas.
For pop songs, we have Happy Xmas (War is Over), John Lennon & Yoko Ono; White Christmas, Bing Crosby; Charlie Brown Christmas (I’m including the entire album here as one choice); God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, Barenaked Ladies and Sarah McLaughlin; and Christmas Wrapping, The Waitresses.
Honorable mentions include: Santa Claus is Coming to Town (Bruce Springsteen version), Fairytale of New York (The Pogues feat. Kirsty MacColl), and Christmas/Baby Please Come Home (U2). It warms my GenX heart to see that Christmas Wrapping made the list, but I’m kind of bummed nobody mentioned Father Christmas by the Kinks, Christmas is a Time to Say I Love You by Billy Squier, or Christmas in Hollis by Run D.M.C. .
7 other things worth knowing today
Changing gears entirely ... Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy thanked “every American” for their support of Ukraine as he delivered an address to Congress on Wednesday aimed at sustaining U.S. and allied support for his country’s defense against Russia’s brutal invasion. Zelenskyy received thunderous applause from members of Congress and presented lawmakers with a Ukrainian flag autographed by front-line troops in Bakhmut. (AP)
Former President Donald Trump repeatedly paid little or nothing in federal income taxes between 2015 and 2020 despite reporting millions in earnings, according to a 39-page summary of his tax returns released by House Democrats. In 2016 and 2017, he paid $750. In 2020, he paid nothing. The release of his returns follows a protracted legal fight that began in April 2019 and went all the way to the Supreme Court. (Politico)
A Congressman-elect whose entire resume was George Santos’ emotional narrative of having Jewish grandparents who fled Europe during World War II appears to be untrue, like much of the rest of his campaign biography, according to genealogy websites reviewed by the Forward. (The Forward)
Americans across the board are struggling with credit card debt. Those just starting out are particularly vulnerable. New data suggests that nearly one in five adults between the ages 18 and 24 with a credit record in the U.S. currently have debt in collections. (CNBC)
Americans’ positive self-assessments of their mental health are the lowest in more than two decades of Gallup polling. In all, 31% of U.S. adults describe their mental health or emotional wellbeing as “excellent,” the worst rating by three percentage points. (Gallup)
A raft of lawsuits from the games industry seeks to crack down on cheating in some popular online games, arguing that making cheats for games and even using them might be illegal. The kinds of cheats in play aren’t the ones old-school gamers might have applied by inputting a developer-programmed invincibility code. Rather, they involve premium cheats that let players see through walls to get an advantage in multiplayer combat games such as Destiny 2 or Call of Duty. (Axios)
Wait, wasn't I going to look for good news? How about this. Lionel Messi won the World Cup with Argentina. How many fans does he have as a result? Well, according to Mark Zuckerberg, he broke the record for "most likes on an Instragram post" after the game, with more than 70 million "likes." Imagine if this ❤️ symbol represented 10,000 people; we'd have to repeat it 7,000 times here to show how many reactions that would mean. (Instagram)
Thanks for reading! We’re on low-power mode starting tomorrow, so Merry Christmas to those who celebrate, and a Happy New Year to all! See you in the comments! P.S. Die Hard is a Christmas movie.