Holiday Data Visualizations

The fall 2020 semester is almost over, which means that it is the holiday season again! We would especially like to wish everyone in the Jewish community a happy first night of Hanukkah tonight.

To celebrate the end of this semester, here are some fun Christmas and Hanukkah-related data visualizations to explore.

Popular Christmas Songs

First up, in 2018 data journalist Jon Keegan analyzed a dataset of 122 hours of airtime from a New York radio station in early December. He was particularly interested in discovering if there was a particular “golden age” of Christmas music, since nowadays it seems that most artists who release Christmas albums simply cover the same popular songs instead of writing a new song. This is a graph of what he discovered:

Based on this dataset, 65% of popular Christmas songs were originally released in the 1940s, 50s, and 60s. Despite the notable exception of Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas is You” from the 90s, most of the beloved “Holiday Hits” come from the mid-20th century.

As for why this is the case, the popular webcomic XKCD claims that every year American culture tries to “carefully recreate the Christmases of Baby Boomers’ childhoods.” Regardless of whether Christmas music reflects the enduring impact of the postwar generation on America, Keegan’s dataset is available online to download for further exploration.

Christmas Trees

Last year, Washington Post reporters Tim Meko and Lauren Tierney wrote an article about where Americans get their live Christmas trees from. The article includes this map:

The green areas are forests primarily composed of evergreen Christmas trees, and purple dots represent Choose-and-cut Christmas tree farms. 98% of Christmas trees in America are grown on farms, whether it’s a choose-and-cut farm where Americans come to select themselves or a farm that ships trees to stores and lots.

This next map shows which counties produce the most Christmas trees:

As you can see, the biggest Christmas tree producing areas are New England, the Appalachians, the Upper Midwest, and the Pacific Northwest, though there are farms throughout the country.

The First Night of Hanukkah

This year, Hanukkah starts tonight, December 10, but its start date varies every year. However, this is not the case on the primarily lunar-based Hebrew Calendar, in which Hanukkah starts on the 25th night of the month of Kislev. As a result, the days of Hanukkah vary year-to-year on other calendars, particularly the solar-based Gregorian calendar. It can occur as early as November 28 and as late as December 26.

In 2016, Hannukah began on December 24, Christmas Eve, so Vox author Zachary Crockett created this graphic to show the varying dates on which the first night of Hannukah has taken place from 1900 to 2016:

The Spelling of Hanukkah

Hanukkah is a Hebrew word, so as a result there is no definitive spelling of the word in the Latin alphabet I am using to write this blog post. In Hebrew it is written as חנוכה and pronounced hɑːnəkə in the phonetic alphabet.

According to Encyclopædia Britannica, when transliterating the pronounced word into English writing, the first letter ח, for example, is pronounced like the ch in loch. As a result, 17th century transliterations spell the holiday as Chanukah. However, ח does not sounds like the way ch does when its at the start of an English word, such as in chew, so in the 18th century the spelling Hanukkah became common. However, the H on its own is not quite correct either. More than twenty other spelling variations have been recorded due to various other transliteration issues.

It’s become pretty common to use Google Trends to discover which spellings are most common, and various journalists have explored this in past years. Here is the most recent Google search data comparing the two most commons spellings, Hanukkah and Chanukah going back to 2004:

You can also click this link if you are reading this article after December 2020 and want even more recent data.

As you would expect, the terms are more common every December. It warrants further analysis, but it appears that Chanukah is becoming less common in favor of Hanukkah, possibly reflecting some standardization going on. At some point, the latter may be considered the standard term.

You can also use Google Trends to see what the data looks like for Google searches in Israel:

Again, here is a link to see the most recent version of this data.

In Israel, it also appears as though the Hanukkah spelling is also becoming increasingly common, though early on there were years in which Chanukah was the more popular spelling.


I hope you’ve enjoyed seeing these brief explorations into data analysis related to Christmas and Hanukkah and the quick discoveries we made with them. But more importantly, I hope you have a happy and relaxing holiday season!

Mapping Native Land

Fall break is fast approaching and with it will be Thanksgiving! No matter what your traditions are, we all know that this year’s holiday season will look a little bit different. As we move into the Thanksgiving holiday, I wanted to share a mapping project to give thanks and recognize the native lands we live on.

Native Land is an open-source mapping project that shows the indigenous territories across the world. This interactive map allows you to input your address or click and explore to determine what indigenous land you reside on. Not only that but Native Land shares educational information about these nations, their languages, or treaties.  They also include a Teacher’s Guide for various wide age range from children to adults. Users are able to export images of their map, too!

Native Land Map

NativeLand.ca Map Interface

Canadian based and indigenous-led, Native Land Digital aims to educate and bring awareness to the complex histories of the land we inhibit. This platform strives to create conversations about indigenous communities between those with native heritage as well as those without. Native Land Digital values the sacredness of land and they use this platform to honor the history of where we reside. Learn more about their mission and impact on their “Why It Matters” page.

Native Land uses MapBox and WordPress to generate their interactive map. MapBox is an open source mapping platform for custom designed maps. Native Land is available as an App for iOS and Android and they have a texting service, as well. You can find more information about how it works here.

If you’d like to learn more about mapping software, the Scholarly Commons has Geographic Information Systems (GIS) software, consultations, and workshops available. The Scholarly Commons webpage on GIS is a great place to get started.

 The University of Illinois is a land-grant institution and resides on Kickapoo territory. Where do you stand?

University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign Land Acknowledgement Statement

As a land-grant institution, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has a responsibility to acknowledge the historical context in which it exists. In order to remind ourselves and our community, we will begin this event with the following statement. We are currently on the lands of the Peoria, Kaskaskia, Piankashaw, Wea, Miami, Mascoutin, Odawa, Sauk, Mesquaki, Kickapoo, Potawatomi, Ojibwe, and Chickasaw Nations. It is necessary for us to acknowledge these Native Nations and for us to work with them as we move forward as an institution. Over the next 150 years, we will be a vibrant community inclusive of all our differences, with Native peoples at the core of our efforts.

Tomorrow! Big Ten Academic Alliance GIS Conference 2020

Save the date! Tomorrow is the Big Ten Academic Alliance (BTAA) GIS Conference 2020. This event is 100% virtual and free of charge to anyone who wants to engage with the community of GIS specialists and researchers from Big Ten institutions.

The conference kicks off tonight with a GIS Day Trivia Night event at 5:30PM CST! There is a Map Gallery that is open to view from now until November 13th, 2020. The gallery features research that incorporates GIS from Big Ten institutions, so be sure to check it out! There will be lighting talks, presentations, social hours, and a keynote address from Dr. Orhun Aydin, Senior Researcher at Esri, so be sure to check out the full schedule of events and register here.

This event is a great way to network and learn more applications of GIS for research. If you are interested in GIS but don’t know where to start, this event is a great place to get inspired. If you are an experienced GIS researcher, this event is an opportunity to meet colleagues and learn from your peers. Overall this is a great event for anyone interested in GIS and the perfect way to start Geography Awareness Week, which goes from November 15th-21st this year!

Statistical Analysis at the Scholarly Commons

The Scholarly Commons is a wonderful resource if you are working on a project that involves statistical analysis. In this post, I will highlight some of the great resources the Scholarly Commons has for our researchers. No matter what point you are at in your project, whether you need to find and analyze data or just need to figure out which software to use, the Scholarly Commons has what you need!

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GIS Resources for Distance Learning and Working from Home

Planet Earth wearing a doctor's maskThe past couple of weeks have been a whirlwind for everyone as we’ve all sought to adjust to working, attending school, socializing, and just carrying out our daily lives online. Here at the Scholarly Commons, we’ve been working hard to ensure that this transition is as smooth as possible for those of you relying on specialized software to conduct your research or do your classwork. That’s why this week we wanted to highlight some resources essential to anyone using or teaching with GIS as we work through this period of social distancing. 

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Introducing the Illinois Open Publishing Network: Digital Publishing from the University of Illinois Library

The face of scholarly publishing is changing and libraries are taking on the role of publisher for many scholarly publications, including those that don’t fit the mold of traditional presses. Initiatives at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign are working to address strides in digital publishing, increasing momentum for open access research, and the need for sustainable publishing models. This year alone, The Illinois Open Publishing Network (IOPN) has released five new open-access multi-modal scholarly publications. IOPN represents a network of publications and publishing initiatives hosted at the University Library, working towards high-quality open-access scholarship in digital media. IOPN assists authors with a host of publishing services—copyright, peer review, and even providing assistance in learning the publishing tools themselves and strategizing their publications in what for many is a new mode of writing.

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Exploring Data Visualization #18

In this monthly series, I share a combination of cool data visualizations, useful tools and resources, and other visualization miscellany. The field of data visualization is full of experts who publish insights in books and on blogs, and I’ll be using this series to introduce you to a few of them. You can find previous posts by looking at the Exploring Data Visualization tag.

Painting the World with Water

Creating weather predictions is a complex tasks that requires global collaboration and advanced scientific technologies. Most people know very little about how a weather prediction is put together and what is required to make it possible. NASA gives us a little glimpse into the complexities of finding out just how we know if it’s going to rain or snow anywhere in the world.

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Lightning Review: The GIS Guide to Public Domain Data

One of the first challenges encountered by anyone seeking to start a new GIS project is where to find good, high quality geospatial data. The field of geographic information science has a bit of a problem in which there are simultaneously too many possible data sources for any one researcher to be familiar with all of them, as well as too few resources available to help you navigate them all. Luckily, The GIS Guide to Public Domain Data is here to help!

The front cover of the book "The GIS Guide to Public Domain Data" by Joseph J. Kerski and Jill Clark. Continue reading

Exploring Data Visualization #17

In this monthly series, I share a combination of cool data visualizations, useful tools and resources, and other visualization miscellany. The field of data visualization is full of experts who publish insights in books and on blogs, and I’ll be using this series to introduce you to a few of them. You can find previous posts by looking at the Exploring Data Visualization tag.

The unspoken rules of visualization

Title header of essay "The unspoken rules of data visualization" by Kaiser Fung. White text on a black background with green and red patches Continue reading

Using Article Citations to Find Data for Social Science

Whether we like it or not, using quantitative measures in social science research has become increasingly important for getting your work published and recognized. If you’ve never used data before and don’t even know where to start this can seem a little daunting. The good news is: You most likely won’t have to collect your own data. There is so much data already out there but the hard part can be finding it. In this post I will explain one strategy for finding social science data: using article citations.

Looney Toons' Wiley Coyote searching a landscape with binoculars

You don’t have to look too far to find the right data

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