The flu is starting to wane in the U.S. after a brutal start. Is it over? – USA TODAY

On today’s episode of the 5 Things podcast:

Flu season started strong and early this year, and still might bounce back.

Why does Santa Claus look the way he does?

You can track Santa with the NORAD tracker.

A Charlie Brown Christmas‘ is on streaming.

The NFL shifts to Saturday for Christmas weekend.

Podcasts: True crime, in-depth interviews and more USA TODAY podcasts right here.

Hit play on the player above to hear the podcast and follow along with the transcript below. This transcript was automatically generated, and then edited for clarity in its current form. There may be some differences between the audio and the text. 

Taylor Wilson:                 Good morning and Merry Christmas Eve. I’m Taylor Wilson and this is 5 Things You Need to Know Saturday, the 24th of December 2022. Today, drop in flu cases after a severe and early start to the season, plus why Santa looks the way he does, and the NFL season heats up.

                                           The flu is starting to fade in much of the US after an early and strong start to the season. According to the CDC, the number of flu hospital admissions fell for the second week in a row, and the percentage of doctor’s office visits due to flu-like symptoms has dropped for three weeks in a row. The annual winter flu season usually doesn’t ramp up until December or January, but this one took off in early November and it’s been complicated by the spread of COVID-19 and RSV at the same time. And despite a decline in cases from its November levels, there’s still a lot of flu out there, with flu activity last week high or very high in 45 states. Doctors also warn that second flu surges are common. The CDC estimates that around 12,000 people have died from the flu this year, and especially if you’re traveling this holiday season, it might be a good idea to get your flu shot. They’re recommended for nearly all Americans aged six months or older.

                                           If you celebrate Christmas, you may be expecting a visit from Santa Claus tonight, and when you hear that name, you probably all think of a similar image, the red suit, big belly, and jolly beard. But how did he end up looking like that? The origin of Santa, St. Nicholas goes back to the year 260 AD, but he didn’t begin to look like the Santa we now know until Dutch immigrants moved to the US in the 18th century. He was then depicted by the New York Historical Society in bishop attire. Though the biggest step in Santa’s appearance came in the 1823 poem that became known as Twas the Night Before Christmas, later attributed to Clement Clarke Moore. It read, “He was dressed all in fur from his head to his foot, and his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot.” The image of Santa was then taken a step further by Coca-Cola and artist Haddon Sundblom. He was commissioned by the company to draw Santa in 1931. Still, the image of Santa is changing. Black Santas, for example, are growing in popularity. Andre Parker, a black man and professional Santa said he had no exposure to Black Santas growing up in Alabama. He said he’s heard negative comments as a Black Santa, but overwhelmingly has joyful encounters with children. He said, “They run up and, you know, I’m Santa. That’s it. They see nothing else.”

                                           One way to experience Santa is with the NORAD Santa Tracker. The North American Aerospace Defense Command has been tracking Santa Claus every year since 1958. The organization says it uses radar, satellites, and jet fighters to follow Santa’s route. And while they don’t know exactly when he’ll arrive down your chimney, he starts at the International Dateline in the Pacific Ocean and then travels west, going to the South Pacific and Australia before Asia, Africa, Europe, and eventually the Americas. Some 750 volunteers are expected at the NORAD Track Santa Operations Center today. NORAD Lieutenant General David Nahom has more.

Speaker 2:                        The website there, the, you go on there, it’s very interactive and you can see your area around the world and see when Santa’s showing up. We don’t know what Santa’s route is. We watch it real time. We pick them up with our surveillance systems and we make sure all the information’s on the website and our 1500 volunteers have all the information to answer all the questions for the children as they call in.

Taylor Wilson:                 You can visit the website or call a volunteer to keep up with Santa tonight. We have a link in today’s show notes. A Charlie Brown Christmas has been a staple of the holiday season since 1965.

Speaker 3:                        Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?

Taylor Wilson:                 But if you’re wondering why you haven’t seen it on TV this year, you’re not alone. The special won’t air on broadcast television this season. You can stream it though for free on Apple TV+ through Christmas Day, and you don’t have to be a subscriber to watch. In 2020, all Charlie Brown films moved exclusively to the streaming service. Three Peanut specials did return to public television last year on PBS and some had hoped for the same again this year until PBS tweeted in September that it didn’t have any distribution rights this year. Still, A Charlie Brown Christmas is easy to watch. All you need is an internet connection. You can find a link to watch in today’s show notes.

                                           The Christmas weekend means a special Saturday slate of NFL games today. Eleven games are on tap for the league that usually dominates Sundays, though there will also be another three games tomorrow for Christmas Day. One game with big playoff implications today will be in the NFC where the 8-5-1 New York Giants head to Minnesota to play the 11-3 Vikings. The Giants are fighting for their playoff lives, while the Vikings want a higher seed for the playoffs.

                                           In the AFC, the 10-4 Cincinnati Bengals will try and improve their three seed status when they play the 7-7 Patriots outside Boston. The Pats are just trying to stay in the playoff hunt. For a full schedule and more head to USA Today Sports.

                                           And you can find us every morning of the year right here, wherever you’re listening right now. James Brown is in for Christmas Day tomorrow with the Sunday edition, and I’m back Monday with more of 5 Things from USA Today.