The best Thanksgiving foods of all time

When it comes to Thanksgiving, eating until you’re stuffed is par for the course. While the main course usually consists of turkey, there are plenty of awesome foods that we get to chow down on while we celebrate the holidays with family and friends.

Nothing beats turkey for Thanksgiving. And there are plenty of ways to prepare turkey including roasting, braising and grilling. But perhaps the most delicious way to enjoy turkey on Thanksgiving is deep-fried turkey.

Honey-glazed ham is right up there with turkey for best Thanksgiving food. Spiral hams are delightful, especially when paired with rich and flavorful mustard. Plus, leftover ham makes for a great sandwich.

As long as there are potatoes on the Thanksgiving menu, you know it’s going to be a great holiday meal. Scalloped potatoes are a favorite. Mixing cheddar with potatoes can take them to that elusive “next level” of awesomeness. Sweet potatoes are also a Thanksgiving treat that are hard to pass up.

Fresh-baked rolls are just so good on Thanksgiving! Put a small slab of butter on a crescent roll that is just out of the oven and still warm—nothing could taste better! Except perhaps, dipping the rolls in hot gravy. “Pass the rolls please” is a request you’ll hear a lot at the table on Thanksgiving Day.

Stuffing yourself with stuffing is a Thanksgiving pastime that everyone loves. Stuffing is the best when you skip the Stove Top and make your own from scratch. It’s a great comfort food and goes well with turkey. And it’s made all the better with … you guessed it, gravy!

Thanksgiving traditions we love

Thanksgiving is a time to celebrate the important things we have in our lives. It’s about reconnecting with family and friends, going back home and eating a lot of food!

Is there anything more comforting and nostalgic than coming home? That is if things haven’t changed too much. Coming home helps us reflect on our past, where we’re at in our lives presently and where we’re going in the future.

The night before Thanksgiving is often called the biggest party night of the year. Meeting up with college or childhood friends at the local bar and enjoying a few adult beverages is a fun tradition, especially for the younger folks. Woo hoo!

If you enjoy watching football, you may as well camp out in front of the television all day and night on Thanksgiving. College and NFL games are broadcast each year and there is plenty of football coverage on ESPN to flip over to during halftime.

Americans love parades, especially on Thanksgiving. There are at least four major Thanksgiving parades in the U.S. including the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade (New York), 6abc  IKEA Thanksgiving Day Parade (Philadelphia), America’s Thanksgiving Parade (Detroit) and McDonald’s Thanksgiving Parade (Chicago).

Making a wish with the wishbone from a turkey is a great tradition, especially for the kids. Gather everyone around the table, get two people to tug at each end of the wishbone and whoever gets the bigger part of the bone will have all their wishes come true! (OK, maybe not, but it’s a nice thought …)

Community participation is a big part of the Thanksgiving holiday. A lot of runners will participate in local 5Ks, affectionately named turkey trots. And people spend Thanksgiving helping others, by serving meals to those in need and visiting with residents in nursing homes.

Meal preparation on Thanksgiving can be a lot of work, although it’s more fun when others chip in to help. Carving the turkey is a fun tradition as well and all the hard work and holiday planning pays off when it’s dinnertime!

Here’s to hoping your Thanksgiving is a wonderful holiday and that you get to give thanks for all the blessings in your life. Happy Thanksgiving!

Holiday recipes: Appetizers, main course and dessert

There is so much to love about the holidays: Seeing old friends, visiting with family and taking some time away from work to enjoy the important stuff in life. And then there is the food; so much of it to enjoy! While your waist line may need to be taken out in your pants after the holidays, there’s no reason we should stop eating, right? Here are some awesome holiday recipes, many of which are suitable for Thanksgiving and Christmas and any other holiday parties happening in your neck of the woods.

Appetizers

Baked brie – How can you make brie better? Heat it up and drizzle with honey, that’s how!

Maryland Crab Dip – You don’t have to be from the east coast to enjoy this classic dipping delight. Dig in!

Sausage stuffed mushrooms – Never mind where mushrooms come from. Just stuff them with sausage and enjoy.

Bacon Wrapped Shrimp – Add a little zing to your appetizer offerings with these heavenly delights. Bacon makes everything better.

Main Course

Roast Turkey – No one can cook a turkey quite like mom can.

Ham in the Crock Pot – Slow and steady wins the race and this ham will taste absolutely delicious when cooked in the Crock Pot.

Old-Fashioned Bread Stuffing – Skip the Stove Top and make the effort worthwhile with this old-school recipe for stuffing.

Candied Yams – These yummy yams are always a holiday hit.

Mom’s old-fashioned mashed potatoes – This traditional side can’t be beat for its delicious taste—even better with gravy! And speaking of gravy, you can choose from over a dozen innovative recipes to make the tastiest gravy ever.

Dessert

Did you save room for dessert? You better have because this awesome cheesecake recipe is the perfect touch at the end of a holiday meal.

Don’t forget Grandma’s Yule Log recipe. It is a time-honored tradition. And it tastes delightful! And there is always pumpkin roll to cap off a Thanksgiving meal with loved ones.

Traditional holiday meals

If you’re fighting the battle of the bulge, the holidays can be a challenge since so much of the celebration the holidays revolves around food. You may as well embrace it. Just make your New Year’s Resolution early to hit the gym and try to get back down to fighting weight. In the meantime, here are some of the top traditional meals.

For Thanksgiving, a honey-glazed ham with scalloped potatoes is often a popular choice. Turkey is the default meal in America and in recent years, fried turkey has increased in popularity. That said frying a turkey can be a tricky, if not dangerous proposition and proper safety precautions should be taken to minimize the risk of fire.

If the main course wasn’t enough at Thanksgiving, the dinner table is usually loaded up with filling sides such as stuffing, cranberry sauce, butternut squash and plum pudding. Some vegetables are always good to throw into the mix; often times a veggie platter with dip will be served as an appetizer.

For Christmas, St. Nick is a fan of the old-school snack: a plate of cookies and a glass of milk. Christmas main meals are similar to Thanksgiving, with either ham or turkey served.  Beverages such as eggnog and mulled cider are often served at Christmastime. And warming up with a cup of hot chocolate is always good if there’s a chill in the air. Christmas desserts include mince pie, fruit cake and candy canes.

Sufganiyot are one of the most popular foods during Hanukkah, as are latkes (potato pancakes). Cheese is another food often served during Hanukkah. You’ll often see cheese dips (in handmade round challah bread bowls) and cheddar gelt wafers out on the dinner table. And for dessert, there is always room for just a little more cheese in the form of cheesecake.

Kwanzaa culminates in a feast on the last day of the holiday, December 31st. Traditional Kwanzaa meals include rich and hearty stews, chicken dishes, collard greens, black-eyed peas, squash and okra.

Five Tips for Safe Thanksgiving Travel

Thanksgiving Day is one of the busiest travel days of the year, when millions of people hit the roads or take to the air. Here are five tips to help make your Thanksgiving travels go smoothly and get you to your destination safe and sound.

If you’re flying, check in early
Check in electronically 24 hours before your flight and print your boarding pass at home. You’ll avoid check-in lines at the airport get to your gate faster with less hassle.

Avoid heavy travel days
If possible, travel on Monday or Tuesday and return on Friday. The airports and highways are far less crowded on these days than they are on Thanksgiving or even the day before.   

Be prepared
Packing at least one night in advance helps you be more prepared and reduces stress. You’ll have time to remember things you might have forgotten and won’t be running around like a crazy person at the last minute. Also be sure to pack all medications, charge your cell phone and bring the charger with you.

If you’re driving, get your car serviced
Having a mechanic give your car a check up before you leave not only helps ensure that you won’t break down on the way, but that your vehicle is as safe as it can be. To avoid long lines at the gas pump, be sure to fill your tank the night before you leave.

Keep the kids occupied
Pack plenty of snacks and drinks for the kids. If you’re flying, make sure you double check on the amount of bottled liquid you’re allowed to bring on your flight. You should have plenty of activities to keep the kids occupied—books, games and fun activities can make the time fly.

For more advice about trip planning—for the holidays or any time—AAA.com is loaded with all sorts of tips and tricks to help make your travels as safe and stress free as possible.

Tracking Santa on Christmas Eve

For children, there may be no more exciting time than Christmas Eve and, of course, Christmas Day. Part of the Christmas tradition includes leaving Santa a glass of milk and plate of cookies. And tracking Santa’s journey on Christmas Eve as he delivers presents all over the world is also part of the excitement. Here are some of the easiest ways to track Santa on Christmas Eve.

The granddaddy of all Santa trackers is the NORAD Tracks Santa website. It provides a Santa Cam and up-to-the-hour updates of Santa’s whereabouts. Would you believe that there is also a NORAD Santa Tracker podcast? Ho, ho, ho, you better believe it! Download it for free from iTunes.

For a fully immersed Santa Claus experience, point your web browser to santaclaus.net and track Santa as well as play games, get the weather at the North Pole or get to know Santa’s reindeer.

The Santa-T website  is a little more basic and might be suited for the younger Christmas crowd. You can track Santa, play with the reindeer and even send Santa wish list suggestions. There’s also a countdown clock that tells you the precise moment Santa will arrive at your house.

And it wouldn’t be Christmas without iPhone and iPad apps. This Santa Tracker has 7-in-1 features for the iPhone. And for those with the iPad, the Santa GPS app looks like it is a fun way to keep tabs on old St. Nick.

You might have luck trying Google’s homepage on Christmas Eve as the elves over there usually seem to get in the holiday spirit and serve up a Santa tracker of their own.

Ho, ho, ho, Merry Christmas!

Top 10 gifts the woman in your life will love

For guys, figuring out what women want is a lifelong process. Trying to decipher what they might want as a holiday gift is harder than trying to decipher an ancient language. Whereas guys want “stuff,” women often are happier with gifts that are event- or experience-based. Here are 10 gift ideas for the woman in your life. And if none of these gift ideas work, don’t blame us!

Adopt a pet (after careful consideration) – If the woman in your life is a pet lover and has been nagging you about adopting a furry friend, why not make this the year you finally give in? Go to a local shelter and save an animal’s life. Having a pet is an enriching experience and frankly doesn’t add that much more responsibility to your life. But do not adopt in haste; only if you’ve previously discussed that a pet is in the cards.

Plane tickets – Ooooh, ooooh. There’s no better gift than plane tickets to an exotic destination. Actually, an ordinary destination will do, but the idea of getting away from it all is really appealing to women and makes a great holiday gift.

Jewels/jewelry – Ah yes, diamonds are a girl’s best friend, aren’t they?! Well, you’ll come out looking like the hero if you get the lady in your life some nice jewelry. A necklace or bracelet would be great. You’ll be getting the bare minimum if you opt for earrings … unless you get really nice earrings.

A huge diamond – Hey big spender. You want to make her month? How about her year? A really ginormous diamond will send the message loud and clear: “I’m willing to spend a LOT of money on you!”

Massage/spa day – Now this is a great gift to get the woman in your life; especially if she loves to be pampered. Plus you’ll be getting her out of your hair for the day, which means you can watch as much UFC and drink as much beer as you like and not have to hear about it.

Weekend getaway – If you want to come off like a knight in shining armor, plan a getaway weekend for you and your woman. Plan on hitting at least one upscale restaurant and lots of shopping. Bring your iPad or iPod to keep yourself amused while she’s off buying stuff.

Wine tour – Reserve a spot for two at a local winery and participate in a wine tasting. Bonus points if you can find a nearby location to have a romantic dinner after the tour.

Bath or Spa Set – Pampering is in! And you’ll be in her good graces if you gift her a basket full of bath and body goods. Handpick them yourself, but make sure you go for some good stuff so she can bathe in luxury!

Merry Maids gift certificate – If you think women really enjoy cleaning, think again. OK, maybe those who are obsessive-compulsive get some satisfaction out of it. But a gift certificate to a maid service? Now you’re talking!

Endless shopping day – Take the woman in your life on a day-long shopping spree including lunch at a half-decent eatery. You may have to reach deep into the wallet on this one, but it makes for a great holiday gift just the same.

Top 10 gifts the man in your life will love

Buying gifts for the man in your life should really be a no-brainer. Men are predictable creatures and they tend to prefer material goods over experiences (e.g., an HDTV versus a vacation getaway). Here are 10 holiday gift ideas that should please most if not all of the guys on your gift-giving list this year.

1) Sports gear of his favorite team – Guys just love sports. They love watching sports on TV. They love listening to sports talk radio. They love talking sports with their buddies. They even love to wear sports gear. Plunking down for an authentic jersey can set you back a bill, but it will make your man very happy.

2) Sporting event tickets – If you really want to make your man’s day, gift him with a pair of sporting event tickets! If you’re not into professional sports, you can graciously suggest he take his best bro to the game. That way you can stay home and enjoy a glass of wine and have a night all to yourself.

3) Tablet – Chances are your guy will go gaga if you give him a tablet. While the iPad is the top choice, there are some cheaper alternatives out there, such as the newly-released Kindle Fire. Whatever tablet you get, just know you run the risk that he will begin to pay more attention to the gadget and less attention to you.

4) A new HDTV set – He’s probably already got an HDTV. But he doesn’t have the latest and greatest HDTV. If you give him the gift of television this holiday season, consider throwing in installation as well, so he doesn’t have to wrack his brain with frustration trying to put the new set on the wall.

5) Satellite radio – This is a great gift for music fans as well as those who spend a lot of time commuting. Music channels on Sirius are commercial-free, which is great for when you’re on the road. And you can now listen to satellite radio online and on mobile devices, which means it’s pretty much always available.

6) Beer – The way to win a man’s heart is to buy him beer. Lots of it. You can get a party ball of Budweiser or you can be really cool and score a case of his favorite craft beer or mix and match a bunch of limited edition and seasonal brews. Book a tour at his favorite brewery and he’ll be forever in your debt.

7) Premium liquor – If your man is not a fan of beer, chances are he probably would enjoy a bottle of adult spirits. You know his tastes the best, but don’t be afraid to ask for recommendations from your local shop on what would make a great gift.

8) Magazine subscriptions – It’s the gift that keeps giving year round. Popular titles your man might enjoy include ESPN, Rolling Stone, Spin, Wired, Sports Illustrated and Vanity Fair.

9) Shaving kit – Unless the man in your life is growing a weird beard, he will need shaving supplies. A really nice shaving kit is a great gift for staying groomed year round and day in and day out.

10) Nice clothes – Look through his closet. When’s the last time he bought any new clothes for himself? It’s been a while, hasn’t it? Get him some new shirts, a nice pair of shoes or some trousers.  He may not think it’s a great gift at first, but when he gets compliments on his good looks, he’ll be thinking of you.

Bonus gift idea: Underwear – See #10. When’s the last time your man bought himself some new underwear? Stay away from the novelty underwear and get him some nice skivvies. Chances are he’ll want to show them off for you at some point. Happy holidays!

The Origins of Christmas

Most people think of Christmas as a celebration of the birth of Jesus of Nazareth, but in reality the origins of what we now call Christmas stretch back to centuries before Christ was born. Here is a brief history of the origins of Christmas.

The earliest versions of Christmas were ancient pagan celebrations of the winter solstice. People were rejoicing that the worst of the winter months were behind them and that they could look forward to longer days.

In Scandinavia, the Norse celebrated the return of the sun with immense feasts. Fathers and sons would bring home large logs, set them on fire and feast until the logs burned out. They believed that each spark from the fire represented a new pig or calf that would be born in the coming year.

The end of December in ancient Europe was a time when cattle were slaughtered and the people would have a hearty supply of fresh meat. This was also the time when most wine and beer that had been made during the year had finally fermented and was ready for drinking.

In ancient Rome, solstice festivals were called Saturnalias and were held in honor of Saturn, the god of agriculture. It was a hedonistic time, when food and drink were plentiful, but also a time of reversed social order. For one month, slaves would become masters, peasants had control of the city and schools and businesses were closed to allow everyone ample opportunity to take part in the reverie.

By the 17th century, Christmas had been firmly established as a Christian holiday throughout Europe. But when Oliver Cromwell and his Puritans took control of England in 1649, they cancelled Christmas as part of their vow to rid Europe of decadence. It wasn’t until 1660, when Charles II would regain power that Christmas, by popular demand, would be brought back to England.

While Christmas first became popular in America during the Revolutionary War, it fell out of favor in the years that followed. In fact, it wasn’t until June 26, 1870 (nearly 100 years after the Revolutionary War ended) that Christmas was declared a federal holiday in America.

The History of Thanksgiving

The history of Thanksgiving in the United States stretches all the way back to the early 17th century. In September 1620, a group of about 102 religious separatists called Pilgrims fled persecution in England on a small ship called the Mayflower. Sixty–six days later, they arrived at Plymouth Rock in what would later become the state of Massachusetts and set to work establishing a colony.

That first winter was brutal. Many of the Pilgrims spent it on board the Mayflower, where they suffered from exposure, scurvy and other outbreaks of contagious disease. Only half of them would survive the winter.

Weakened by malnutrition and illness, the remaining Pilgrims permanently moved ashore in March 1621. There they were greeted by Squanto, an English speaking member of the Pawtuxet tribe of Native Americans. Squanto showed the Pilgrims how to cultivate corn, extract sap from maple trees, catch fish in the rivers and avoid poisonous plants. He also helped broker an alliance between the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag, a local tribe.

In November 1621, the Pilgrims had their first successful corn harvest. To celebrate, Governor William Bradford organized a feast and invited the Pilgrims’ Native American allies to join them. This is commonly recognized as the first Thanksgiving, and on the menu were such items as lobster, seal, deer, swan and other fowl.

Other interesting facts about Thanksgiving

Many historians dispute that the first Thanksgiving took place in 1621. They argue that the earliest attested “Thanksgiving” celebration in what is now the United States was celebrated by the Spanish on September 8, 1565 in what is now Saint Augustine, Florida. Others point out that Thanksgiving services were routine in what was to become the Commonwealth of Virginia as early as 1607.

Thanksgiving is also observed in Canada; Leiden, Netherlands; Liberia and Norfolk Island.

Thanksgiving wasn’t officially a national holiday until 1863, when, in the midst of the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a national Thanksgiving Day to be held each November. And it wasn’t until 1941 that the US passed federal legislation declaring that Thanksgiving be held the fourth Thursday of each November.

The best Christmas light videos of all time

Putting up holiday lights is an annual tradition here in America. And while some neighbors are content with the basic lighting set up, there are people who take it to the extreme. Here are five examples of such people and their over-the-top lighting set ups. A typical light display of this caliber will use anywhere from 30,000 to 50,000 lights! Really, this is all too much. But if you insist, prepare to be dazzled.

We Three Kings – If you can get past the poor song choice (Book of Love’s version of “We Three Kings”), this light display is pretty remarkable and has an almost 3D presentation. There is a little more flash and fanfare than the usual holiday home light display, which makes this Christmas light video one of our all-time faves.


O Come All Ye Faithful / O Holy Night
– The Trans-Siberian Orchestra is a phenomenon of its own, with its epic interpretations of holiday classics. Their music seems even more over-the-top when synchronized with a house fully decked out in Christmas lights.


Wizards of Winter
– Someone in Colorado Springs put a lot of effort into making their home a holiday haven of Christmas lights. The music and lights are synched up just right and the result is an awesome display of American ingenuity during the Christmas season.


Master of Puppets
– Unless the neighbors are metal heads, this Christmas light display is bound to induce a headache. With soundtrack provided by heavy metal band Metallica, this video will certainly be a hit with head bangers. But if you’ve got to get up early in the morning for work, it might be time to call the cops on this neighbor!


Hamster Dance
– Nothing says Christmas quite like the Hamster Dance. That’s right, the Hamster Dance. There are certainly better light displays, but on song choice alone, this is enough to make everyone shake their head during the holiday season and have hamsters wondering if they’ve been naughty or nice this year.

Recipes: Celebrating Hanukkah

The celebration of Hanukkah is accompanied by foods which are rich in both tradition and flavor. The customary cuisine often involves foods that are fried in oil, symbolizing the miracle of the small supply of oil that kept the flame for the re-dedication of the holy Temple in Jerusalem alight for eight days.

Sufganiyot are one of the most popular foods during Hanukkah. The classic recipe calls for these delicious doughnuts to be filled with jelly or custard and dusted with confectioner’s sugar while contemporary versions of the recipe call for chocolate or custard fillings. If the idea of frying your own sufganiyot at home seems a bit intimidating, follow this helpful 9-step lesson from the folks at epicurious. Even though sufganiyot are the doughy darlings of Hanukkah, alternatives such as zalabia, a deep fried batter served with sugar syrup, or apple cider doughnuts make for sweet substitutions.

Another fried favorite is the latke. While the traditional potato pancake recipe remains a mainstay, you may want to consider modern updates such as Sweet Potato Latkes or Carrot Scallion Latkes. The kosher / vegetarian blog Cafe Liz offers several takes on the classic dish, including sweet Pear Sage Latkes, spicy Mushroom Ginger Latkes and savory Zucchini Dill Latkes.

Cheese is another traditional menu item during Hanukkah. It is served to commemorate Judith, whose brave assassination of the Assyrian general Holofernes was the catalyst that aided the Jews in their defeat of the Assyrians.

When selecting a dessert, you simply can’t go wrong with a cheesecake! Instead of a New York style offering, consider a European-style cheesecake which features a delectable farmer-cheese filling.

A Hanukkah cheese dip is another guaranteed crowd pleaser. If you really want to wow your guests, try serving it in a handmade round challah bread bowl.

Cheddar gelt wafers are a tasteful homage to the traditional giving of Hanukkah gelt, which is typically chocolate money wrapped in gold foil. For those of you who prefer sweeter fare, prepare some chocolate dipped apricot gelt, which makes for a healthy & tasty alternative. Of course, if you simply must have chocolate, we suggest homemade chocolate truffle gelt as a truly memorable and decadent reward for your Hanukkah guests.

Most memorable holiday television specials

The holidays are a great time for families to get together, hang out and eat lots of food. And once dinner has been served, it’s time to sack out on the couch and watch TV.

New for 2011 is a Peanuts special called “Happiness is a Warm Blanket Charlie Brown” which features the Peanuts gang. And while Emmet Otter’s Jug Band Christmas is an oldie, that doesn’t mean it’s not a goodie. For the lighter side of holiday specials check out Adam Sandler’s Eight Crazy Nights or the Sandler-produced The Hebrew Hammer.

The Wizard of Oz” is usually on one of the cable movie channels during the holidays. And if none of those options get you in the holiday mood, bust out your DVD of The Yule Log and contemplate why you’re being such a Scrooge this holiday season.

Here are some of the television holiday specials that have grown near and dear to our collective hearts over the years.

WKRP in Cincinnati – “Turkeys Away” – This classic Thanksgiving television episode is a reminder that turkeys cannot fly. Under any circumstance, including when they’re dropped out of a helicopter. You can watch the whole episode on Hulu or see an abbreviated version featuring Les Nessman’s live-on-the-air play by play of turkeys hitting the ground. Watch: Hulu | YouTube.

Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade – New York City is home to the Macy’s Day Parade, an annual tradition that began in 1924. The three-hour event is televised live and each year new balloons are introduced. New floats for 2011 include Sonic the Hedgehog (second version), Julius and a creation by film director Tim Burton.

A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving- You’d think that Charlie Brown would catch on at some point that Lucy isn’t going to hold the football for him. Well, good ol’ Chuck does not figure it out in this Peanuts holiday special. A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving originally aired in 1973 and the culmination of the episode is a grand feast in which Snoopy serves up food and throws plates to the guests Frisbee-style.

Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony – America’s most popular Christmas tree will be lit on November 30 this year. It’s a holiday tradition that dates back more than 75 years and is broadcast live around the globe.

Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve with Ryan Seacrest (formerly Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve) is an annual tradition that got its start in 1972. Seacrest came on the scene in 2005, after Clark suffered a stroke and could no longer host the show on his own. The countdown of the ball dropping in Times Square is legendary.

Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer – This 1964 stop-motion animated TV special is a holiday favorite, if for no other reason than the awesomeness of Clarence the Abominable Snowmonster (you know him when you see him). And Rudolph is no slouch himself. His brightly colored nose is powerful enough to act as a headlight for Santa and the other reindeer pulling Santa’s sled.

Make a New Year’s resolution that matters

Every New Year’s it’s the same thing. You tell yourself that you’re going to make a change this year that will really make a difference in your life. And in the lives of others. Well, if you’re going to make a resolution this year, make it one that really matters. Here are some great ideas for New Year’s resolutions that can have a significant positive impact and work towards the greater good.

Volunteer – There is something in the act of helping out others with no expectations that is really rewarding and enriching. Expand your personal horizons by donating an hour or two each week to a local charity. Consider volunteering at your local hospital, enrolling your dog in a pet therapy program or getting involved in an outreach program through your church.

Donate money – If you’ve been fortunate enough to do well financially in these tough times, consider donating money. Your financial advisor will know the best strategy to maximize the tax benefit of your donation and you’ll feel good knowing your dollars will help those less fortunate.

Lose weight – With an obesity crisis in the U.S., it’s no wonder our culture is obsessed with losing weight. But how many of us stick with it and make the lifestyle changes needed to drop weight? Make this the year you commit to getting your weight down to a healthy range. The benefits you’ll enjoy will have a long-lasting impact on your health.

Exercise more – None of us really exercise as much as we should. Well, not most of us anyway. March yourself over to your local YMCA and ask for a tour. Seriously consider getting a membership. Government guidelines recommend at least 30 minutes a day of exercise and up to 60 minutes of exercise if you’re looking to lose weight. Exercise also helps alleviate stress and depression — what’s good for the body is good for the mind as well.

Stop drinking – Admittedly, this resolution might be tough to pull off. So let’s just suggest that maybe you scale back your drinking some in the New Year? They say that wine, when consumed in moderation, has many health benefits … Hmmmm, we’ll drink to that!

Learn how to be mindful – While mindfulness is a practice that is Buddhist in nature, more and more non-Buddhist psychologists are recommending their patients learn the practice. It’s about being present in the moment and training oneself to experience all the beauty life has to offer right here, right now.

Create less waste – There are hundreds of ways you can reduce the amount of waste you create. Reuse, recycle and repurpose. Don’t buy new stuff; look for it at second-hand shops and garage sales. Turn your waste into compost. However you go about it, creating less waste will benefit us all.

Stop drinking bottled water – Instead of plunking down for bottled water, invest in a water filtration system such as Brita and refillable water bottles. Take the money you save and put it into a savings account and watch your little next egg grow over the next 12 months.

Kwanzaa traditions

Kwanzaa is a seven-day celebration that begins on December 26 and ends on January 1. Each day of Kwanzaa celebrates one of seven core principles that are based on ancient customs of Africa. Kwanzaa is a relatively new holiday; it was created in 1966 by Dr. Maulana Korenga to reaffirm African culture and heritage and is based on the first fruit harvest celebrations of Africa.

Here are the seven days of Kwanzaa and the traditions celebrated each day.

Umoja – A celebration of unity in the circles of one’s life including family, friends and the community as well as the African population at large.

Kujichagulia – Self-determination and creating and speaking for oneself.

Ujima – Collective work and responsibility in which communities are built and maintained and problems are solved through the collective.

Ujamaa – Cooperative economics including building and supporting local businesses and creating an economic network within the community.

Nia – Purpose, in which the community is at the core of the culture.

Kuumba – Creativity, which can be expressed in many ways and at many different levels, which helps enrich the community.

Imani – Faith and a belief in self and all members of the community.

Decorations for Kwanzaa are often homemade, which tie in with the principle of Kuumba (creativity). Kwanzaa colors are red, black and green and a candle holder called the kinara, holds seven candles, which are lit on the respective days of celebration.

The Kwanzaa feast takes place on December 31 and often features stews with sides of okra and black beans and rice. Other popular dishes prepared for Kwanzaa include Kunde (black-eyed peas and tomatoes) and Kuku Paka (chicken in coconut and tomato sauce).

How to prepare for a successful Black Friday

Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, is when people seem to lose all reason and voluntarily get up wickedly early, camp out in front of department stores and wait hours on end for the privilege of hunting for bargains. While it’s true that some great deals can be had, Black Friday does raise the question of whether such feverish consumerism is warranted for such an event. But Black Friday seems like an unstoppable annual event— for the time being anyway. (That said the Internet and Cyber Monday might be altering the Black Friday landscape some.)

Here are some helpful tips to make sure you score nothing but great deals and bargains on Black Friday.

Make sure you bookmark websites that aggregate all Black Friday ads such as Black Friday Ads and Black Friday Info. Visit periodically or just grab the RSS feed from Black Friday websites to stay informed of the latest deals.

Sign up for e-mail or text alerts from your favorite stores/vendors. This way the deals come to you, instead of you going out and trying to track down the deals yourself. Mobile apps also can help you find the deals you want. Black Friday apps such as Black Friday Ads, Black Friday by Fat Wallet and TGI Black Friday can help you connect with the must-have items on your list quickly.

Speaking of lists, make a shopping list and stick with it. It might be tempting to do some impulse shopping while you’re out there on Black Friday. Do not get suckered into going down this road. Have a list of items that you want and maybe list a few alternatives. But do not go off list, otherwise you’re going to end up with a great deal that you didn’t really want or need.

Anticipating deals is definitely one road to take. Retailers are starting to realize that if they offer great deals in the weeks leading up to Black Friday, they can increase their profit margin. And that means you can score the stuff you want at a good sale price. So keep an eye on pre-Black Friday sales and act accordingly.

And with the Internet and Amazon playing a prevalent role in how we shop in these modern times, shopping online and avoiding the madness of Black Friday entirely seems like a wise choice.

More and more retailers are going out of their way to put a lot of the same deals online because they just want to sell, sell, sell. And if you wait for Cyber Monday, you might be able to score the same deals, or even better ones, than what you’d find on Black Friday.

Happy shopping!

Hot holiday gift idea: Tablets/e-readers

There is no question that tablet usage is on the rise in the U.S. According to a recent report by the Pew Research Center, 11% of Americans own a tablet and 77% of tablet owners use the device daily. And with the Kindle Fire lowering the price threshold ($199.00), it’s likely that tablets will be a hot item on wish lists this year. Here is a round-up of the top tablets available this holiday season, along with Amazon’s e-readers, some of which are morphing into tablet-like devices themselves.

iPad 2 – Apple’s tablet innovation remains the top choice for tablet buyers. The user-interface is completely intuitive and the iPad’s versatility is astounding. While it doesn’t replace the desktop computer (it wasn’t meant to), the iPad allows users to consume, share and experience media in an exciting and fun way. Prices start at $499 for the 16gb wi-fi model, which is plenty unless you’re a digital media junkie.

Kindle Fire – Amazon has recently introduced more economical lines of its e-reader, Kindle. And it’s also rolled out Kindle Fire, which is the first full-color Kindle and first with Amazon Silk, a cloud-accelerated browser which allows users to surf the Web. At $199, the Kindle Fire is a slam dunk and will appeal to those who already love the Kindle as well as tablet noobs.

Kindle and Kindle Touch – Amazon has dropped the price on its cheapest Kindle to just $79 and now allows users to borrow books from their local library. Incredible! And new for late 2011 is the Kindle Touch, which  has a multi-touch interface for those used to the iPad and/or iPhone tapping, dragging and gesturing to control the device.

Nook and Nook Color – Barnes and Noble is still fully behind its e-reader, The Nook, for now anyway. While the Nook is essentially a really good e-reader and nice alternative to the Kindle, the Nook Color has more tablet features and allows users to read content in full color as well as do apps, web, video and social media.

Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 – If for some reason you’re opposed to the iPad, the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 is the next best thing for a full-on tablet experience. The price point is $499, the same as iPad 2, and the two tablets are comparable, although the Galaxy Tab uses the Android operation system. (iPad uses iOS.) Compare the Galaxy Tab and iPad 2.

Sony Tablet S – Loyalists to the Sony brand might be thrilled with this Android tablet. It doesn’t set out to be an iPad tablet alternative per se, but rather is a really souped-up version of previous Android tablet models that have hit the market previously. Again, there’s nothing wrong with the iPad and Apple’s iOS operating system. It’s just that some people have it in their head that they don’t like Apple products or they feel Android devices offer more flexibility such as the usage of Flash on a tablet.

Holiday disasters caught on video

The holidays are a time to celebrate with family and friends. But it’s also a time to exercise safety and be careful. There are a lot of travelers out on the road and a lot of precious cargo out there. And then there’s lots of cooking at home. All it takes is a little bit of carelessness to result in a whole lot of disaster. While some of these holiday disasters are improbable, keep in mind they all really happened. So never say never, because it could happen to you.

Turkey frying safety video – Thinking about frying a turkey for Christmas or Thanksgiving? Be mindful you do it properly and minimize your risk of causing a fire.

31 Christmas Falls in 35 Seconds – As easy as it is to get caught up in the Christmas spirit, it’s also equally easy to lose one’s balance and end up on the floor.

Cat hates Christmas costume – There really is a never a good time to dress a cat up in a costume. And if you think your kitty will be happy just because it’s Christmas, think again.

Camel falls into crowd at Christmas service – It’s really tempting to bring a camel into a church service, but at this video shows, it’s probably not a really good idea.

Kid vomits while Christmas caroling – Stage fright at its best. Everyone take cover!

More than 1,000 birds fall dead from sky on New Year’s Eve – Not the way you’d expect to ring in the New Year.

Christmas Eve turkey frying fire – Frying a turkey is dangerous stuff, especially if you’re not prepared to deal with a fire. Leave turkey frying to the professionals if at all possible.

Turkey that used to love to dodge traffic is killed on road – This beloved turkey wasn’t lucky enough to receive a pardon from the President nor was he very good at dodging traffic. Sad stuff.

Hanukkah Traditions

Hanukkah, the Jewish festival of lights, is an eight day celebration which starts on the 25th day of the Jewish month of Kislev. While Hanukkah is not the most significant of Jewish holidays, it is a time of meaningful traditions.

The Lighting of the Hanukkah Candles - The reason for the Hanukkah lights is to remind others of the holiday’s miracle – when the small quantity of oil kept alight the flame for the re-dedication of the holy Temple in Jerusalem for eight days. Candles are placed in a candelabra, often referred to as a menorah, and lit ceremonially every evening for eight days. There is one candle for each night and a candle of differing height, called a shamash, which is used to light the others. The number of candles lit is increased by one each night.

The Saying of Blessings over the Candles - Depending upon the tradition, three blessings (Brachot) are recited either before or after the lighting of the Hanukkah candles on the first night. On the following nights, only two of the three are recited.

The Singing of the Ma’oz Tzur - After the lighting of the candles each night, the Hebrew song Ma’oz Tzur is sung. The song’s themes are that of salvation and praises to God for the Jews’ survival of persecution throughout history.

The Consumption of Fried Food & Cheeses -  To commemorate the miracle of the oil, foods that are fried in oil, such as latkes (potato pancakes) or sufganiyot (round jelly or custard-filled doughnuts) are eaten during Hanukkah.  Cheese is also served in honor of the bravery of Judith, who helped lead the Jews to triumph over the Assyrian troops by seducing and assassinating the Assyrian general, Holofernes.

The Playing of the Dreidel Game - A four-sided top called a dreidel, which features a single Hebrew letter (Nun, Gimel, Hey or Shin) imprinted upon each side is spun on Hanukkah. These letters are an acronym for “Nes Gadol Haya Sham” or “a great miracle happened there”, which refers to the miracle of the oil.  When playing, each player begins with a set amount of gelt (real or chocolate coins) and places one coin in the pot to start. The letters also represent the rules of the game. Depending on which side the dreidel falls upon, the player will either skip a turn (Nisht), take the whole pot (Gants), take half the pot (Halb) or put an additional coin in the pot (Shtel).

Hangover remedies

The holidays are a great time to celebrate, but sometimes we tend to overdo things, especially on the night before Thanksgiving or throughout the holiday vacation. (Sometimes dealing with family can be rough!) Here are some holiday hangover remedies that will help you feel better and ready to continue your partying this holiday season.

Hair of the dog – This is one of the most recommended hangover cures, although if you’re really feeling rough, the thought of more booze may make you want to pray to the porcelain God. But if you really need a little nip, try a Bloody Mary or Jamison’s Irish Whiskey.

Gatorade – If you’ve been drinking and have a serious hangover, you need to rehydrate. Gatorade is a great way to replenish your fluid levels and help ease the thudding inside your head. Try the low calorie G2, which is a little lighter in taste and goes down easier.  Add in some ibuprofen and you’re set.

Vitamin Water Revive – Gatorade is THE drinkable hangover remedy, although many people swear by Vitamin Water’s Revive which contains Vitamin C, and several B vitamins along with some potassium.  The fruit punch flavor is pleasant, but not overpowering, which your hungover senses will appreciate greatly. Chug with two Tylenol.

Hot and sour soup – If you’re feeling rough after a night of partying, try to make it out to a Chinese restaurant and have some hot and sour soup, which some people say helps them sweat out the badness of the night before. French Onion Soup is another soup hangover cure that seems to be popular. Be sure to down plenty of water as well with your soup to rehydrate.

French Fries / Cheeseburger –There’s an age-old adage that greasy food makes you feel better after a night of serious drinking. And it does seem that a plate full of greasy fries and a cheeseburger does soak up whatever might still be floating around in your stomach. Diner-prepared is ideal, although McDonald’s will also do in a pinch.

Slim Fast – It’s essentially a meal in a can, and you may not feel like eating if you’re super hungover. It’s a good way to get some vitamins, help keep away the empty stomach blues and help you get rehydrated and back on your feet.

Red Bull – A huge blast of caffeine helps some folks with hangovers, especially those who may have partied too hard on a weekday. Just mix in some water and aspirin as well. Alternately some people recommend iced tea (helps you rehydrate, gives you some pep) or a combination of half iced tea and half Mountain Dew.

Television – Sacking out on the couch and nursing a hangover is one way to combat the post-party blues. Expect to watch nonsensical reality TV shows or a movie that you’ve seen several times before.  Just be prepared that your roommate or spouse will ask you at some point, “Are you going to get off the couch at all today?”

Five great gadgets for the guy/girl in your life

If the love of your life is really into gadgets, they may be expecting you to gift them with something really awesome this holiday season. While some gadgets can be expensive, a good gadget is both reasonably priced (not more than a few hundred at most) and has a strong value proposition for the recipient. In other words, get them something really cool!

Five great gadgets for women

iPod Touch or iPhone 4S – She may not know it now, but once she has the iPhone 4S or iPod Touch in hand, she won’t want to give the device back. Sleek, stylish and totally functional.

Kindle – If the woman in your life loves to read, but isn’t the most gadget-oriented person in the world, the Kindle may be the perfect gift. The ease of use is excellent and with roll out of the Kindle Touch and Kindle Fire, using an e-reader has become second nature.

Roku – The Roku is a really inexpensive gadget (starts at $59.99) and allows streaming of all sorts of TV shows, movies and web content. Works with NetFlix, Hulu Plus, Amazon Instant Video and hundreds of other content networks. If she likes TV, she will love Roku!

Car remote start – She may wonder at first why she’d need such a thing, but a remote car start installation can help a woman feel safe when she’s driving alone and warm up the car during the winter!

Keurig Coffee Maker – Ah, the Keurig Coffee Maker is a thing of beauty, especially in the morning. Quickly prepare your coffee and get on the road. No messy leftovers, no grinds to dispose of. Just pure coffee.

Five great gadgets for guys

iPhone 4S – When it comes to the iPhone 4S, the device is not gender specific. Both sexes can appreciate the incredible functionality and ability to surf the Web, connect on social media, check e-mail and so much more. All with this amazing little phone.  You can now get the iPhone 3GS for free (with a two-year contract).

Boxee – Chances are the man in your life loves gadgets, electronics and sports. And with the media horizon opening up with digital and on-demand content, Boxee makes the perfect gift for the guy obsessed with consuming online media.

GPS – Sure, he won’t ask for directions. But he won’t need to if he has a new GPS. Save yourself the trouble of getting stuck in the car, being lost and having your stubborn spouse trying to figure out how to get to the destination on his own.  Get him a GPS this holiday season!

3D TV – If your man loves television, we mean really, really loves television and you’ve got some cash to plunk down, consider getting him a 3D TV. It’s not clear if the technology will become mainstream, but for the time being it’s a fun novelty.

Turntable – Does the man in your life still have his old records? Did he used to be in a band or once was a wild rock and roller? Get him a turntable. Stand-alone units that offer conversion to digital files start at around $100 or you can find one at a garage sale if you get lucky. Or check with insound.com if you’re looking for something beyond the basics.

Festive recipes for Kwanzaa

Kwanzaa is a celebration of family, community and culture, which begins on December 26 and ends on January 1. Kwanzaa culminates in a feast and gift-giving on New Year’s Eve. Here is a sampling of some of the most festive recipes which are often served while celebrating Kwanzaa.

Vegetarian stew – Stews are often served at Kwanzaa celebrations on December 31. While many stews use chicken, pork or beef, having vegetarian options for non-meat eaters goes a long way.

Pork lovers will enjoy Posole Con Puerco (Pork Hominy Mexican Stews) which makes for a great meal. Another long-time pork favorite is Hoppin’ John which is a traditional recipe that seems to have originated from the South.

Collard greens are a popular side dish and can be prepared a number of ways. Check out celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse’s recipe for collard greens and mustard or or add some pork to the mix with pork-stuffed collard greens.

Black-eyed peas can be made easily if you’ve got a slow cooker at your disposal. These spicy peas sound like they have plenty of zip and taste divine. Or you can add pork and rice to your black-eyed peas and have enough food to serve as a main meal.

Hot chocolate is a satisfying way to finish off a Kwanzaa celebration meal. Try a frothy hot chocolate or go another route with a chai chocolate pots de crème.

You can’t go wrong with spiced pumpkin cookies as a tasty dessert option. And if you really want to have a delectable dessert, go with bananas in brown sugar-rum sauce.

 

Christmas cookies: What’s not to love?

There are so many delicious Christmas foods that have become tradition and one of the all-time favorites has to be Christmas cookies! Even the most inexperienced person can whip up a batch of Christmas cookies that meets the bare minimum requirements to be a good cookie (It’s baked all the way through.) Then there are family members and co-workers who make enough cookies to go around. Don’t you just love Christmas (cookies)?

Here are five websites that will help you this season with your Christmas cookie endeavors, whether you’re making them or eating them.

Would you believe that Christmas-Cookies.com has 28 different categories of Xmas cookies? It would probably take you an entire year to make every cookie recipe here. Your best bet is to stick with the Top 25 recipes and start cranking out cookies in your kitchen.

Not only does the Food Network have a website called 12 Days of Cookies, it also has more than 100 cookie recipes! Oh, the sweet tooth! Get started a.s.a.p. cooking up batches of some Christmas classic cookies. Yes!

Not to be outdone by the Food Network, Rachel Ray has cooked up nearly 60 days’ worth of cookie recipes in her Christmas cookie collection. Starting in November with Thanksgiving cookie ideas, things get even sweeter as the days count down until Christmas.

If melt-in-your-mouth cookies are your style, you will want to check out this insanely long list of Christmas Cookies for the Holidays. The Secret Kiss cookies sound like a great surprise and the Cocoa Drop cookies are probably even better than they sound.

Of course, it wouldn’t be Christmas without Martha Stewart and her collection of cookie craziness for Christmas. A little Martha can go a long way, which is why it’s best to just stick with this video where she shows how to make the perfect batch of butter cookies.

Christmas wouldn’t be complete without the most famous Christmas cookie of them all, The Gingerbread Man cookie.  This classic recipe is part of Christmas traditions past and present. Enjoy!

Christmas commercials from yesteryear

During the holidays, marketing departments and advertising agencies unleash a barrage of ads designed to make us want to buy, buy buy! By cleverly manipulating the holiday spirit, commercials can influence us to believe that by consuming goods, we’re somehow more fulfilled during the holiday season. This is, of course, all rubbish. However, there have been some good holiday-themed commercials throughout the year. Here are a few of the all-time greats.

Alka-Seltzer – It’s a pretty bold claim to make that Alka-Seltzer is “the other holiday tradition” (eating being the primary tradition), but this 15-second spot is pretty clever.

They also used the same premise in this New Year’s Eve commercial.

Coke – I’d Like to Teach the World Sing –Peace, love and harmony was the theme of this classic holiday commercial from the 1970s. Funny thing is Coca-Cola probably has enough money to buy the world a home.

ET Atari – This early ‘80s commercial features none other than E.T. himself in an advert for his videogame on the Atari 2600 system. Check out the primitive pixilation on the game.

Budweiser  Clydesdales – It’s not really clear what a bunch of Clydesdale horses pulling a wagon in the snow has to do with beer, let alone Christmas. Yet for some reason, this commercial remains memorable.

Toys “R” Us – This ‘70s flashback is brought to you by the toy store, Toys “R” Us, which seem to think a family of giraffes going on a shopping spree during a snow storm will help you equate their brand with Christmas.

 

Christmas Around the World

Christmas. It’s the quintessential Christian holiday, not just here in America, but around the world. And with growing numbers of non-Christians celebrating it as enthusiastically as Christians, you could say that Christmas has become a truly global phenomenon. Here’s a look at 10 different ways Christmas is celebrated around the world.

Japan – Only 1% of the Japanese population is Christian, but that doesn’t stop them from getting into the Christmas spirit. They buy Christmas trees, flock to the malls to buy presents and, on December 25, get together for large family meals of fried chicken, and sponge cake with strawberries and whipped cream.

India – Even in one of the most religiously diverse countries in the world, Christmas is a major holiday celebrated by nearly everyone. Festivities begin about a week before December 25, with people buying gifts and hanging decorations. On Christmas Eve, throngs of carollers take to the streets and thoroughfares to fill the air with song.

Netherlands – Christmas begins on the last Saturday of November and culminates on December 5, when St. Nicholas is believed (at least by children) to sail in from Spain with his trusty pal Black Peter. Together, they fill children’s little wooden shoes with gifts. After opening presents, families settle down to luxurious meals of North Sea shrimp; smoked fish (especially salmon and eel); soup; roast or stewed poultry or meat, such as duck, wild boar or venison; and choice seasonal vegetables.

Russia – Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Christmas has become a major holiday in Russia. It’s celebrated on January 7. Many Russians abstain from eating meat, eggs or milk for a few weeks before Christmas. They also fast until after the first church service on Christmas Eve. On Christmas day, priests visit homes and sprinkle water in each room—a custom that’s believed to bring happiness and good fortune.

Croatia – Festivities begin in earnest here on St. Lucy’s Day (December 13), when the mothers or female heads of families plant wheat seeds in shallow water on round plates. The seeds germinate and grow up to eight inches high by December 24 and are tied with red, blue and white ribbons, the colors of the Croatian flag.

Australia – Dazzling festivities and fervor put Australian Christmases on par with cities such as New York, London, Paris and Vancouver. Public celebrations on Christmas Eve include a free Carols by Candlelight concert that brings in 70,000 – 100,000 attendees and nearly two million television viewers. Because of the warm climate, many Australians head out to Bondi Beach or other outdoor locations after opening their presents Christmas morning.

Brazil – Known as dia de festas, Christmas in Brazil is much like it is here in America. Brazilians attend Midnight Mass (Missa do Galo), decorate their homes with Christmas trees, and go caroling and open presents the morning of December 25. A traditional Christmas dinner in Brazil includes turkey, ham, colored rice and fresh fruits and vegetables.

China – Though it’s not legally a holiday, Christmas in China is rapidly gaining popularity, especially as the country becomes more of an economic super power and open to Western traditions. Gift giving is a major part of Christmas in China, as is spending time with loved ones and hanging decorations.

England – Advent marks the beginning of Christmas in the UK. Britons decorate their homes with holly wreaths adorned with candles—three pink, one white and one purple. They also decorate their Christmas trees, and on December 25, Father Christmas (their equivalent of Santa Claus) brings presents for all the good girls and boys.

Africa – Christmas is celebrated far and wide on the African continent on January 7. From Ghana to South Africa, Africa is filled with people caroling, exchanging gifts, attending church and spending time with family and friends. Holiday meals in Africa include roasted goat, rice, okra soup, biscuits, bread, jam and tea.

Children’s gift ideas: What the kids want for Christmas this year

Kids love Christmas. And they love getting gifts! And while going out Christmas shopping for your children can be a chore (it’s really best if you do your shopping online) somewhere deep down inside, most parents relish picking out the perfect gifts for their little loved ones. Here are some great gift ideas for the kids starting with the wee ones and all the way through the tween years.

For the just born through the first two years, it’s hard to go wrong with Baby Einstein products. While there is some controversy over whether or not watching television has a negative impact on infants, Baby Einstein also makes a variety of tools that encourage exploration and learning.

For the pre-schoolers, Magna-tiles are an educational toy that stimulate the mind and help kids explore and discover. They’re good for kids as young as three and up to age nine. LeapPad is also suitable for the same age range and is a learning tablet designed just for kids. Just be warned, once kids pick up the LeapPad, they may not want to put it down.

Legos have stood the test of time and continue to fascinate kids of all ages, including adults who never really grew up! Legos have also become increasingly sophisticated and cool toys. Kids just cannot seem to get enough of Legos and if you want to see your child’s face light up on Christmas morning, give them some Legos!

Video games rank high on many kids’ wishlist. There are age-appropriate games for all sorts of age ranges and across a variety of platforms including Wii, Xbox and Playstation. Then there are the portable Nintendo DS and 3DS. Hopefully your family already has at least one of these gaming systems, so all you’ll need to do is pick up the latest game(s) this holiday season.

If your kids are fashionistas (and some of them are), getting new clothes for the holidays can be a make-or-break proposition. Get them something too functional and they’re likely to get bummed out. But get the hip brand that all the other cool kids have and they’ll go nuts. Next time you go out shopping with the kids, let them wander around their department and they’ll give you plenty of ideas on what things they think are awesome!

Musical instruments can always be a great gift around the holidays, especially if a child seems pretty committed to pursuing music or is ready for an instrument upgrade.

Lastly, if your child is in the tween years or beyond, chances are they’ll want, er, NEED the latest and greatest mobile phone to keep in touch with all their friends.

If you don’t have kids, but instead have furry friends, some new Nylabones for the dogs or some catnip for the kitties would likely be well received.

Best drinks and cocktails for New Year’s Eve party

Ah, the holidays. You just wrapped up a week of family food, football and … now it’s time for New Year’s Eve! Alcohol! Booze! Champagne! Toasts! You can have a perfectly pleasant New Year’s Eve without alcohol, but popular tradition in the U.S. is to toast and throw back a drink when the clock strikes midnight.

Champagne – The classic drink of choice for New Year’s Eve is to pop the cork on a bottle of bubbly. For a twist, drop in a raspberry and top it off with raspberry liqueur.

Midnight martini – If you love coffee and plan on celebrating way into the night, the Midnight Martini might be the drink to keep you going. Coffee vodka and liqueur with a twist of lemon.

Midori Melon Ball Drop – If you’re in a wintry part of the world, you can think tropical with this cocktail. Midori Leon Liqueur, SKYY Infusions Citrus, Elderflower Liquor and lemon juice. Delightful!

Brandy Eggnog – For this holiday cocktail, you’ll need some brandy and all the fixings for Eggnog and a shaker to prepare.

Martinelli’s Sparkling Apple Juice (N/A) – Have some non-alcoholic sparkling juice on hand for those guests who are designated drivers on New Year’s Eve.

Red Bull and vodka – Combining alcohol and overly caffeinated drinks isn’t recommended because it can mask the influence of alcohol and cause people to misjudge their level of intoxication.

Wine – If you’re out at a bar on New Year’s Eve, you may need some help selecting the right bottle of vino to help you celebrate. If that’s the case, check out these tips on picking the right wine. Otherwise, stick with what you know and love.

Sparkling wine – Celebrate New Year’s Eve with bubbles. If you’re not the champagne type, try ringing in the New Year with a glass of sparkling wine. Yellowtail makes an affordable sparkling white wine that is both fun and flavorful.

Hot Cider – Hot cider is a great New Year’s drink, especially if you’re celebrating in a cold cabin somewhere. Admittedly, the likelihood of that scenario is slim, but if it happens to ring true to you, be sure to put a nip of something in your cider when the ball drops.

Water – If you’ve been drinking all night on New Year’s Eve, at some point you’re going to want to migrate over to water to start rehydrating yourself. Hate to be party poopers, but your body will thank you the day after.

A Brief History of the Christmas Tree

The exact history of the Christmas tree is somewhat disputed. Many believe it has its roots in pagan celebrations of the winter solstice. Romans, for example, marked the solstice with a feast called the Saturnalia in honor of Saturn, the god of agriculture. They knew the solstice meant that farms and orchards would soon be green and fruitful again. To celebrate, they decorated their homes and temples with evergreen trees.

The introduction of the evergreen as a Christmas tradition is generally believed to date back to 16th century Germany, when devout Christians started bringing decorated trees into their homes.

And it was Martin Luther, the protestant reformer, who first added candles to the trees. The story goes that as he was walking home one evening he was awed by the brilliance of stars twinkling amidst the evergreens. To recreate the scene for his family, Martin Luther put an evergreen in the main room of his home and wired its branches with lighted candles.

The arrival of the Christmas tree in America dates back to 1846, when Queen Victoria and her German Prince, Albert, were sketched in the Illustrated London News standing with their children around a Christmas tree. The queen was popular with British subjects and fashion conscious Americans on the East Coast, both of whom soon started bringing Christmas trees into their homes.

By the early 20th century, as ornaments expanded to include electric lights that could glow for days on end, Christmas trees began appearing in town squares and homes across America. And they’ve been a permanent holiday fixture ever since.

Holiday movies for the whole family

At some point during the holidays, everyone seems to congregate around the TV. Or maybe it’s just some overwhelmed family members looking to break away for a few minutes of relief from their overbearing in-laws. There’s a good chance that one of these holiday films will be on as you’re flipping through the channels looking for a football game or to check ESPN for sports highlights.

The Polar Express – Some people say this animated film is the best Christmas movie ever. One thing is for sure; seeing is believing.

The Sound of Music – The screen soars to new heights in this 1965 musical that captures the happiest sound in the world. Yup, that’s right. The hills are alive with the sound of music. Right on!

Muppet Christmas Carol – It’s a classic Christmas tale, but with a twist: It features the case of The Muppets, starring Kermit the Frog. It’s a holiday movie that even Scrooge himself can’t help but love.

Home Alone – This Christmas crack-up is heavy on the yuks and slapstick. It’s a downright silly tale of a kid left behind by his parents during the holiday season and how he fends off two would-be robbers.

White Christmas – Take a trip back in the time machine to 1954 and be charmed by Bing Crosby in this awesome song and dance fest that also features Danny Kaye and Rosemary Clooney.

The Grinch (Jim Carrey) – For us adults, the real-life remake of The Grinch doesn’t compare to the original Dr. Seuss animated special. But the kids, they seem to eat this film up.

The Nightmare Before Christmas – When Jack Skellington, the pumpkin king of Halloween Town, discovers a new holiday, his world is turned upside down. A wholly imaginative holiday classic from Tim Burton.

Miracle on 34th Street – The trailer for this 1947 classic boasts, “You’ll Love ‘Miracle on 34th Street’” and well, that is pretty much the case. A timeless Christmas classic.

Elf – Buddy the Elf only has one mission in life: To find his biological father. Imagine an adult elf in New York City, played perfectly by Will Ferrell. Hilarity ensues.

A Christmas Story – Too many people have lost the true meaning of Christmas. Not Ralphie, who has his eyes set on a Red Rider BB Gun.