How to Decorate the Home with Cut Pine Branches

The holidays are a time for gathering loved ones close and basking in the warm glow of hearth and home. One great way to achieve that feel is to decorate your home with fresh cut pine. It’s easy to do, and can be a fun activity for the whole family.

Gathering Your Greenery

If you live in a suburban or rural area, you can simply take a walk in the woods and gather all the fallen pine you’ll need. If you’re a city dweller, a trip to your local plant or garden store is all you need.

The Decorations

When it comes to decorating with fresh cut pine, the sky’s the limit. Traditional decorations include garlands, swags, wreaths and boughs. You can also add other plant parts such as berries, dried flowers, cones and seedpods for color and texture.

Keep Your Greenery Fresh

Unlike Christmas trees, fresh cut pine decorations are not kept in water. To help your greenery stay fresh, you should follow these steps:

  • Cut the branches with a clean, sharp cutter and immediately put cut the ends in water until you’re ready to use them.
  • Crush the woody ends of the stems so they can absorb more water.
  • Keep greenery out of sunlight.

Once you’ve made your pine decorations, simply place them where you feel they look best. Mantels are always a good place. A wreath hanging on a door is inviting. There’s also nothing quite like the homey feel of a table with fresh a cut pine centerpiece on it. Whatever you decide, your fresh cut pine decorations are sure to add just the right touch to your holidays.

How to Decorate a Christmas Tree

Whether live or faux, there’s nothing quite as heart warming as a Christmas tree. But decorating your tree is another matter all together. You can’t just put the lights and ornaments on there in any old order. There’s a method to decorating trees. Here are three rules of thumb for making your tannenbaum look truly majestic.

Step 1: Hang the Lights

The first thing you should do (after setting up the tree, of course) is hang the lights. Start at the base of the trunk and work your way up, wrapping lights around every major branch, moving from the trunk to the tip and back. Working this way not only gives you a solid foundation for the rest of your decorating, but also lends your tree look illuminated from the inside out. Truly magical.

Step 2: Add Garlands

The trick here is to avoid the “sausage effect” (branches bulging between tightly cinched garlands). To do that, start at the top of the tree and slowly increase the amount of garland between each wave as you work your way down the branches. You should only use about two strands of garland for every vertical foot of tree.

Step 3: Hang the Ornaments

If you have favorite ornaments, you should hang them first and in prime positions. After that, hang the larger ornaments. Be sure to space them evenly around the tree. Then add the medium sized ornaments to fill in the gaps. Specialty items such as candy canes, icicles and clip-on ornaments should be hung last.

Now that you have a good grasp of how to trim your tree, get to it. You’ll be envy of the neighborhood.

Alternatives to Christmas Trees

Christmas trees. They smell good and look great, but they aren’t necessarily for everyone. For some, the daily ritual of watering the tree and cleaning up all the fallen pine needles is just too much of a hassle, while medical issues such as severe allergies can make live Christmas trees a health hazard. Whatever your reason, we have six ideas for alternatives to Christmas trees that are sure to keep your holidays feeling as festive as ever.

Wooden Trees

These tend to be smaller, and come in a handsome wood color. You can easily hang ornaments on them, paint on scenes, or even paint the tree itself green. It’s unique and classy.

Spiral Rope Light Trees

Decidedly minimalistic, these trees are great for indoors or out. And they’re growing popularity means you can find them pretty much anywhere.

Sequin Mini Trees

Like the wooden tree, these are small and don’t offer much space for presents, but they are certainly something to behold. The subtle shimmer from the sequins will fill any room with gorgeously festive light.

Cardboard Trees

Made from recycled cardboard, these trees are as eco-friendly as they are fun. And the decorative possibilities are as wide open as your imagination.

Ladder Christmas Trees

Now here’s a tree that’s truly unique. Just take a tall, narrow wooden ladder and wrap it with Christmas lights. The shape resembles a real Christmas tree and it’ll make a great conversation piece for all your holiday gatherings.

Aluminum Christmas Trees

Beloved in the 1950s for its futuristic feel, the aluminum Christmas tree lends that retro-chic look to your holiday decorations. And it looks pretty nice to boot.

Homemade and DIY Gift Ideas

Handmade gifts are great—and inexpensive—ways to show people you care. And this holiday season, we have just the ideas you need to let out your inner creativity. It’s a win-win for everyone.

Food Gifts

Nothing says loving like something in the oven, goes the old saying, and we couldn’t agree more. From cookies and cakes, to candy and chocolate, you’re sure to make someone’s holiday bright and tasty with the gift of treats.

Get Crafty

Crafts make for some of the best—and unexpectedly useful—gifts imaginable. Here are some simple, inexpensive ideas for you to choose from.

For the foodie in your life: Take an old wine bottle, paint it with non-toxic paint, fill it with olive oil and, presto, you have a lovely and useful gift. Not much of a painter? Don’t worry. You don’t need to create anything elaborate. A simple flower or nice design is all you need to let someone know you care.

Handy with a needle and thread? Then we’ve got just the idea for you. Get some cloth napkins and add a monogram to each one with cross-stitch, embroidery, needlepoint, or embellish with buttons, appliques, or stencils.

Live wreaths also make great gifts, and are easy to make. All you need is some evergreen boughs, assorted greenery and wire. In just a few hours you’ll have several wreaths.

You could also go with this holiday classic: The gift basket. Just get a nice basket, some ribbon and fill the basket with an assortment of whatever you think the recipient would like. Popular items include bundle handmade soaps and herbal cachets, potpourri, jellies, organic candies and treats.

A Brief History of Holiday Decorations

Holiday decorations. We put them up in our homes with them, stores are filled with them, kids make them in school and the streets are lined with them. But what is their history? Where do they come from? Here are some facts you might find surprising.

Christmas Lights

Everyone knows Thomas Edison’s greatest invention was the light bulb. But did you know he also invented Christmas lights? It’s true (and seems fitting). The story goes that Edward Johnson, vice president of Edison’s company, wanted to decorate his Christmas tree with eighty red, white, and blue bulbs. Edison obliged and, presto, a holiday tradition was born.

Dreidels

They serve as holiday decorations and toys for kids all over the world, but their history is far more complex. During periods of persecution, Jewish men would have to gather in secret to study the Torah. These men kept dreidels close by so that when soldiers passed, they could pull them out and appear as if they were gathered simply to play a game. In that sense, this simple toy is actually responsible for saving many lives.

The Christmas Tree

Germans get credit for popularizing the Christmas tree in the 1500s, but many believe it was St. Boniface, born in 680 A.D., who first made the association of the fir tree with the birth of Christ. Legend has it that he happened upon a human sacrifice that was taking place at the foot of an oak tree. In anger, he felled the tree with an axe. Behind the oak stood a fir tree. Boniface pointed to it and told the pagans to give up their wicked ways and seek salvation in Christ, the bringer of life “ever green.”

Ornaments

These days, ornaments come in all shapes and sizes. You can get Santas, cats, dogs, Star Wars characters and just about any other type of ornament you can imagine. The first ornaments, however, were actually props from religious plays about Adam and Eve— apples hung on the Paradise Tree to represent our first parents’ expulsion from the Garden of Eden. As time went on, other cultures started adding to and expanding on this tradition of hanging things in trees at Christmas time. The Germans put cookies in their Christmas trees, for example, but it wasn’t until F.W. Woolworth reluctantly began selling modern ornaments in his store that the tradition really caught on. He sold them all in just two days. From then on he travelled to Germany every year to buy ornaments and bring them back to the states to sell in his stores.

 

Hanukkah Activities for Kids

Hanukkah is about more than lighting candles and getting presents. It’s about honoring and celebrating the miracle of Judah Maccabee and the revolt that led to the rededication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. But how do you explain that to kids without taking all the fun out of Hanukkah? Here are three fun things you can do with your kids that will also teach them about the meaning of this sacred festival of lights.

Make Latkes

Latkes taste great and they’re symbolic. The oil used to cook them is a reminder of the miracle of the thimble full of oil lasting eight days. Make latkes with your kids using the recipe below. It’s a great way to have fun together and teach them about Hanukkah.

Ingredients

5 big potatoes
3 eggs
1/3 cup of flour
1 teaspoon salt
oil for frying

Directions

Grind the potatoes.
Add eggs, flour and salt.
Mix well.
Warm up oil in frying pan.
Pour batter onto the oil in spoonfuls.
Let fry for about five minutes on medium fire.
Turn over and let fry for another three minutes.
Take out your latkes and lay them on paper towel to cool.

Make a Menorah

Kids love crafts. This simple project is fun and gives you a great opportunity to explain all about the menorah and its significance. Here’s what you’ll need:

  • 1 piece of wood, 12 inches long x 1 inch wide and ½ an inch high.
  • A second piece of wood, 1 inch long x 1 inch wide and ½ an inch high.
  • Glue
  • Colored paint and/or glitter
  • 9 miniature cupcake holders
  • Hanukkah candles

Here’s what to do:

  1. Pain both pieces of wood, or decorate them with glitter, or do both. Let then dry.
  2. Glue the small piece of wood on the left corner of the big piece of wood.
  3. Put eight dabs of glue on the long piece of wood and put a cupcake holder on each one. Let it dry.
  4. Glue the ninth cupcake holder onto the small piece of wood and let it dry.

Place the candle in each cupcake holder and, voilà, your own menorah.

Take a Trip to the Library

Your local library is a great resource for finding fun ways to teach your kids about Hanukkah. You’re sure to find books for kids of all ages that explain the meaning of Hanukkah, and many of them have lyrics to songs that you and your kids can sing together.

Tips for Storing Your Holiday Ornaments

The holidays are over, and now you’re faced with the task of taking down your ornaments and storing them until it’s time to get them out again next year. Not only that, but you have to store all the wonderful new ornaments that were given to you as gifts this year. But don’t fret. Here are our top three tips for safely storing your holiday ornaments.

Preparation

Even if you have an immaculately clean home, and your ornaments weren’t out for that long, they still collected dust. Carefully cleaning and dusting each ornament before you put it away will help protect delicate finishes and reduce the risk of scratches. Be sure to always use a soft, lint-free cloth. You can also use cotton swabs for getting in the hard to reach places. For tougher grime, dab a little water on your cloth or swab—just make sure the ornament is completely dry before you put it away.

Choose the Right Container

Different ornaments require different containers. One size does not fit all. If you’re trying to preserve your family’s heirloom ornaments, use an archival storage container. If you have tons of ornaments you want organized in an efficient way, a simple plastic ornament storage box, or an easy canvas chest will do the trick. No matter the container you use, be sure it’s clean and that your entire ornament fits securely inside.

Be Organized

Storing your ornaments isn’t just about putting them away. It’s also about being able to quickly and easily bring them out for the holidays the following year. That’s why it’s such a good idea to be as organized as possible when it comes to storing your ornaments.

If you have more than one tree, always decorate each tree with the same ornaments, pack the ornaments separately and mark them “living room tree,” “den tree,” etc. Writing on each box the type of ornaments it contains will make unpacking and repacking much easier—Santa ornaments, animated ornaments, round ornaments, wood ornaments, etc. You pick the categories.

You may also want to store ornaments by size. For example, put all oversized ornaments in one container, clip-on ornaments in another.

Be sure to also label boxes that contain fragile ornaments. Don’t stack them too high or with heavier boxes on top.

Follow these simple tips, and you’re sure to get years of joyous use out of your holiday ornaments, and be able to keep them organized to boot.

Top 5 Hanukkah TV Moments

When it comes to holiday TV specials, shows about Hanukah aren’t the first thing that spring to mind. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t some truly classic TV moments about the festival of lights. Here’s our list of the top five.

A Colbert Christmas

Sure, it’s technically a Christmas special. But then Jon Stewart stops by to educate his friend Stephen about the magic of Hanukkah. The ensuing duet is filled with a brilliant mix of self-deprecation on Stewart’s part and over-the-top arrogance and ignorance from Colbert. Not to be missed.

Friends: The Holiday Armadillo

Who could forget this classic? Ross wants to get his son, Ben, excited about Hanukkah. He tries to dress up as Santa, thinking that if Santa explains what Hanukkah is, Ben will get as excited for it as he does for Christmas. Only problem is Ross can’t find a Santa costume so close to Christmas. The only costume he can find is an armadillo. His friend, Chandler, however, is able to get a Santa outfit. What happens when Chandler shows up dressed as Santa, and potentially upstages Ross, is as touching as it is funny.

The O.C.: The Best Chrismukkah Ever

Determined to merge his Jewish and Christian heritage and help Ryan and his family have the holiday party of a lifetime, Seth invents the bi-religious holiday of Chrismukkah. The episode was hit and Chrismukkah became an annual tradition for the show.

Saturday Night Live: Adam Sandler’s Hanukkah Song

Not wanting to be left out at Christmas time, Adam Sandler writes a song about the eight crazy nights of Hanukkah and all the “Jews in showbiz.” Get out your yarmulke and celebrate Hanukkah with hilarious song.

Saturday Night Live: Hanukkah Harry Saves Christmas

It might seem like a bit much to include two Saturday Night Live sketches in one list, but for a show that’s been running for 30 years, you make exceptions. Though not as famous as Adam Sandler’s Hanukkah song, Jon Lovitz’s portrayal of Hanukkah Harry saving Christmas is madcap genius. On Moishe, on Hershel, on Shlomo!

 

 

 

 

10 of the World’s Weirdest New Year’s Eve Traditions

New Year’s. It’s a time for celebrating with friends and family, looking back over the previous 12 months and wishing each other the best for the year to come. It’s also a time for some truly wacky (and fun) traditions. How strange? Just check out this list of the 10 weirdest New Year’s traditions from around the world.

South America

Revelers in Brazil, Bolivia, Venezuela and other South American countries ring in the New Year by wearing brightly colored underwear. In cities like Sao Paulo, market vendors put out large displays of these underpants a few days before the holiday—red to bring love in the coming year, yellow for money.

Denmark

Danes welcome the New Year by standing on chairs and jumping off together at the stroke of midnight. Literally leaping into January is believed to banish bad spirits and bring good luck.

Philippines

In the Philippines, New Years is all about dots—polka dots, that is. Every year, Philippine people wear polka-dot clothing and fill their tables with round shaped foods. All these rounds things resemble coins and symbolize prosperity in the coming year.

Scotland

The Scottish get fired up—literally—for New Year’s with the Hogmanay Festival. On the 31st of December every year, Scotsmen parade around town swinging blazing balls of fire over their heads. It’s a tradition that dates back to Viking times. The fireballs are believed to bring purification and sunshine.

Mexico

Communicating with the dead is a strong part of Mexican culture, and this extends to New Year’s as well. In fact, this holiday is widely believed to be the best time to communicate with loved ones long gone and ask for guidance in the year to come.

Ireland

Many an Irish lass looks forward to New Year’s Eve in hopes of finding true love. To help make their wishes come true, young women all over Ireland place mistletoe leaves under their pillows to help ensure they’ll meet their future husbands in the coming year. They also believe the mistletoe rids them of bad luck.

Russia

Perhaps the most dangerous celebration is what takes place on Baikal, the world’s deepest lake. Divers cut a hole in the ice. One of them carries a New Year’s tree to the bottom of the lake while the others swim/dance around it. At the end of it all, the divers get their pictures taken with The Ice Maiden and Father Frost, two popular figures in Russian culture.

Finland

A long tradition in Finland is predicting what the New Year holds by casting molten tin into a pan of water and interpreting the shape the metal takes. Heart or ring shapes mean a wedding in the New Year; a ship forecasts travel; and pig shapes signify abundant supplies of food.

Chile

In the small town of Talca, people ring in the New Year by hanging out in the cemetery. At 11pm sharp every New Year’s Eve, the Mayor opens the cemetery gates and the townspeople are welcomed with classical music and dimmed blinking lights. They believe the spirits of their deceased loved ones wait for them in the cemetery and that this is the best way to start the New Year with them. It all began in 1995, when a local family jumped the cemetery fence to spend New Year’s near their father’s grave. Now over 5,000 people have adopted this tradition.

Germany

Every year since 1972, Germans welcome the New Year by watching the exact same episode of the British TV show, Dinner for One, at midnight. Same dialogue, same script every year. Nothing new. No one knows just how this tradition began, but it’s so popular that even the punch line “same procedure every year” now is a catch phrase in Germany.

The most obscure holidays you’ve never heard of

While there’s no second guessing the big holidays such as Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Eve, one has to wonder the origin of so many other holidays. Some holidays seem to have been created just for the purpose of selling greeting cards, while others are slightly silly, if not absurd. Check out this list of obscure holidays and see how many you already knew about.

Squirrel Appreciation Day – January 21 – Believe it or not, there are people in the world who like squirrels. A lot! Most wish they’d just stop running out in front of our cars.

National Hairball Awareness Day – April 29 – Hairballs occur when cats groom themselves and ingest their own fur. Cats spend approximately 30% of their time grooming, so that means they’re going to be bringing up a lot of furballs. Ew.

Hug Your Cat Day – May 12 – Hot on the heels of cleaning up furballs, comes Hug Your Cat Day. Hopefully they won’t spit up a furball on you when you give them a big fat furry hug.

Take Your Dog to Work Day – June 22 – It’s hard to imagine an office full of canines every day, but for one day a year, man’s best friend gets to reign supreme in the office.

Sweetest Day – October 20 – Here’s a holiday that seems to exist for no apparent reason. What makes October 20th sweeter than any other day?

National Boss Day – October 16 – Oh, ok. Let’s all get together and celebrate National Boss Day! Not. Trying to muster up enthusiasm among your co-workers for this holiday might be next-to-impossible. If nothing else, someone will buy a card and pass it around in an effort to suck up to the boss man.

Grandparents Day – September 9 – This is one of those holidays that should occur every day. Grandparents are the best and they know how to spoil the grandkids like nobody’s business.

Friendship Day – August 5 – Friendship Day might be a depressing holiday for the perpetually lonely as well as shut-ins and misanthropes.  Chances are though, there’s at least one person who has your back until the bitter end. If not, you may need to get out more.

Canada Day – July 1 – Other than being our neighbors to the North and that they sing the Canadian National Anthem at sporting games when Canadian teams play, most Americans have little idea what Canada or Canada Day is all about. Hmmm. Must. Google.

Nurse’s Day – May 6 – Nurses are on the frontline, day in and day out, taking care of people and helping give them awesome patient care. Even though they hear “Thank you,” an awful lot, they really do deserve their own holiday.

Administrative Professional’s Day – April 25 – Administrative assistants are the unsung heroes of the modern workforce. While it’s hard to get the whole office to celebrate National Boss Day, chances are the administrative professional in your office is worthy of some recognition on this holiday.

Letter Writing Day – December 7 – Letter Writing. What is that?! Never heard of it. Does it have something to do with e-mail? Another curious holiday to look up on Google.

Virtual Gift Ideas

These days, virtual goods are a part of everyday life. As the world moves to a digital model for delivery and consumption of products, so does the appetite and ability for virtual gifts. And why not? They’re easy to purchase, can be delivered instantaneously and are every bit as good as physical gifts (unless you’re expecting Santa Claus to bring you a new car for Christmas.) Here are some virtual gift ideas that will do the trick this holiday season.

Video rental stores? A thing of the past. And while services such as Redbox offer cheap movie rentals, nothing can replace the convenience of streaming a movie on-demand. Netflix offers users the opportunity to stream movies and TV shows, receive DVDs by mail or both. And of course, they offer gift subscriptions. Netflix is a great gift that keeps on giving throughout the year.

For the person who loves to shop by mail, a gift from Amazon.com is high on the wish list. They offer gift certificates that can be printed or e-mailed. Gifting specific items and having them delivered (either physically or virtually) is an easy process from beginning to end. iTunes gift cards are also a great way to give the gift of digital products including music, movies, television, ringtones and even books. What will Apple think of next?!

Online discount websites such as Groupon and Living Social can help you gift any number of great deals at 50% or more off retail price. Just sign up, buy and designate that the purchase is being sent as a gift. The recipient will be pleased to see your gift in their inbox and appreciate your thoughtfulness.

If the person on your holiday shopping list loves to stay in touch through cards, an annual subscription to Hallmark’s e-card service allows users to send as many e-cards as they want for the low price of $12.00. While it might seem like a novelty to old-school folks, the convenience and ease of e-cards can’t be matched and sending as little as three e-cards will match the money you’d be plunking down in stores.

If you’ve got a specific store, brand or service in mind, check the business’ website. Chances are they will offer a way to give a gift digitally. And you can sit back from the comfort of your computer or mobile device and cross another person off your holiday shopping list.

Celebrating the holidays remotely and online

Just because you’re separated geographically doesn’t mean you can’t connect with family and friends for the holidays. Online technology makes it possible to reach out via voice, video, text and pictures to share memories and holiday wishes.

Facebook is the predominant social network for staying connected. Service members and their families use Facebook to share pictures and stories and for messaging while their loved ones are away serving our country. Skype is another immensely popular tool that allows you to make free phone calls to anyone with a Skype account (which is free) and supports video and instant messaging as well. Skype recently announced video calling through Facebook, which is a perfect integration of these two services that will make it feel like you’re there in person for the holidays.

New to Skype? No worries. Here’s what Skype is in a nutshell, according to the Skype folks themselves: “You can use Skype on whatever works best for you – on your phone or computer or a TV with Skype on it. It is free to start using Skype – to speak, see and instant message other people on Skype for example. You can even try out group video, with the latest version of Skype.”

See the Skype tutorial for beginners if you haven’t already created a Skype account.

Apple’s iPhone offers several different features for staying in touch. And Apple’s iMessage service now allows free text messaging to anyone with an iPhone, iPod Touch or iPad. And the iPhone 4 and iPhone 4s support FaceTime, which allows for video phone calls directly through your iPhone to another iPhone user.

You can also use free apps and your mobile phone’s camera to live broadcast using Ustream  or Livestream. And YouTube and Vimeo both allow for easy upload and free hosting for your video. As long as people have an Internet connection, they’ll be able to see/hear your holiday message. Technology. Don’t you love it?!

Twitter is a good option for getting short bursts of information out to people. Google offers a chat function and Facebook also supports chat. If you’ve got photos you want to share, Flickr offers a way to easily upload and share photos and even group them into albums and collections. You can always send an e-card, which is delivered instantly and will save you the trip out to the card store and postage.

Of course there is the good old-fashioned phone call to say, “Hi!,” to your loved ones on the holidays. Chances are your grandparents will find this medium the preferred way to reach out, although online technologies continue to be adopted en masse by people of all ages.

Hanukkah video celebrations

Hanukkah With Veronica Monica – The folks at Sesame Street are great at creating content that is fun, but also informative. In this clip, reporter Veronica Monica talks about the history of Hanukkah. The animation is reminiscent of old-school cartoons from the 1960s.

How to play the Dreidel Game - Here’s a light-hearted informative video about how the basic rules of the Dreidel Game, starring Jane, who helps explain the meaning of the different sides of the Dreidel.

How to light the Menorah - Lighting the Menorah during Hanukkah is a long-standing tradition in Jewish homes. When lighting the Menora, there are several ceremonial steps to observe. Russ Handler explains the details.

How to Celebrate Hanukkah - Hanukkah commemorates the battle to rededicate the Temple of Jerusalem and the miracle in which, according to tradition, a tiny bit of oil burned for eight days. Here’s how to celebrate this Jewish holiday.

Adam Sandler – Hanukkah song on Saturday Night Live - Here’s a classic clip of comedian Adam Sandler having some fun with his song about celebrity and Hanukkah traditions and celebrations. You can see Sandler nearly cracking up during the bit.

The origins of Christmas stockings

Christmastime is celebrated with all sorts of tradition. From holiday meals and decorations to putting up outside lights and buying a Christmas tree, Americans love to celebrate the yuletide. Hanging Christmas stockings and filling them with extra goodies is a ritual for many families. But when did the tradition begin?

Curiously enough, there aren’t any definitive answers to when people started hanging Christmas stockings. It is widely believed that the tradition got its start in Europe, when children would hang one of their “everyday” socks (ew) at the end of their bed, with the hopes that Santa Claus would fill it with a gift on Christmas Day.

The tradition of Christmas stockings made its way over to the United States, where it became an annual tradition. Family members often put their names on their respective stockings and hang them above the fireplace or from a mantelpiece, often designating a stocking for the family pet. Smaller Christmas stockings are sometimes hung from Christmas Trees or filled by Santa himself (wink, wink), then placed underneath the tree for Christmas morning.

The story behind the tradition of Christmas stockings varies from country to country and dates back to the 1600s, but the general concept is: leave a stocking out for Santa and he will fill it up for you! Ho, ho, ho! Merry Christmas!

Who is Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer? And what does he want?!

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer is a pretty important fixture in this whole Christmas celebration. But who exactly is Rudolph and why is he so special that there was a song that was written about him. We sent our investigative journalists out on the trail of Rudolph and here is what they found.

Who: Well, wouldn’t you know it that Rudolph has his origins in corporate America?! He made his debut in a 1939 advertisement in the form of a coloring book with a poem, published by the American department store chain, Montgomery Ward. He’s known as Santa’s ninth reindeer, although he really deserves top billing since his nose is so bright, he can provide enough lighting for Santa to navigate.

What: Rudolph has become a franchise of sorts, since his creation some 70+ years ago. Rudolph has earned his place in American Christmas tradition with his own song, television special and cinematic film.

Where: The red-nosed reindeer makes his home with Santa Claus and the other reindeer at the North Pole. There’s no word on if the other reindeer have a problem tolerating Rudolph’s celebrity, although the chance that there are some jealous reindeer on Santa’s crew is highly likely.

How: In the real world, reindeer cannot fly. But Rudolph along with Santa’s other reindeer have been blessed with the ability to fly. And of course, Rudolph’s nose is red and gives off such a bright beacon of light that Santa is able to see where he’s goling as he delivers presents on Christmas Eve. The doubting Thomas in the crowd might raise an eyebrow at Rudolph’s skills and talents.

Why: Why Rudolph?! Why not?! Can you even name the other eight reindeer? Maybe you know a few of their names, but Rudolph might be the most popular reindeer in the world. Plus he’s Santa Claus’ right-hand man. How could you not love Rudolph?!

Celebrating New Year’s Eve with kids

There’s no reason why celebrating New Year’s Eve with the kids in tow can’t be a fun time. Sure, you may not get to drink quite as much bubbly as you might have pre-kids, but that’s OK. New Year’s Eve can be an uplifting night of family fun. Here are some suggestions on how to ring in the New Year and keep the kiddos happy.

With kids on New Year’s Eve, timing is everything. If they have the willpower and stamina, letting them stay up until midnight with the adults is, in a kid’s eyes, really, really cool. It’ll definitely be a memory and tradition they will always have with them. If they’re too sleepy, you can put them to bed early, and then rouse them about an hour before midnight. And if the kids won’t make it until Midnight no matter what, have an early New Year’s Eve celebration. You can even set the clocks forward.

Kids love to celebrate and carry on New Year’s Eve is the perfect night to do so. You can encourage the kids to make their own New Year’s Eve costumes or pick up some inexpensive party supplies such as hats, noisemakers and decorations from the dollar store. There’s also the old-school route of taking some pots and pans outside at midnight and clanging them together, although be advised: the neighbors may not find this tradition very amusing.

Food. You are going to want lots of it for New Year’s Eve. Kid-friendly food such as popcorn and hot chocolate are sure to be enjoyed. And what kid doesn’t love snacks?! Let the kids help make some New Year’s Eve snacks of their own in the kitchen ahead of time. Or make some old-fashioned cookies and celebrate the New Year with a cookie (or maybe two) and a glass of milk once midnight arrives.

Gathering around the television and watching the celebration may be perfectly suitable for some kids, although others might get bored. Make sure you have lots of activities planned. It’s always easier to keep children entertained on New Year’s Eve if you invite another couple and their kids over. Having a dance party or dance-off competition can be a fun game for all ages. And if it’s snowy outside, doing some late night sledding (with adult supervision of course) can make for a memorable New Year’s Eve.

New Year’s Eve Party songs

It’s New Year’s Eve and you’re in charge of picking out the music for the big night. There are the New Year’s Eve classic tunes to pick from and then there are some newer tunes you might consider. Here are some celebratory songs that will sound just right as you and family and friends ring in the New Year.

Kool and the Gang – Celebration – This one is a time-tested classic that everyone will enjoy.

Prince – 1999 – At the risk of sounding dated, you may consider including this Prince classic cut.

Johnny Mathis – What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve – This crowd pleaser will go over big time on New Year’s Eve, especially for the older folks.

Beatles – In My Life – Be prepared to shed a tear as you slow dance to this Fab Four ballad.

Auld Lang Syne – This quintessential New Year’s Eve classic should be in your playlist.

Europe – The Final Countdown – If there are some ‘80s hair-metal rockers in your New Year’s Eve party crew, fire this song up and see if they don’t react.

Black Eyed Peas – Let’s Get it Started – No matter when you play this awesome BEP track, it is bound to generate some energy in the room.

Abba – Happy New Year – Did you know the original title of this 1980 song by Swedish vocal acrobats, Abba, was “Daddy, Don’t Get Drunk on Christmas Day?” It sure was!

Frank Sinatra – It Was a Very Good Year – Someone better play this on New Year’s Eve or else some legs are going to get broken. Seriously, someone play this song, now.

Dan Fogelberg – Same Old Lang Syne – If your New Year’s eve crew was around in the 1980s or happened to meet their loved one in a supermarket, they will enjoy hearing this track.

Other New Year’s Eve songs you might consider for your playlist: BB King “Bringing in a Brand New Year”; Louis Armstrong “What a Wonderful World”; Lady Gaga “Just Dance”; Donna Summer “Last Dance”; Rihanna “Umbrella.”

Buying a gift for someone you know little or nothing about

Sometimes the situation arises in which you’re tasked with getting a gift for someone that you know next to nothing about. Hopefully it’s not your significant other, but it could be a mother- or father-in-law or just a new acquaintance that you’re hoping to woo. Here are some tips to picking out the right gift when you’ve got little idea of what to actually get the recipient.

If you’re looking for the easiest solution, you cannot go wrong with a gift card. Some people think that gift cards are a cop-out. They’re not. Giving a gift card says that you’re thoughtful enough to not make assumptions about what the person may or may not like. The end result is that you’re not sticking the recipient with a gift they don’t want or need. Gift cards are fun to redeem and often times help defray or cover the costs of something the recipient would actually like to have.

Your other option is to do some investigation about the person you’re buying the gift for. Think of yourself as a detective of sorts and your job is to listen for little clues and hints about the person’s personality and what type of things they’re interested in.

Asking around can go a long way. Friends and co-workers know these people the best. Try to find out what their interests are and base your gift selection on that information. You can also observe their environment as well as engage them in conversation. You can glean a lot from casually asking questions without the recipient even knowing you’re sizing them up for a gift.

Social media often is a good source of gift ideas. Check Twitter and Facebook as well as public wish lists on sites such as Amazon.com. Chances are you can find some good gift ideas or gift-giving intelligence there. If worse comes to worse, you can always whip out your wallet and pull out some old-fashioned dollar bills to plunk down. Cash is king after all. And who doesn’t love the gift of money?!

Happy holidays and happy gift hunting!

Celebrity resolutions for 2012 we’d like to see

America is fascinated by celebrities. Once upon a time, tabloids were the only media that devoted their entire coverage to the celebrity culture. Now there are websites, television shows, networks and reality shows dedicated to covering celebrity in miniscule, if not trivial detail. Our obsession with celebrity seems like it will last a long time—at least well into 2012. With that in mind, here are celebrity resolutions we’d like to see in the New Year.

Lady Gaga: I will release a new album digitally with a pay-what-you-like model and all the proceeds donated to charity.

Donald Trump: I agree to participate in a one-hour live reality TV show in which I have a wig-off with William Shatner.

The Kardashians: We will relinquish our celebrity status and go back to anonymity.

Lindsay Lohan:  I will stay home more often.

Chris Matthews: I will let someone finish their sentence.

Charlie Sheen:  I will take the year off and stay out of the news.

Justin Bieber: In the time-honored tradition of going out when you’re on the top, I will be retiring.

Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt: We will continue to do humanitarian work even though we are mocked for doing so.

Jennifer Lopez: I am not dating anyone for a year. No one at all.

Madonna: I will invent a functional time machine and go back to the golden era of being a cute and bubbly pop singer.

Dr. Phil: I will stop asking, “What makes you think this is the right way to behave?” of my guests.

Courtney Love: I will not air my dirty laundry on social media.

Miley Cyrus: I will not allow any cameras around me when I am just hanging out with friends and might say or do something embarrassing.

Seinfeld: I will go through with a full-fledged reunion in 2012. And it will be awesome.

Oprah Winfrey: I am going to empower everyone to change the world. And it will happen.

Decorating your house for Christmas

For many, decorating their home for Christmas is a tradition that is anticipated every year. And then you have the Scrooges in the neighborhood who seem to have no interest in decorating at all. Bah humbug. While you can go the traditional route for decorating, here are five decorating tips that will save you time, money and aggravation.

Consider getting an artificial tree – Sure real trees are nice, but consider this: With an artificial tree there are no needles to pick up, no watering to be done and no tree to load in/out of house.

Stick with a tree branch – Cut off a branch (preferably from a tree of you own) with a few arms. Get a roll of cotton and cut into strips. Wrap each branch arm and decorate. Put the finished product in a tree stand or jar and then decorate.

Start a tradition of special ornaments – Add a new ornament every year and keep an inventory in a scrap book with a picture and description. If you have children, have them hand-design their own special ornaments every Christmas.

Safety first – Check that smoke alarms are functioning correctly and install new batteries. Minimize your risk of fire by keeping the Christmas tree away from the fireplace and use low-heat lights when decorating the tree.

Christmas cards from yesteryear – Instead of tossing Christmas cards you receive each year, save them in a small storage tub. Decorate the house with cards from previous Christmases and soon you’ll have a house full of holiday memories.

And here’s a bonus suggestion: When wrapping presents, keep it simple. Recycle gift bags or design your own using a simple lunch bag. Punch two holes in the top of the bag and thread a ribbon through it. Hand stamp the bag with a Christmas stamp from a local craft store. It’s economical and a much more meaningful holiday keepsake.  And whatever you do, don’t wait until the last second to wrap Christmas gifts!