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!

How to stay in for New Year’s Eve

Let’s face it: Once you get to a certain age, going out on New Year’s Eve whooping it up loses its appeal. Either that or Father Time is catching up with you and well, you can’t handle a night of carrying on the way you used to when you were younger. It’s OK. It happens to us all. Here are some suggestions on how you can stay in for New Year’s Eve and still manage to have a little party of your own with families and friends.

New Year’s Eve is actually a great night to go out to dinner. Of course, you’ll want to make sure you have reservations, but more often than not, it’s a slow night for restaurants—especially if you get there early in the evening. If you’re more of the let’s-eat-in type, having a few friends over for dinner and drinks is a terrific way to ring in the New Year. Of course, sleepovers are mandatory if guests become intoxicated.

Settling in and watching the boob tube is another New Year’s Eve tradition that will keep you off the streets. Many stations offer movie or television marathons. If you’re lucky you’ll catch a Marx Brothers or Thin Man marathon to ring in the New Year. Or if you want to control the programming, make sure you have set aside a DVD of your favorite television show and get to it. Popcorn and soft drinks are recommended, although it’s totally cool if you break out the alcohol. As long as you stay on the couch, right?!

If your New Year’s Eve is more of a family affair, playing games is always a fun way to ring in the New Year. Especially if you’re playing some epic games of Scrabble or Scattergories. Or you can fire up your video game console on your television and have a great time as a gamer.

With the Internet, Skype, FaceTime and all the other ways we can stay in touch, you might want to stay close to your computer or mobile device and celebrate New Year’s Eve using a little bit of newfangled technology.

Best romantic songs for New Year’s Eve kiss

Auld Lang Syne. Really? Aren’t there other songs that are just as appropriate to smooch your sweetheart to as you ring in the New Year?! Absolutely there are. Here are our picks for some really romantic songs that sound especially great on New Year’s Eve and will get your year started off on the right foot.

If you’re going old school

Fans of the Fab Four may enjoy, “In My Life,” an achingly beautiful ballad that is perfect for a slow dance when the clock strikes midnight. Paul McCartney’s “Maybe I’m Amazed,” a love song to Macca’s late wife Linda, is a really touching love song is sure to get the job done as well. And for the really romantic, try John Lennon’s “Oh My Love,” which is sparsely arranged and is an eloquent ode to love.

Johnny Mathis’ “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?” is a time-honored classic that still sounds sublime after all these years. Want to kick it old-school with your longtime love? Why not give Frank Sinatra’s “You Brought a New Love to Me” a spin and you’re guaranteed to get at least a New Year’s smooch in return. Anita Day’s “I Love You” and Glenn Miller’s classic “Moonlight Serenade” are also stellar choices of songs to pucker up to on New Year’s Eve.

Fans of R&B and soul have several great choices for music that will ring in the New Year with a peck on the cheek. Sam Cooke’s rendition of “What a Wonderful Life” is a romantic and nostalgic number that almost everyone knows by heart. Stevie Wonder’s “You Are the Sunshine of My Life” is probably one for lovers-only and well, Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get it On” is about as romantic as things can get musically.

Don’t forget Barry White’s “Love’s Theme” which is a recognizable song that is sure to be a hit when celebrating New Year’s Eve. If you grew up listening to music in the ‘70s, Kenny Loggins’ “Celebrate Me Home” may make your partner swoon and if you’re a produce of the ‘80s and new wave, Modern English can help you celebrate the New Year with a kiss with their hit, “Melt With You.” (Hairspray not included.)

How to care for your Christmas tree

Unless you’re a seasoned Christmas tree owner, chances are you may not be aware of how to care for your freshly-cut tree properly. With a little love and some TLC, you can greatly extend the life of your tree and keep all the annoying needle droppings down to a minimum.

Put your tree in water ASAP –  Once you’ve got your tree home, place it’s trunk in water as soon as possible. Trees can usually still take up water six to eight hours after cutting, but you’ll want to get your tree in water sooner than that.

Putting your tree temporarily into cool storage – Christmas trees can be stored for a few days as long as it’s in a cool environment—as long as the trunk is kept in a bucket of water.

Get expert advice – Where possible, get your Christmas tree from a local farm that can help you determine the correct size stand you should use to display your tree. It’ll help extend the life of the tree plus you’ll be supporting your local business.

Use a traditional reservoir stand – Traditional reservoir stands are the best way to help trees stay fresh and keep needles dropping on your floor to a minimum.

The size of the stand matters – Don’t whittle down the base of the tree just to fit it into a stand. The outside layers of the tree soak up the most water. Stands should provide one quart of water per inch of stem diameter.

Water temperature – Your Christmas tree doesn’t care if you use cold, warm or hot water.

Check water level daily – The water level should never go below the base of the tree. Christmas tree water monitors can help you ensure you’ve got the right level of water for your tree.

Keep heat sources to a minimum – Christmas trees begin drying out once they’re cut. You can slow down this process by minimizing the tree’s exposure to heat (e.g., fireplace, heating vents, etc.). Low-power lights don’t create too much heat and are the best bet for your tree.

Minimize fire hazards – Keep your tree away from the fireplace. If decorating with lights, check the light string to ensure there are no frayed cords and that bulbs aren’t excessively hot.

Replace batteries in smoke detector – Put fresh batteries in your smoke detector. If you don’t have a smoke detector nearby the tree, consider getting an extra detector. That small investment could help save lives in the case of fire.

Source: christmastree.org

What days the holidays fall on in 2012

Here’s a handy list of the major holidays and what days they fall on in the year 2012.

  • New Year’s Day: Sunday, January 1
  • Martin Luther King Day: Monday, January 16
  • Groundhog Day: Thursday, February 2
  • Valentine’s Day: Tuesday, February 14
  • Mardi Gras: Tuesday, February 21
  • St. Patrick’s Day: Saturday, March 17
  • April Fool’s Day: Sunday, April 1
  • Good Friday: Friday, April 6
  • Easter: Sunday, April 8
  • Earth Day: Sunday, April 22
  • Cinco De Mayo: Saturday, May 5
  • Mother’s Day: Sunday, May 13
  • Memorial Day: Monday, May 28
  • Father’s Day: Sunday, June 17
  • Summer Solstice: Thursday, June 21
  • Independence Day: Wednesday, July 4
  • Labor Day: Monday, September 3
  • Patriot Day: Tuesday, September 11
  • Rosh Hashanah: Sunday, September 16
  • Yom Kippur: Tuesday, September 25 – Wednesday, September 26
  • Columbus Day: Monday, October 8
  • Halloween: Wednesday, October 31
  • Veterans Day: Sunday, November 11
  • Thanksgiving Day: Thursday, November 22
  • Black Friday: Friday, November 23
  • Cyber Monday: Monday, November 26
  • Christmas: Tuesday, December 25
  • Hanukkah: Saturday, December 8 – Sunday, December 16
  • Winter Solstice: Friday, December 21
  • Kwanzaa: Wednesday, December 26 – Tuesday, January 1, 2013
  • New Year’s Eve: Monday, December 31

Christmas with the Beatles

The Beatles’ Christmas records might be some of the least known Fab Four recordings, to the general public anyway. Starting in 1963 and running through 1969, the Beatles sent a flexi-disc recording with a Christmas message out to its fan club members in the U.K. and the U.S. When the Beatles broke up in 1970, the seven recordings were compiled onto a full-length album.

Aside from a version of “Christmas Time is Here Again” that was commercially released in the mid-1990s as part of the “Anthology” collection, the Beatles’ Christmas fan club records have never been officially reissued. Maybe one Christmas Beatles fans will finally get a special gift from the Fab Four. Until then, you can find the Beatles’ Christmas Records on YouTube. We’ve collected them here for your listening pleasure.

The Beatles’ Christmas Record (1963) – The lads ad-lib their way through this one with a few renditions of “Good King Wenceslas” and close out with “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Ringo.” Yup, that’s right, Ringo.

Another Beatles Christmas Record (1964) – Beatlemania was in full swing when this Christmas recording was released. Notable for the inclusion of “Jingle Bells” and for the Fab Four letting their guard down in the studio and having some fun while addressing their fans.

The Beatles’ Third Christmas Record (1965) – The third time is the charm, right? The Beatles serve up some off-the-cuff renditions of “Yesterday” and a poem entitled, “Christmas Comes But Once a Year.”

The Beatles’ Fourth Christmas Record (1966) – This might be one of The Beatles’ most quirky Christmas recordings. It’s a mixture of imaginative skits and song. There’s no way this would have ever made its way onto a Beatles studio album, but it seems just right for a fan-club recording.

Christmas Time is Here Again (1967) – This imaginative Christmas recording pits several fictitious bands against one another as they audition for a BBC radio show. (The Beatles, by that time, had enjoyed numerous radio specials of their own.)

The Beatles’ 1968 Christmas Record (1968) – The Fab Four was heavily into experimentation with aural collages (see “Revolution #9” from The White Album) and this Christmas recording is a pastiche of weird sounds and musical snippets, with messages from the Beatles interspersed throughout.

The Beatles’ Seventh Christmas Record (1969) – The final Beatles Christmas record focuses mostly on John and Yoko, with a visit to their home. Ringo and George are heard only briefly, while Paul croons a short song, “This is to Wish You a Merry, Merry Christmas,” which seems to be made up on the spot.

Bonus Track: All I Want For Christmas BBC Medley – Here is the Fab Four having a lot of fun in the BBC studios and celebrating Christmas with their fans listening in on BBC Radio.

Celebrating Christmas with Sesame Street

Here are some family-friendly Christmas videos from the Sesame Street crew that you and your children can enjoy watching together this holiday season.

Oscar Hates Christmas – Even though this video stars Oscar the Grouch, you may notice appearances by Bob McGrath and Mr. Hooper.

Elmo’s Christmas Wish – Elmo is staying cool this Christmas, while a little elf that sounds a lot like Ben Stiller is panicking.

I Want a Snuffy for Christmas – Hopefully a Snuffleupagus isn’t on your child’s wish list Christmas. But if it is, you may as well embrace and enjoy this duet between Big Bird and Anne Hathaway who both want a Snuffy!

Elmo Saves Christmas – Elmo is just so wonderful, isn’t he? Of course he will save Christmas as well. Here are four clips from Elmo’s Christmas special.

Bert and Ernie’s Gift of the Magi – Here’s a classic clip with Bert and Ernie celebrating Christmas and getting to learn the true meaning of Christmas. Featuring Mr. Hooper.

Celebrating Christmas Yo Gabba Gabba! Style

If there’s one thing that the kids are all in agreement about, it’s that Yo Gabba Gabba! is the coolest show ever. It has enough hipster references and swagger to it that parents can enjoy as well. And like any good children’s show, Yo Gabba Gabba! loves Christmas!

Now this looks like awesome fun. A bouncy seat, a bouncy toy and lots of green stripes. This makes you want to be a kid at Christmas all over again.

Yeah, this one is pretty much for the adults, but on some level, doesn’t everything about Yo Gabba Gabba! seem designed with adults in mind first?

What is better than getting a musical instrument for Christmas? Every kid should get a Muno guitar this holiday season and start their own band!

Mom and daughter share a dancing moment on Christmas morning. Yo Gabba Gabba! style of course.

It’s unclear if this qualifies as “dirty dancing” or not. It probably does. Except it’s two dancing toys. And it’s Christmas time. So why not?!

How to roast a turkey safely

Turkey is the meal of choice on Thanksgiving. And while you can find a turkey at nearly every grocery store in the country, that doesn’t mean that everyone knows how to roast a turkey—and do it safely—once they have that big bird home. Here are several tips to remember on Thanksgiving day when it’s time to talk (and eat) turkey!

If you’re buying a fresh turkey, it’s important to take extra precautions handling and preparing the turkey to minimize the risk of harmful bacteria. In fact, the USDA recommends avoiding pre-stuffed fresh turkeys for that very reason. Don’t buy the fresh turkey any more than 48 hours before you intend to cook it.

Frozen turkeys are the most convenient to prepare. They can be kept frozen indefinitely (think of it as suspended animation if you will). Once it comes to thawing your frozen turkey, you’ve got three options: in the refrigerator, in cold water or in the microwave.

In the fridge, allow approximately 24 hours for every 4 to 5 pounds to thaw. Thawing in cold water is a much quicker process; allow roughly 30 minutes per pound of turkey. If using cold water, you’ll need to change the water every 30 minutes and make sure the turkey is well wrapped so no water gets through to the bird. In the fridge, keep a pan beneath the turkey to catch any juices that may leak! If you’re nuking your bird this Thanksgiving, your best bet is to consult your microwave oven owner’s manual, which you probably tossed a long time ago. Once it’s thawed, you’ll want to cook it immediately.

So what does one do with those giblets? Remove them from the turkey cavity and cook them separately. That’s what!

The timetables for roasting a turkey can vary whether you’re cooking an unstuffed or stuffed turkey and of course, depending on the weight of the bird. You’re definitely going to need a food thermometer to check the internal temperature of the turkey and the stuffing. Check out the USDA’s guidelines on recommended cooking times to make sure you don’t ruin the turkey.

It is safe to cook a turkey from a frozen state, but it’ll take you 50% longer, which may be fine by you, especially if you prefer to skip the thawing phase. Definitely, most definitely, wash your hands, the utensils you’re using and anything else that comes in contact with raw turkey and raw turkey juices. Are you sufficiently frightened by the thought of bacteria ruining your Thanksgiving meal? Don’t worry about it as long as you’re following all the rules.

Source: USDA

Thanksgiving and football: Two holiday traditions

One of the great all-time Thanksgiving traditions is, without a doubt, football. And it wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without the Detroit Lions or the Dallas Cowboys playing. If you’re not a football fan, the appeal of the pigskin on turkey day may be lost on you. But if you’re a diehard football fanatic, Thanksgiving is one of the most anticipated days of the season.

Once upon a time, football on Thanksgiving used to be popular at the high school and college level. And since 1920, professional football matchups have taken place. While there are still high school and college games throughout Thanksgiving weekend, the NFL has become synonymous with Thanksgiving and ranks right up there with turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy and pumpkin pie.

Two teams you can always count on playing on Thanksgiving are the Detroit Lions and Dallas Cowboys. The Lions Thanksgiving tradition dates back to 1934 when the team took on the Chicago Bears with 26,000 in attendance. The Lions have played every Thanksgiving since then, except for 1939 through 1944.

The Cowboys (also known as “The team you love to hate”) began their Thanksgiving stint in 1966. With the exception of missing two years in 1975 and 1977, they have played year in, year out on the holiday.

Because two football games weren’t enough on Thanksgiving, the NFL added a third game in 2006, with a rotating team getting the honors to play. Here are the NFL matchups for 2011 on Thanksgiving:

The Green Bay Packers take on the Detroit Lions at 12:30 p.m. Eastern time on Fox. Then at 4:15, it’s the Dallas Cowboys’ turn as they play host to the Miami Dolphins. That game airs on CBS. And the final Thanksgiving football battle is between the San Francisco 49ers and the Baltimore Ravens. Game time is at 8:20 p.m. and airs exclusively on the NFL Network.

Thanksgiving by the numbers

By now you’ve probably asked yourself, “How many millions of turkeys will be eaten in the U.S. this Thanksgiving?” It’s not exactly the type of thing you’d probably Google. Unless you’re a numbers or stats freak. In that case, read on. And even if you’re not, here are some facts and figures about Thanksgiving, courtesy of the U.S. Census Bureau.

If the number 248 million doesn’t mean anything to you this Thanksgiving season, it should. That’s how many turkeys are expected to be raised in 2011. Put all these turkeys in one room and we might have a problem on our hands.

It’s not clear if questions about cranberries and cranberry sauce were on the most recent U.S. Census form, but somehow those clever folks figured out that in 2011, America will produce 750 million pounds of cranberries. No word on how many Craisins will be made.

If you love sweet potatoes, then 2011 is your year. That’s because the U.S. will churn out a whopping 2.4 billion pounds of sweet potatoes. No wonder many places serve sweet potato fries these days. Now if we could only invent a lighter sweet potato we could save on shipping costs.

That’s nothing compared to green beans. Sure, they’re a magical fruit and all that jazz, but check this out: America will produce 656,340 tons of green beans this year. So when your Thanksgiving green bean casserole turns out to weigh half a ton, don’t say we didn’t warn you.

And did you know there are 116.7 million homes in America? That’s a lot of potential Thanksgiving gathering places. And as for those poor turkeys? They don’t stand a chance. The average U.S. citizen will consume 13.3 pounds of turkey in one year.

Well, anyway you slice and dice these numbers; at least that one lucky turkey that gets pardoned by the President can breathe a little easier—for this year anyway.

Keeping your kids busy on Thanksgiving

Ah, it’s Thanksgiving, you’re celebrating with a family get together and uh-oh, how are you going to keep the kids out of your hair while you prepare the big meal? Here are some ways to keep the young ones distracted, if not entertained while you prepare all the Thanksgiving trimmings.

Take them to the Thanksgiving parade – Chances are there’s a local Thanksgiving parade near you. If so, taking the kids and letting them get their energy out may pay off later in the afternoon when they’re tuckered out.

Send the kids outside to play in the leaves – If you’re thinking ahead, you will have raked (or blown) all the leaves into a big pile. Point at the pile of leaves, tell the kids they can’t jump in it no matter what, and then walk away. Leaf play will ensue.

Stick them in front of the TV – This is really an easy way out, but sometimes firing up a DVD or Nickelodeon and letting the kids veg out in front of the boob tube is the only way to get stuff done on Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving skit – Task the wee ones with putting on a Thanksgiving “play” in which they explain pilgrims, Indians and the meaning of Thanksgiving. Encourage the kids to dress up as Thanksgiving characters.

Write down what you’re thankful for – Ask the kids (and adults too) to write down what they’re thankful for. After dinner, read the notes and try to match up the note with the family member. If the kids are really creative, ask them to draw the things they are thankful for and then have your own Thanksgiving art show.

Make decorations – For the creative types, some construction paper, scissors, glue and crayons may be all that is needed to fire up some homemade Thanksgiving decorations that can be stored away and brought out every Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving word games – See how many words the kids can make out of the word “Thanksgiving.” Also, spell out Thanksgiving and underneath each letter, have the kids try to name as many things as they’re thankful for that start with each letter.

Create an indoor scavenger hunt – This can be a really fun game for kids, plus you can suggest to them that they’ll find most of what they’re looking for away from the kitchen so you can keep them out of your hair and your eye on the turkey or ham.

Jobs in the kitchen – If they’re ready for the responsibility, give the little ones some jobs to do in the kitchen. Just make sure it’s not something they can easily make a mess of, because, well, you know how kids are …

Let them help set table – If you haven’t already set your Thanksgiving dinner table, it might be a good job for the kids. Just don’t be surprised if they get the forks, knives and spoons mixed and they end up on the wrong side of the table setting!

Thanksgiving Parades: National and regional

Americans love parades, especially on Thanksgiving. What better way to give thanks than with a community celebration that has become a holiday tradition?

There are at least four major Thanksgiving parades in the U.S.: the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade (New York), 6abc  Dunkin’ Donuts  Thanksgiving Day Parade (Philadelphia), America’s Thanksgiving Parade (Detroit) and McDonald’s Thanksgiving Parade (Chicago).

Philadelphia is home to the oldest Thanksgiving parade in America, the 6abc Dunkin’ Donuts Thanksgiving Day Parade. Its origins go back to 1920, when Ellis Gimbel, one of the founders of Gimbels Department Stores, wanted to attract holiday shoppers to spend their hard-earned dollars at his stores. Gimbels employees dressed in costumes and participated in the parade themselves.  The parade has grown in size and stature since then and is enjoyed by kids and adults alike with the official arrival of Santa Claus. This Thanksgiving parade became the model for many other Thanksgiving parades throughout the country.

One of the most popular parades is the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade which is held in New York and televised nationally. The parade began in 1924 as many Macy’s employees were immigrants who wanted to celebrate their new heritage. The tradition continues to this day, with floats, bands and of course, those wonderfully amazing animal-shaped balloons. In 2011, the newest balloon character will be unveiled: Tim Burton’s reimagining of Sonic the Hedgehog.

In Detroit, America’s Thanksgiving Parade is an annual holiday tradition, which also began in 1924 and is tied with the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade as the second-oldest Thanksgiving parade in the U.S. The parade features the usual variety of floats and bands, but is unique for its use of custom-made papier-mâché heads that were popular in early European holiday celebrations in the 1920s.

Chicago is home to the McDonald’s Thanksgiving Parade, an annual event that began in 1934 as an attempt to lift the mood of a city in the grips of the Great Depression. The parade is broadcast on WGN 9 in Chicago and WGN America, which is available to many cable subscribers nationwide.

Many local towns also hold their own Thanksgiving parades. Check your local newspaper or community news source for a Thanksgiving parade near you. Or, ask a neighbor where the nearest Thanksgiving parade is. And while you’re at it, take time to share with them what you’re most thankful for this holiday season.

Celebrating Kwanzaa with Sesame Street

Leave it to the folks at Sesame Street to put together content that eloquently conveys the meaning of Kwanzaa at a level that the youngest of children can understand. Here are some video clips of what celebrating Kwanzaa means to the little generation.

The Seven Night of Kwanzaa – As seen through the eyes of a young child. “Every night we talk about one of the seven principles of Kwanzaa. They are principles of how to lead a good life.”

Kwanzaa Dancing with Elmo – Who knew Elmo was such a good dancer? He makes his Kwanzaa dance look effortless. And it seems like he’s having a wonderful time as well. This is kind of silly, but it is guaranteed to capture the attention of young viewers.

Kids Talk about the Holidays – Whether it’s Christmas, Hanukkah or Kwanzaa, all young children seem to be drawn to celebrating the holidays with their family.

A Celebration of Kwanzaa – Older children who might have grown out of Sesame Street’s demographic may benefit from watching this PBS-affiliated Kwanzaa short that explains the significance of the seven days of Kwanzaa and how faith and community play a role in the holiday celebration.

Watch A Celebration of Kwanzaa on PBS. See more from BLACK ISSUES FORUM.

Christmas traditions

Christmas is a time to reflect, reconnect with friends and family and celebrate all the wonderful things in our lives. Here are some of the many ways families in America celebrate the holiday by way of Christmas traditions.

Decorating house with lights – High electric bills be damned! Putting up the Christmas lights usually starts happening right after Thanksgiving. Taking them down afterwards is a different story.

Leaving milk/cookies for Santa – This might be the quintessential Christmas tradition. The kids love it (and presumably the parents, er, Santa, enjoys it as well).

Volunteering – Many people feel Christmas is a time to give back to their community and will volunteer serving meals and helping those in need.

Christmas caroling – If you don’t mind a roaming pack of singers showing up on your doorstep and belting out a song, you will love it. If you’re in a cranky mood and carolers start knocking on the door, you may not answer, you Scrooge.

Cookie swap – Christmas cookies are in abundance during the holiday season, which is why co-workers and friends often participate in cookie swaps. What’s not to love?!

Christmas cards – A tradition that predates e-mail is sending out Christmas cards along with a letter inside that recaps what the family has been up to the past year.

The Nutcracker – Going to the local theater (or dressing up and trekking into the big city) to go see The Nutcracker is a Christmas tradition for those with young kids. It’s unclear why we make kids sit through The Nutcracker, but so be it.

Opening one gift on Christmas Eve – Only because the kids bug parents incessantly do the little ones get to open one of their presents on Christmas Eve. Can’t they just wait? (No, they can’t!)

Going to pick out a Christmas tree – This is one tradition that seems like a good idea. But once you’re at the tree farm and you’ve somehow got to strap a 15-foot tree to the roof of your car, you will ask yourself why you didn’t stick with an artificial tree.

Collecting ornaments – Decorating the Christmas tree is a tradition in and of itself. So is buying a new ornament every year and adding it to the collection. At some point your basement becomes cluttered with these things, but that is what green and red storage bins are for.

Other Christmas traditions in America include watching football, going to the local Christmas parade, setting up nativity scenes in the front yard, driving around looking at lights on houses, reading Christmas stories before bed on Christmas Eve, attending midnight mass and of course, wishing for a White Christmas.

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.