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.

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.

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.

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.

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?”

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.