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.


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.”


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.


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.


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.

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?!

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 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!

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 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.


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?!

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.

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.


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.


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.

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 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 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.

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.

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 if you’re looking for something beyond the basics.

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 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.

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.