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.

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.

 

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.

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!

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!

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.