1. All About Rudolph and Santa's Other Reindeers Maybe it's the undeniable alliterative appeal of Rudolph the Red-Nosed reindeer that makes him the most known or popular of all Santa's nine flying reindeers. It certainly doesn't seem as easy to come up with a similar catchy description for the others -- Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner and Blitzen -- as named in the song. The story of Rudolph whose glowing red nose made him a standout, first appeared in 1939 when Montgomery Ward department stores distributed about 2.4 million booklets with the poem in the form of a story about "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer." It was written by Robert L. May, who worked in the store's advertisement or marketing department, to be used to attract more people into the store. When the booklet was reissued in 1939, sales soared to more than 3.5 million copies. But it wasn't until a decade later, in 1949, that the story really gained immense popularity when Gene Autry sang a musical version of the fable. As a Christmas song, it is second only in popularity to 'White Christmas.' Rudolph, the ninth reindeer whose lighted nose guides Santa's sleigh through the night, is now known worldwide as the song has been translated into more than 20 different languages and an animated television movie has also been based on the story. Rudolph and his noticeable nose have also become the subject of jokes and sparked more interest in reindeers which has led to much research into Santa and the flying reindeers who pull his sleigh through the sky. Along with the catchy rhythm of the lyrics, Rudolph's story is also appealing because of the moral lessons it contains. As the story goes, Rudolph was ostracized by the other reindeers, which laughed and teased him about his shiny red nose. But on a foggy night, when Santa must have been concerned that he may not be able to deliver his Christmas gifts around the world, Santa spotted him and kindly asked if he would step to the front as the leader to 'guide my sleigh tonight.' His shiny red nose would after all be very useful in lighting the way, Santa thought. From then on 'all of the other reindeers loved him,' and rightly predicted that he 'would go down in history.' Among the moral lessons the story can impart is that an attribute that is perceived as negative or as a liability can be used for a positive purpose, or, become an asset. It also makes the point that an individual should not let the negative behavior of others define him or her and limit expectations of what can be achieved. And it also illustrates how quickly opinions and attitudes about a person can change. The question still lingers however of where Rudolph came from. He is commonly regarded as the son of Donner (or Donder), one of the original eight reindeers. But the Snopes.com site rejects this however, saying that he dwelled in a reindeer village elsewhere and it was there that he was seen by Santa who had already started on his Christmas Eve journey to deliver gifts. And in a more modern evolution of the story according to Wikipedia.com, an animation by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) introduced a son, named Robbie, of Rudolph. That son has now become the tenth reindeer. It's also interesting to note that the idea of Santa's sleigh being pulled by reindeers was originated in the poem, 'Twas The Night Before Christmas.' That poem tells the story of St. Nicholas, who is Santa, calling his eight tiny reindeers by their names, as previously mentioned, just before he came down the chimney of a house to start filling the stockings from a sack full of toys he carried on his back. 2. Eating Heartily but Consciously During Christmas Season During the Christmas season, summer and its body-conscious state of mind are distant memories. Hearty indulgence in the many foods shared at Christmas therefore doesn't produce the same feelings of guilt. Nevertheless, its not a pleasant thought to start the New Year carrying any extra pounds. So why then eat yourself into a resolution to 'take off a few extra pounds' if you can smartly avoid it? Whether it's sharing cookies and candies at work, or having an evening out at a party or dinner, you can have Christmas food and enjoy it. While you seem to be eating heartily with a smile, the key is to have a secret strategy of moderation. It involves sticking to a plan that can be called 'Eating on a Budget.' 'Eating on a Budget' is not about the cost of what is eaten, but about the quantity of what is eaten. It is important that a 'budget' or eating in moderation plan is developed because it is almost impossible to avoid exposure to a lot of cookies, candies and other sweets at Christmas. At work, you may risk appearing like the Grinch who stole Christmas if your response will always be something like, 'Uh..no..bah humbug' all the time that some Christmas goodies are offered. It will seem as if you aren't in the spirit of the holidays especially since at that time of year everyone is usually in a festive and more relaxed mood, and the pace at work is usually slower. A practical way to partake in Christmas goodies, for example, is to substitute some holiday cookies for say the bagel that you usually have with breakfast or for a mid-morning snack. And instead of just taking one cookie, from the platter, which is noticeable and likely will encourage a colleague to tell you to have more, take three instead. That's where the plan can come into play. You can then enjoy the cookies over two or more hours, because nobody will be watching how you really eat. You can always have a few candies, one cookie or a cookie and a half by your desk and that way it will seem as if you are heartily enjoying the holiday treats. Another strategy is to bring -- bake or buy -- low calorie Christmas cookies and candies to work to counteract others that are being offered. Since eating healthy is highly encouraged, health-conscious cookies will not be looked down upon so long as they taste great. A box of sugar-free Christmas chocolate candies for example will look just as delightful as regular chocolate candies. It's interesting to note that in a poll sponsored by the National Confectioners Association in 2004, chocolate was the favorite food gift that Americans said they preferred to receive for the holidays. The lowly and much maligned fruit cake was last on the list. The second favorite holiday food gift was a fruit basket and a plate of cookies was third on the list, according to the Association. For an occasion such as a Christmas party or a dinner, including Christmas Dinner, where larger quantities and selection of food is available, the 'Eating on a Budget' plan means that serving portions and the choice of food selected should be carefully watched. At a party where more desserts and sweets are likely to be available, a few of the selections can be sampled. If the urge to try everything can't be resisted, then do so, but then second helpings have to be severely limited. The same is somewhat true for Christmas Dinners. One big difference is that the food served during Christmas Dinner will be heavier, so by selecting portions wisely, one can always say truthfully that the stomach is full. And indeed, after a sumptuous Holiday Dinner, your body is likely to be full from food and your soul full of joy from sharing another memorable holiday tradition with family, friends and loved ones. 3. Fancy Tales Related to Christmas A lot of what is widely regarded as true about Christmas or held as a tradition cannot or has not been verified, or, has changed through the years. Even Christmas Day itself, Dec. 25, has been questioned about whether that is the exact day on which Jesus was born. Skeptics have asked why would shepherds be out in the cold watching their flocks by night during the winter. Those skeptics have put forward the thought that Jesus may really have been born in the spring instead. It is therefore little wonder that there are many fancy stories and tales that are told about Christmas and the Christmas season. The most common fancy tale that everyone tells, particularly to children, is about Santa Claus, also called St. Nicholas. But even if it were accepted that Santa Claus existed, where does he live and how is he able to get to all the houses of good boys and girls on Christmas Eve? In the United States, Santa Claus is said to have two homes. There is a home in Torrington, Connecticut, which is used as a distribution point for Santa and his many helpers, who are elves, to hand out gifts. And then, a second home is said to be located in Wilmington, New York, and that is where Santa Claus and his delivery reindeer crew are located. But Santa can be visited in Cyberspace at anytime and what about the widely held belief that Santa Claus really lives in a village at the North Pole? The people of Finland also claim that their country is the official residence of Santa Claus. That's because in Finland, you can actually visit a village any time during the year and see Santa's workshop and observe Santa and his elves hard at work as they prepare for their very important Christmas gift delivery job on Christmas Eve. The only day when Santa's workshop is closed to visitors is of course, on Christmas Eve. Maybe a very smart visitor could visit Santa's workshop on the day before Christmas Eve to see if there are any clues to how Santa and his reindeers plan to make their trip the next day. That's because as the tale goes, in Finland Santa Claus and his reindeers do not reach their destinations around the globe by flying. Finland welcomes visitors to Santa's workshop but there is nothing said about whether visitors actually have any chance of having a word with the man himself. While the chances of doing so are believed to be non-existent, among the questions that inquiring minds could ask Santa is whether Rudolph is the son of Donner (and to confirm the spelling -- Donner or Donder) or whether Santa spotted him in a different reindeer village one foggy Christmas Eve when he had already started on his Christmas toy-delivery mission. If mere mortals got a chance to question Santa, then he also would likely have some questions for us humans. He may want to know whose idea was it to have Christmas trees and for the gifts to be placed under them. The tradition of Christmas tree as it exists today comes from Germany by way of immigrants. But it isn't clear how the tradition really gained a foothold in Germany. One story is that Christians in Germany during the 16th century started to bring trees that were decorated into their homes. Some of those Christians would build pyramids for Christmas. The pyramids were made of wood and would be decorated with evergreens and candles if wood was in short supply. It is however Martin Luther, a Protestant reformer, who is said to have been the first to add lighted candles as decoration to a tree based on his inspiration from the brilliant light of twinkling stars that shone through evergreen trees as he walked home one winter evening. As the legend goes, Martin Luther placed a tree in a primary room of his house and placed wires with small, lighted candles around the branches of the tree. And that is how, as the tale goes, the Christmas tree as known today, was started. 4. Asides -- Interesting Facts/ Notes About Christmas It is an accepted fact that the Christmas tree tradition is one that was brought to the shores of America by German immigrants who continued a practice that was popular in their former homeland. Today, a Christmas tree, even a miniature one, is present in just about every home at Christmas. It is therefore interesting to note some little-know facts about the Christmas Tree and other traditions related to Christmas. The first interesting fact is the source of real Christmas Trees for some Americans. These can be bought at a Christmas Tree Farm or at many local stores and other places of business in just about every town and city across the country around Christmas time. But according to the National Christmas Tree Association, Americans buy about 330,000 Christmas trees that are real through e-commerce or from a catalogue and have them shipped by mail-order. The scent of real Christmas trees is the reason they are so popular. But as they stand silently in their decorative wonder, they also are providing another benefit. The Christmas Tree Association says the amount of oxygen produced on a daily basis by one acre of Christmas tree is enough to provide enough oxygen for 18 people. And during the first week, a Christmas Tree at home will use up to one quart of water each day to help retain its longevity for the many days of Christmas. Since Christmas celebrations gained popularity in America, the Christmas Tree has always been a big tradition. During the 1950s however, artificial Christmas trees were not always green. It was very popular during those times to have artificial trees with other colors such as silver, pink and aqua. The appeal in having these colored Christmas trees may have been due to the fact that they looked shiny and bright and appeared like tinsel instead of green foliage. An important ceremony related to the Christmas tree that gains national attention during the Christmas season is the lighting of the National Christmas Tree at the White House. This tradition can be credited to President Calvin Coolidge who lit the first decorated Christmas tree outside at the White House in 1923. The lighting of the National Christmas Tree has also been used to convey some symbolic meaning not related to Christmas. It was not lighted until Dec. 22 in 1963 because of a national mourning period of 30 days for the assassination of President Kennedy. And while Teddy Roosevelt was President he gave an order that banned the Christmas tree from the White House, not for the assassination of President McKinley in 1901, which caused him to become president, but for reasons related to the environment. Also of note is that when the National Christmas Tree was lighted on Dec. 13 in 1984, temperatures were in the 70s during an unusually warm December. Christmas has been celebrated in the United States since the 1600s although it wasn't always very popular. It took more than two centuries into the mid-late 1860s for Christmas to become a popular holiday season all across America. So maybe the rest of the country owes the holiday of Christmas Day to the state of Alabama, which in 1836 became the first state to declare Dec. 25 a legal holiday. It is interesting to note that on Christmas Day of 1789 Congress was in session. And to show how far ahead of the game Alabama was, it wasn't until June 26, 1870 that the federal government declared Christmas as a federal holiday. Although Christmas is based on the Christian religion, not all Christian groups celebrate the season. Among the Christian groups who do not celebrate Christmas and related traditions such as sending greeting cards are Jehovah Witnesses. Jehovah Witnesses and other non-participating Christian groups say Christmas isn't specifically mentioned in the Bible as a time or reason to celebrate and since they strictly adhere to the word of the Bible, they refuse to celebrate Christmas. 5. Have a Chic Christmas -- All About Style and Fashion for the Holidays In New York, a style capital of the world, black is always a chic and fashionable selection. That's even more so in the Fall and Winter seasons when dark colors are favored. But even the fashionistas who like somber colors add a bit of sparkle and cheer to Christmas and holiday clothing with some color, usually magnificent red. Dominant colors at Christmas are red, black and white and a red scarf, or a white one, is a must-have accessory. Holiday-themed apparel with snowflakes, candy canes, stars, Christmas trees, are also popular during the season. Along with being colorful, they also convey the message that the person is fully embracing the spirit of the season and is in a festive mood. When individuals wear holiday-themed apparel, they are therefore radiating a positive attitude and giving the signal that it is pleasant to be around them. After all, nobody wants to be around the 'grumpy bah-humbug' type of personalities during the Christmas season. Holiday-themed jewelry also works well as accessories. These can add that little sparkle to an outfit that makes it stand out in an admirable way. Holiday-themed jewelry is also perfect for those individuals who simply want to show a touch of the holiday spirit without having to actually wear holidaythemed apparel because it maybe too different from the conservative style of their wardrobe. It is necessary to add some sparkle to apparel during the Christmas season and current style trends of having jewel-engraved or embroidered tops play well for the Christmas season. They will allow the wearer to look festive in a very understated but elegant way. Fall popular styles will also undoubtedly be a fashionable way to dress for the holidays. Based on the Fall Fashion Shows in New York, there are five basic outfits that stylists say should be in the wardrobe of all women. They are: the Tunic, Winter Short -- which is cut just above the knee -- the Vest, Pencil Skirt and the Super-wide pant. The vest can be a dressy one with embroidery or other adornments, or it can be more minimal based on the overall outfit. The Winter Short and Pencil Skirt can easily convert from working outfit to party wear with the right accessory, making them perfect to wear to an early evening Christmas or holiday party. A variation from the Pencil Skirt is the Pencil dress. This too is likely to be popular for Christmas as it can be easily accessorized with a broad belt, which is one of the accessories that top fashion advisers say is a 'must-have' accessory for the Fall. The Tunic and Super-wide pant are also liked for Christmas and the Holiday season because they are very flexible in how they can be paired with other garments. Another fall fashion staple are Knit Sweaters -- oversized and as tunics. They will also work well with black tights and leggings, which has made a comeback in leg wear. Leggings can be worn under skirts or dresses. Very slim leggings can also be worn simply in place of pants, worn with a jacket or again, with an oversized knit sweater. Using the basic colors of red, white and black that are popular during Christmas and the holidays, colored leggings will definitely add a nice touch of style to outfits and make them seem perfect for the Christmas and holiday season. It is also good that dresses are once more welcomed among the fashionable. And the red dress for Fall fits well into Christmas and the holiday season. The latest in jeans, which is a mainstay in everyone's wardrobe and suitable to wear at all times including during Christmas and the holidays, is that a skinny fit is in. And if ultra-skinny is not very complimentary to your body shape, you can still get one of the newer types of jeans that are said to have a lot more stretch, giving a 360-degree or all-around wrap to the body for a perfect or near perfect fit. And since Christmas is the season to be happy and cheery, the truly jolly can always top off their Christmas outfit with a cone-shaped, red and white Santa hat. 6. Spreading Goodwill at Christmas The real meaning of Christmas, the season of good cheer, is about giving especially to provide some assistance to those who need help for their daily survival and who therefore don't have the material resources to enjoy the Christmas season. The importance of giving to those in need during Christmas is embodied in the story of Jesus' birth, which is the reason Christmas is celebrated. For Christians, Jesus was born to save mankind from sin by giving everlasting Salvation to all who believe in the Word of God and chose to follow the principles for living in the Bible. Jesus therefore gave in the ultimate way - he offered himself as a sacrifice for every living person. Christians therefore believe that Christmas should be about following the example of Jesus by giving of oneself to others, especially to those who are in need. The Christmas season should therefore be about spreading goodwill and good cheer. This purpose of Christmas is very significant because research by social service organizations has shown that Christmas happens to be a high time for depression among the have-nots, among people with problems and others who just don't have the means and resources to enjoy the merriment of the holidays. The hundreds of Santa letters written by children are often a sad testament to the many unmet needs of families and individuals during the festive Christmas and holiday times. Just about every child is told the story of Santa Claus, or hears about him because his presence is everywhere at Christmas. And up to the age of 7 to 8 years, most children believe the story about Santa Claus bringing toys and other gifts. That's the reason why so many young children often write letters to Santa at Christmas time in which the innocently plead for toys and other gifts because they their parents or other relatives will not be able to give them those Christmas toys or Christmas gifts that they want. Thankfully there are many volunteer and charitable efforts carried out by groups and corporations that seek to fulfill the needs of children and also of adults during the Christmas season. One of the most notable organizations that do such charitable work is the Salvation Army, which has a history of giving service to those in need. According to The Salvation Army's website, the organization as known today was started in 1865 by a Methodist minister, William Booth and his wife Catherine. They formed a group that preached, provided food and shelter to the homeless, the hungry and to alcoholics in need of recovery services. The services were provided in London's East End. Booth and his followers, first known as 'The Christian Mission,' started to use The Salvation Army name in 1878. The Salvation Army is now uniquely associated with the Christmas season through its many representatives who dress up as Santa Claus and stand outside retail establishments ringing their bells while they kindly seek donations from shoppers to help the poor at Christmas. Individuals also play Santa Claus at Christmas time and help out those in need by donating toys and gifts through their companies, other business enterprises such as banks or through their local municipality. These groups usually all have a box or an area where new toys or clothing can be dropped off and the items are then donated to families in need or to social service providers for distribution to the needy during the Christmas season. Along with much charitable giving at Christmas time, other public interest groups also work hard to inform and educate consumers about avoiding the after Christmas blues. This is often experienced in January when the bills and debts are due as a result of all the spending, much of it on credit, that is done for the holidays. These groups try to spread goodwill and cheer in a different way. They try to provide educational information on spending responsibly during the Christmas season with the hope that the happiness and good feeling enjoyed during the season can also carry over after Christmas and not be spoiled by the burden of having huge bills to pay. 7. Christmas Around the World Christmas in the Birthplaces of Traditions -- Bethlehem, Germany and England Christmas as celebrated today is a culmination of centuries of traditions that are religious and secular and which came from different countries around the world. It is interesting therefore to look at some of the general ways in which Christmas is celebrated in these countries. The traditions examined for each country will be examples of some of the things that are unique to that country and which are done today, or which were once done by people in those countries. To begin, it is symbolic to look at the town of Bethlehem, which is believed to be the birthplace of Jesus. The Church of the Nativity is located in Bethlehem and at Christmas it is decorated with a lot of flags and other Christmas decorations. A very large crowd usually gathers at The Church of the Nativity on Christmas Eve to see a dramatic parade procession of horsemen, led by police who are mounted on Arabian horses. Following the police in the procession is a lone horseman who carries a cross, followed by churchmen and government officials. Members of the procession solemnly enter the doors of The Church of the Nativity and place an ancient effigy of Jesus in the church. A silver star located deep in an underground cave-like section of the church marks the site where Jesus was born. A star is also set atop a pole in the town's square. In Bethlehem, homes of Christians usually have a cross over the door and a manger scene is usually set up inside the house. In Germany, home of the Christmas tree tradition, the Christmas tree is not seen until Christmas Eve. The tree is usually kept in a special room, or elsewhere, and decorated in secret with lights, ornaments, tinsels, angels, candies, nuts and cookies. It is then lighted, the presents placed underneath and then shown to the delight of Children on Christmas Eve. In Germany, Dec. 6 is known as St. Nicholas Day when Santa visits the homes of boys and girls. On the day before, Dec. 5, children leave a shoe or boot outside or by the fireplace for Santa Claus. If they were good, he places gifts and candies inside the shoe. But if they were naughty, children will find twigs or a rod in their shoe. Dinner on Christmas Day includes roast goose, long loaves of bread filled with raisins, nuts and dried fruits. Other sweet delicacies are also enjoyed. Many traditions in England are similar to those in the United States because such traditions originated in England and were brought to the United States by immigrants. The tradition of sending Christmas greeting cards started in England and is still popular at Christmas, as well as the tradition of neighborhood caroling on Christmas Eve. Children also hang stockings on Christmas Eve in anticipation of Santa Claus filling them with Christmas gifts or treats. The holly, ivy and mistletoe are also used a lot in Christmas decorations. In England, the traditional Christmas Dinner is roast turkey, goose or chicken with stuffing, vegetables and roast potatoes. Dessert consists of the British or Christmas pudding with brandy sauce. A rich, fruit-filled Christmas cake may also be enjoyed later in the day. A tradition of pulling Christmas crackers also goes with the serving of food on Christmas Day. A cracker is a paper tube that contains a party hat, riddle, toy or trinket, and is brightly colored and twisted at both ends. It gives out a crack as the contents pop out when it is pulled at each end. Also on Christmas afternoon, the Queen broadcasts a Christmas message to the nation, which is heard on radio and television. The day after Christmas is also a holiday that is known as Boxing Day. 8. Christmas In Other European Countries In Finland, Christmas Eve is the traditional time to set up the Christmas tree and it's also traditional to visit the sauna and for families to listen to a broadcast of the national 'Peace of Christmas' on the radio. Christmas Dinner generally consists of a main dish of boiled codfish that is snowy and fluffy in appearance, served with cream sauce and boiled potatoes. Christmas dinner is rounded out with roast suckling pig or roasted fresh ham and vegetables. Among peasants, there is a tradition to tie a sheaf of grain, with nuts and seeds, to a pole that is put in a garden for birds. Many peasants will wait until after the birds have eaten before having their Christmas Dinner. And Santa Claus is expected to visit homes in person with his Christmas elves to give out Christmas gifts. Christmas in France is called Noel, from the phrase 'les bonnes nouvelles,' or 'the good news,' which refers to the gospel. On Christmas Eve, cathedrals and churches are beautifully lit and filled with the sounds of Christmas carols, ringing church bells and carillons. The tradition among children is to put their shoes by the fireplace for Pere Noel or le petit Jesus to fill them with gifts. In the north of France however, children receive gifts on Dec. 6, St. Nicholas Day, instead of Christmas. Most French homes will have a Nativity scene or creche on display during the season. In Southern France, some people will burn a log in their home from Christmas Eve until New Years Day, which comes out of a farming tradition of using the log for good luck in the coming harvest. The French also make a traditional cake called the buche de Noel, or Christmas Log, which is shaped like a Yule log and is part of a late supper called le reveillon held after Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve. The main dish for this meal generally consists of poultry, ham, salads, cake, fruit and wine but varies according to region. The main course in Burgundy is turkey with chestnuts and in Paris it's oysters, foie gras and the buche de Noel cake. The wines generally served are Champagne, Muscadet, Sauterne and Anjou. An annual tradition of puppet shows, particularly in Paris and Lyons, is popular during Christmas time. In Paris, it's also popular for big department stores to have grand, animated window displays. Christmas in Italy is called 'Il Natale,' or 'the birthday.' Christmas season starts eight days before Christmas, a period called the Novena, and runs for three weeks. During the Novena, children dress as shepherds and go from house to house saying Christmas poems, singing and playing pipes. They often receive money to buy gifts during this activity. The Nativity scene, called the Presepio, has miniature figures, carved in great detail out of clay or plaster, of the Holy Family in the stable and is the center of Christmas for families. Families say prayers and children recite poems around the Presepio. Christmas Eve dinner, called cenone, is a traditional dish of roasted, baked or fried eel. In some regions, various types of fish is prepared for this dinner, as well as pork, sausage in a pig's leg or turkey stuffed with chestnuts. Christmas sweets are called panettone and traditionally have nuts and almonds. On Christmas Eve, children set out their shoes for a kind, old woman or ugly witch called La Befana, who rides on a broomstick down chimneys, to fill them with gifts of toys or candies. If they were bad, their shoes will be filled with coal. Some children wait until Jan. 6, the Epiphany, to receive gifts. Norway is where the tradition of the Yule log started and which gave rise to log-shaped cakes, cheese and other desserts during the holidays. Norwegians today often go into the forest to cut their own Christmas trees, which is secretly decorated on Christmas Eve to surprise children. After the Christmas tree is revealed, Norwegians engage in 'circling the Christmas tree,' a tradition in which everyone joins hands forming a ring around the tree. They then walk around the Christmas tree singing carols. Gifts are distributed after this ritual is finished. 9. A Caribbean Christmas In the tropical islands of the Caribbean, the temperature is above 75 degrees from Jan. 1 to Dec. 31, which means that it is warm and pleasant during Christmas. The Christmas season in the Caribbean is also pleasant because it is far removed from the rainy season, which usually occurs from late March to May. During Christmas time in the Caribbean, the temperature is also more temperate and tolerable compared to the searing hot days of the summer months. As in many parts of the world, family, merriment, gift-giving are among the many activities that the people of the Caribbean enjoy during Christmas. Families often live in fairly close proximity to each other however. But what makes getting together at Christmas so special is that it often involves intense and laborious preparations that are not done at any other time of the year. In many homes, an intense cleaning is done in the two or three weeks before Christmas Day. All furniture is moved and may even be rearranged and new and fancy curtains put up for the season. The best bed linens, tablecloths, cutlery and dinnerware are also used in entertaining any visitors during the season. It is a common occurrence for visitors, including people from the neighborhood, to stop for short visits during the season. During those visits, guests are entertained with certain food and drinks, many of which are made only at Christmas time. These include fermented drinks such as sorrel and mauby, as well as the alcoholic drink rum punch. A special type of cake, called Black cake or fruitcake, is also made at Christmas. It is made with raisins and other dried fruit that are minced and placed in wine for several weeks. This cake is the traditional dessert for Christmas dinner. The main menu of a traditional Caribbean Christmas dinner includes baked poultry, roast beef ham, boiled and steamed root vegetables, rice with peas, seasoned rice or rice pilaf, with sorrel, rum punch or mauby as the beverage. Caroling has also been a tradition, although its practiced has been declining in recent years. Small groups from churches or schools will walk through neighborhoods singing Christmas carols or, will drive from house to house to sing carols in neighborhoods primarily in rural areas where houses are not always found in close proximity. Two Christmas traditions that are unique to the Caribbean are the practice of Jonkonoo and having a grand market. Jonkonoo consists of a group of masked revelers who take part in a parade dancing to the beats of drums, shaking tambourines and improvised instruments. The group also include stilt walkers who appear as tall as some trees and singlestory buildings. Jonkonoos perform various antics to amuse onlookers and to give candies and treats to children, especially younger children who may seem scared of any of the Jonkonoo participants. Grand market is the big outdoor market that takes place the week before Christmas up to Christmas Eve. Outdoor markets, found in the central points of regional towns, are common in the Caribbean as a place to get fresh fruits, vegetables and produce that are grown by local farmers. But at Christmas time, they also become filled with assorted items that can be given as gifts and they bustle with activity even after nightfall. It is a special treat for children to accompany parents to grand market during the Christmas season. Since Christmas falls during the high winter tourist season in the Caribbean, Christmas is also an opportunity for many school children to perform for tourists. Many hotels take advantage of the fact that most schools and churches will have singing and dramatic groups that perform the Christmas story and sing carols and Christmas songs. These groups are often invited to provide local entertainment at hotels and guesthouses during Christmas. 10. Christmas in the United States and Canada Many of the celebrations in the United States that are associated with Christmas were traditions brought by German and English immigrants. Along with the well-known and practiced tradition of a brightly decorated Christmas tree, other traditions brought by these immigrants include Advent calendars, Christmas greeting cards, gingerbread houses and gingerbread cookies. Christmas in the United States today can be seen as focused around family, travel, shopping and decorations. Family and travel go together during Christmas in the United States because family members often have to travel fairly long distances to be with each other at one location. The growth of cities that have primarily economic activity, suburbs for residences, as well as the fact of different industries being found in certain geographic locations, are among the reasons that family members often live great distances from each other in separate states. Christmas and its festivities therefore present a wonderful opportunity for many members of the family to gather in celebration and see each other in an intimate setting. The traveling involved makes the Christmas season a busy time of the year for rail and air travel. The occasion of seeing many family members at Christmas is also linked to the activity of shopping that is an important feature of Christmas in the United States. The Christmas season officially begins on the Friday after Thanksgiving, known as Black Friday and which now ranks second in shopping for a single day to the Saturday before Christmas. Much of the shopping that is done is to purchase gifts for friends and family. Gifts for family members are usually exchanged after dinner on Christmas day, when everyone gathers in the room with the Christmas tree. Gifts are usually left at the base of the Christmas tree in the weeks leading up to Christmas Day. Gifts may also exchanged before Christmas at parties held by friends and parties held at workplaces. Second to gifts, shopping is also done at Christmas for decorations. While the Christmas tree may be the centerpiece of attraction, garlands, wreaths, candles and decorative lighting placed outside on lawns or along rooflines are also used to create a beautiful holiday appearance for homes. Canadians enjoy Christmas activities that are similar to those celebrated in the United States. That is so because in the 1700s when some German immigrants in the United States migrated to Canada, they continued to practice many of the activities associated with Christmas. The geographical proximity of the two countries also means they share many things, so similarities in Christmas traditions wouldn't be an exception. One thing that accounts for the difference between the two countries however, is the Eskimo population in Canada. Eskimos in Canada celebrate a festival during winter and have other traditions that are absent from American Christmas celebrations. A practice also exists in Nova Scotia in which small groups of masked individuals march around about two weeks before Christmas. These masked groups attract attention by creating stir with much bell ringing and engaging in a noisy caper in an aim to get candy, sweets and goodies from onlookers. This tradition bears some similarity to Jonkonoo celebrations in the neighboring islands of the Caribbean. Those celebrations also involve masked individuals, including some that appear on stilts that make them as tall as trees. The parade of Jonkonoo regale onlookers with various antics and present a minor scare to some children, who are then calmed with candies and other treats. In Nova Scotia, onlookers can try to calm the noise and rowdiness just a little if they can correctly guess the identity of the masked person. A correct guess puts an end to the noise as the mask is removed, exposing the individual. For their part, maskers also play nice by friendly nudging answers from children about whether they have been naughty or nice and handing out candies and treats accordingly. 11. Christmas in Central and South American Nations In Central and South American nations, which have a fairly large Christian population, the Nativity or Manger Scene is the main decoration in homes at Christmas time. In Mexico, a Christmas tree may also be set up in some homes along with the Nativity scene or Nacimiento. The Christmas tree is usually a small artificial tree, called arbolito. It can also be as simple as a branch cut from a special type of tree or a type of shrub that is then minimally decorated. The primary Christmas celebration in Mexico is called La Posada. It is a religious procession that dramatizes how Joseph and Mary tried to find a place where Jesus could be born. During the procession, the participants carry images of Mary and Joseph and go from house to house seeking a place to stay. During Midnight Mass, which is called la misa del gallo or 'rooster's mass,' those in attendance sing lullabies to Jesus. On Christmas Day children receive gifts as well as candies that are stuffed into a piņata. This may be one or more sculptures made of papier mache that are hung from the ceiling. Children are blindfolded and take turns hitting the piņata until it breaks and scatters the candies on the floor. All the children then scamper around as they try to get as much candy as they can. Children also receive a gift on Jan. 6 from the Three Wise Men, if they were good. People in Venezuela usually put out pesebres, which show the Nativity scene, on Dec. 16. Early morning church services, called Misa de Aguinaldo, are also common from Dec. 16 to Christmas Eve. After Mass on Christmas Eve, a grand dinner is traditionally enjoyed. In Argentina, red and white garlands are used to decorate houses. After attending Midnight Mass, Argentinians have a meal, toast each other, dance and go out to see fireworks. The meal may be roasted pork or turkey, stuffed tomatoes, mince pies, Christmas bread and puddings. Drinks such as cider and juice made from different fruits are used for the toast. Christmas gifts are opened on Christmas Eve just before the family retires to bed. In Chile, Santa Claus is Father Christmas and is known as 'Viejito Pascuero.' He arrives in a similar but slightly different manner than Santa Claus because his reindeer is pulled by a taxicab. Chileans use small figures made from clay to place near the Christmas tree in a display called pesebre to show the Nativity story. The traditional Christmas dinner includes chicken soup with stuffed potatoes, onions and corn on the cob. Another favorite item is a Christmas bread that is called pan de pasqua and which is made with candies and fruits. Christmas customs in Brazil originate from the many different ethnic groups who make up the country. The Nativity scene is called the Presepio and can commonly be found displayed in homes, churches and stores. Papai Noel, or Father Noel, resides in Greenland and brings gifts at Christmas. He is said to wear silk clothing because Christmas occurs during summer when it is very hot in Brazil. Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve is called Missa do Gallo, because the coming day is announced by the rooster and the Mass finishes at 1 am on the following day. A traditional Christmas dinner, called Ceia de Natal, includes ham, turkey, colored rice, a variety of vegetables and fruit dishes. Christmas Day Mass at Catholic churches are mainly held in the late afternoon because people enjoy sleeping late or going to the beach after having Christmas dinner. Christmas festivities, which include folk dancing and singing, continue until January 6th, which is called Three Kings Day. 12. Christmas in African Nations Christmas celebrations in African nations is characterized by much outdoor activity because the season often occurs during a time when the weather is pleasant. Using palm trees and participating in processions are also characteristic features of activities related to Christmas in many parts of Africa. In South Africa, activities that occur outside during Christmas include the usual caroling, but also the unusual ones of swimming and camping. The beach and mountains play an important role during Christmas in South Africa because the season occurs during the hottest time of the year -- summer. Given the pleasant nature of the weather during Christmas, families also take advantage of it by often going sightseeing in the countryside on a relaxing drive in the late evening of Christmas Day. A rich and sumptuous menu that includes a suckling pig or roast beef, turkey, mince pies, yellow rice, vegetables and puddings usually makes up the traditional South African Christmas dinner. To create a festive environment, decorated pine branches and fir, sparkling cotton wool and tinsel are used in homes and businesses as decorations. A similar decorative pattern of using evergreen, palm trees and lighted candles are also seen in countries such as Ghana and Liberia. While these are used in homes and businesses, they are also often carried in processions and during caroling activities. While South Africans gather at the beach during Christmas time to enjoy the warm summer waters, people in other African nations often gather outside at in town squares and in the streets to march, sing and enjoy an overall feeling of merriment. Despite the seemingly general similarity in activities, however, countries have their own individual style that makes Christmas celebrations unique. Of all the celebrations in African nations, Christmas activities in Ethiopia stand out for their difference in when they are celebrated and how it is done. One of the features that make Ethiopian Christmas different is that the main celebratory event occurs on Jan. 7, around the time known as the Epiphany or Three Kings Day in North and South America. Given the general modest economic financial situations of a significant number of the population in many African countries, Christmas celebrations also tend to occur over a shorter period of time, compared to activities in more wealthier countries. Another difference in celebrations of Christmas in Ethiopia is the participation of various people who take part in a pilgrimage and converge on the capital city during Christmas Eve. These wanderers fill the night air with a din of praying and chanting and create a multicolor spectacle when they gather on Christmas morning to have a religious service. But retaining a similarity with other African nations, Ethiopians enjoy a Christmas dinner that includes a meat stew. Stews, rice, root vegetables such as yams, breads and soups often are part of the menu of traditional Christmas day dinners in African nations. Christmas dinners are likely enjoyed by families outside, where everyone shares the meal while sitting in a circular pattern outside under the shade of a sprawling tree, instead of sitting in a formal setting at a table. As is the practice in every household during Christmas, Africans also exchange gifts. Popular items that are exchanged as Christmas gifts include cotton cloth, soaps, sweets, pencils and books, all very practical items that can be readily used. Again, this may be related to the modest financial resources of up to half the population in many African countries, as well as to cultural norms. Individuals aren't able to afford extravagant gifts but they still want to surprise children, family and friends at Christmas with an unexpected gift. The generally pervasive cultural norm of humility and modesty that exists among traditional African peoples, also plays an important role in not having overreaching extravagance at Christmas. 13. The Christmas Story The idea of celebrating Jesus' birth was done to counteract pagan holidays celebrated in Rome during the Winter Solstice. Church leaders thought Christmas celebrations were more likely to be popular if they coincided with the traditional festivals and merrymaking during the Winter Solstice. Although some Christmas celebrations are secular, the religious aspect of Christmas remains central to celebrations. This is evident in church services such as Midnight Mass and primarily in the many forms of the Nativity, or Christmas Story, presented wherever people celebrate Christmas. That story started in Nazareth in Galilee about two thousand years ago. Mary, a young woman, was engaged to a carpenter named Joseph. An angel appeared to her one day and told her she was with child. She couldn't understand how that could happen because due to her circumspect nature, she had not laid in bed with Joseph. The angel explained however, that the child would be special as he would be the Son of God and his name was to be Jesus. Mary and Joseph then got married soon after the angel's appearance.. But about the time when Mary was to have the baby, the couple had to travel far away to Bethlehem, Joseph's birthplace, to pay a special tax. It was difficult for them to find a place to stay because many other people were in Bethlehem to pay their taxes. After many rejections, one innkeeper offered a room in his stable where they could spend the night. That's where Jesus, the Holy Child and Son of God was born and then wrapped in bundles of cloth and placed in a manger for a cradle. In the same hours that Mary was giving birth, shepherds who were in a field that overlooked Bethlehem saw an extremely bright star over the sky in Bethlehem. They had never seen anything like it and had feelings of curiosity and scariness. An angel appeared and told them the 'good news' that the Son of God had been born in Bethlehem. The shepherds left their flocks to go to Bethlehem to find the baby. When they reached the stable, they were filled with immense joy at seeing Jesus. They fell to their knees and worshipped Him. They also told Mary and Joseph about the bright star and the angel appearing to say Jesus would be the Savior of the world. The bright star was also seen by Wise Men in the east. The Wise Men, who studied the stars, learned that a new and great ruler would appear whenever an extraordinarily bright star appeared in the sky. Three of them therefore set out to find the new ruler. They first visited King Herod in Jerusalem because they thought the child would be born in the palace. But when they asked to see the child who would be the new ruler, King Herod was very worried as he thought he would be removed from the throne. King Herod told the Wise Men that when they found the baby, they should return and tell him so that he could also worship the baby. The Wise Men used the star as a guide to go to Bethlehem where they found Mary, Joseph and Baby Jesus who they worshipped and offered gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. The Wise Men are celebrated in some Christmas celebrations on Jan. 6, known as the Epiphany to mark the date when they found Jesus. Later in the night the three Wise Men had a dream in which an angel told them that King Herod wanted to kill Baby Jesus. They left Bethlehem to return to the East but didn't return to Jerusalem to tell King Herod where they had found the child. Joseph also had a dream soon after the Wise Men left in which an angel appeared and told him to take Mary and Jesus to Egypt because Herod had ordered that Jesus be killed. In an effort to kill Jesus after the Wise Men did not return to inform him of the baby's whereabouts, Herod later ordered that all baby boys in Bethlehem should be killed. But by then Mary and Joseph had left with Baby Jesus. 14. Significance of Christmas Eve The day before Christmas is one that is filled with a mixture of anxiety and anticipation. There's anxiety at putting all the final plans and finishing decoration touches in place and getting all the necessary shopping done. There's also much anticipation about all the merriment and excitement of Christmas day. Children are usually hardly able to control themselves as they think about the Christmas gifts they hope to get the next day. They may try to stay up through the night to catch Santa Claus, or they may just be too excited to sleep. Christmas Eve is also important for the simple reason that in ancient custom, and among some cultures today, a holiday or other celebrated day really starts from sundown of the day before the actual day that is celebrated. Therefore, festivities and observances for Christmas Day would really begin on Christmas Eve. One of the most significant aspects of Christmas Eve however, is related to religion. Attending Midnight Mass or earlier church services is mandatory for many people whose religion is Christianity. This is so even for people who aren't regular churchgoers during the year. Evidence of the importance of these church services can be seen in the overflow of congregations at the churches. Many churches will also have an added service earlier in the evening to accommodate the above normal attendance, and also for individuals like the elderly who would prefer a service that is earlier than Midnight Mass. Another important aspect of Christmas Eve celebrations is related to retail operations. On the day before Christmas, stores make a last ditch effort to push sales of Christmas and other merchandise. There often are special promotions last-minute advertised to capitalize on late, desperate Christmas shoppers and other impulse buyers. This last effort is also aimed at increasing sales for the Christmas period. Some stores will remain open late, even up to midnight or just before midnight. Macy's department store in New York City, which bills that particular store branch as the world's largest, stayed open until midnight on Christmas Eve of 1867 for the first time. Christmas Eve culminates the single biggest shopping season, which started the day after Thanksgiving, for retailers. Christmas Eve is also important for the traditions associated with it. It is the night when parents have to play the role of Santa Claus and sneak toys and other Christmas gifts under the Christmas tree to the absolute delight and surprise of children who awake on Christmas morning to find the presents. The idea of Santa Claus coming descending chimneys on Christmas Eve to leave gifts for good boys and girls was made popular by a poem, attributed to Clement Clarke Moore. In that poem titled 'An Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas, ' which Moore wrote in 1822 and which is now popularly known as 'Twas the Night Before Christmas,' Moore described Santa Claus as 'a right jolly old elf' who went from house to house with his sleigh pulled by reindeers flying through the air to deliver Christmas presents to all the girls and boys who had been well behaved. Food plays a big role in making Christmas Day special and much of its preparation often begins on Christmas Eve. Poultry and other meats are often prepared by letting them stand in a mixture of various herbs and spices, puddings and pies are baked on Christmas Eve, as well as a fresh batch of gingerbread and other cookies and treats. The scents and flurry of activity related to all these preparations also help to make Christmas Eve a memorable day on its own. 15. Christmas Day The Christmas season and all its activities are geared to the big day, Dec. 25, which is Christmas Day. The word Christmas is derived from Middle English 'Christemasse' and Old English 'Cristes maesse,' both of which means 'Christ's Mass.' The day is celebrated by Christians as the day that Jesus Christ was born, although the true date of Jesus' birth isn't really known. Given the religious significance of Christmas Day, it therefore follows that attending church is a big tradition on that day. It is seen as mandatory for devout Christians and for others who are concerned about retaining the sacred meaning of the day. Many people fear that the sacred aspects of Christmas are being lost and overshadowed amid the bustle of commercial activity now associated with the entire season. Church services therefore take place early on Christmas morning. Attending those services is the first official activity that many people do on Christmas Day. Unlike the Midnight Mass and other earlier church services on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day services do not usually include the dramatization of the birth of Jesus. They may be more subdued with a sermon that recounts the birth of Jesus and his purpose to save mankind. The congregation is then exalted to be as giving as Jesus and to help out those who are in need. Consequently, many people will take some time on Christmas Day to volunteer in a charitable activity such as serving dinner to the poor and hungry at a church, charitable organization or other social services center. Others will also work with charitable organizations to distribute toys to needy children at shelters, hospitals and other places. As part of the religious aspect of Christmas Day, groups that sing Christmas carols will also be out very early on Christmas morning. Although Christmas Dinner is the most significant meal of the day, a large breakfast will also be served in most households that will be shared by all family members. The occasion of all family members having a meal together is a disappearing tradition in many American households and so Christmas is seen as a perfect time to return to the tradition. Christmas Day after all, is all about family, sharing and togetherness. Throughout the day, greetings of 'Merry Christmas' will be exchanged by telephone calls with family, friends, acquaintances, and loved ones who are located elsewhere in the country and overseas. It is a common occurrence for so many people to be trying to make international calls to loved ones and friends on Christmas Day that telephone communication systems to some countries often are overwhelmed. The availability of technology and the Internet eases that somewhat nowadays however, as emails and instant messaging can also be used as other communication channels to exchange greetings on Christmas Day. Christmas Day Dinner is undoubtedly the central activity of the day. Family and friends gathered for dinner take pleasure in enjoying and sharing a delicious meal and also are mindful and thankful for the opportunity to be able to share the meal, to have each other and for the material things that make their lives comfortable and give them happiness. Some of those material things are then shared in absolute delight as everyone will gather around or near to the Christmas tree after dinner to exchange and open Christmas presents. It's an activity that is relished and which is filled with much laughter, happy chatter and merriment, especially by children who are usually much delighted to get a toy that they had wished for. After dinner and the exchange of presents, adults may have light conversations, play games or even watch a movie. Children are often taken up with experimenting or playing with their new toys. It has also become a tradition on Christmas Day for members of some families, such as teenagers and young adults, to end Christmas Day by attending the movie theater on Christmas evening or Christmas night to see a recently released film. 16. What Makes Christmas Magical Christmas is a special time of the year for the joy and intangible magic that fills the season. It comes through in the delightful decorations, glorious get-togethers with family and friends and the sheer feeling of joy one gets from giving and receiving gifts. Although the commercialization of Christmas is often decried, shopping is an important and central activity to some of the intangible magic of Christmas. It is at the malls or downtown stores that some of the favorite sights, sounds and scents of Christmas can be experienced. The decorations at Malls and retail establishments are usually very fanciful and eye-catching, especially to children, with the many colorful and twinkling lights. It's also a wonder for both adults and children alike to look at the numerous tinsels, baubles and figurines such as fairies, angels and little babies that adorn the main Christmas tree in the center of shopping malls and others in department stores. These trees are usually extremely well embellished with decorations that are arranged in a very professional way that most shoppers can't replicate in their own homes. It's therefore a delight for them to stare at such trees in wonder and amazement. Along with the wide variety of decorations in retail establishments, there also is the sound of music playing, bells ringing, the laughter and wishes of Merry Christmas from shoppers that also create a special atmosphere and add to the magic of Christmas. Even the sound of cash registers in the background adds something to the special feeling shoppers have at Christmas time. And of course there's always a Santa Claus that children can meet and tell what they want for Christmas, and also have their picture taken. Sometimes Santa Claus may distribute Christmas gifts to children, telling them that because they have been very, very good they are getting an extra special early Christmas present. The ability to delight children by telling them stories about Santa Claus, as well as making them see and talk to the jolly old fellow, puts a lot of magic and excitement into Christmas. Once the tradition is started, or from the first time that children have been told the story, it becomes something that they look forward to every year during the Christmas season. There's also the sound of music from choirs or school groups who often give open performances singing Christmas carols and songs in malls and downtown areas of towns. Families and others who are out and about will pause to listen or to sing along with these groups. Shopping is undoubtedly an enjoyable activity for most people during Christmas, but merrier and more memorable times are enjoyed when time is spent with family, friends and colleagues during the season. Before Christmas Day arrives, there usually are parties at home and at work, an evening out with friends and other occasions to get together and share the spirit of Christmas. The presence of special Christmas music and people dressed in holiday attire provide a different atmosphere and contribute to the magical feeling of the season. Another thing that is different at Christmas is the scent from a fresh Christmas tree, of gingerbread and other cookies baking and other food preparations that are specially done at Christmas time. Most people who select a real Christmas tree instead of an artificial one for their homes do so because of the wonderful scent it provides. For many people, that scent from a Christmas tree is what puts Christmas into everything else. Another popular scent at Christmas comes from the popular Christmas song 'Chestnuts Roasting Over an Open Fire.' The actual roasting of chestnuts by families during the Christmas season may be a rare occurrence these days but it is occasionally done in some downtown areas and in bakeries and confectioneries that make fresh products everyday. All these events, activities, happenings, sights, sounds and scents of Christmas and the holidays create special and unforgettable memories. And who can deny that a pleasant memory is always something that is truly magical. 17. Yuletide Days of Old -- Ancient and other Customs of Christmas Christmas as a holiday period was instituted and celebrated at about the same time as other winter solstice festivities because church leaders at the time believed that would make more people participate in the new holiday period. That objective was achieved, but people also carried over some pagan celebrations and traditions into the religious Christmas celebrations. As an example, people would attend church and then take part in a raucous, drunken and carnival-like celebration, that has some similarities to Mardi Gras. During this celebration every year, there would be a crowning of a beggar or student as the 'lord of misrule.' Those taking part in the activities would pretend to be loyal subjects to the 'lord of misrule,' During this time some of the poor would also visit the rich in their houses and ask for some of their best food and drink. Those among the rich who didn't cooperate would be subject to rowdy behavior and mischief by the poor. For their part, the rich used Christmas as the time when they would reach out to the poorer members of society by tolerating them in such visits or by leaving out food and clothing for them. For many centuries before the birth of Christ and the recognition of Christmas, there had always been celebrations in many countries during the middle of winter. During the darkest days of winter for example, the early Europeans were said to celebrate light and birth. The winter solstice was a period of rejoicing for many people because it meant that the worst part of winter was over and they could therefore look forward to having days that were longer with more hours of sunlight. In that tradition, the Norse peoples in Scandinavia would celebrate a period of Yule from Dec. 21, which was the winter solstice or start of winter, through January. To recognize the re-emergence of the sun, fathers and their sons would take large logs home and set them on fire. There would then be a big feast until the log was completely burned out. That could take as much as 12 days to happen. The custom also was one of hope for the Norse because there was the belief among them that every spark from the fire represented a new pig or calf that would be born in the New Year. Many parts of Europe also thought that the end of December was a perfect time to celebrate because during that time, a lot of cattle would be killed to avoid having to feed them during winter. For many people, the end of December was the only time during the year when they had a significant amount of fresh meat. By that time of year also, wine and beer that was made earlier in the year would have fermented and be finally ready for drinking. The tradition of Santa Claus has also been an ancient legend with slight differences or variations in olden days from the 1700s in some countries. In German and Switzerland, children who were well behaved would receive a Christmas present from Christkind or Kris Kringle. Christkind, which means Christ child, was believed to be an angel-like figure that went along with St. Nicholas on his holiday journeys to deliver gifts. A jolly elf by the name of Jultomten was believed to deliver presents in Scandinavia in a sleigh that was pulled by goats. And in France, Pere Noel is the one who fills the shoes of French children with Christmas gifts, sweets or treats at Christmas time. In Russia, there's a legend that Babouschka was an elderly woman who gave incorrect directions to Bethlehem to the three Wise Men so that they wouldn't find Jesus. She later felt sorry for doing so but couldn't find the Wise Men to tell them about the error. Today in Russia, it is believed that on Jan. 5, the day before the Epiphany or Three Kings Day, Babouschka visits Russian children and leaves presents by their bedsides in the hope that one of the children will be Baby Jesus and will forgive her. 18. Twelve Contemporary (Shopping) Days of Christmas Nov. 24 -- Black Friday -- the day after Thanksgiving, you have time off from work and it's the official start of the Christmas season and of Christmas shopping. Stores are open 3-4 hours earlier and they close later. Holiday sales begin, it's the first time that some items will be available: . but definitely won't be among the crazies up at 4am to get to the top of the line to make some wild dash for the $99 flat-screen television or the Crazy Elmo toy. (Black Friday is the second single biggest shopping day for retailers and got its name because in the days of old so much shopping was done on this day that it would turn the tide for many stores and put them in the black, or, make them profitable.) Dec. 2 - First Saturday in December -- weekends are important because it means free time to shop. The early holiday and Christmas shopper should be more than halfway through shopping list. Average shoppers are just starting to browse. Dec. 3 - First Sunday -- weekend Christmas shopping can be done but stores close the usual earlier time on Sundays. Dec. 7 -- Pearl Harbor Day -- it isn't recognized by most but is very important to war veterans. The President usually gives a speech to a Veterans group and lays a wreath in honor of those who died on Pearl Harbor Day and in World War II. Dec. 9 -- Second Saturday -- only two full weeks to go before Christmas. Where did the time go and where did the year go? To your disguised annoyance, you are starting to hear the ubiquitous phrase, 'Finished all your Christmas shopping yet?' Christmas shopping has to pick up speed or panic will set in. You are running out of time to enjoy some quality Christmas entertainment with your family. Dec. 10 -- Second Sunday -- go to church if you haven't been attending so that you won't look like a 'Christmas only attendee.' Need to squeeze in some shopping and must start sending out Christmas greeting cards this week. Dec. 16 -- Third Saturday, First Day of Hanukkah -- it's unbelievable that there's only one full week to go before Christmas. Make supermarket shopping list for Christmas Eve and Christmas dinner preparations. Dec. 17 -- Third Sunday -- exactly one week before Christmas. Make sure Christmas toys and presents in hiding are still undiscovered. Make final plans for family dinner on Christmas Day. Dec. 21 -- oh dear me!!! Only three days to go before Christmas. Do last minute planning, get as many chores as possible out of the way, finish all Christmas and supermarket shopping. Assign final preparatory tasks to family members as necessary. Go over plans for Christmas Dinner. Dec. 22 -- First Day of Winter -- My goodness!! you still have shopping to do!!? You dread going to the mall this weekend. Pray for a miracle to find one of those needle in a haystack salesperson who will hold hand and get you 95% through your Christmas shopping list. Dec. 23 -- Last Saturday before Christmas -- Now The Single Biggest Shopping Day of the Year!!!! The mall is absolutely crazy and there are no sales people anywhere. It's a zoo everywhere -- on the roads, in the supermarket, even at the gas station people are honking, hollering at the gas attendant to pump faster! But you know what : stopped at my favorite pastry store and was in and out in a nanosecond: there was no line!! Dec. 24 -- Christmas Eve -- downtown is glorious, everything is so splendid and magical: . will go to Midnight Mass: . Christmas is the Most Wonderful Time of the Year!!!! 19. Making Memories During Christmas and the Holidays A favorite Christmas song has a line that describes Christmas as 'the most wonderful time of the year.' While giving and receiving gifts is something that is highly anticipated and remembered at Christmas time, there are also many more activities that make Christmas memorable and wonderful. One of these activities is decorating the Christmas tree. The Christmas tree occupies a central spot and is the most visible display of Christmas in most homes. Unlike in other countries, most American homes do not have a representation of the Nativity scene, which is more likely to be located at churches. As soon as the Christmas season begins on the day after Thanksgiving, families will begin their search for the perfect Christmas tree. This in itself can become a memorable activity as children may accompany family members to places like a Christmas tree farm to select a tree. Once a real or artificial tree is selected, then it's an exciting activity for the entire family to play a part in decorating the tree. Manufactured decorations come in many shapes and forms. But a special memory is created when family members make a special ornament for the Christmas tree, or contribute one or more keepsake items to decorate the Christmas tree. It then becomes a ritual each year for those particular items to be placed on the Christmas tree although other decorations may change in coming years. Another activity that can help to create special memories at Christmas is baking cookies. Along with popular gingerbread cookies, using cookie cutters to make special holiday-shaped cookies is also practiced a lot in households. Based on the ages of children, they can help in the actual baking activity by measuring and mixing some ingredients, or, younger children can sprinkle sugar on the cookies or decorate them with icing when they are finished. Helping in this activity can also be educational as parents can use the activity of measuring and figuring out equivalent measures to teach fractions and other mathematical elements. An activity that is related to food which also helps to create memories during the Christmas season is making fruit and goody baskets, which are filled with candies, baked items and other treats for loved ones, their special friends, neighbors, teachers or for charity. Items such as goody baskets make especially wonderful Christmas gifts because they are home-made. That quality often makes them more treasured than a Christmas present that is bought at the store. Because Christmas is the season of goodwill and good cheer, it is very important to reach out to family, loved ones and friends during the season. The busy lives that many people lead today often leaves them little or no time during the year to be in frequent contact with family and friends who are located far away, or even others who live within a reasonable distance in the same or a neighboring state, for example. It is therefore very common during Christmas to send a Christmas or holiday greeting card to those individuals. Along with the pleasant memory of receiving the card, there may be a short letter included that gives a brief account of any significant event in the individual's life or with members of the family. That makes sending and receiving Christmas greeting cards more memorable. Then there's probably the most anticipated activity of Christmas -- finding out what Christmas gift Santa brought on Christmas Eve. While adults also look forward with much anticipation to see what Christmas gifts they will get, it's really the children who get the most delight from receiving presents at Christmas. The carefully planned actions to hide Christmas presents from children and then to magically place them under the Christmas tree to be found on Christmas morning is one of the most wonderful ways to create unforgettable memories for children at Christmas. 20. Similarities between Kwanzaa and Hanukkah Celebrations at Christmas Kwanzaa and Hanukkah, celebrated by African-Americans and Jewish people respectively, are observed during the Christmas season. The celebrations are separate from activities related to Christmas however. The observances of Kwanzaa and Hanukkah are also one reason that people also give wishes of Happy Holidays instead of Merry Christmas during the season. Although both activities are very different and were originated for different reasons, some similarities can be found between the two practices. Both celebrations have commitment as a central and important theme. They also both include symbolic forms of light and are both commemorated over almost the same number of days -- seven (7) days from Dec. 26 to Jan. 1 for Kwanzaa, and eight (8) days and night for Hanukkah -- usually starting about one week before Christmas Day. Starting with its origination, Hanukkah celebrations dates to an event in 165 B.C. when the Jews were victorious over the Syrians. Hanukkah started as a way to restore and rededicate the Temple in Jerusalem that had been desecrated, including its golden menorah, by the Syrians. The festival also served the purpose of once more observing and re-instituting rituals that the Syrians had forbidden during their rule. Kwanzaa was started 40 years ago by a university professor as a way for African-Americans and others in the African diaspora to engage in celebrations that included elements of African culture. While Kwanzaa is not as popular as Christmas, it keeps growing and its goal has been achieved to some extent as it is now practiced in many nations such as those in the Caribbean, which have a large population of people of African ancestry. The wide availability of Kwanzaa greeting cards and even postage stamps at Christmas time, also attests to the extent to which the celebration has entered the mainstream. The primary symbol of Hanukkah, the menorah, which consists of eight (8) individual lights, is very much a part of the mainstream. Menorahs are available today in various shapes and sizes. A single standard requirement that must be observed in making a menorah is that there should be enough separation between the flame of each of the eight (8) lights so that they don't give the total effect of a single large flame when all are lit. A flame is lit each night over the days in remembrance of how a small quantity of oil from the desecrated Temple kept a menorah burning for eight (8) days, when the amount should have only lasted for a single day. It was that miraculous occurrence that gave rise to the Hanukkah celebration to light a menorah over eight (8) days. Kwanzaa symbols include a candleholder and seven (7) candles that represent the roots of African ancestors and seven (7) core principles of Kwanzaa respectively. Other symbols are, The Crops for African harvest, Mat for African tradition, Corn for the future represented by children, the Unity Cup and the Gifts. The Flag and Poster of Seven (7) Principles are two (2) supplemental symbols. These items can be found at specialty African and AfricanAmerican shops in some malls and in town with a heavy concentration of African and African-American population. Among the most important features of Kwanzaa are the seven (7) core principles and values they embody: self-determination, unity, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity and faith. These seven (7) principles are meant to be a foundation and guide upon which the African diaspora can build a strong, successful and fulfilling life while maintaining a connection to their roots. While not religious, the principles of Kwanzaa are meant to instill a strong sense of spirituality in individuals. Kwanzaa seeks to instill spirituality upon which individuals can build self-confidence and secure self-identity through a link to their roots. This sense of spirituality and connection to one's history, roots or ancestry is also an element of similarity between Kwanzaa and Hanukkah. 21. Christmas Greetings and Good Cheer Greetings at Christmas extend beyond a mere wish of 'Merry Christmas' or 'Happy Holidays.' Christmas greetings embody a wish that all will go well in whatever preparations need to be made, and a genuine sentiment that much joy, happiness and well being will be experienced by the individual and loved ones during the season. The season of good cheer and wishes also reflect the jolly ho, ho, ho nature of Santa Claus. To the delight of children, it is very easy for them to run into many jolly fellows dressed as Santa Claus during the Christmas season who will quiz them about whether they have been good or naughty. Many times when friends, relatives and loved ones call each other during the Christmas season, they will speak to the children and wish them Merry Christmas, but not without a warning that they had better be good or else there will be no presents from Santa Claus. For children therefore, a greeting of Merry Christmas has the purpose of increasing their anticipation for the arrival of Christmas Eve and Santa's visit to leave toys and Christmas presents under the tree. Because children also take part in many traditions associated with Christmas, holiday greetings for them is also a reminder of the fun they will have in doing such activities as decorating the tree, helping to bake cookies and wrapping presents. When children have these things to look forward to at Christmas, it creates a lasting memory for them and helps to make their childhood one on which they will later reflect on with much fondness. The more prevalent greeting of 'Happy Holidays' that is used today reflects in part the also prevalent nature to be politically correct in speech and communication. The greeting of 'Happy Holidays' can be given to anyone whether or not they celebrate Christmas. It avoids any offense being taken if someone is wished Merry Christmas when it's a celebration in which they don't participate or observe. Happy Holidays is also used to extend a greeting of goodwill beyond Christmas to the coming New Year holiday period. For procrastinators and the chronically late greeting card senders, they can still drop a 'Happy Holiday' greeting card in the mail to friends and loved ones close to Christmas Day or even after and it will still be relevant. Christmas greeting cards play a big role in communicating Christmas greetings and good cheer for the holiday season. It's a tradition that started in Britain in 1840 with the start of the first public postal deliveries. The production of large numbers of Christmas greeting cards started about twenty years later in 1860 with the improvement of printing methods. Today, Christmas greetings and greeting cards have further evolved with massive changes and development in technology. The computer, which has become a necessary electronic equipment in just about every home, is commonly used to send Christmas greetings through emailing an online greeting or postcard. Online greeting cards also have brought other changes such as being interactive or animated and they can also be easily personalized with pictures of individuals or families. Online greeting cards can be sent from websites that are accessible to everyone or they can be easily created on a home computer. Another way in which Christmas greetings are sent is by mailing gifts and presents to relatives and friends who live elsewhere. Except for the dreaded tax season, there is no other time when post offices become more crowded than during the Christmas season. Post Offices therefore play an important role in relaying Christmas greetings by handling thousands of greeting card mailings and gift packages for Christmas. With just about everyone having a cheerful spirit for the Christmas season, it becomes very easy to pause for even a brief conversation and extend a greeting of goodwill to friends, acquaintances, colleagues, neighbors and others. 22. Why Christmas is Really All About Children It could be said that since it was the birth of a baby as a gift to mankind that gave rise to Christmas, then children should also and always be the primary focus of the season. Individual families will say they have always put children first and parents will sacrifice seeking their desires at Christmas to make sure their children are satisfied. And although adults also look forward with much anticipation to the Christmas season, the frenzy that accounts for all the shopping and preparation during the Christmas season is really for the benefit of children. From a financial perspective, the extensive shopping done at Christmas is really of benefit to businesses. But what really drives the maddening shopping activity is a desire by parents, relatives, friends and acquaintances to play Santa Claus, mainly for children. Within families, children are usually the ones who individually receive the most gifts. And it's deservedly so because their wide-eyed anticipation, excitement and pure joy when they open their Christmas presents gives everyone an indescribably happy feeling. Along with playing Santa Claus and secretly getting gifts for children, adults also use the Santa story for all it's worth as an effective means of discipline. As soon as the Fall season approaches, children will begin to hear warnings about their behavior and the consequence of Santa Claus not leaving any toys or presents like the wonderful ones they received in the prior year. And when the Santa Claus story is not being used to help to get the best behavior from children, it is simply pure fun to delight them by telling them stories about Santa Claus, his elves and reindeers to simply enliven their imagination. The story of Santa Claus is even useful for older children who may just be starting to unravel the mystery of Santa Claus. The stories that tell of different places where Santa Claus actually lives can be a starting point to go on an imaginative journey around the globe and become a geography lesson to learn about those places. Children are also central to Christmas because the many grand displays of Christmas scenery, colorful lights and sparkling ornaments really target the attention of children. So, if children were not so important at Christmas time, then it is quite possible that many of the traditions that make Christmas what it is would not exist. As an example, Valentine's Day and holidays related to Easter have a much different mood and atmosphere. Children aren't the focus in celebrations for those special periods. Christmas is also an important period for the toy industry whose clients are naturally children. Although the industry is part of the big retail picture and therefore seeks to boost sales during the Christmas season, there is also a deeper meaning for children. Toys are important to entertain, to educate, to help children develop their imagination and to develop coordination and other skills in children. Toys can also help children to play together and learn to share. The toy industry is therefore important at Christmas time in introducing new products that are integral to the development of children. When children become totally captivated by a new toy at Christmas time, it may help them to learn a new skill or provide new knowledge all in a fun and captivating way that will make it more likely that whatever is learned will be remembered. Children are also the focus of Christmas celebrations because it is important to create fond childhood memories of the season. These memories are created not by children necessarily receiving a lot, but by enjoying everything about the season. The story of Jesus with the moral of sharing, giving and doing kind deeds for others can also help to build a good character and set a moral foundation that teaches children to have empathy and compassion during the Christmas season and all throughout the year. 23. Making an Early Start to Christmas Shopping Many radio stations have started playing Christmas songs so early in November in the past few years that one wonders if we may soon start hearing Christmas songs around Halloween time. That would be a bit weird, even creepy perhaps. But some early Christmas shoppers likely will have Christmas Carols silently playing in their heads even before then. That's because shopping, much like Santa Claus, is a staple of Christmas. Santa never gives away any secrets to shopping for all those gifts, but he must certainly have a strategy to be so successful every Yuletide season. The early Christmas shopper is someone who is very organized and has a strategy to fulfill Christmas shopping before the season kicks into high gear. The day after Thanksgiving, known as Black Friday, is the official retail start to a shopping season that is always hoped to be a robust one. The strategy of retailers is to advertise Christmas sales, specials, pre-Christmas markdowns, giveaways, special-hour sales and other promotions. The reason for the frenzy of retail advertising during Christmas season is because it is the single biggest shopping time of the year. Christmas shopping that begins the day after Thanksgiving accounts for well over half -- with some estimates of up to 70% -of annual revenue for stores. Since retailers clearly have a strategy for Christmas shoppers seeking the perfect gift, then shoppers also need to implement their own strategy. The savvy and early Christmas shopper is the one who may start silently singing Christmas Carols and songs very early to get in gear for shopping. Starting from as early as the beginning of October, the early Christmas shopper can begin to make lists of gifts and begin browsing to check the availability, variety, and most important, the price of items. By browsing before the Christmas shopping season officially kicks off, the early Christmas shopper is more likely to get more bargains, better prices, and is also better able to do comparison shopping when the season officially kicks off. It's important to know that retailers won't offer true 'rock bottom' or 'close-out' sales, or the very lowest prices during Christmas sales. It's also important to remember that retailers are likely to offer earlier sales starting in early October to near mid-November. Two significant pre-Christmas sales are for Columbus Day, which falls on Monday, Oct. 9, and Veterans Day, which will be on Saturday Nov. 11. The early Christmas shopper who already has gifts in mind can benefit from price markdowns during both sales periods. And of course the early Christmas shopper will also have the benefit of shopping during the season, therefore extending the thrill and joy of shopping. If there is any disadvantage to being an early Christmas shopper and doing Christmas shopping very early, it is that some retailers, particularly makers and sellers of toys, wait until the official start of the season to introduce some new items into stores. The strategy in doing this is to build anticipation for a new toy that they hope will be very popular and to also target and capture a larger majority of shoppers. During every Christmas season there always is one, or maybe two toys, that are regarded as the 'must-have' toys for Christmas. And it has become a presentday phenomenon for shoppers to arrive from the wee hours in the morning to get a prime spot near the doors of some stores so that they can be among the first in those stores to make a mad dash for the 'hot' toy of the season. But being doing or starting Christmas shopping early does not mean that it has to be over before the Christmas shopping season starts. What it means is that most or a significant part of your shopping will be done by the time Black Friday rolls around. What is most important to making an early start to your Christmas shopping is to get the best deal and to do so with as little hassle as possible, by avoiding a crowded store for example. Both of those will be accomplished for those who are organized and motivated to get into the spirit of Christmas before the season really begins. 24. Shopping During the Prime of the Christmas Season The saying that goes, 'The early bird catches the worm,' is in part true for those who get Christmas shopping off to an early start before the season actually begins. Most of us however, are likely to be average shoppers who wait until that time when the season officially begins. Maybe we don't have any time before then and we have to wait for a day off from work after Thanksgiving. Or maybe we simply procrastinate and can't get going until the frenzy starts or until when the stores are all fully decorated and Christmas songs and Carols are playing non-stop to put the thrill and magic into the festive season that is Christmas. Average Christmas holiday shoppers go out in force and are primarily motivated by the sales that occur during the official Christmas shopping season. These shoppers fully believe they are getting good prices and bargains from Christmas and holiday sales. But it is unlikely that retailers will offer the lowest prices during a time that is prime shopping season. The lesson for the average and for all shoppers during the traditional Christmas shopping season is to carefully evaluate prices and consider if the item is fairly priced when compared to a the price during other times of the year. If items are simply snapped up during Christmas and the holidays because they are being offered in a 'sale,' the shopper may end up busting his or her budget or having 'buyers regret' about a purchase. Those who are average and early shoppers have some time however to get over any unwise purchases because such purchases can be returned and a better choice can be made. There is however another type of shopper. The late or chronically late shopper is stuck with hoping that 'Aunt Sally' or Grandma will like the gift selected, even if the buyer had second thoughts about it after the purchase was made. The late shopper is one who realizes that there us a mere five (5) days less than a week to go -- before Christmas and not a single gift has been bought. Worse off than the late shopper is the chronically late Christmas shopper who is in a mad frenzy two (2) days before Christmas and faces a crisis when a desired gift such as a book has to be ordered and won't be shipped in time for Christmas. While those shoppers can get comfort from knowing they will likely benefit from the lowest markdowns of the period, they will also find scanty selections and some items, primarily clothing, that appear a bit worn from all the looking over and handling done by the hordes of Christmas shoppers. But even these late shoppers, who are often procrastinators and who can only be spurred into action by a looming deadline, can execute a strategy to make their Christmas shopping successful. Such a strategy involves more don'ts than things to do. Late Christmas shoppers should try to avoid having lists that have unusual or hard-to-get items that will need to be ordered. While retailers will offer shipping in time for Christmas, orders usually have to be made before a certain time, for example at least 36-72 hours before Christmas. If items aren't ordered within that timeframe, there is no guarantee that they will arrive for the big day. Those who do their Christmas shopping late should also be prepared to find items on their own in stores and not expect to get 'hand-holding help' from sales clerks. With only days to go before Christmas and with everyone trying to get their last minute shopping done, it is impossible for most retailers to have enough staff to offer expert or even meaningful help to please the majority of Christmas shoppers. Soon after the excitement of Christmas Day passes, what frequently is the topic of conversations and what remains memorable in the New Year, is what gifts were received and given. So, in the coming days, it may be worth it to assess the type of shopper that you are and create a plan and strategy to make sure you will be a perfect Santa who will deliver the right gifts to friends and loved ones. 25. Where To Do Christmas Shopping Christmas shopping can be seen as an absolute thrill and to some extent, as a necessary evil. It's a thrill to be out and about amid the sights and sounds of the season and the jovial crowds. But for the same reasons, others dread shopping at Christmas time. These days, you don't have to leave your home much or at all to get your Christmas and holiday shopping done. That's because the Internet puts shopping at your fingertips. And rather than competing with traditional retail stores, the Internet has actually expanded the ability of traditional stores to sell more merchandise to a larger number of people in various locations. Both large and small retailers can be found at their specialized Web sites on the Internet. Most will also offer selections that can be found in the store. Many times online retail sites will have additional items available, or access to additional items, that aren't found in the store. Another advantage of shopping by the Internet is that it offers access to stores that are located anywhere. It's therefore becomes easier to order a unique gift from niche or specialty boutique stores in locations that you otherwise wouldn't be able to reach. It is also easy to do comparison shopping using 'shop bots' or simply comparing prices yourself. If Christmas shopping is done through the Internet, you have to pay careful attention to the order times and any cutoff dates to get an item delivered in time for Christmas. Based on anticipated volume, most sites will give a date or the number of hours within which orders have to be confirmed for guaranteed delivery of the items before Christmas. The mall is a popular place for traditional Christmas and holiday shopping to be done. Malls offer one-stop shopping and have a large variety and wide selection of merchandise, which can minimize endless searching of several stores for some items. They will also be beautifully decorated for Christmas, have splendid displays and a Santa Claus to interact with children. These and other activities that are usually at the mall during Christmas and the holidays also make them an interesting place to take children to enjoy some of the season's delights. To maximize shopping at the mall, you'll need to know the differences between the mall department stores. You'll need to find out which stores have certain exclusive brands, which stores are moderately priced and which are more upscale. There are also the specialty standalone stores and spinoff store branches for children and teenagers that seek to fill a particular niche. As an example, stores have emerged that carry only styles related to hip-hop culture or styles that have an 'urban' look. So it may be worth consideration to start your shopping at a specialty store, because they are more focused, and then continue at a department store that has a wider selection. Another interesting place to shop at malls are the standalone kiosks that are usually located at intervals in the open areas of a mall where there is a lot of foot traffic. These kiosks are more likely to carry one-of-a kind and unique items, which can even provide or inspire ideas for Christmas presents. Also at malls will be specialized that offer home/household items, books, music and movies, electronics, sports gear and shoes. All of the types of mall stores previously mentioned can also be found at Outlet or Factory Malls or Warehouses, which offer lower prices. These stores often carry clearance items from their related mall store, merchandise with minor flaws and merchandise that is made for the outlet. Those merchandise usually have slight style variations from what is found in mall stores and may also be made from different materials. A final place to consider for Christmas shopping is downtown businesses. They are usually small and intimate, have unique offerings and offer more personalized assistance. Although downtown businesses are also likely to be crowded at Christmas time, there likely will be less of a crush of people like that found at malls.
26. Making Gift Selections at Christmas Many people adore Santa Claus because he brings them the perfect that often produces squeals of joy. Individuals, especially children, are often thrilled to get what they want and need from Santa. To bring joy to others, you also need to not only give a Christmas gift but to also try to get an item that will be a good match for the individual by selecting a gift that suits the person. It is possible to find the right Christmas gift without having to fall for the easy way out by giving a 'sweater.' To find the right gift for Christmas for anyone means a gift has to capture one or both of the following qualities something that you know the person will like or desire, or something with useful purpose that will captivate the person. A Christmas gift that captivates the receiver will produce a 'wow' reaction or comments of 'that's cool' from others, who will be wishing silently that they had gotten such a gift. The key to selecting a wonderful Christmas gift that will produce a 'wow' reaction is to make sure the item is one that will appear interesting to others. The gift itself may have limits to its use. That means it may not be something that will be used frequently, such as a sweater or other clothing. The 'wow' factor or coolness of the gift must however overshadow it's possible limited usefulness. Selecting a Christmas gift that is desired can prove to be difficult if you think you don't know what the person wants or needs. But when we think that we don't really know what someone wants for a Christmas gift, our real thought is that we haven't really heard the person specifically say they want or desire a particular item. That however is not an obstacle to truly knowing what someone may desire for a Christmas gift. To help to identify an item that will make a perfect Christmas gift, you need to focus on what you know about the person - various qualities, what leisure activity the person likes, what type of books, art and music for example, do they like. To focus on what you know about the person, think about conversations you have engaged in with the individual. Conversations in general can often give splendid ideas of good gifts to give for Christmas because oftentimes people will say 'I wish for .....' when talking with someone else. The character of the person is also a good indicator of items that will make wonderful Christmas gifts. Remember, a gift for Christmas is a token to show love, fondness or appreciation or some combination of those qualities. An item that captures a quality of a person is therefore likely to be much appreciated. So, for example, books make good gifts for someone who likes to read. But if the person also has a humorous persona, a book on jokes would be a desirable Christmas gift. For someone who likes to drive, a travel book on scenic routes is likely to create a large amount of interest. A Christmas gift like that also could stir some 'wow' remarks as it could easily cause others to want become engrossed in browsing it. A Christmas gift like that also is an example of something that is very useful but which may not get a lot of frequent use. Another strategy for selecting a perfect Christmas gift is to think of how something will fit into someone's lifestyle. A friend once recalled that wish another friend often expressed in conversation was for a playstation. But knowing that the friend also didn't have much leisure time to actually sit and use a playstation, a hand-held game gadget was given instead that could be used during commute on public transportation or in 10-15 minutes of short downtime. Selecting Christmas gifts for friends, acquaintances and loved ones that will be remembered and treasured is therefore not too much of a difficult task if the strategies previously mentioned are kept in mind. 27. General Festivities and Entertainment at Christmas Christmas is described as a festive season therefore we should all engage in activities during the season that provide entertainment, merriment and which give pleasure. Because Christmas is about celebration, many types of festivities can be found to suit all preferences to make the season a joyful one. A readily available option is watching Christmas movies. This can be done from the comfort of home or by spending a few hours out at the theater. A wonderful option now available for obtaining movies is to rent them via the Internet. It's an option that allows you to get any movie you want to see whether traditional, popular or a remake of an original title. There's also fairly easy access to obscure movie titles, as well as movies with holiday or Christmas themes. Although Christmas movies embody the spirit of the season, you can also take time out during Christmas to enjoy new releases that may or may not have a holiday theme. Christmas is a good time to catch notable new releases because they are timed to be shown in theaters before the end of the year to be considered for prestigious Oscar nominations. Performances of Christmas plays that depict the Nativity scene are also another popular entertainment during Christmas. Although these performances are done year after year, they never grow old because of creative difference in interpreting the story, and also in how each role is acted by different actors every year. The dramatization of the Nativity demonstrates the meaning of Christmas and can also simplify the meaning of Christmas for children. Participation in the Nativity is also an important activity for children in drama groups at schools and church groups. Along with depicting the meaning of Christmas, the Nativity play also portrays moral lessons that can serve as an inspiration for the way to become a more spiritual person and to live a better life. Watching or taking part in the Nativity play at Christmas time can therefore affect your attitude and outlook on life. Musical entertainment at Christmas can come from pausing during shopping to listen to a choral group at the mall or downtown. It can also be entertaining to simply hum along to a Christmas carol or song being played on the radio. Carols as a tradition at Christmas is said to originate in England and France in the Middle Ages. At the time, carols were dances accompanied by singing. The tradition that Anglo-Saxons preferred was to have small choirs gather on the village green and sing carols and Christmas songs to passersby. Over time, the meaning of the word changed to refer to only certain types of songs. The tradition of carols is also believed to evolve from the angels, shepherds and Wise Men who bowed down to sing praises and to worship Baby Jesus. For those who are really lovers of the arts, professional groups like Orchestras, Symphonies, Conservatories and Choirs also offer splendid concerts during Christmas. They will also sing Christmas carols and songs. But the harmony of their voices accompanied by a full compliment of instruments provides a richer and more melodious rendition of the carols that is unlikely to be heard anywhere else. Probably the most popular festivities at Christmas are parties, which seem to happen everywhere all the time at Christmas. There are parties at work, home, with friends and class parties at school. Even social hubs such as bars may have special nights with different food and lower-priced drinks during Christmas. It seems there is no end to the festivities during Christmas. It's always important however to have a good time, to remember the unfortunate and to reach out to them and to have fun but in a responsible manner. 28. Christmas Movies Movies related to Christmas help to create a fun atmosphere and can also teach moral lessons related to Christmas. While everyone will have different Christmas movies that are most enjoyable, there are some that remain favorites. 'A Christmas Story' is told from the point of view of a little boy in the days before Christmas and on Christmas Day. It shows him doing routine things each day but against the backdrop of the Christmas season with the decorated store windows, Santa Claus, the snow and frostiness, and of course his wish for a Christmas toy. But his parents disapprove of the toy that he desired. The movie is good in showing the innocence of the Christmas season. 'A Christmas Carol,' written by noted author Charles Dickens, tells the story of old Scrooge whose only purpose in life is to make money. Scrooge puts making money above his family, friends and everyone who cares about him. His response to Christmas is a grumpy, 'Bah Humbug.' He gets a different experience however, when ghosts appear to him and try to point out the error of his ways. The movie's lesson is about the importance of appreciating people in your life. 'It's A Wonderful Life' is a story about hope and the worthiness of everyone. It tells the story of a man experiencing despair and self-destruction because he thinks he is of no worth to those around him, and they would be better off if he didn't exist. An angel grants him his desire and he gets to see what he contributes and what life would be like without him. Every Christmas, 'A Miracle on 34th Street' can be seen on television. It asks and answers the question 'Is there really a Santa Claus?' The movie is about a man who claims to be Kris Kringle, or Santa Claus, but is not believed and so he has to prove his identity claim. 'National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation' is about the Griswold family with Mr. Griswold, played by Chevy Chase, who gets into silly accidents that provide a lot of humor. The movie shows the lives of the family as they celebrate Christmas and the difficulties that arise when their entire family comes to visit for Christmas. 'Home Alone' is about a large and chaotic family with lots of kids who are going on Christmas vacation. Amid the chaos of leaving on the morning of the trip, one child is left behind and must stay and fend for himself in a very large house during the Christmas season. At first he was happy to be alone but then two thieves break in and he has to fight them off. The movie shows the importance of family and loved ones. A sequel, 'Home Alone 2: Lost in New York' tells of the boy who was left alone going to an aunt and uncle's home and again encountering the two thieves who are seeking revenge. 'How The Grinch Stole Christmas' was first made as an animation for television but other versions have since been done as motion pictures. The Grinch is a grouchy, green man who lives in the mountains above the small town of Whoville where residents, called The Whos, celebrate Christmas enthusiastically every year. The Grinch who doesn't like Christmas wants to spoil it for Whoville and so he tries to steal all the toys, food and gifts that The Whos have accumulated for Christmas. The movie provides a lesson on the true meaning of Christmas. 'A Charlie Brown Christmas is an animated television movie about the popular Peanuts comic strip. The movie is about the comic strip's main character, Charlie Brown, and tells of the experience with his friends for Christmas. It also has Biblical references that relates to the true meaning of Christmas. 'Frosty The Snowman' is an animated story about a snowman, named Frosty, that comes to life and who must avoid a greedy musician who is trying to get the magic that brought Frosty to life. The movie is very funny and has lots of wonderful songs. 'Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer' is also an animation about the reindeer with a shiny nose that kisses a pretty girl and also helps out his friends. 29. Christmas Activities for Children While adults indulge in the festivities and revel in enjoying the spirit of Christmas, undoubtedly it is more fun for children because they are able to lose themselves in the wide-eyed wonders and glorious splendor of the season. Activities at Christmas that children can enjoy include all of the sights, sounds and scents that put the magic and a festive spirit into Christmas. At major shopping centers like malls, children can enjoy various window displays and arrangements inside stores that show Christmas sceneries. The displays, which can be moving, stationary or interactive, can be so numerous and mesmerizing that parents often arrange a trip to such malls just for children to view the many displays. Shopping malls are also a popular place where Santa Claus is sure to be found. For a small fee, children can get to sit or stand with Santa Claus, talk with him and most importantly, get a picture taken with Santa. Those children, like pre-teens and teenagers, who may be too old for Santa Claus can also be entertained by the various grand Christmas displays as well as one of their favorite activity - shopping. Various colorful and twinkling lights is certain to be a part of the displays at malls and shopping centers, but other arrangements of Christmas lighting can also be a delightful activity for children to enjoy. Because Christmas displays have become so common, everyone has some form of lighting arrangement at their houses. This has led to neighborhoods where it is common to see an increase in traffic during the Christmas season because of the fanciful, landscaped displays of outdoor Christmas light decorations. These usually include figures of reindeers, Santa, sleighs, angels, shepherds and animals that are a part of the story of Jesus' birth. It can therefore become an activity to take a tour of these neighborhoods with children for them to feast their eyes. In a similar manner to the grand Christmas lighting that can be found in some neighborhoods and the occasional home, there are also themed-lighting at quaint villages and special large, Christmas light displays at venues like some public parks. The displays can be similar to those seen in neighborhoods except that they are usually on a larger and grander scale. As an example, a typical home lawn display will have a Christmas display that includes Santa, a sleigh and a reindeer or two all as separate pieces. A Christmas display at a themed-village or park would have a large and possibly moving display of Santa Claus with elflike figures in a sleigh that is being pulled by reindeers as one big structure. These Christmas sights are what often bring out the wide-eyed wonder in children as their faces express awe and amazement. While children will have a beautifully decorated Christmas tree at home to enjoy, it will also be fun for them to go to other lightings of Christmas tree because again, those trees are usually bigger and decorated on a grander scale than the ones in their living rooms at home. Just about every town, city or municipality will have a Christmas tree lighting in a central location. Sometimes local firehouses will also have a special Christmas tree lighting. At these events, children can see a local official or personality flip a switch to symbolically turn on the Christmas tree, in a similar like they would have seen the President do on television. Those local events are likely to include Christmas treats and goodies, a Santa Claus to present Christmas gifts to children and the singing of Christmas carols. Taking time out to engage in activities just for the enjoyment of children will make them feel special, experience the magic of Christmas and create memories that will last a lifetime. 30. Christmas Plays/Performances It's always a good thing when families can enjoy outings together. Attending Christmas plays, performances and concerts offer wonderful holiday entertainment for all members of the family. Attending Christmas performances and concerts offers wonderful entertainment for the entire family and provides another way to enjoy the festivities of the Christmas season. Families usually don't have to venture too far from their home to enjoy a Christmas play or concert. That's because amateur actors, singers and budding musicians in their neighborhood will usually take part in several Christmas performances for local residents. These amateur but entertaining events can be found at local schools, churches or at a community theater or performance center. It's very popular for those groups to stage performances of the Nativity story, or other Christmas related works such as 'A Christmas Carol.' churches and school groups may even have a complete concert series that includes a fulllength production of a play along with choirs, soloists and the band singing Christmas carols and other Christmas songs. What makes local Christmas performances special is that members of the community and maybe even of your own household can be among the entertainers. It is therefore special to see familiar faces doing something interesting and different. For those who are budget-conscious, the performances are usually priced to be very affordable, therefore offering an economic incentive to go out and have an enjoyable afternoon or evening. Those people who are lovers of the arts and who are more interested in seeing a professional performance will likely also have a professional theatrical company within reasonable proximity of their residence. Professional groups may also perform Christmas classics such as 'A Christmas Carol' or they may do another dramatic production from the works of other playwrights. Music lovers also have a variety of performances to enjoy at Christmas time. While one can always catch various groups singing carols in downtown areas or at malls, there are other places to hear rich, melodious performances of Christmas music. These include concerts by acclaimed or recognized conservatories, orchestras, symphonies and renowned choir groups. The beauty of hearing Christmas music by these groups is in the accompaniment of instruments and the harmonious blending of voices, which all happens in a venue that has acoustic features to optimize the auditory pleasure of the performances. The different components that together make the whole performance offers a richer quality to Christmas songs and carols that may be described as 'sounding heavenly.' Another popular artistic performance that is popular during the Christmas season is classical dance in the form of ballet, and particularly the performance of the 'Nutcracker' ballet. With music written by Tchaikovsky, the story is about a young girl who has a dream on Christmas Eve of a Nutcracker Prince and a fierce battle with a Mouse King that has seven heads. After a fierce battle between the Nutcracker, who leads an army of toy soldiers, and the Mouse King who leads an army of mice, the Nutcracker is captured. But the little girl throws her slipper at the Mouse King, hits him in the head and kills him. In the end, the Nutcracker turns into a Prince and takes the little girl to the magical and enchanting Land of Snow with dancing snowflakes and the Land of Sweets with the Sugar Plum Fairy. Attending Christmas plays, concerts or musical performances serves the basic purpose of providing enjoyment, but it can also help young people, and even adults, to develop an appreciation for the arts. Seeing different variations and the creativity in performances of Christmas plays, as well as hearing different renditions of Christmas songs, can be the first exposure that leads to a lifelong love of the arts and maybe a dream to pursue a career in the arts. 31. Christmas Music Christmas music in the form of carols, songs stringed or instrumental renditions, is constantly heard during the Christmas season. Music forms the background against which everything else takes place to make the Christmas season different from all others. Christmas music plays such a significant role that during the entire season, other popular music temporarily disappears from radio. That may be the reason for all the different types of Christmas music sacred, secular, popular and traditional -- that have emerged throughout the years. Popular and secular renditions of Christmas music has been developed by musical artists and performers who 'make over' classic styles of Christmas music with their own personal touch. One reason for popular make overs of Christmas music may be because regular popular music is not heard during the holiday season so pop musicians and artists do Christmas music to keep their voices always in earshot of their fans and the general audience. It could also be that they want to capitalize on the popularity of Christmas music. Whatever the reason, it has become a trend for popular musical artists to release new Christmas or holiday music albums during the season. Since variety is the spice of life, it means there are more variations of secular, sacred, classical or traditional and popular renditions of Christmas music that can be heard. Music at Christmas time is important to create the right mood. The prevalence of Christmas music is what helps to create the special holiday type of feeling or spirit that is present everywhere and among everyone. Everyone has particular Christmas songs and carols that are favorites, maybe for the melody, the lyrics or because they are reminders of special memories. The most popular Christmas song is said to be 'White Christmas,' which is popular even in warm and tropical climates where people sing of 'dreaming of a White Christmas,' which in reality they would not want. Other popular Christmas songs and carols are: Away in a Manger, which tells the Nativity story in song; O Holy Night, Silent Night, Joy to the World, Hark the Herald Angels and Angels we have Heard on High. All of those songs are sacred and are all about the story of Jesus' birth. Of note also is Handel's majestic 'Hallelujah Chorus,' which is a favorite that choirs like to sing because of the splendor embodied in the music. Nat King Cole's 'Chestnut Roasting On an Open Fire' is a classical favorite. It defies categorization as it isn't sacred but is also not considered secular like a song such as 'Sleigh Ride.' Among secular Christmas songs, there are also funny ones such as 'I Saw Mummy Kissing Santa Claus Underneath the Mistletoe Last Night' and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. The availability of a wide Christmas music selection makes it possible to choose ones for different occasions, such as for general use at home, for a fun or informal party or for a formal dinner. As an example, selections can be made to create the right mood at the start of a party, followed by more lively music when the party is in full swing, and then selections to slow down the pace when the party is nearing its end. It's also important to note that professional groups such as choirs, symphonies and orchestras will also record performances of Christmas music on albums. For the very serious and critical music aficionados, these albums will provide wonderful listening pleasure and also make good Christmas presents. Listening to music from those groups is also a way of enjoying their performances if doesn't get the opportunity to attend a live concert by the professional group. Whatever selections of Christmas music are made however, it's likely that it will create a festive mood and spirit among all who hear or are listening to the music. 32. Holiday Parties at Work During Christmas and the holiday season, the festive spirit and relaxed mood even extends into the workplace where the pace is likely to slow considerably as the volume of work is lessened. By having parties at work, everyone can unwind a bit, have some fun and enjoy the satisfaction from the results of a year of hard work. Colleagues at work can celebrate goals that have been accomplished and look forward to an even more rewarding year. Parties at work during Christmas and the holidays may include a voluntary gift exchange and individuals have to make a decision whether or not they will participate in it. In a situation where an individual may not know other colleagues very well and is unsure what Christmas present to give, it may be better to opt out of exchanging gifts. If the party and gift exchange is among a fairly large group, such as company-wide or of several departments, it may not be noticed if someone doesn't participate in the gift exchange. If it's a small group however, it is likely to be noticed. To eliminate the possibility of any negative talk regarding non-participation, it would likely be better to be among those agreeing to exchange gifts. A basic thing to remember in selecting gifts for Christmas gift exchanges at work, which are usually called Secret Santa, is to not choose anything that could be considered inappropriate or offensive. Although the sender won't be revealed, it won't leave a good feeling and it will become the topic of conversation among everyone. Separate from the 'Secret Santa' Christmas gift exchange at work, it may also be a good gesture to give Christmas presents, which can be small tokens or even just candies or treats, to colleagues in a division or department if you are the respective leader or manager. Such a gesture shows thoughtfulness and that the work of individuals has been appreciated. It will be a good note on which to end the year and to start a new one. Another important thing to observe during Christmas parties at work is good behavior that is considered casual but still business-like. Although there will be much fun and laughter, it will still be occurring within a work environment or within the parameters of work. So, individuals will still be observed by their colleagues. It is of utmost importance to be careful about how much drinking is done, or how much alcohol is consumed, because drunken or any offensive behavior will not be tolerated and could have negative repercussions on one's career. The consideration of good etiquette is also something to be remembered and observed at holiday parties at work. As examples, talking and laughing with food in one's mouth, emptying a platter of delicious hors d'ouevres or bagging candies, cookies or treats to take home are all considered poor etiquette. A Christmas party at work can also provide an opportunity to have a brief conversation with supervisors, managers and other company officials whom one may not come in contact with frequently. It can be the ideal time to leave a good impression on a key decision maker. By introducing yourself and striking up a conversation, it is also putting a face to a name or making yourself known and standing out among fellow colleagues. For those who are strivers and who want to advance such interactions at work holiday and Christmas parties can be beneficial and advantageous. It's therefore important to keep in mind that while Christmas parties at work are fun, there are still ways to inconspicuously seek some benefit while you laugh and enjoy a break from the stress, competitiveness and daily routine of work. 33. Holiday Parties at Home It can be very satisfying to cater to friends, families and loved ones during the Christmas holidays. Taking the time to share food, fun and laughter in a happy, jovial manner truly embraces the spirit of Christmas. In deciding to have a party at home, one of the first things to consider is whether it will be formal or informal. Among the key things that need to be considered are the number of people to attend, the menu, the preparation of food and arrangement of decoration that is attractive and has themes for the holidays. It's also important to make a note of how much, if any, help will be available from friends or family members. A formal Christmas party likely would include a small number of people not more than 12 and likely fewer -- who would be seated at a table for the duration of the meal. It means that place settings and seating have to be done and a decision made on whether the meal will be a three- or four-course dinner. The advantage of a formal dinner is that it is very organized, it has a known content and everyone around the table usually engages in pleasant conversation. It also usually provides a good opportunity to get to know and hear from everyone present without having to initiate any small talk, which some people are not comfortable doing. As the host of a formal dinner, you will also have the responsibility of keeping the meal flowing smoothly by having each course brought out at the perfect timing and to also be aware of any special needs that a guest may have. In contrast, an informal Christmas party at home is organized in a different manner and does not have the predictability of a formal one. The fun and festive spirit of an informal holiday party comes from groups of people who mill around, move about freely to have conversations, laugh and enjoy munching on Christmas treats, goodies and other foods. Despite the easy, fun-filled atmosphere, it is necessary to plan the use of space and to think about the area that people will use or wander around. Making such a plan will facilitate contact between partygoers so that the party spirit will pervade everywhere and put participants in a livelier mood. Another consideration to make for an informal Christmas party among friends and family is if children will be present and about their ages, if they are allowed to attend. Children, even older ones, always need careful supervision. If children are going to attend a holiday party at home, arrangements should be made for adequate supervision of them and special activities should also be provided that can occupy their attention. An important feature that must be a part of a festive Christmas party at home is the right mix of music. In selecting Christmas music, consideration should be given to what will be played at the start of the party as guests are welcomed and introduced to each other, the songs that can be played later to inject or enhance liveliness and later to create the right mood as the partygoers bid farewell with 'Merry Christmas' or 'Happy Holidays.' Along with the music, Christmas decorations and even the food can also help to enliven a Christmas party at home. Food that is interesting because it looks 'pretty' due to the color palette of items, infuses a mellow feeling among guests and adds an intangible element to the level of enjoyment and excitement of the partygoers. Christmas parties at home can also be personalized with special cookies, treats and dishes that are ethnic. The presence of some ethnic food, but not an overwhelming quantity, which isn't frequently enjoyed by guests will be different and will add something that is unique to the host. And that is a part of what a Christmas or holiday party at home is about. It's to entertain family, friends and acquaintances with a personal style while all enjoy some merriment in the season of goodwill and good cheer. 34. Christmas Games and other Fun Activities Maybe no other single activity really embraces camaraderie, playfulness and fierce but friendly competition as heartily participating in playing indoor games with friends and family. Christmas games does all those things but also serves the purpose of bringing friends and family together to interact directly with each other in a competitive and happy way. Participating in Christmas games is another way of sharing, but it is also doing something tangible to get into the festive, jolly and relaxed mode for the holidays. Otherwise, its easy to get caught up in all the preparation and shopping and become ridden with anxiety. Here are some holiday and Christmas games that will cause fierce but friendly competition and leave everyone in a jolly mood. For the 'Gift Wrap' game, items needed will be small gifts, wrapping paper, scotch tape and music that can be turned on and off at will. Each gift item is wrapped in several layers of paper. The number of layers used will depend on the duration you want the game to last. A gift is given to the group which should start passing around the gift when the music starts. Whenever the music stops, whoever has the gift should remove one layer of gift wrap. This continues until the last layer of paper is removed. Whoever has the gift unwrapped gets to keep it. The items needed for the 'Sock Guessing' Christmas game are two or three thick new thermal socks, items used or seen during Christmas, pens, pencils and paper. Each sock is stuffed with 20-25 items that are used or seen during the Christmas season. These can be useful items such as scotch tape, ornaments, decorations etc. Each sock should have the same items and the opening should be tied with a ribbon so the contents inside aren't visible. The socks are then passed around for each person to try to feel and guess the items then write down what they think is in the sock. The person with the most correct guesses of objects is the winner and can be awarded a separate special gift or token. The 'Gift Grab Card Game' needs two deck of cards and a few small Christmas gifts that are wrapped to look very interesting and enticing. One deck of cards is passed out one at a time to guests. Each should have an equal number of cards from the deck. The gifts are then placed in the center of the group. Someone then calls out cards from the second deck. Whoever has an identical card gets to choose a gift. When all the gifts are taken, everyone can steal gifts from each other until the deck is finished and those with gifts get to open and keep them as prizes. The fun increases when the stealing begins because everyone will have different ideas about which gift looks interesting and try to hang onto it by stealing it over and over if it is stolen. Some people will also try to disguise the fact they have a gift, although they should be kept in sight. A children's Christmas game is 'Pin the Nose on the Reindeer,' which is the Christmas game version of 'Pin the tail on the Donkey.' The items needed are a drawing of a reindeer's head with an incomplete drawing of the nose and several noses with the names on one side and tape on the other. The picture should be placed against a wall so that children can reach the nose. Each child then gets a nose. They take turns being blindfolded spun around a couple times to disorient them a little then told to walk to the reindeer and place the nose on the picture. The child who places the nose closes to the reindeer's nose wins. A delightful Christmas game for work is the 'Match the Desk to the Item' game. A day or so before the Christmas party at work, someone needs to secretly take one item from each person's desk and assign a number to each item. At the party, all the items are displayed for everyone to guess whose desk the item belongs to. 35. Christmas Decorations The various types of decoration used at Christmas are what gives a pretty and sparkling look, and what puts some splendor into the season. The Christmas tree with its myriad decorations is a standard and central decorative element of Christmas. But the presence of the Christmas tree is also enhanced by decorations such as wreaths, garlands, lights and figurines. Wreaths have a round or circular shape and are often used as the decorative piece on the front of a door. Variations of wreaths include berry, grapevine, poinsettia and snow. The berry wreath will have individual and small clusters of red berries, holly leaves with features like a gold tint, pine cones and needle styles. A grapevine wreath has a vine-like look and may have pine sprigs and clusters of red berry. Poinsettia wreaths showcase leaves that are red or different shades of red, and may have glittered fruits such as pear, apple and grape clusters throughout its structure. Based on the size of a poinsettia wreath, it may also have large or small pine cones, pine sprigs and holly leaves. And then there are snow wreaths that have an icy look from pine cones that are sprinkled or covered with snow and which are scattered throughout the wreath. Garlands are primarily used to decorate stairways, banisters and mantels. Garlands also have variations such as those that have a lighted Christmas tree look with twinkling lights and tiny ornaments or tinsel to sparkle. Others such as a mixed needle lighted garland would have branches of wide and thin pine needle and Christmas lights. Christmas lights come in various forms and are also used in numerous ways to make homes and business places shine and sparkle during the holidays. Christmas lights may be colored or plain, may or may not twinkle, and may be single-stringed or have multiple strings to be hung to create a look like icicles, which makes them very flexible in how they can be used. To beautify houses during the Christmas season, Christmas lights may be strung around the roof line, in shrubs, placed at windows to form different patterns and placed on patios or porches to hang as icicles. Lighted candles are also used in windows to make them visually appealing. Another type of lighted decoration seen during Christmas is in the form of figures that are placed on lawns. It's a matter of personal taste that decides how many figures to place on lawns, whether a lot or a few pieces or sometimes just a single one may be attractive enough. Christmas trees are the standard decorative elements that are mandatory during the season. They may be real or artificial and can be placed inside or outside. If placed outside, they should be lighted and also in a sufficiently lit but subdued lighted area to maximize their visual beauty. Christmas trees are wonderful to decorate because the entire family can participate in the decorative process by placing the ornaments, baubles, lights and tinsel on the tree. Some ornaments may even be personal, such as hand-made items or treasured keepsake mementos. When these are placed on the tree every year, it can become a tradition that is kept in the family and which creates a special memory as each Christmas comes around. Poinsettia flowers, with their flaming red leaves, are also a staple decoration at Christmas time. They can be placed wherever it's suitable to place plants. Poinsettias are commonly used around offices in general and personal work spaces during the Christmas season. If there's snow and a lucky 'White Christmas,' especially on Christmas Day, then it's worth it to bundle up and with the children jump into the snow to make a 'Frosty Snowman.' While a smiling snowman on a lawn is a temporary decorative feature during Christmas, it's always a surprise and delight because it means that children were out playing in the snow and having fun. Given the many types, variations and ways in which Christmas decorations can be used, everyone can have some pleasure and be creative in arranging some form of Christmas decoration to add their own sparkle and twinkle to the holidays. 36. Decorating Strategies At Christmas With so much decorative choice at Christmas, a strategy is needed to ensure that whatever is done looks organized, well arranged and beautiful, and not haphazard and disorganized. By doing some basic or traditional decoration, along with trying creative and different ideas, a beautiful and pleasing decorative environment can be created in all homes. Traditional decorating ideas include using wreaths for doors or entranceways and on a wall with unobstructed view. Garlands can be placed along surface where they can be hung vertically or horizontally. And Christmas lights can be used by itself or with garlands, in shrubs and of course on Christmas trees. Using Christmas lights outdoors along the frame of houses and icicle shaped ones to decorate the roof lines of homes have become very popular. Icicle lights are just as easy as regular lights to put in place and they create a very pleasing display for the holiday season. Adding color to these outdoor light displays can also make houses and the lighting display look more spectacular. For indoor lighting, candles have become an attractive Christmas decorative item as they can light up the night in a subdued but beautiful manner. Candles create a pleasing look when displayed at windows if there are at least two sets of two or three windows directly above each other, which is in a vertical pattern. New technologies with candles have also made them safer to use. There are electrical candles but also battery-operated ones that can be used safely instead of electrical ones or in places where there aren't any electrical outlets. There are also creative ways to use and incorporate various items around the home to make Christmas decorations. Christmas or holiday ribbons can be used to make bows that are pinned onto curtains to provide a festive look and a creative Christmas decoration. Like curtains, houseplants can also be dressed up for the holidays. Small Christmas ornaments can be gently placed on houseplants to give porches, patios and front lawns a surprising Christmas decorative look. Although many people don't use Christmas stockings anymore to stuff Christmas gifts, they can still be used to create perfect Christmas decorations. A collection of Christmas stockings can be hung on the mantle, shelf or a wall with or without anything inside them. They will look just as beautiful as those that are often seen in stores. Christmas lights can also be wrapped along with garlands on a banister or stair railing to add a twinkling Christmas look. Mistletoe can also be hung just about anywhere with or without Christmas lights. If the tale about mistletoe is believed however, then it should be hung somewhere with room underneath where two people can have a friendly holiday kiss or even a hug. Fake snow can also be sprinkled on garlands, mistletoes and wreaths to further enhance their appearance with something from the Christmas season. And to borrow a decorative feature from department stores, several differently sized boxes can be wrapped, piled in a haphazard manner and placed in a corner from floor to ceiling to make a gift pillar decoration. Old Christmas cards can also be used for decoration by cutting pictures from them to make a collage. The pictures are then glued onto a poster board that can be framed or hung as is on a wall as Christmas decoration. Even Christmas cookie cutters can be put to an easy, simple and creative use as a decorative item at Christmas time. A ribbon can be used to string two or three or even single cookie cutters that can be placed on the Christmas tree or at a window as decorative ornaments. Any home can therefore be decorated to be appealing for Christmas and the holidays, given the many ideas and ways that Christmas decoration can be done. 37. Christmas Lights It's only fitting, perhaps, that along with the magic of Santa Claus at Christmas, holiday and Christmas lights also came about through the work of a wizard -- the Wizard of Menlo Park in New Jersey -- as Thomas Edison was called. It was Edison who first developed and demonstrated an incandescent electric light bulb in 1879 that had commercial potential, an event that led the way for the mass use of electricity and lights on Christmas tree as used today. Before the discovery and use of electricity, candles were used to light Christmas trees. That practice evolved into having glass covers with candles inside them or metal lanterns that had small wicks. These were hung like ornaments on Christmas trees. But even after Edison invented the incandescent electric light bulb, it took many years before the large-scale manufacture of Christmas tree lights were available commercially. It is said that the idea of Christmas lights came from one of Edison's assistants, Edward Johnson. In 1882, Johnson had Christmas tree bulbs made specially for him. He displayed these electric bulbs on his Christmas tree at his home on Fifth Avenue in New York City and it drew widespread attention. But Christmas tree lights underwent many changes and improvement before General Electric Co. introduced Christmas lights on a commercial scale. As an example, among the earlier lights used on Christmas trees were night-lights that were strung together to make light strings. After the commercial introduction of Christmas lights, sales and wide-scale use of them soared. Decorative mini-lights to be used for Christmas tree lighting were introduced in the 1970s. Since then, they have continued to be popular and are the dominant types of Christmas tree lights in the marketplace. Before that, icicle lights were introduced as decoration for rooflines. Those decorative lights are the most popular ones used for outdoor landscape lighting during the holidays. Outdoor decorative lighting has evolved from Christmas tree lighting to also become a popular way to use colorful lighting during the holidays to create spectacular scenes. Another development in decorative lighting at Christmas time is the use of candles. Real candles can be used, but electric candles became more popular and safer because they present less threat of a fire hazard. Today that threat has also decreased with the development of flameless battery candles. The battery operation also makes their use more flexible because they can be placed in areas where there aren't electrical outlets. Candles are usually displayed at several windows of a house during the holidays. They produce an appealing look especially if there are at least two sets of three windows each other where they can be placed. Battery-operated candles can also be used during Christmas and the holidays for other activities such as caroling, church services, school activities and for other holiday arrangements around the home. As Christmas lights have become a mandatory feature of the holidays, they are continually being used in new ways that differ considerably from their early beginnings. Outdoor lighting is now just as common as indoor lighting and that is an area in which a change in the use of holiday lighting can be seen. Along with icicle lights that illuminate rooflines and frames of houses, there are also lights that are placed in shrubs. Holiday lighting also comes in the shape of trees and other ornaments that can be placed on lawn to enhance the visual appeal during the holidays. Many lawns are landscaped by lighting during Christmas and the holiday season with lighted figurines and various other items associated with the season. In some communities, entire blocks of streets will have such elaborate holiday lawn lighting that they attract passersby and even tourists - residents from elsewhere -- who are captivated by the spectacular visual displays of the landscaped holiday lighting. 38. Christmas Carols The tradition of caroling and Christmas carols is believed to have originated in England when wandering musicians would go from town to town and visit castles and other homes of the rich to give impromptu performances. But there also is the belief that singing carols at Christmas likely came from the group of angels, shepherds and Wise Men who visited Jesus at his birth, because they worshiped the holy child, sang and proclaim praises unto Him. And after their visit, they continued their proclamations in the street. The origin of the word carol however, is thought to come from the word 'caroller,' which is a French word that describes a circle dance with singers. And from the twelfth through the fourteenth centuries, the carol was highly popular as a dance song. The use of carols then evolved to festivals where they were sung as processional songs and others were used as part of religious mystery plays in Europe. Some traditional qualities of a carol was that the words expressed should celebrate a topic that was seasonal, have verses and a chorus arranged alternately and have music that was suitable for dancing. Although many of the carols that are now popular at Christmas time are very old, there are others from earlier times that didn't survive. During the 17th century when the Protestants, led by Oliver Cromwell were in power in England, many Christmas caros were banned and consequently some were never heard again. The Christmas carols that survived the Protestant Reformation period didn't become very popular again until the mid-19th century to the start of the 20th century. Many of the Christmas carols that were banned, and early Christmas carols in general, had lyrics that expressed joyous and merry themes instead of the serious somber words found in church hymns. During the time when carols were banned, some composers and musicians wrote non-religious songs that had highly varied choral music, which they called carols, for Christmas. After Christmas carols again became popular, many of those songs were re-arranged with new Christian lyrics and used by the church. Making changes to Christmas carols continues in a different way today with pop artistes singing the carols to different tunes and melodies to give them a style that characterizes the particular artiste. Having Christmas carols with tunes of contemporary or popular music of today means that they are also more likely to survive because younger listeners will be interested in hearing any music that is done by their favorite or other popular singers. The popularity of Christmas carols in the United States increased in the 19th century, as it did in England, because many of the traditions related to Christmas came to the United States from England. The United States and England also have closely linked religious observances, which also accounts for the popularity and similarity of Christmas carols that are enjoyed in both countries. Today, radio stations are the first to play Christmas carols, usually starting toward mid-November, to signal the coming season. At the start of December when the Christmas season official begins, mall stores and other retail establishments will begin to pipe Christmas carols and songs through their places of business. The singing of carols at churches, schools, and by groups performing at malls usually will be a common sight starting in early to mid-December. Carol singing as a part of Nativity plays and concerts at churches and schools is usually in full swing by mid-December as the Christmas season gets into high gear and the countdown to Christmas Day begins. Whether it's the traditional tune or popular makeovers of Christmas carols that you enjoy, listening to them is part of an old Christmas tradition. And any version of a Christmas carol that is played will serve the purpose of putting you in a festive mood for Christmas that you may even want to dance, just like the music of original carols was meant to do. 39. Gift-giving At Christmas The real meaning of Christmas is often expressed as being about giving to others during the season. Giving can take many forms, but during the Christmas season the most obvious way in which giving is done is by preparing beautifully wrapped Christmas presents for family, friends, acquaintances, work colleagues, teachers and others such as business clients. The tradition of giving gifts at Christmas is believed to have started with the Three Wise Men who brought gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. But the practice of giving gifts as is common today, evolved from a retail strategy that involved Santa Claus and attracting children into stores. For that reason, giving gifts at Christmas and during the holidays has been centered on children. Giving gifts during Christmas started in the early 19th century when the celebration of Christmas was restored after a period when the Protestants in England banned Christmas celebrations. In 1820 to 1840 when Christmas celebrations regained popularity, stores started to advertise special Christmas shopping promotions. At the same time, newspapers also created advertising sections solely for holiday shopping advertisements. These special advertising sections had prominent displays of Santa Claus. In 1841 when a store in Philadelphia had a life-size model of Santa Claus, hundreds of children turned up to get a look at Santa Claus, which had become a new and popular element of revitalized Christmas celebrations. The interest in seeing Santa Claus provided a marketing idea to retailers that they could attract children and parents to stores through offers to have a look at a 'real' or 'live' Santa Claus. Because of that marketing strategy to attract children during Christmas, the focus was therefore to give Christmas presents to children. Today, gift-giving is still focused on children, but adults are as much popular recipients as children. Within families, the focus on children is evident in the fact that an individual child will get more gifts than any other individual adult member of the family. For young children, who are particularly delighted and enchanted by the holidays and Christmas festivities, toys are usually the gift given. Among older children, clothes and electronic gadgets are popular items to give as Christmas gifts. Adults are the ones however, for whom there is the widest range of items that can be given as Christmas presents. An item that will make a good Christmas or holiday present to just about any adult is a decadent box of chocolate or holiday cookies. This is enjoyed even by those who are diet-conscious because, they can be sugar- and, or, fat-free or also low in carbohydrates. At Christmas time also, many people tend to temporarily disregard any strict diet rules that they are following and so they welcome and enjoy any type of Christmas treats heartily. According to a survey done in 2004 by the National Confectioners Association, 90 percent of 1,000 adults who were surveyed responded that giving or receiving a box of chocolates and creating or receiving a stocking filled with goodies were among the top three ways they enjoyed candy during the winter holidays. A third way was having candy that was placed in a dish, which indicates that having sweet treats at Christmas time is generally enjoyed by a broad cross-section of people. Aside from family members and friends, it may also be a nice gesture to give a holiday or Christmas present to colleagues at work, teachers of your children and based on your profession, to business clients. The primary reason to give any of those categories of people holiday or Christmas gifts is likely to express appreciation. For that reason, a holiday present of goodies or treats would indeed be a sweet gift to give. 40. Different Types of Christmas Trees The tradition of Christmas trees in America came from German immigrants who had settled in Pennsylvania. It is believed that the tradition of Christmas trees started in Germany from as early as 700 A.D and was practiced by many Germans in the 1800s. It's also since that period that Christmas trees have also been available for sale in the United States. While artificial Christmas trees are popular, many people like to have a fresh Christmas tree in their homes, or outside on their lawns. And similar to all other trees, Christmas trees also have different shapes and qualities that make some types more popular than others. Along with other decorative Christmas items such as wreaths and garlands, having a Christmas tree in your home is very essential in creating a special atmosphere for the season. It is believed that Christmas trees have been available for sale in America since the 1800s, which is about the same time that the former Woolworth's department store started selling ready-made ornaments for Christmas trees. Choosing the right type of Christmas tree is important because Christmas trees are often a focal point for many family activities and traditions. Given the many types of Christmas trees that are available, it is important to think about how the tree will be used. While a tall tree may look very elegant, it may not be suitable if there aren't many adults around who can reach the tree's heights. And a very short tree may be dwarfed by other furniture in the room. It's therefore very important to carefully consider and get a tree that has a suitable height and also one that has sturdy branches to hold heavy ornaments. Artificial and real Christmas trees can often be bought from the same retail stores these days as local businesses and retail chain stores often sell both types of trees. The best place to get a real and fresh Christmas tree, and also to see a wide variety, is likely a Christmas tree farm however. Using modern technology, both types of trees can also be obtained through online transactions, via telephone as well as by mail-order through catalogs. Among Christmas trees there are certain types that are always favorites and which are bestsellers. These include: Douglas, Fraser, Noble and Balsam firs, and Scotch, Virginia and white pine trees. These evergreen trees all have all have one or more excellent features related to shape, color or sheen and fragrance, which makes them favorites for Christmas trees. The most favorite Christmas trees basically have a pyramid or cone shape. A pyramid-shaped tree is likely taller and has somewhat of an elegant look. Douglas Fir, which ranks first among Christmas tree favorites, is an example of a pyramid-shaped tree. Other examples are Fraser, Balsam and Noble firs. A cone shape tree tends to be short with dense branches, which makes them excellent for holding many ornaments and other decorations. Families that have a strong tradition of making their own ornaments, or putting mememtos on Christmas trees may consider a cone-shaped tree. Virginia and Scotch Pines, Norway Spruce and the Eastern White Pine all have cone shapes. Another feature that makes Christmas trees appealing is their color. While all trees have a green appearance, a closer look at their needles will reveal differences such as a bright or dark-green, bluegreen or yellowish-green hue. The needles may also emit a silvery sheen with the right lighting. Fraser and Noble firs both have needles with a silvery sheen, and the branches of both trees are also used for garlands and wreaths. Most people choose a fresh Christmas tree for its fragrance, which can be fairly strong or just subtle, giving off just enough of a whiff of scent. Douglas Fir, which is the most popular Christmas tree in homes and public places, is a very fragrant tree. The Balsam fir is also fairly fragrant. The Eastern White Pine is however, a tree that doesn't have much fragrance. Whether you have a favorite type of Christmas tree or will choose one from its appearance, there are many choices to satisfy the desire to have a fragrant and well-decorated tree for Christmas. 41. Selection of Christmas Trees Given the many types of Christmas trees available and the various ways in which they can be bought, it's important to know certain qualities that a Christmas tree should have so that it will be suitable for decorating and will also last through the season. One of the most important qualities a Christmas tree should have is freshness. This makes buying a tree from a Christmas Tree Farm the best option because you will observe the tree being cut at the time it is purchased. If a tree is bought elsewhere, such as from a retail lot, it is important to find out where the tree came from and when it was cut. To determine the freshness of a tree, observe whether it looks green and healthy, has a fragrant scent and has needles that are moist and flexible. If the needles appear dry or show browning, then that is a sign the tree isn't very fresh. If a large amount of green needles fall when a few branches of the tree are shaken, that's also a sign that the tree isn't the best one to buy to last for the entire season. The needles of fir trees should break crisply when they are bent. If a fir tree needle is bent and doesn't break readily with pressure, it might mean that the tree isn't absorbing water and that will affect its longevity. Another reason a Christmas tree farm can be a better option for purchasing a Christmas tree is that it will be more likely to offer more species of trees and therefore a wider variety of shapes and sizes. For those Christmas trees that are located on retail or other commercial lots, freshness can be determined by looking at the conditions in which the trees are kept. Observe whether the trees are kept in stands that hold water, if baled trees are protected from the wind and sun, if a fresh cut is put on trees and if the trees are tied down correctly. Another quality to consider in selecting the right Christmas tree is its size. Before buying a tree, its important to decide where it will be placed so that the space can be measured. You will need to do a floor to ceiling measurement and then subtract at least 10-12 inches to get the maximum height for the Christmas tree. It is recommended that at least 10-12 inches of space should be between the top of the Christmas tree and the ceiling. The bottom of the Christmas tree also needs to be checked to make sure there is adequate space between the end of it and the lowest branches. A small diagonal fresh cut, such as an inch, is made in that area to enhance absorption of water, which will make the tree last longer. This cut should be made just before the tree is placed in water. If a fresh cut is done and the tree is exposed to the air too long, the vessels can become blocked. Along with freshness and size, a tree should be selected based on the shape that you like, the smell of the needles and bark and on how dense and sturdy the branches are. For the density and sturdiness of the tree, you need to have an idea how the tree will be decorated -- how many heavy ornaments, Christmas lights or bows will be used. As an example, a fir tree that has sturdy branches will be better for holding heavy ornaments and a pine tree is good for Christmas trees that have light decorations such as bows and a string of Christmas lights. The texture of the branches and how durable or long-lasting the tree will be are also worth considering in choosing a perfect Christmas tree. 42. Effortless Christmas Tree Decoration The decoration of Christmas trees has evolved and undergone many changes, much like many of the early traditions of the Christmas season. Christmas tree lighting that started out with real candles underwent probably the biggest change when electric light became commercially available and special Christmas tree lights were manufactured. It is therefore not surprising that today you can set up Christmas trees that are expertly decorated with little or no effort. While many people choose a fresh Christmas tree for its scent, many others simply want a beautifully decorated Christmas tree and will choose an artificial or man-made tree. Artificial trees have been available in America since the start of the 20th century. Many artificial trees are made to have a similar appearance like real Christmas trees, but changes have been made to them to make them decorative and different from regular Christmas trees. As an example, in the 1950s some artificial Christmas trees had branches made of aluminum-coated paper to give them a shiny metallic look. For those who like to have a Christmas tree with a unique look, trees with a similar shiny, metallic appearance are available today. They are however made with a different material because the older trees were a fire hazard. For the those people who are very busy and don't have the time to spend carefully placing Christmas lights on trees, there are several pre-lit models of Christmas trees on the market today. A standard type of these Christmas trees look like their real counterparts except multi-colored fiber-optic lights can be found scattered throughout the limbs and branches of these trees. This arrangement saves time and effort of having to undo or untangle strings of Christmas tree lights. Another type of pre-lit artificial Christmas tree are those that are made completely of fiber optics so that the tree appears to be shaped out of strands of light that are wispy. Some of these brightly-lit fiber-optic trees also come equipped with pre-recorded Christmas songs and carols and speakers to give the added pleasure of music. Many pre-lit Christmas trees have electric Christmas tree lights however which need to be plugged into a real electrical outlet. The advantage of these trees is that the lights are already strung on them from the factory and you need only to follow the instructions about how to assemble the tree and plug in the different parts for it to appear lighted. Once this is done correctly, the tree will look as if it was decorated with lights manually or professionally. Another ready-made decorative feature of artificial Christmas trees is to have the appearance of snow-covered branches. That trend is an evolution of faux snow that is often sprinkled in garlands and wreaths to add a Christmas quality to those decorations. Icicle ornaments are also used to decorate real and artificial trees and icicle lights are commonly used along rooflines and outdoor areas for additional lighting decoration. These decorations, along with the ready-made snow-covered branches of artificial trees, all convey the frosty, icy and cold feel of the winter season when Christmas occurs. Christmas trees that arrive from the factory with lights also have decorations such as apples and minute red berries to provide additional color, and real pinecones that may or may not be frosted or sprinkled with faux snow. They may also be pre-decorated with red or gold bows, round ornaments, flowerlike patterns, dried bow and twigs and gold frosted branch tips. to give an appealing, sparkling appearance. The trees also have varying hues of green similar to real Christmas trees. Pre-lit and pre-decorated Christmas trees are therefore an excellent way to brighten the holiday in your home and enable you to gain more time to enjoy the festivities of the season. 43. Care and Disposal of Christmas Trees Since so much time and effort is put into selecting the perfect Christmas tree, it follows that similar consideration should also be given to giving the tree the best possible care. Otherwise, there will be disappointment if needles start to brown or turn yellow, or branches begin to break with days or weeks to go before the season is over. Safety is also an important reason to take proper care of your Christmas tree because a drying Christmas tree also presents a grave danger as a fire hazard. The average Christmas tree should last for about five to six weeks if the proper care is given to it. After selecting a Christmas tree and getting it home, the first thing that should be done is to make a fresh cut and place it into a stand with water. A Christmas tree shouldn't be mounted dry and the water in its stand should be replenished regularly. A fresh cut is made by cutting about an inch off the bottom in a slight diagonal shape to help the absorption of water. If a fresh cut isn't going to be made immediately after getting the tree home, it should be placed in a container with water and left to stand in a shaded area that is away from the wind. If a fresh cut isn't made and the Christmas tree is left exposed to air, the vessels for transporting water can become blocked. If this happens, another fresh cut can correct the problem and the tree would need to be immediately put in a container with water. Your Christmas tree should be secure in its stand and it should be placed away from open flames or sources of heat such as furnaces, fireplaces and air vents, all of which may dry it out. Decoration of the tree should also begin after it has been mounted in its stand. Several decoration precautions should be taken to lessen or avoid the Christmas tree being a fire hazard. Ornaments that have an open flame or candles should never be used for decoration. Christmas tree lights should be checked to make sure the bulbs are working properly, the connections are intact and that no part of the cord is damaged. If there appears to be any exposed wiring or bulbs that are not working or which are working intermittently, that string of Christmas tree lights shouldn't be used. A good Christmas tree stand should be selected since water is the most important item to getting the longest life out of your Christmas tree. In selecting a stand, find out the amount of water it can hold when a tree is placed in it. Some water will be displaced from the space taken up by the base of the tree so it is important that a selection is not made based on the total volume of water the stand can hold. According to the National Christmas Tree Association, the average Christmas tree may absorb up to one gallon of water each day. It is therefore important to check the water everyday and replenish it accordingly. To make sure your Christmas tree gets enough water, the Association recommends that one quart of water is required for each inch of the diameter of the tree's trunk. After Christmas is over and your wonderfully decorated Christmas tree has provided much joy, it is important to remove it before it dries out. Options to discard your Christmas will likely depend on the services offered by your municipality. Some municipalities will pick up Christmas trees on particular days, with a cut-off date. Some towns may require that residents take their trees to specific locations, while in others Christmas trees will be picked up with the garbage, again up to a certain date. But Christmas trees should never be burned in the fireplace as it can cause the build up of creosote, a colorless, oily substance. There's also the choice that you can continue to get a different use from your Christmas tree by cutting it to pieces yourself and be environmentally sensitive by using it for mulch. 44. All About Santa Claus It's only fitting that since Santa Claus has the magnificent capability to visit homes around the world in a single night that more than one place would claim to be his home. It's common belief that Santa hails from the wintry North Pole, but folks in Finland will also tell you that Santa calls that country his home. To prove it, the Finns will even invite you to visit Santa in his workshop before Christmas or during the year and talk with Santa Claus as he and his elves busy themselves for their end-of-year Christmas expedition around the globe. The popularity in America today of the images and legend of Santa Claus can be traced to the poem, 'Twas the Night Before Christmas,' that was written by Clement Clarke Moore in 1822. In that poem, Moore described St. Nicholas as a jolly fellow who flew from house to house in a sleigh pulled by reindeers and waited for children to go to bed on Christmas Eve before he came down the chimney to deliver Christmas presents for them. Following the distribution of that poem, the popular magazine Harper's Weekly published cartoons by Thomas Nast between 1863 and 1886 that depicted Santa as a cheerful fellow with a large round belly and long white beard who wore a bright red suit that was trimmed with white fur. In those cartoons, Santa also held a sack, which was filled with toys for boys and girls, over his shoulder. The cartoons also showed Santa reading letters from good boys and girls, working in his workshop with his elves, checking his list to make sure he had all the required toys and even showed his wife, Mrs. Claus. The tradition of Santa Claus was brought to America however by Dutch colonists who settled in New York City, which was called New Amsterdam at the time. The real St. Nicholas is said to be a minor saint from the 4th Century with a reputation for generosity and kindness that gave rise to legends of many miracles that he performed for the poor and unhappy. One of the stories about the legend of St. Nicholas is that he saved three poor girls who were sisters from being sold into a life of slavery or prostitution by their father. According to the legend, Santa Claus provided the girls with a dowry so that they could get married. The legend of St. Nicholas led to hundreds of people being devoted to him and consequently thousands of European churches became dedicated to him. After the Reformation period however, widespread practice and worship of St. Nicholas disappeared in European countries that were Protestant, except in Holland where the legend of St. Nicholas continued. St. Nicholas was known as Sint Nikolaas but that was later corrupted to Sinter Klaas. Dutch colonists took this tradition of Sinter Klaas to New York City where it was adopted using the Englist name of Santa Claus. Over time, the Dutch legend of the kindly saint was combined with old Nordic folktales about a magician who punished naughty children and rewarded good ones with presents to give rise to the stories that now exist about Santa Claus. The red and white-trimmed suit of Santa Claus is believed to be the colors that the original St. Nicholas worebecause red and white were the colors of the robes worn by traditional bishops. It is also believed that the Coca Cola Co. played a role in what is regarded as the popular look of Santa Claus today through paintings by artist Haddon Sundblom that were placed in some of the company's advertisement between 1931 and 1964. 45. Favorite Foods of Christmas Favorite foods enjoyed by Americans for any given holiday, season or special occasion will likely include some ethnic dish, given the many ethnic groups that reside in the country. Despite this variety of melting pot cuisine, there are some similarities in dishes that will be a part of most meals during celebrations such as Christmas. Christmas in the United States comes almost one month after another big holiday, Thanksgiving, in which the traditional meal must consist of a turkey as the main dish. This dish also carries over into Christmas as roast turkey is one of the main dishes that may be served for Christmas dinner. But unlike Thanksgiving, which is solely devoted to turkey meat, Christmas dinners may also include other birds or poultry. These include roast goose or duck. Roasted ham may also be served. Cranberry sauce, vegetables, pumpkin pie and a plum pudding or fruity Christmas pudding for dessert tops off traditional Christmas dinners. Mince pies and pastry that is filled with a mixture of chopped, dried fruit may also be added to the menu. For drinks at Christmas dinner, a bottle of champagne is very popular, as well as wines. But the everyday beverage of beer is a must for many people to make a meal truly enjoyable. Before Christmas Day and the big dinner arrives, there's also another type of food that Americans enjoy in large quantities during the Christmas season. The consumption and sales of candies, gingerbread and other cookies and holiday treats increases rapidly during the holidays. Similar to how department stores seek to attract shoppers to buy items for Christmas gifts, candy manufacturers also put out special boxes and types of candies for Christmas and the holiday season. A survey done in 2004 by the National Confectioners Association found that many adults derived much pleasure at Christmas from giving and receiving candies and other treats. In their responses the survey participants said that giving decadent boxes of chocolate to friends and family, placing candy canes on the Christmas tree and hiding candy treats in Christmas stockings were favorite ways to give and receive candies, cookies and treats during the holidays. Sweet treats remain popular at Christmas despite a constant message about dieting that is present in everyday life in the media, in billboards and from some food manufacturers. At Christmas time, people feel free to enjoy the festive season without constraints. But they also know that they can enjoy candies and cookies that are health conscious by eating ones that are targeted to the low-carb dieter by having ingredients that are sugar-free and fat-free or both. Cookies that are enjoyed at Christmas are often home-baked ones and usually include gingerbread items. The tradition of gingerbread cookies at Christmas is also believed to have originated in Germany and brought to America by German immigrants. German bakeries began baking very fancy gingerbread houses with icing as edible snow and other decorations after the Grimm Brothers published their children's story, Hansel and Gretel. That story had a description of a house that was made of bread, a roof of cake and windows of barley. The popularity of the creations by German bakeries gave rise to cookie cutters that were made in a variety of shapes, enabling small gingerbread cookies of various shapes to be baked at home. Some of these cookies that had the shapes of little people and animals were used to decorate Christmas trees. More than one hundred years ago from today, German homes in Lancaster County in Pennsylvania would have cookies that were up to one foot high in the front of windows of their houses as decorative items during winter. The cookies were often giant gingerbread men and women that had colorful rows of buttons and big smiles. Passersby were often cheered and intrigued by the sight and brought the idea to their homes on a smaller scale. Being able to enjoy special dishes, candies, cookies and other goodies during Christmas and the holidays adds a sweet flavor to the season and also helps to create warm and cherished memories. 46. Travel At Christmas Because Christmas is a time to be with family, loved ones and friends, it is one of the busiest times of the year to travel. People locally, to different regions and to international destinations to share Christmas dinners, exchange gifts and recall fond memories they have of the season. There's also travel for entertainment reasons that's done by tourists within the country or from abroad. And even on Christmas Day, the highways are busy with vehicles as relatives and friends travel between towns and states to spend the day together. The massive and rapid shift away from an agrarian society to one of commerce with the development of cities and suburbs caused family members to move farther and farther away from each other, therefore making it necessary to travel by land, air or rail to be together for holidays such as Christmas and other special occasions. And with some countries being economic powerhouses in the world, movement of peoples got even farther as they migrated to other countries to take advantage of better opportunities to improve their lives. Consequently, air travel has expanded in modern times to take people to international destinations. But travel during Christmas and the holidays is not limited to visiting relatives and friends. Many people travel for entertainment, including families who are interested in seeing interesting sights at Christmas and enjoying worldrenowned entertainment that are in faraway places from where they live. Travel to a destination that is far away, within or outside a country, may only be done once by a family and that in itself creates a special memory. Within the United States, it is popular for families and groups of friends to visit New York City to see the general sights of the city and to shop at Christmas. Some of these sights are known throughout the country and are celebrated each Christmas. The annual lighting of the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree is an example. The lighting of the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center, which is located west of Fifth Avenue from 47th Street to 51st Street in New York City, has been an tradition since the time of the Depression. The first tree was placed at the site in 1931 but it wasn't decorated with any Christmas ornaments. In recent years, more than 25,000 Christmas lights and other ornaments have been placed on the tree. Also in New York City, it is very popular for tourists to travel at Christmas to see the spectacular Christmas show at Radio City Music Hall with the signature high-kicking Rockettes. The show is a favorite of both adults and children as it is very festive, lively and filled with the spirit of Christmas. Tourists also travel during Christmas to international destinations for entertainment. Because the Nutcracker Ballet originated in Russia and that country has worldwide acclaim for some of the most technical and artistic ballet performers, it is a popular destination at Christmas. The legendary Tchaikovsky composed the music for the Nutcracker Ballet, which was first performed in Russia's Mariinsky Theatre that is home to the acclaimed Kirov Ballet. The story is about a little girl's dream on Christmas Eve about a beloved Nutcracker toy she received as a present. Travel to international destinations is also popular at Christmas time to escape the cold of a 'White Christmas.' For those who do not like the cold but like to be out and about at Christmas, the alternative is to go somewhere with a more tropical climate. Travel to destinations in the Caribbean, where Christmas is robustly celebrated, is popular during the Christmas season. One of the intriguing places to travel during the Christmas season is to a place where Santa can be observed. There is such a place in Finland at a village where Santa Claus has his workshop. Travel to see and possibly talk to Santa Claus is a delightful adventure for children. But such a trip has to be made before Christmas Eve when Santa, his elves and reindeers embark on a trip themselves to every home in the world. 47. The Joy of Toys at Christmas Although adults like to receive gifts, many will readily forego the pleasure by sacrificing, if it means a small member of the family will be totally pleased and delighted with their Christmas gift. Seeing the sparkle of joy in children's eyes when they receive a toy or other Christmas present certainly confirms that Christmas is for children. And after all, Santa brings gifts for all the good little boys and girls, not for moms and dads or other adults. It was very humorous, as parents once related how on Christmas Day when their child opened a Christmas gift and was pleased, they pretended to be a bit saddened that Santa Claus didn't bring them any Christmas present. The child responded, 'Because you bad mummy and daddy. You make me stand in corner.' Toys are therefore a significant part of Christmas. Parents go all out for children, they make the extra effort to give children something really special such as what the child wishes, desires or longs for. It may be a toy such as a particular type of doll, a dream dollhouse or an item like a bike or train set, or motorized vehicle. The fun of getting a toy at Christmas begins earlier for children as they start to make their wish list and anticipate getting one or more of what they desire. For teenagers, the most desired toy may not be a toy in the real sense of the word. A toy, in today's casual speech, can mean a favorite gadget such as an ultra-stylish cell phone, an iPod, MP3 player, electronic organizer or even a computer. Toy sales at Christmas play a major role in the economics of retailers in the toy industry. Toy makers use the Christmas season to release new and updated products with the hope of capturing a significant slice of the billions of dollars that consumers spend during the holidays. The strategy among toy makers has been to release a new product that hope will be the 'must-have' toy for the season. Consequently, they try to create buzz about the product and have a specific release date, all with the hope that parents and other consumers will clamor for the item and even make it sold-out or hard to obtain as the season progresses. Such driving demand can easily justify a spike in the price of the item. Toys have also evolved beyond dolls, trains and cars to be very interactive and educational. The popularity of educational toys and the presence of increased technology have combined to produce many toys that are highly computerized. Receiving a toy as a gift at Christmas can play an important role in creating a lasting memory. When a child gets the right toy -- one that is highly desired or is surprised by a wonderful toy -- he or she will remember the feeling it brought for a lifetime and recall it whenever there's talk of which Christmas was a favorite. It also helps to create a tradition as the child becomes an adult nd wants to recapture a similar feeling by seeking to do the same for his or her own child. Then, there are the children with a wish list that's basically a hope to get something, any toy at Christmas. Many companies, businesses, churches and social organizations arrange to have members donate new and age appropriate toys that are distributed to children in need. Putting a smile on the faces of those children will create warm memories about Christmas and Santa Claus for them. And by participating in a charitable effort, the donors are themselves Santa Claus and spreaders of goodwill and cheer that embody the meaning of Christmas. 48. History of Christmas Commercial activities during Christmas today are often decried as making the season too materialistic. This has caused comments that the religious aspect of Christmas is so overlooked and overshadowed that its celebration seems to be purely pagan. But today's comparisons aren't the first there has been some link between Christmas and pagan celebrations. As a religious, church leaders instituted Christmas during winter because that time of year was a popular for the celebrations of many pagan festivals. The hope was that Christmas would also become a holiday that would gain much popularity. Long before the birth of Jesus Christ, people in various parts of Europe would celebrate light and birth in the darkest days of winter. The winter solstice, when the harshest part of winter was over, was a time of celebration for many peoples because they would look forward to more hours of sunlight during the longer days ahead. The Norse in Scandinavia celebrated Yule from the winter solstice on December 21 through to January. Men brought home logs that were lighted and a feast would take place until the log was completely burned. Each spark from the fire was believed to represent a new pig or calf to be born in the coming new year. The pagan god Oden was honored by Germans during the mid-winter holiday. Oden inspired great fear in the Germans who believed that Oden traveled at nights through the sky to observe people and make a decision about who would perish or prosper in life. This belief caused most people to stay inside during the period. In Rome it was the god of agriculture, Saturn, who was honored in a holiday called Saturnalia. It was a holiday that started during the week that led up to the winter solstice and continued for a month with hedonistic celebrations. There was plenty of food and drink and the normal social class rules of who had privilege and power in Roman society were totally disregarded as everyone participated in the festivities. Some Romans also had a feast called Juvenalia to honor children and the birthday of the sun god Mithra was sometimes celebrated by the upper classes. In the early years of the start of Christianity the main holiday was Easter. It was in the 4th Century that church officials made a decision to have the birth of Jesus celebrated as a holiday and Pope Julius I chose December 25 as the day of Jesus' birth. The holiday, which was first called the Feast of the Nativity, spread to England by the end of the 6th Century and to Scandinavia by the end of the 8th Century. Church leaders achieved the goal of having Christmas celebrations, including attendance at church, become popular during the winter solstice, but they were unable to control other pagan-like celebrations during Christmas. Believers would attend church on Christmas and then participate later in raucous and drunken celebrations. But by the Middle Ages, from around the 5th to the 16th Century, Christianity had outgrown paganism as a religion. The celebration of Christmas in Europe changed in the early 17th Century when Oliver Cromwell and the Puritans gained power in England in 1645. To remove decadent behavior from the society, Cromwell cancelled Christmas as the Puritans noted that the Bible doesn't mention any date for Jesus' birth. The lack of this information and specific Biblical references to Christmas is also cited by religious groups like Jehovah Witnesses as the reason they don't observe or participate in Christmas. Christmas celebrations returned in England around 1649 when Charles II was restored to the throne. Christmas wasn't a holiday in early America because the Pilgrims who came to America had even stricter beliefs than Cromwell and the Puritans. Christmas celebrations were even forbidden in Boston from 1659 to 1681. During the same time however, settlers in Jamestown in Virginia were reported to have enjoyed Christmas. After the American Revolution Christmas again lost popularity and it wasn't until June 26, 1870 that Christmas was declared a federal holiday. Christmas in the United States gained popularity as a holiday period during the 19th Century. Christmas celebrations also changed at that time to be more family-centered rather than being carnival-like. 49. History of Some Christmas Traditions Christians celebrate Christmas to observe the birth of Jesus Christ, which is an event and not a tradition. But many other activities related to celebrating the Christmas season evolved from certain traditions, many of which are from other countries, particularly from peoples in Europe. Among common items used in Christmas decorations are the holly and the mistletoe. Both are used primarily in wreaths and garlands. The Druids started the tradition of using the mistletoe as decorative items up to two hundred years before Christ. To celebrate the winter season, the Druids would gather the plants and use them to decorate their homes. The Druids believed the mistletoe would bring good luck and ward off evil spirits. They also believed that the mistletoe had a healing quality and could be used for everything from healing wounds to increase fertility. In Scandinavia, the mistletoe was seen as a plant of peace and harmony and was associated with Frigga, the goddess of love. This association is probably what led to the custom of kissing under the mistletoe. In the Victorian period, the English also would hang mistletoe from ceilings and in doorways during holidays. The habit developed that if someone was standing under the mistletoe, someone else in the room would kiss that person. Such outright behavior was not generally seen in Victorian society. The use of the mistletoe in Christmas celebrations was once banned by the church however because of its associations with pagan traditions, and the use of holly was suggested as a substitute. Poinsettias are another traditional decorative flower used at Christmas. It is native to Mexico and is named after Joel Poinsett, who was the first U.S ambassador to Mexico and who brought the plants to America in 1828. Mexicans believe the plants were a symbol of the Star of Bethlehem and that's one reason they are associated with Christmas. There's also the story that a young boy was going to see the Nativity Play at a church but realized he didn't have a gift for Baby Jesus. The boy gathered some green branches, which others scoffed at. But as he placed them near the manger, a bright red poinsettia flower started to bloom on each branch, which gave rise to their traditional use at Christmas. Candy canes became a Christmas tradition not because their red and white stripes matched the colors of the season, but for the most unusual reason of discipline. that's because they were first used as treats that were give to German children to keep them well-behaved for the duration of church sermons. Over time, the legend of candy canes at Christmas came to be associated with some of the strongest symbols and beliefs of Christianity: the Father, Son and Holy Ghost known as the Trinity, the Blood of the Son of God, Jesus as the embodiment of holiness, purity and without sin and the Son of God as the shepherd of man. The candy cane represents these symbols respectively with its three stripes, its red and white color and its shape. Sending greeting cards during Christmas and the holidays is as prevalent today as the custom of giving gifts. The tradition of sending Christmas cards started in 1840 in Britain with the start of public postal delivery service of the 'Penny Post.' Then from about 1860, large numbers of Christmas greeting cards started to be produced. The popularity of the cards increased in Britain when they could be sent by the postal service for one half-penny, which was half the price to post a standard letter at the time, if they were in an unsealed envelope. Religious pictures of Mary, Joseph , Baby Jesus, the angels, shepherds and Wise Men were traditionally placed on Christmas cards. Some cards today include scenes from the Nativity, but pictures of Santa Claus, winter scenery, Christmas trees, gift packages and others are also depicted on contemporary Christmas greeting cards. 50. Twelve Things You Never Knew About Christmas 1. Christmas trees were first lighted with actual candles, which presented a fire hazard. As a result containers filled with water had to be kept near the Christmas tree. 2. Workers in the construction industry are responsible for the tradition of having a Christmas tree on display at Rockefeller Center in New York City. They are credited with placing an undecorated tree at the site in the early 1930s. 3. Since the mid-1960s, The National Christmas Tree Association has maintained a presence in the White House at Christmas by donating a Christmas tree to the First Family. 4. The former Woolworth department store first sold manufactured Christmas tree ornaments in 1880. 5. Plastic became the primary material used to make tinsel after their use for decorative purposes was at one time prohibited because lead was used in the manufacturing process. 6. The idea of Christmas greeting cards started in Britain in the late 1830s when John Calcott Horsley started to produce small cards that had festive scenes and a holiday greeting written inside. Similar cards were also being made in the United States at about the same time by R.H. Pease, in Albany, New York, and Louis Prang, who was a German immigrant. The idea of sending the greeting cards during Christmas gained popularity in both countries about 10 years later when new postal delivery services started. 7. The shortened form Xmas for Christmas has been popular in Europe since the 1500s. It is believed to be derived from the Greek word 'Xristos' which means Christ. 8. According to the National Confectioners Association, for 200 years candy canes were only made in the color of white and it wasn't until in the 1950s that a machine was invented that could automate the production of candy canes. 9. The day after Christmas is called Boxing Day in England and it is a national holiday. Several stories exist for the origination of the name. It is believed to have originated from the practice of boys who would be about collecting money in clay boxes. Another thought is that the term is derived from a custom in the Middle Ages, about 800 years ago, when churches would open their 'alms boxes' and distribute the contents to poor people on the day after Christmas. Alms boxes are boxes in which donations of gifts and money would be placed. Yet another belief is that it comes from a custom of masters giving their servants Christmas presents in boxes on the day after Christmas. 10. Evergreen trees had special meaning in winter to people, particularly in Europe, before Christianity started. Ancient peoples would hang evergreen branches over their doors and windows because evergreens were believed to ward off witches, ghosts, evil spirits and illness. For worshipers of the sun god, evergreen plants were a reminder of all the green plants that would grow with the return of summer and the sun god being strong again. 11. In ancient times, many people worshiped the sun as a god in December because they thought winter occurred yearly because the sun god had fallen into ill health. They therefore celebrated the winter solstice because it was a sign that the son god would begin to regain strength and return to good health. 12. Legislators in Congress did business on Christmas Day in 1789, which was the first one to be observed under the country's new constitution. The reason for the Congressional session was because it had become unpopular then to observe and take part in English customs following the American Revolution. And when Christmas celebrations were barred in Boston earlier in 1659 to 1681, it became a costly thing to be seen participating in any event or activity related to Christmas. Anyone caught doing so had to pay five shillings.
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