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Kickoff The Holidays

Must-Haves to Achieve a Holiday Wonderland

The end of the year marks a period of heightened festivity. Come the holiday season, homes and businesses are decorated and everyone seems to have an extra spring in their step.

The sight of snowflakes, candy canes, evergreen wreaths, and Christmas trees can elicit nostalgia for happy holidays of the past, as well as excitement for what is yet to come.

When it comes to decorating for the holidays, there are certain items that set the scene.

• Christmas trees: Germany is credited with starting the modern Christmas tree tradition. It dates back to the 16th century when devout Christians brought trees into their homes and decorated them. German settlers brought Christmas tree traditions to America upon their arrival in Pennsylvania in the 19th century.

• Mistletoe: Mistletoe is known as the “kissing plant” and it is customary for couples to kiss while standing beneath the plant, typically hung in doorways and arches. Mistletoe was once hung to drive off evil spirts and ensure fertility. Kissing under the mistletoe was first found associated with the Greek festival of Saturnalia and later with primitive marriage rites.

• Lights: Lights are commonly seen during the holiday season. The custom of having holiday lights dates back to when Christmas trees were decorated with candles, which symbolized Christ being the light of the world. These traditions evolved from pagan rituals that would celebrate the return of light of the sun as the days grow longer after the winter solstice.

• Yule log: Many families burn a yule log in the fireplace and watch it burn while listening to Christmas carols. The familiar custom of burning the log dates back to solstice celebrations and the tradition of bonfires. The Christmas tradition called for burning a portion of the log each evening until Twelfth Night, also known as the Epiphany, which takes place on January 6.

• Poinsettias: Poinsettias are a tropical plant that originated in Mexico. Joel Roberts Poinsett was the first Ambassador from the United States to Mexico. He became enamored with the plants, and brought them back to his native South Carolina. An old Mexican legend suggests a poor girl had nothing to offer baby Jesus at Christmas Eve services, so she picked a handful of weeds and put them at the bottom of the nativity scene. These weeds burst into bright red flowers and became known as “Flores de Noche Buena,” or “Flowers of the Holy Night.” Holiday decorations borrow traditions from all over the world to help establish a festive wonderland.

Steps for Hanging Holiday Lights Outdoors

It begins to look a lot like Christmas when twinkling lights brighten up homes inside and out. Few things liven up the season more than holiday decorations, particularly clear and colored lights.  

Prior to taking out the lights, ladder and thermos of coffee to get you through the job, it’s important to note that there are right and wrong ways to hang holiday lights. 

• Sketch out your plan. Start by taking a few photos of your home from various vantage points. Print out the photos on regular paper so that you can draw your lighting arrangement and decoration placement right on the photos to see how things will look.

• Measure the area. Use a measuring tape to roughly measure the width and height of eaves or other areas of the home where you plan to hang light strands. Calculate how much overall footage you will need so you can purchase all of the lights in one shopping trip.

• Test the lights first. Plug in the lights to be sure all strands are operational.

• Begin where the lights will be plugged in. Start where the lights will be plugged in and then work your way around the house.

• Add to shrubs and trees. Lights also can adorn shrubs and trees. Lowes Home Improvement says a good rule of thumb is 100 lights for every 11⁄2-feet of tree or shrub to cover. A 6-foot evergreen needs at least 400 lights for a basic level of lighting.

• Exercise extreme caution. Accidents can happen when stringing lights. While many professionals use harnesses, homeowners are not always so cautious. Utilize a spotter to hold the ladder and make sure things are safe. Never set foot on a wet or icy roof. Do not attempt to string lights in inclement weather.

• Know the wattage. Each outlet can generally hold about 17 amps or 1,870 watts if the lights are not sharing a circuit with another outlet, says Parrish. Plan accordingly to ensure you have enough power to handle your lights.

• Use plastic clips. Plastic light clips hang strands along eaves and gables. They’re specially designed for hanging lights over the gutters. Some slip under the edges of roof shingles. Lights can be hung without staples or nails, which can damage exterior surfaces. Plastic zip-ties or deck clips also can attach lights along a handrail.

• Use only outdoor extension cords. Be sure the extension cords you use are designed specifically for outdoor use.

• Use a timer. Timers can make sure the lights turn on and off even if homeowners forget. 

Once lights have been safely strung, sit back and enjoy the splendor of a well-decorated house.

Help Isolated Loved Ones This Holiday

 A phenomenon called “cabin fever” tends to set in around late autumn or in midwinter. Long hours of darkness coupled with cold, inclement weather often is a recipe for increased time spent indoors. For people who live alone, the effects of cabin fever might be more pronounced.

In addition to seasonal cabin fever, this year another factor comes into play: social distancing and voluntary quarantine as a result of the novel coronavirus COVID-19. Even those who may venture outside to socialize, particularly around the holiday season, may be hesitant or unable to do so to help prevent the spread of the virus. In these instances, friends and loved ones can mitigate feelings of isolation in various ways.

• Schedule video chats. Video conferencing apps have become the communication vehicles of choice during the era of social distancing. Different applications and services continue to evolve and help people stay in touch. Plan regular chats, either once or twice per week with isolated or vulnerable people. Try to organize a large group chat on the holiday itself so no one has to spend Christmas or Chanukah alone.

• Drop off supplies. Even though supermarket shop-from-home and other delivery services have normalized somewhat since the start of the pandemic, treat individuals who may be isolated to some personalized attention. Put together care packages of supplies or holiday treats and deliver them in person so you can see the smiles that result from being able to visit with someone familiar.

• Send uplifting messages. Children or even adults can make personalized cards and mail them to loved ones at home or those who may be in long-term care facilities. Send new mailings every week or two so that residents always have something to look forward to in the mail.

• Start a virtual club. A book club or another shared interest can be the catalyst for more frequent communication. A club puts everyone on the same page and enables them to come together, via phone or video chat, for a discussion. 

• Ask for help learning a new skill. Along the same vein as a virtual club, lessons on everything from woodworking to crochet to making favorite holiday recipes can be conducted online. Give an isolated individual daily purpose and distraction by engaging him or her with online lessons.

Isolation and feelings of loneliness can affect anyone who normally suffers from cabin fever. However, this year it may be more pronounced, as it could be coupled with social distancing precautions that have already been in effect for some time. 

Why are Christmas colors red and green?

Many people may not get in the holiday spirit without decorations and all the trimmings.

Chances are strong that if you have containers full of items just waiting to see the light of day again this holiday season, those items are red or green or some combination thereof.

Red and green have become the traditional colors of Christmas, just as blue and white symbolizes Chanukah. But how did this color palette come to evolve?

Just like many traditions of Christmas, the red and green scheme has origins that pre-date the Christian celebration.

Christmas has borrowed from many of the customs of winter solstice celebrations of ancient peoples, including the Celts. Ancient Celtic people revered holly plants, believing they brought beauty and good fortune in the middle of winter — a time when the landscape is normally bleak and holly plants thrive and stand out.

Celts would regularly bring in sprigs of holly and decorate their homes with the plants, which feature shiny, serrated leaves and bright, red berries, as a way to guarantee a prosperous new year. Holly also came to be associated with the crown of thorns Jesus Christ was forced to wear during his crucifixion.

The custom of using red and green continued into the 14th century. Dr. Spike Bucklow, a research scientist at the University of Cambridge, says red and green also were used to paint medieval rood screens, which were partitions installed in churches to separate the congregation from the priest and altar. Dr. Bucklow notes that Victorians also extended the association of these colors as a physical boundary to another boundary: the marking of the end of the old year and the beginning of a new one at Christmastime.

While red and green had associations with Christmas in early times through holly and other sources, the connection was perhaps best solidified thanks to a man named Haddon Sundblom. Sundblom was an artist commissioned in 1931 by the Coca-Cola company to create an image of Santa Claus for the company’s upcoming holiday ads. Until this point, versions of Santa were rarely consistent, with his clothing vacillating between green, blue and red. He also wasn’t the plump, jolly fellow associated with Christmas as we know him today, but rather thin and elf-like. Sundblom portrayed him as a chubby man wearing red robes, likely as a nod to Coca-Cola’s own red logo, even though the company denies the connection.

Santa was featured in front of a green background. The ads proved popular and Sundblom’s Santa became the preferred depiction. Santa’s red robes perfectly complemented the green background and other green components of the holiday, such as Christmas trees and holly, that already had been solidified as Christmas imagery.

Color plays a strong role in creating Christmas nostalgia. Red and green are put on vivid display throughout the season.

Boxing Day Can Extend Holiday Fun

The end of the year presents plenty of opportunities for shopping and celebrating. Starting with Thanksgiving preparations, there is a steady supply of days geared around generosity and merriment, counting down to the holiday gifting and entertaining season. Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and all of the weekends preceding Christmas are prime opportunities to snag discounts and deals. 

However, for those in Canada, Australia and the United Kingdom, gift-giving doesn’t cease with the passing of Christmas. 

Boxing Day, which falls the day after Christmas, has nothing to do with bringing empty gift boxes out to the recycling bin. While it has transformed into another day to grab seasonal deals, Boxing Day has historically served as a day to give to the less fortunate. 

During the Victorian era in Britain, servants were not given off on Christmas Day because they had to work during their employers’ celebrations. Therefore, they were allowed off the following day — December 26 — to spend time with their own families. The holiday became standard practice in 1871. Boxing Day may have gotten its moniker from wealthy people who would give their employees boxes filled with small gifts, Christmas dinner leftovers and money as recognition for their service. Others believe it refers to alms boxes placed in churches for the collection of donations for the poor. 

December 26 also is the feast day of St. Stephen, the patron saint of horses, so Boxing Day has been tied to sporting events involving horses. This includes horse races and fox hunts. 

Even though the British established early residency in America, the Boxing Day tradition did not travel over to the colonies from England. However, Canadians and other former British strongholds celebrate it as a public holiday. Offices are closed and public transportation may run on holiday schedules. 

Boxing Day is yet another end-of-year opportunity to share gifts and well wishes with loved ones and the less fortunate.