The ol' Skinflint Curmudgeon

Holiday Newsletter 2006

Clean it for Less
Kitchen Helper Hints
Cosmetics - Personal Hygiene
Garden and Yard Helpers
Craft it Cheaply
Surviving in Disaster Emergencies
Refashion it - everything old is new again
101 Uses for.....
Holiday Newsletter 2006

Happy Holidays, Welcome and Thank You for Visiting the Skinflint Curmudgeon's Holiday Newsletter.  Hope you find something you like and can use...


Light Up the Holidays - Six Easy, Energizing Ways

Six easy, energizing ways to light up the darkness with the power of fire, inspiration for creating moments of peace and joy for you and your families. May they help us to celebrate our elemental unity as one human family this holiday season.

1. How to Create an Indoor Sanctuary

We can all benefit from spending time in a little quiet corner where we can find our center, and be recharged. All you need is a private place and a candle, although some of us also like to include photos or statues or gifts from nature in our sanctuary spot. Taking time out to simply gaze at a lighted candle is one way to commune with the inner stillness that brings such peace in the midst of frantic activity.

2. Simple Light Out of Dark

This couldn't be simpler idea encourages us to slow down and be present with the darkness, with the light, and with each other. Just gather at dusk and allow the darkness to gradually deepen, without turning on any lights. Notice the changes in color, the shadows, the peaceful, nurturing stillness. When it has grown as dark as it can get, light one candle. What a change! One small candle can make a world of difference. So can each one of us.

3. Spice Things Up

Nothing beats a little fiery spice in our food when holiday hustle and bustle drains our energy. Just add some cayenne, Cajun spice, curry, or Jamaican jerk sauce to your meals and enjoy the fiery glow!

4. Have a Candle-Sing

Call friends and family together, furnish each with a candle in glass to hold, and sing! Nothing beats singing together for making people feel connected, and the glow of candlelight can transform familiar faces into something very special indeed.

5. Burn Away the Old

Most of us drag a burden of old stuff; - regrets, disappointments, grudges, bad habits - with us into the New Year. Why not have a small bonfire to give ourselves a fresh start? Simple as it sounds, this little activity can actually help us to feel lighter. Write on a piece of paper all the things you would like to shed before the turn of the year. Then burn the paper. If you don't have access to an outdoor bonfire site (or a barbecue grill or hibachi), you can use an ashtray and a lot of mindful caution and do this indoors.

6. Fire-Lit Meal

Pull a table up to the fireplace, if you have one, and eat a meal together by its warm light. Or eat by candlelight: it gives an air of special magic to even the simplest food.

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Great Big Ideas for Little Jars

Do you have some little jars from baby food, pimentos or bouillon?

Simple Gift Ideas

(I really like some of these ideas, sounds fun - craft it with the kidlets and start a new family tradition)

Make a "Snowman Kit".
Fill the jar with cotton balls. Cut two tiny mittens from felt. Put them along the inside of the jar so they show. Cut a scarf from a piece of cotton fabric, fringe the ends and wrap it around the outside of the lid. Make a hat using the toe of an orphaned sock. It works great! Use a rubber band to attach the hat over the top of the jar so that the jar looks like it is wearing a hat.

Make a gift tag, such as "I couldn't send you snowman by mail without it melting so here is your kit to make your own".

Great for single servings for friends, teachers or coworkers.
These little jars hold one serving of soup or cocoa mixes and two servings of coffee and tea mixes. Fill the jar with cocoa, coffee or tea mixes and package them with mugs, spoons, or candy canes. Make a gift tag with instructions.

Decorate with stickers and glitter paint. Fill them with chocolate hugs and kisses. Make a gift tag, "Here are your hugs and kisses!" Share them with a friend!

Other Big Ideas for Little Jars

-- Use for homemade bath salts, scrubs and salves.
-- Store something pretty and inspirational like small shells from your last beach trip.
-- Store special homemade herb or seasoning mixes.

In the Craft Room

-- Use for storing and sorting beads.
-- Use for storing or mixing paints.
-- Use for storing and sorting screws and other small bits of hardware.
-- Contain small bits of anything, such as buttons, bobbins, pins, etc.

At Your Desk

-- Contain paperclips, push pins or a pencil sharpener in a little jars to keep them from getting lost.

There are lots of ideas out there for using small jars - share yours and I'll be happy to add it to The Skinflint Curmudgeon's website. email me

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Deck the Halls - Safely - for Companion Animals
ASPCA via Furry Friends Rescue

For many of us, 'tis the season to decorate our homes with live Christmas trees and holiday greenery. But did you know that some of these yuletide traditions can be hazardous to your pet's health?

* Lovely lilies are commonly used in holiday floral arrangements, but many varieties--including tiger, Asian, Japanese Show, Stargazer and the Casa Blanca--can cause kidney failure in cats.

* Bag the boughs of holly and live mistletoe. Yes, they add a nice touch to your holiday decor, but holly can cause vomiting, nausea, diarrhea and lethargy if ingested by your pet. And should he eat mistletoe, he could suffer gastrointestinal upset and cardiovascular problems. Instead, opt for just-as-pretty artificial plants made from silk or plastic.

* If your dog or cat ingests pine tree needles, she can suffer an upset stomach and oral pain.

* Don't drink the water! Christmas tree water may contain fertilizers, which, if ingested by your pet, can cause stomach upset. Stagnant tree water can also act as a breeding ground for bacteria--and Fido could end up with nausea or diarrhea should he imbibe.

* Although the potential toxicity of poinsettias is generally overrated, these showy holiday plants can be irritating to your pet's mouth if eaten, and may cause mild vomiting or nausea.

* If you suspect that your pet has eaten a potentially toxic substance, call your veterinarian or the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center's emergency hotline--1-(888) 426-4435--for round-the-clock telephone assistance. For more information on poison prevention, visit APCC online .

Helpful Hints
Note also to never let antifreeze be in a place where companion animals, or any animal, can drink it. The sweet flavor is very attracctive and very poisonous to most animals.

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Grab Bag of Frugal gift Ideas

-- Try sewing a bag with a draw string to contain a cloth checkers board. Add the checkers made from lilttle wood items like dolls, trucks, etc. that you can find inexpensively at thrift store or craft craft store. Paint them in solid color for opposing teams.

-- Make my children a new Christmas ornament each year as a keep sake and when they move out they will have at least 18 ornaments if not more depending on how energetic you are in making the ornaments.

-- DVD cases can convert to photo frames. Since the DVD cases come in colors, sizes of thickness, you can add a photo, decorate and makes good craft idea for kidlets to do - sending photo gifts to grandparents and friends. Okay, adults can get in on the fun too.

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It is said :
- The child born on Christmas Day will have a special fortune"
- Snow on Christmas means Easter will be green.
- You will have as many happy months in the coming year, as the number of houses you eat mince pies in during Christmastime.
- In Greece, some people burn their old shoes during the Christmas season to prevent misfortunes in the coming year.
- To have good health throughout the next year, eat an apple on Christmas Eve.
- Christmas candles should be left burning until Christmas morning and should rest undisturbed from time of lighting until they are snuffed. (Dang foolish saying and I wouldn't try this one unless you want a sad Christmas fire in your home.)
- Singing Christmas carols at any time other than during the festive season is unlucky.
- The yule log should be lit by a piece of the log used on the previous Christmas. Once that is done,  no evil spirit can then enter into the house. The remains of the Yule log were also considered lucky, and would be a protection against lightning or fire.

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 Here are some Christmas related facts that will arouse your interest :
   1. In the Ukraine, if you find a spider web in the house on Christmas morning, it is believed to be a harbinger of good luck! There once lived a woman so poor, says a Ukrainian folk tale, that she could not afford Christmas decorations for her family. One Christmas morning, she awoke to find that spiders had trimmed her children’s tree with their webs. When the morning sun shone on them, the webs turned to silver and gold. An artificial spider and web are often included in the decorations on Ukrainian Christmas trees.

   2. At Christmas, it is traditional to exchange kisses beneath the mistletoe tree. In ancient Scandinavia, mistletoe was associated with peace and friendship. That may account for the custom of "kissing beneath the mistletoe".

   3. 'Klaxon' is a name that does not belong to one of Santa’s reindeer. A klaxon is actually a powerful electric horn. Its name comes from a German word meaning "shriek".

   4. In many households, part of the fun of eating Christmas pudding is finding a trinket that predicts your fortune for the coming year. For instance, finding a coin means you will become wealthy. A ring means you will get married; while a button predicts bachelorhood. The idea of hiding something in the pudding comes from the tradition in the Middle Ages of hiding a bean in a cake that was served on Twelfth Night. Whoever found the bean became "king" for the rest of the night.

   5. Frumenty was a spiced porridge, enjoyed by both rich and poor. It was a forerunner of modern Christmas puddings. It is linked in legend to the Celtic god Dagda, who stirred a porridge made up of all the good things of the earth.

   6. In Greek legend, malicious creatures called Kallikantzaroi sometimes play troublesome pranks at Christmas time. In order to get rid of them, salt or an old shoe is burnt. The pungent burning stench drives off, or at least helps discourage, the Kallikantzaroi. Other techniques include hanging a pig’s jawbone by the door and keeping a large fire so they can’t sneak down the chimney.

   7. The poinsettia is a traditional Christmas flower. In Mexico (its original birthplace), the poinsettia is known as the "Flower of the Holy Night".

   8. Louis Prang, a Bavarian-born lithographer who came to the USA from Germany in the 19th century, popularized the sending of printed Christmas cards. He invented a way of reproducing color oil paintings, the "chromolithograph technique", and created a card with the message "Merry Christmas" as a way of showing it off.

   9. The "Urn of Fate" is part of the Christmas celebrations in many Italian households. The Urn of Fate is brought out on Christmas Eve. It holds a wrapped present for everyone. The mother tries her luck first, then the others in turn. If you get a present with your name on it, you keep it; otherwise, you put it back and try again.
  10. In Sweden, a common Christmas decoration is the Julbukk, a small figurine of a goat. It is usually made of straw. Scandinavian Christmas festivities feature a variety of straw decorations in the form of stars, angels, hearts and other shapes, as well as the Julbukk.

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 Cute Christmas Sayings to Add to an Inexpensive Gift
Holiday Craft fairs, Public Markets, Flea Market finds, Garage Sales, Grocery Stores, Bakery, Made from your Kitchen, Homemade, White Elephant or Gag
gifts - doesn't have to cost you an arm and a leg to give a gift.  Treat your neighbors, co-workers, friends and family to some fun, inexpensive gifts with these cute Christmas sayings.  Come up with your own idea.
      Angel - "Hoping you have a Heavenly Christmas!"

      A Star Ornament - "Remember the reason for the season!"

      "A Sweet Treat - "Wishing you a season filled with sweetness!"

      Apple Anything - (pie, cobbler, crisp, muffins etc.) "Sending you a "Bushel" of love this holiday Season!!"
      or "You're the apple of my eye, Teacher!"

      Apple Pie of Apple Crisp - "Wishing you a Scrumptious Christmas!"

      Apples and Hershey's Hugs - A teacher can't live by apples alone...She needs "Hugs" too!

      Banana Bread - "We love you a whole "Bunch" too! Merry Christmas!"
      Bananas - If we could choose our friends, and we searched the whole world through, we'd go bananas trying to find a better bunch than you!"

      Basket of items - "Wishing you a basket full of Christmas blessings"

      Bear-shaped Honey - "Have a Bear-y Sweet Christmas!!"

      Box of Light Bulbs - "Have a bright and radiant Christmas"

      Broom - You're "Dust" the finest neighbors we know! Merry Christmas!

      Brownie Mix - (Or other Mix) "Whip up this mix for a wonderful holiday fix! Wishing you a "rich" Holiday Season!!" (Include the recipe!)

      Bubble Gum or Bubble Bath - "May your holidays "Bubble" over with fun!!

      Cake or Cupcakes - "You take the "Cake" neighbor! Happy Holidays to you!"

      Calendar - "Keep Christmas in your heart all year through!"

      Candle - "May your days be happy, your heart be light, your Christmas merry and the New Year Bright!!
      Candle - "You Light up my Life!" Thanks for your friendship! May your Christmas be Merry and Bright!"
      Carrot Cake - " I Really "Carrot" a lot about you!! Merry Christmas"
      Cheese Ball and Crackers - "Spread a little Christmas Cheer this Holiday Season!"
      Cherry 7-up - "Just a Little Christmas Cheer from Happy Hearts this time of year! Merry Christmas!!"

      Chocolate Mousse Mix - "Merry Christmousse" to our "Deer" Friends!

      Christmas music, CD or Tape - "May the sweet song of Christmas make your heart rejoice!" Or "May the merry sounds of Christmas bring a Joyful Melody to your holiday season" Merry Christmas!!

      Christmas Shaped pasta ( Or any Pasta and a bottle of Sauce ) "Have a Pasta-tively Happy Holiday!"

      Christmas Tray - We "Tray"sure your friendship! Merry Christmas!
      Cinnamon Rolls - "Here's a sweet treat "Rolled" up with warm Holiday Wishes! Merry Christmas!"

      Cinnamon Sprinkles - (Cinnamon & Sugar, or cookie sprinkles) "May your Christmas be sprinkled with laughter and love!" Merry Christmas!

      "Cleaners - "You add sparkle and make our life brighter!" Merry Christmas!
      Cocoa Mix - "Wishing you a warm and wonderful Christmas!"
      Cookie Dough - "Here's a little extra "Dough" for Christmas! Or "Everyone needs a little extra "Dough" for Christmas!!"
      Cornbread or Mix - "We're not trying to be "Corny" we just want you to have Merry Christmas!"

      Crayons and Coloring Book - Hope your Holidays are Colorful!

      Divinity - "May your Christmas be "Divine" and your Holidays so Fine! Sweet Christmas Wishes!"

      Doughnuts - "Doughnut" you know we love you??? Have a happy Holiday!"
      Eggnog - " Have an "Udderly Moovalous" Christmas!"

      Flower - "If friends were flowers, we'd pick you! Happy Holidays! Or "You make friendship bloom all year round!"
      Frozen or ready to bake pizza - "Warm up to a wonderful Holiday Season "Topped" with Christmas cheer!"

      Fruit Basket - "May your New Year be Festive and Fruitful!!"
      Fudge - "Fudge" a little on the calories and enjoy the Holiday Season!"
      Gingerbread House - "Nibble, Nibble like a mouse, We hope you'll nibble at this house!" Merry Christmas!

      Grater and Cheese - " To a Grate Neighbor! Merry Christmas!"

      Gum - "By Gum, You're a great Neighbor!! "Have a Merry Christmas"

      Heart Christmas Ornament - "May the Joy and Love you give away, come back to you on Christmas day!"

      Hershey's Hugs - "A friend always knows when you need a little hug!"

      Hershey's Hugs and Kisses - "Christmas Hugs and Kisses to You " Or "Holiday Hugs and Kisses to you!"

      Homemade caramel - Hoping you have a "Rich" and "wonderful" Holiday!!"

      Homemade Chocolates - " You're so Sweet...having you as neighbors is really a treat! Have a Heavenly Holiday Season!"

      Homemade Frozen Rolls - "Here's a little holiday treat. Rise and bake, it can't be beat! Warm fresh rolls just for you. Top with butter....that's all you do! Warm Holiday Greetings to you"
      "Homemade Ice cream of a Frozen Treat - "Here's the Scoop. Hoping your Holidays are a "Blizzard" of fun!"

      Ice Cream Snowballs and Hot Fudge - " Here's some packaged "snowball" treats. Just Drizzle Hot Fudge and its ready to eat!...Enjoy!"
Do you have some other ideas to share - send me an email and I'll add to the list.

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Garland Fun
Use paper, beads and popcorn to dress up your room.
Be reminded of how when you were a kid you loved tomake these garlands at home and in school.  Make while watching a Holiday Special on televison, or listening to Holiday music.  Find some children, nieces, nephews, grandchildren, neighbor children and help them make a garland.
      Popcorn Garland: This decoration looks good enough to eat!
      What you need
          * Bag of microwave popcorn
          * Large Needle
          * Thread
          * Bowl
      What you do
         1. Microwave the popcorn as per the instructions on the bag.
         2. Wait for the popcorn to cool and put it in a bowl.
         3. Cut the desired amount of thread (double it up so it holds better).
         4. Thread the string through the needle and tie a knot at the end.
         5. Thread the string through the center of each piece of popcorn. Continue to do that until your garland is complete and then tie a knot to secure the popcorn string.
      Helpful tips:
          * For extra color, add jelly beans or gummy bears
          * You can also use yarn or fishing line if you don’t have string
          * To keep the string from getting too heavy, it’s a good idea to do about 30 pieces per streamer.
Bead Garland: Spruce up your tree with some flashy bling!
What you need
    * Fishing line (thick string also works)
    * Small-to-medium plastic red/green/gold beads
    * Scissors
What you do
   1. Cut the desired amount of fishing line.
   2. String one bead through the fishing line and tie a double-knot on one end to hold it in place. Make sure your knot is big enough to stop the bead.
   3. Thread the rest of the beads through the fishing line.
   4. Tie a double-knot at the other end.
   5. Hang the bead streamer on your tree or around the house.
Helpful tips:
    * Mix up the bead color and size to create a unique pattern.
    * Use a few drops of white glue on each knot to keep them in place

Paper Garland: Fold and cut your own design!
What you need
    * Red construction paper - 8.5 x 11 inches or larger
    * Pencil
    * Scissor
What you do
   1. Take a sheet of red construction paper and fold it back and forth like an accordion.
   2. Draw a Christmas tree (or another festive design) with a pencil on the folded paper. Important: Make sure the design touches both folded sides of the paper when you’re drawing. That way, when you unfold it, you will have a series of the design connected by paper.
   3. Cut around the tree or design to remove excess construction paper.
   4. Ta-da! Unfold your streamer.
   5. Hang it on a wall in your room or on a window sill.
Helpful tips:
    * Add sparkle to streamers with some glitter.
    * Add holes and use them as paper ornaments to hang around the room.

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When You Thought I Wasn't Looking
Written by a former child
Author Unknown

A message every adult might enjoy reading, because children are watching you and doing as you do, not as you say.

When you thought I wasn't looking, I saw you hang my first painting on the refrigerator and I immediately wanted to paint another one.

When you thought I wasn't looking I saw you feed a stray cat, and I learned that it was good to be kind to animals.

When you thought I wasn't looking, I saw you make my favorite cake for me and I learned that the little things can be the special things in life.

When you thought I wasn't looking I heard you say a prayer, and I knew there is a God I could always talk to and I learned to trust in God.

When you thought I wasn't looking, I saw you make a meal and take it to a friend who was sick, and I learned that we all have to help take care of each other.

When you thought I wasn't looking, I saw you give of your time and money to help people who had nothing and I learned that those who have something should give to those who don't.

When you thought I wasn't looking, I saw you take care of our house and everyone in it and I learned we have to take care of what we are given.

When you thought I wasn't looking, I saw how you handled your responsibilities, even when you didn't feel good and I learned that I would have to be responsible when I grow up.

When you thought I wasn't looking, I saw tears come from your eyes and I learned that sometimes things hurt, but it's all right to cry.

When you thought I wasn't looking, I saw that you cared and I wanted to be everything that I could be.

When you thought I wasn't looking, I learned most of life's lessons that I need to know to be a good and productive person when I grow up.

When you thought I wasn't looking, I looked at you and wanted to say, Thanks for all the things I saw when you thought I wasn't looking.'

Each of us (parent, grandparent, aunt, uncle, teacher or friend) influences the life of a child. You never know exactly how, by your actions and reactions, you will touch the life of someone today?


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Hostess Gifts

Fresh Fruit Potpourri

Ingredients and Materials:

decorative container of your choice
dried oranges
dried lemons
dried apples
cinnamon sticks
bay leaves
star anise
dried cranberries

If you have a dehydrator, dry the fruit in it; otherwise place the sliced fruit in the oven at 200 degrees for as long as 24 hours. In the microwave it takes about an hour at 30 percent power.

Once the fruit is dried, add the cinnamon sticks, bay leaves, star anise, cardamom and dried cranberries. Mix and pour into a decorative container. (Note: The purpose of potpourri is to be fragrant and decorative, this potpourri is completely natural and therefore safe to use around children and pets.)

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Cranberry Holiday Cooler

3 orange and spice tea bags
2 1/2 c. Boiling water
1 qt. Cranberry juice cocktail
2 (7 oz.) bottle lemon-lime
Carbonated beverage
Ice cubes

Place tea bags in a 2 quart saucepan or heat resistant
Bowl. Pour boiling water over tea bags; steep for 5 minutes. Remove tea bags, then add cranberry juice. Chill thoroughly. Just before serving, add carbonated beverage. Pour into tall Glasses filled with ice or serve in punch bowl. Makes about 2 Quarts.

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Dad's Ties Make Colorful Pillow

A suggestion for Dad's old ties - make a striped pillow out of them. Different color combinations on each side.

Seems like a neat way to remember Charlie, but I don't think he had too many ties.

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HEALTHIER HOLIDAYS suggests making some healthy substitutions
in our holiday cooking, including:

--Instead of dry bread crumbs-- use rolled oats or crushed
bran cereal.

--In place of white rice try brown rice, wild rice, bulgur or pearl barley. Cooking instructions are included on the packages.

--Soy sauce is FULL of sodium-- try using sweet and
sour sauce, hot mustard or low-sodium soy

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Holiday Packaging Materials
Don't pay $$ when you can get it free or next to nothing

1) The US Post Office will actually send packaging materials to you at no charge. Go to the US Post Office official website to see what can be shipped to you on their dime. Of course, they will want you to ship using their packaging and the U.S. Postal service (as opposed to competitors like UPS, Fed-EX, etc.) I know this because once upon a time when I thought I might start up a small business on E-Bay, I ordered packaging boxes and materials from U.S. Post Office.

2) Try locating a larger chain bookstore or department store and catch them on Recycle day or Discard day. Collect bubble envelopes, big, small, medium cardboard envelopes and all sizes of boxes.

3) Cellophane wrapping paper - reuse the nice paper you get from grocery store flowers - Buy at 1.99 on sale bouquet of flowers with 5.00 worth of free flower wrap. Now to get really frugal, save and clean the cellophane to use to wrap small gifts throughout the year or save up the collected cellophane for Holiday wrapping; Holiday decoration and tree ornament ideas.

4) Gift tags;

-- old Christmas cards for gift tags.
Cut them into small shapes, fold them, and then writesto and from on the white (inside) of the card.

--recycle Holiday catalog and last year's Holiday cards to make gift tags this year. Catalogs - Cut out the pictures you want to use from the Holiday catalogs. Using a glue stick, glue the pictures to a piece of white computer paper. Then, cut around the picture. Punch a hole in the top and put a small piece of ribbon or gold cord strung through it to tie to the Christmas package! This would be a good child's or adult's craft.

Might also tie what is now a 'new ornament decoration' to the Christmas tree branches.

5) Recycle gift boxes. Reuse wrapped boxes and keep
passing them around. The only part of the box that is wrapped is the top and these boxes can last for years.
In these changed economic times, an interesting nostalgia is that if you look underneath the gift wrap or on the bottom of the box you will see names of department stores from the area that are no longer in business.

6)Save those children's paintings during the year and use them to wrap presents. Kids think it is great that they created the wrapping paper. It is certainly original paper and you can see the progress they have made through the year in their painting.

7) If the gift is small, use a cute handkerchief as the wrapping. If it's for a female, tie it up with a ribbon that she could use in her hair. Unisex, tie it up with funky shoelaces that can be used in sneakers.

Wrap it up in a new towel which can be part of the gift and reused later. Towels come in fun, elegant, geometric, holiday and just about every design and color imaginable.

Homemade bread or a breakfast basket,use new kitchen towels or wash cloths and they become part of the gift.

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Natural Christmas decorations

Nature inside for the holidays, keep your eyes open year-round. Items that can be found in the wooded areas or meadows include discarded bird’s nests, large seed pots; dried flowers and berries; citrus fruit including Osage oranges; walnuts and other nuts; pine cones, both large and small, and from a variety of evergreens; as well as colorful grasses, twigs and fragrant herbal plants.

Stringing popcorn, stale popcorn works the best. Stringing cranberries, use only fresh berries. A plastic needle tends to keep the berry from turning brown as easily as a metal needle. Add pine cones, plain or spray-painted in plain colors or glittered. Or just add fake snow to cap them with. Using a thin piece of ribbon, about eight inches long, stick a straight pine through each end, creating a loop, then push the pin into the top of the cone. Keep a thimble handy, as some pine cones are very hard. If the pine cones are too hard, use glue.

Citrus fruits make beautiful homemade stained-glass windows when hung from the branches of the Christmas tree. Simply slice the fruit, place on cookie sheets to dry over a heating vent, or another very warm area. They also can be dried in an oven on low, but be aware that oven heating tends to make the fruit brittle and darker. Sprinkle with sugar for a sparkling affect, or leave undecorated to capture their natural beauty. Large nuts and seed pots are easily sprayed with gold paint or glitter, adding the much-welcomed sparkle.

Baskets filled with pine cones are beautiful accents around the hearth, near the backdoor, or as a centerpiece on the dinning room table. Since many pine cones drop early in the year, the scent may need to be refreshed with evergreen or cedar oil, which can be found in any craft store. A few drops will do the trick. Tuck evergreen boughs in to add color and texture, and to enhance the scent. A red velvet bow, or not? Your choice! Pine cones also can be dipped in egg whites, then rolled in cinnamon and other spices, to be later used in the fireplace for a quick aromatic pick-me-up just before guests arrive, or as gifts.

An inside wreath or swag created with flowering herbs, twigs, and berries not only is a graceful addition to your own wall, but it makes the perfect gift. The key to creating a wreath is to forget about being perfect. Any holes can be filled in later, and every wreath has it’s own appeal. Wreath rings can be purchased at craft stores, or made from a wire coat hanger. Simply bend the hanger into a circle, using the hook as the hanger. This size wreath is perfect for the front door.

Starting on the left side of the hook, secure wire. Then, using 10- to 14-inch stems and stalks, begin, adding about one handful of material at a time. Secure each bundle by winding the wire around the bottom of the material several times. Overlap the material tightly as you continue around the circle. Remember, texture can be added through the use of cinnamon sticks and twigs, so take advantage of your backyard landscaping.

When finished, the wreath will be full, colorful and aromatic. If there is a particularly large hole to fill, use a small bird’s nest or several larger seed pods. Deck the halls to perfection, then create a wreath for your backdoor, or as a gift for Mom and Dad. Using the same method, make a Christmas wreath with a mixture of evergreen boughs. Add a red bow, a bird’s nest, or a few berries, and you’ll be the talk of the neighborhood.

If using Hemlock be aware that its fine needles will eventually fall off, leaving a twig base. This base can be used for your next wreath, or as a gift to the birds. Simply smear peanut butter on it, dip it in birdseed, and hang it on the fence.

Osage oranges tucked into a wire egg basket add a delightfully old-fashioned feel to the home. Oranges, limes and lemons covered with clove studs and rolled in cinnamon or left in a bowl overflowing with spices, including bay leaves and lavender, is a definite attention getter.

Don’t be afraid to add fake snow, birds or tiny mice. After all, we are attempting to recreate nature inside of our homes, right? The greedy Blue-Jay makes a very attractive addition, looking for all the world like he’s about to pop a red berry or nut into his mouth and flee. A couple of mice burrowing into an old bird’s nest might be very charming, perhaps with a couple of wrens standing nearby wondering where they’re supposed to sleep. It’s your home, open the doors and let your imagination run wild!

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64 Gift Ideas for Under $10 - Holidays
or Any Occasion of the Year!
 1. Gourmet coffees with a personal coffee cup
 2. Pound of pistachios
 3. Child's artwork, framed
 4. Journal with special inscription inside
 5. Teacup with box of herbal tea
 6. Deck of cards and book of card game rules
 7. Homemade cocoa mix in a pretty jar
 8. Collage of special photos
 9. Gel pens and pretty stationary
10. Bottle of sparkling cider
11. Home baked bread, include recipe
12. Disposable camera or rolls of film
13. Basket filled with deli cheese and fruit
14. Craft supplies
15. Holiday serving bowl or platter
16. Pretty basket filled with special jams or mustards
17. Decorative napkins and napkin rings
18. Fancy chocolate bars tied with a ribbon
19. Gardening gloves with a plant or flower seeds
20. Photo album, hand decorated is even better
21. Makeup tote
22. Prepaid photo developing envelopes
23. Homemade cookie mix with instructions for baking
24. Variety of bread mixes
25. Special coffee cup filled with candy
26. Fancy magazines tied together with a pretty ribbon
27. Gourmet popcorn and flavored oil
28. Locally made barbeque or steak sauce with basting brush
29. Pancake or waffle mix and a bottle of real maple syrup
30. Movie theater gift certificates
31. Board games
32. Jar of sourwood or pure honey with biscuit mix
33. Note cards and book of stamps
34. Picture frames, buy them on sale!
35. Specialty cookbook
36. Pretty glass jar filled with candy
37. Collectible sports cards
38. Muffin mixes with muffin pan
39. Books, there are still a few for under $10
40. Set of dish towels and dish cloths
41. Nail polish kit
42. Pretty night shirt
43. Basket filled with kitchen gadgets
44. Video rental gift certificates
45. Pepper mill and fresh peppercorns
46. Handwritten copies of your favorite recipes
47. For the pets, gourmet dog biscuits or cat treats
48. Baking pans and supplies
49. Prepaid long distance phone cards
50. Small clock or radio
51. Pretty box for keepsakes
52. Colorful Post-It notepads
53. Address book
54. Christmas ornaments
55. Puzzles
56. Blank video or cassette tapes
57. Sewing supplies
58. Flashlight with batteries
59. Favorite quote embroidered on a nice handkerchief
60. Makeup brush set
61. Expensive socks, still under $10
62. Special soaps and bath puff
63. Prepaid Phone Card
64. and don't forget an absolute favorite... home baked cookies!
Think of more gift ideas under $10.00, send me an email and I'll add it to the list.

And I'd like to make a list of gift ideas under $5.00, so send along an
email with your ideas.

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Start A New Family Holiday Tradition
 Family Tablecloth

Purchase a really nice linen tablecloth (thrift store find)
and some fabric markers (fine tip, if you can
find them) in various 'pearlized' colors. As each person
arrives (and preferably before loading up the table) have them
trace their handprint on the cloth.  Have them label with name and date.
Use the tablecloth for holidays and special occasions.  Each
time there is a person who hasn't had their name added, have them add theirs. 
With little ones, add their 'new' hand print, with a different
color than their original as close to the first one as possible
and they love comparing the difference.
Families already have lots of Holiday Family Traditions.  What is one of your favorites.  Send me an email and I'll share it here.

Remembering Charlie this Holiday Season
and Charlie's Clam Dip Recipe
Next month will mark one year since our beloved Charlie took up new residence beyond this earthly domain.  I will have forever affectionate memories of our last Christmas together with Charlie last year.  We visited he and Joy at their home, and wanted to share a 'special event' with them. 
Well try as we  might, we just couldn't find just the right venue that particular weekend.  I remember Charlie helping out by recommending we visit the historic fort at Point Defiance and Joy pooh poohing him that it had burned down and they wouldn't be having a public holiday celebration.   We continued to try to search out what we could all go do together, when Joy learned that there was a public holiday celebration happening at the Fort at Point Defiance.  Suddenly Charlie announces in a voice of validation 'see I told you there was something happening at the fort and no one listens to me'.  
We headed out only to be deterred by the daunting effort of parking far away and having to walk quite a distance.  Seems there was high public attendance that night and parking was filled to overflowing so they had to come up with alternative parking arrangements.   Instead we went to Ruston Way to catch the annual Yacht Club's lighted ships and boats water show.  It was cold as we stood on the river edge, with few others besides our group braving the cold of the night.  Or perhaps because there were so few, we thought, it was the end of the show and we would only see a few of the last of the boats and ships. 
'One, two, three, four, five' Charlie counted aloud in his best Grinch voice.
 ' Can we go now.'    But he didn't fool us any more cause we learned a long time ago he was far from a Christmas Grinch.   It did seem to be the end of the show, so we left and hunted down a restroom.  Wouldn't you know that Charlie knew where the local taverns were in the area, so he and Chris ducked into the tavern leaving the rest of us in the car with the motor running, keeping the heat on to warm the car.  
After some time passed, and we were about to pass out from being over warm in the heated car, it occurred to us that we were in a vulnerable situation.  Joy and Arthur in the back seat and me in the third row jump seat of the van, with no one in the front and the motor running.   Why anyone could have jumped in the car and took off with us still in it, we began thinking.  Of course, the doors were locked for safety, but we began to realize how ridiculous it was to have three very mature adults sitting in a running car and not able to get to the front to turn off the motor or unlock the child-proof doors.  We were literally locked in a heated van with the motor running in a parking lot.  I was on the verge of passing out from being overheated and no one could open a door to cool off the car.  We came to our senses and realized this was not the best position to be in anytime whether it was Holiday season or not. 
As Arthur struggled up to the front to turn the motor off and unlock the childproof doors letting in some cool night air, Charlie and Chris returned in happy spirits at just the same time.  We told them of our saga and that more time had passed than was warranted to use the restroom and they both took on the 'innocent' act.  Joy knew they'd tossed down a quick beer (maybe two, who knows cause they weren't telling - male bonding thing and all).  
They never did tell, and since Charlie was taken into the hospital suddenly the next month, emergency surgery performed, and he lived one more day before he left us - Charlie and Chris share a special kind of secret during what became their last time together last Christmas. 
That is the story, and now I want to share one of my favorite recipes that Charlie used to make  - his famous clam dip;
Charlie's Clam Dip
     * 1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, softened
    * 1 (6-ounce) can minced clams, save juice
    * 1 small garlic clove, minced
    * 1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
    * 1/4 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
    * salt to taste
Combine cream cheese and clams. Stir in just enough clam juice to make a nice consistency for dipping. Add remaining ingredients and thoroughly combine. Serve or cover and chill. Serve with crackers or chips.

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  Christmas Around The World
Several weeks before Christmas, elaborately decorated market stalls or puestos are set up in the plazas of every town and city. Some people travel for days from remote areas to get to these markets. The puestos offer crafts of every conceivable kind, foods such as cheese, bananas, nuts, and cookies, and flowers such as orchids and poinsettias.
The poinsettia is native to Mexico and is believed to have first been used in connection with Christmas in the 17th century when Mexican Franciscans included the flowers in their Christmas celebration. There is a legend connected with the flower. A little boy named Pablo was walking to the church in his village to visit the Nativity scene, when he realized he had nothing to offer the Christ Child. He saw some green branches growing along the roadside and gathered them up. Other children scoffed, but when he laid them by the manger, a brilliant red star-shaped flower appeared on each branch.
The main Christmas celebration in Mexico is called las posadas, which refers to processions reenacting Joseph and Mary's search for a place to stay in Bethlehem. The processions begin nine days before Christmas because the original journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem took nine days. Friends and family members divide themselves into two groups - pilgrims and innkeepers. The pilgrims travel from house to house asking for a shelter and are refused at each until they finally reach the house where an alter and Nativity scene have been set up. Here the pilgrims are admitted with great rejoicing, a traditional prayer is spoken, and the party begins. Food and drink are served and then children take turns trying to break open the pinata.
The time before Christmas is used for baking cookies (at least 7 different types, house cleaning, family activities at the children's school and of course Christmas shopping. Before Christmas, the children count down the days with their advent calendars. We usually have both homemade calendars with small presents and store bought calendars which contain pictures or chocolates.
On Christmas Eve, the family wakes up to a new day and does the last minute chores and shopping (if the stores are open). It's a long day for the children. They usually kill time by watching TV. Around 4 pm we usually go to church while mom or dad cooks the Christmas meal which is "pinnekj°tt" (salted and/or smoked and dried ribs from a sheep). After dinner and desert we clean the table and walk around the Christmas tree singing tradional Christmas songs. "Nissen " (a Norwegian version of Santa Claus - much less commercial than his American collegue) comes with presents to all. The kids are then busy with their new toys while the grown-ups enjoy their coffee.
On Christmas day the children wake up to find that yet another Santa has put packages and fruit in their stockings. The first and second days of Christmas are usually spent together with family and relatives.
St. Nicholas is especially popular in Russia. The legend is that the 11th-century Prince Vladimir traveled to Constantinople to be baptized, and returned with stories of miracles performed by St. Nicholas of Myra. Since then many Eastern Orthodox Churches have been named for the saint, and to this day, Nicholas is one of the most common names for Russian boys. The feast of St. Nicholas (December 6) was observed for many centuries, but after the communist revolution, the celebration of the feast was suppressed. During the communist years St. Nicholas was transformed into Grandfather Frost.
Other religious traditions were suppressed during the communist era. Before the revolution, a figure called Babushkas would bring gifts for the children. Like Italy's La Befana, the story is that Babushkas failed to give food and shelter to the three wise men during their journey to visit the Christ Child. According to tradition, she still roams the countryside searching for the Christ Child and visiting the homes of children during the Christmas season. Babushkas never completely disappeared, and now in the post-communist era, has returned openly. Christmas trees were also banned by the Communist regime, but people continued to trim their "New Year's" trees.
Most Christian Russians belong to the Eastern Orthodox Church, and it is customary to fast until after the first church service on Christmas Eve. Christmas Eve dinner is meatless but festive. The most important ingredient is a special porridge called kutya. It is made of wheat berries or other grains which symbolize hope and immortality, and honey and poppy seeds which ensure happiness, success, and untroubled rest. A ceremony involving the blessing of the home is frequently observed. A priest visits the home accompanied by boys carrying vessels of holy water, and a little water is sprinkled in each room. The kutya is eaten from a common dish to symbolize unity.
On Christmas Eve, Iraqi Christian families gather together and one of the children read about the birth of Jesus while other family members hold lighted candles. Afterward the reading, a bonfire of thorn bushes is let and everyone sings. If the thorns burn to ashes, good luck will be granted for the coming year. When the fire dies, each person jumps over the ashes three times and makes a wish.
On Christmas Day another bonfire is lit in the churchyard. The bishop, carrying a figure of the Baby Jesus leads the service. Afterwards he blesses one person with a touch. That person touches the person next to him or her and the touch is passed around until all present have felt the "touch of peace."
 Since the end of the Vietnam War in 1975, church-state relations have not always been smooth. However, they have been improving since the introduction of economic reforms in the late 1980s.
Phat Diem is considered the spiritual home for the seven million Catholics who live in Vietnam, a predominantly Buddhist nation. Hundreds of Catholics gather for Christmas Eve Mass in the northern city of Phat Diem.Children staged a nativity play to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ -- or Kito, as he is known in Vietnamese -- in front of the city's cathedral, built in 1891.

Christmas in Japan became popular at the beginning of the 20th century and is mainly celebrated in cities. They celebrate it as a purely secular holiday devoted to the love of their children. The Japanese become acquainted with the holiday because of the Christmas products they made for other countries.
Christmas decorations are a popular sight. Tinsel and lights are hung in dance halls, cafes and pin ball parlors. Trees are decorated with small toys, dolls, paper ornaments, gold paper fans and lanterns, wind chimes and small candles. One of the most popular ornaments is the origami swan.
Children have traded thousands of paper birds of peace with young people to show that war will not happen.Many of the people take time to do special things for others. Hospitals are decorated with trees to lift the spirits of the sick. Children sing carols or put on plays about the birth of Jesus for the sick.
Japanese children call Santa "Santa Kurohsu" and he is believed to have eyes in the back of his head so he can watch the children all year long. In Japan there is a priest known as Hoteiosho, who closely relates to Santa Claus. He is thought to be an old man who carries a huge sack.
Christmas in Japan was introduced by the Christian missionaries and for many years the only people who celebrated were the ones who turned to the Christian faith. But now Christmas in Japan is full of meaning. The Japanese like the idea of exchanging gifts. For a few weeks before the day, stores are decorated and a display is put out, just as our western shops have done.
The story of Jesus born in a manager is interesting to little girls of Japan, for they love anything about babies. In the scene of the Nativity, they become familiar with cradles, for Japanese babies never sleep in cradles.
Many western customs for Christmas have been adopted by the Japanese. Besides exchanging gifts they eat turkey on Christmas Day and in some places there are community trees. They decorate with tinsel and mistletoe and in some homes Christmas carols are sung.
Venezuelans attend a early morning church  service daily between December 16th and 24th. This is called Misa de Aguinaldo  ("Early Morning Mass.") In Caracas, the capital city, it is customary to roller-skate to this service and many neighborhoods close the streets to cars until 8 a.m.

Before bedtime children tie one end of a piece of string to their big tow and hang the other out the window. The next morning, roller skaters give a tug to any string they see handing. After Mass everyone enjoys tostados and coffee.
From the beginning of Advent, booths and stalls are set up on the market-places in all cities where you can buy everything you need for Christmas: decorations for the tree and candles, crib figures and gingerbread (which is mainly baked and consumed at Christmas), Christmas trees, and presents for Christmas Eve. Walking through such a market really is an exceptional experience. Children enjoy this most of all. The smell of fir resin and roasted almonds intermingle. Then there are all the lights from the stalls and the little stoves where sausages are fried and chestnuts roasted. Songs and the sounds of music fill the air. The most famous Christkindlmarkt takes place in Nuremberg and attracts lots of visitors every year.
St. Nicholas Eve. This happens on Dec, 6 an all of the children leave one shoe out for St. Nicholas to either leave candy if they are good or twigs if they are bad.
--The Advent calendar

While children in Canada have Christmas parades to assure that Santa is on the way, in Germany the magic of Christmas starts with the December arrival of the advent calendar. Advent starts on the first Sunday after November 26th. This time is devoted to preparations for Christmas. After the four Advent Sundays are over, there follow Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Advent calendars with their bright Christmas pictures hang alongside children's beds. If you look more closely, you discover small numbers in this picture. One, two, three, and so on up to 24. Wherever the numbers are, there are small paper windows. When you open these windows you find a little picture on transparent paper: a candle, a ball, a snowman-whatever children like. The children open a new window every morning, and then they know that there are still twenty three days to Christmas, twenty two, twenty one, and so on. Every day Christmas Eve, so much longed for and charged with wishes, comes a little closer.
Apart from the Advent calendar, families also have an Advent wreath. The wreath is made of bound fir twigs to which four candles are attached. One more candle is lit for each of the Advent Sundays. In large houses, shops, and in churches, these Advent wreaths hang from the ceiling, adorned with four fat red or yellow candles. This looks particularly splendid when the wreath is also decorated with red or violet ribbons. No one knows when the Advent wreath came to Germany and where it originated. It does not date back very far as a Christmas Custom but has already firmly established itself. Before the first Sunday in Advent you will see many, many Advent wreath in flower shops and nurseries. Pine and fir cones, little red mushrooms, or red and yellow ribbons are also attached to the green of the wreath.
--The Christmas tree

The undisputed focal-point of the entire Christmas period, in the community and in the family, is the Christmas tree. A German Christmas without the green fir tree is simply inconceivable. The tranquil splendor of Christmas tree lights is an essential aspect of the festival for both the individual and the population as a whole. It is the symbol of Christmas for all Germans, who have to have their Christmas tree on December the 23th (not a day before!) even if they live abroad in distant countries. Trees are also found in churches and public squares. They are used in shops as decoration, and in offices to please staff and visitors. The giant trees that stand in public are especially grown for this purpose and carefully looked after in municipal wood. They are often up to 25 metres. Decorating the treeIn earlier times, candles were perhaps enough in the eyes of children and adults. Today everyone wants a well-decorated tree in their home. You can even say that there have been areas-such as Rhinish Hesse and the Spessart-where the sweets on the tree have been more important than the lights. People there spoke of a Sugar Tree rather than a Christmas tree, and this was hung with edibles and decorations. Some families with children maintain this custom up to the present day.
--Music for Christmas

Christmas is a time for singing and music making. There is a constant mention at Christmas of the mysterious sounds of bells and other musical instruments, present in all households. This starts with the first Sunday in Advent and reaches its peek on Christmas Eve, the Holy Evening, when the silent night should be filled with sounds that seem to come from celestial spheres. The most famous of all German language Christmas songs , "Stille Nacht! Heilige Nacht! was first heard during Christmas 1818 at the small church of St. Nicholas in Oberndorf (Austria), which is near Salzburg and the German-Austrian border. The writer of the text, Joseph Mohr, was assistant priest from 1817 to 1819. Franz Yaver Gruber, the composer, had been the teacher and organist at nearby Arnsdorf since 1807, and he also filled the latter function at Oberndorf, when no one was available. Just before Christmas 1818, Mohr suggested to Gruber that they should produce a new song for the festival. On the 24th of December he gave the musician his six verse text, leaving only a few hours till the moment the song was due to be presented. The organist's melody pleased the poet though, and the song was performed with great success. Today this famous song is translated into 44 other languages and is known all over the world.
--Christmas feast

It is said that the tradition of serving boar's head at the Christmas feast originated because the German god Frey, who was responsible for the well-being of livestock, was symbolized by the boar. Therefore boar was often sacrificed in hopes of a prosperous spring herd. Eventually, the boar's head custom as a part of German Christmas feasting became impractical. Boars were increasingly hard to find and dangerous to catch. It also took a week of cooling and preparation to make the boar presentable. In more modern times, the boar was replaced by pork, roast beef, turkey, and goose.
In this tiny Alpine country in the heart of Europe Christmas   celebration stretches much longer.On December 5, which is the eve of St. Nichola┤s Day, the tiny village of Kussnacht, located on the shores of Lake Lucerne, glows with the light of nearly two hundred enormous, transparent bishop┤s miters worn by a group of men parading through the streets. The headpieces, some of them six feet tall, have been artistically designed, cut out of cardboard, assembled, and lit by a candle from within. Dressed in white robes, the people wearing these elaborate miters accompany St. Nicholas on his way through the village. The streets resound with the clang of heavy bells worn around the necks of muscular men, horn blowing, and the rhythm of a brass band. One can only wonder how the miter-wearing men manage to keep the wax from dripping down into their hair and how they prevent the cardboard hat from going up in flames.
The wide variety of customs in neighboring Swiss villages reflects the centuries of isolation the people endured during the winter months when the heavy snowfalls eliminated travel between mountain valleys.
On December 6, the feast of St. Nicholas, school children in Glarnerland parade through the village, ringing and jingling bells of all sizes - sometimes in rhythmic unison and sometimes in wild abandon. The bells signal the villagers that a gift is expected from each household along the way. The gifts are usually some good things to eat or drink.
While this bell ringing custom is not too unusual, it doesn┤t begin to compare with the children┤s parade in the town of Weinfelden. On the last Thursday before Christmas, the children in the town parade through the streets with their decorated fodder beets. These fodder beets have been hollowed out and lit from within with a beeswax candle. After singing carols in the town square, the children go to their schools where they dine on wurst and bread. At the same time, adults go the local tavern or coffeehouse, and the town council holds its annual budget meeting. Presumably, the thrifty Swiss eventually scrape the candle wax from the beets so they can be added to the animal troughs.
In the village of Ziefen, several dozen young bachelors walk along a traditional route through the streets every Christmas Eve. The tallest bachelor, dons a white beard and leads the procession while carrying a sooty rag attached to the end of a long pole. Curiosity seekers leaning from their doorways and windows risk getting more than just an eyeful of the event. Quite a few onlookers end up scrubbing chimney soot from their faces. All the young bachelors wear oversized, long, dark coats and each wears a tall, black, top hat made of cardboard. Many of these hats are more then six feet high. The procession is relatively tame compared to the wild festivities it replaced from the early nineteenth century.
Meanwhile, things are relatively quiet in the village of Hallwil where seven girls, 13 or 14-years-old, act out an ancient custom. A veiled Wienechtchind (Christmas child), dressed in white, and six companions in rose-colored garments, visit village families in the evening. The Wienechtchind greets the assembled household with a silent handshake and distributes cake or cookies to the children while the other girls sing a carol. The departure of this group is also silent.
An ancient tradition in the town of Laupen, near Bern, is not only the opposite of Hallwil┤s tradition - it┤s totally absurd! New Year┤s Eve is the time to be there if you want to see some outrageous shenanigans. The origins of the strange customs in Laupen can be traced back to the early nineteenth century.
Originally the ceremonies took place on Christmas Eve and for years the town officials tried unsuccessfully to have them outlawed. Eventually the town priest managed to have the date changed to New Year┤s Eve since it involved so much noise and rowdiness.
After nightfall on December 31, the participating schoolboys, comprising three boisterous groups, meet on the hill at the local castle and proceed down to the village. In the first group are the "bell ringers", who swing or rattle large bells which can be heard for miles around. Next, the "broom men", carry long poles with bunches of juniper branches tied to the top. The third group is probably the most bizarre - the "bladder men" carry pig┤s bladders filled with air. The procession stops at various locations along the route as the leader recites a rhymed farewell to the old year and wishes the crowd a happy new one. During the recitation, the broom men wave their juniper brooms over the heads of the crowd. At the end of journey, the broom men and the bladder men, all armed with inflated pig┤s bladders, proceed to "beat" the onlookers, especially young ladies, until their weapons are in shreds.
One must admit that it really takes a lot of guts to stand and watch this parade. These events in Switzerland, and many more like them, provide hours of entertainment for connoisseurs of folklore, however, before anyone tries to emulate these customs, you may want to check with local authorities before you swat someone with a pig┤s bladder or a sooty rag.
United Kingdom (Great Britain)
The caroling, the gifts, the feast, and the wishing of good cheer to all - these ingredients came together to create that special Christmas atmosphere.
The custom of gift-giving on Christmas dates only to Victorian times. Before then it was more common to exchange gifts on New Year's Day or Twelfth Night. Santa Claus, though has a German origin is as popular in Britain as in America. Santa is known by British children as Father Christmas. Father Christmas, these days, is quite similar to the American Santa, but his direct ancestor is a certain pagan spirit who regularly appeared in medieval mummer's plays. The old-fashioned Father Christmas was depicted wearing long robes with sprigs of holly in his long whi te hair. Children write letters to Father Christmas detailing their requests, but instead of dropping them in the mailbox, the letters are tossed into the fireplace. The draft carries the letters up the chimney, and theoretically, Father Christmas reads t he smoke. Gifts are opened Christmas afternoon.
From the English we get a story to explain the custom of hanging stockings from the mantelpiece. Father Christmas once dropped some gold coins while coming down the chimney. The coins would have fallen through the ash grate and been los t if they hadn't landed in a stocking that had been hung out to dry. Since that time children have continued to hang out stockings in hopes of finding them filled with gifts.
The custom of singing carols at Christmas is also of English origin. During the middle ages, groups of serenaders called "waits" would travel around from house to house singing ancient carols and spreading the holiday spirit. The word "carol" means "song of joy." Most of the popular old carols we sing today were written in the nineteenth century.
The hanging of greens, such as holly and ivy, is a British winter tradition with origins far before the Christian era. Greenery was probably used to lift sagging winter spirits and remind the people that spring was not far away. The cus tom of kissing under the mistletoe is descended from ancient Druid rites. The decorating of Christmas trees, though primarily a German custom, has been widely popular in England since 1841 when Prince Albert had a Christmas tree set up in Windsor Castle f or his wife Queen Victoria, and their children.
The word "wassail" is derived from the Anglo-Saxon phrase waes hael, which means "good health." Originally, wassail was a beverage made of mulled ale, curdled cream, roasted apples, nuts, eggs, and spices. It was served for the purpose of enhancing the general merriment of the season. Like many of the ancient customs, "wassailing" has a legend to explain its origin. It seems that a beautiful Saxon maiden named Rowena presented Prince Vortigen with a bowl of wine while toasting him with the words "Waes hael." Over the centuries a great deal of ceremony had developed around the custom of drinking wassail. The bowl is carried into a room with great fanfare, a traditional carol about the drink is sung, and finally, the steaming hot beverage is served.
For many years in England, a roasted boar's head has been associated with Holiday feasting. The custom probably goes back to the Norse practice of sacrificing a boar at Yuletide in honor of the god Freyr. One story tells of a student at Oxford's Queen College who was attacked on Christmas Day by a wild boar. All he had in his hand to use as a weapon was his copy of Aristotle, so he shoved the book down the boar's throat. Wanting to retrieve his book, the student cut off the animal's hea d and brought it back to the college where it was served for Christmas dinner with much pomp and ceremony.
The celebration of Boxing Day, which takes place on December 26 - the feast of St. Stephen, is a part of the holiday season unique to Great Britain. Traditionally, it is on this day that the alms box at every English church is opened an d the contents are distributed to the poor. Also, this is the day that servants traditionally got the day off to celebrate with their families. It became traditional for working people to break open their tip boxes on this day. Boxing Day began in the mid -nineteenth century when the custom of tipping by rich persons to persons in service positions had apparently gotten out of hand. Children and others pretended to be in the trades and solicited tips. The custom was expanded to giving to anyone and everyon e who had less money than you did, and soon the streets at Christmastime were full of aggressive soliciting of tips. To contain the nuisance "Boxing Day" was designated as the one day for giving to the less fortunate.
The Scots celebrate Christmas rather somberly and reserve their merriment for New Year's Eve which is called Hogmanay. This word may derive from a kind of oat cake that was traditionally given to children on New Year's Eve. The first pe rson to set foot in a residence in a New Year is thought to profoundly affect the fortunes of the inhabitants. Generally strangers are thought to bring good luck. Depending on the area, it may be better to have a dark-haired or fair-haired stranger set fo ot in the house. This tradition is widely known as "first footing."
Caroling is particularly popular in Wales where it is called eisteddfodde and is often accompanied by a harp. In some rural areas a villager is chosen to be the Mari llwyd. This person travels around the town draped in whi te and carrying a horse's skull on a long pole. Anyone given the "bite" by the horse's jaws must pay a fine.


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