Santas, Santas and more Santas

  • December 06, 2016
  • Jenna Maxwell

Santa Claus was in my neighborhood yesterday. Before you roll your eyes and think I've had one eggnog too many, let me explain. I was out in my yard putting up Christmas lights when a white SUV pulled up in front of the house across the street. When I saw the occupant of the vehicle, I did a double take! It was Santa. Say what you want, but to anyone who knows anything about Christmas, this guy was the real deal. He had a white beard, a rather copious amount of white hair, and was wearing wire-rimmed spectacles. On this day, Santa wore a long-sleeved red undershirt with matching suspenders, but when he opened the door to his car, I could see that his traditional red, fur-trimmed suit and matching hat was lying on the seat. Now, since Santa Claus doesn't show up my neighborhood very often (ok, basically never) this jolly ol' elf definitely had my attention. What was going on? Within moments a woman from the other end of the street came bustling down the street to have what appeared to be a rather clandestine meeting with the old guy as they went over what seemed to be a list. Within minutes it was evident what was happening, and I had to smile. A children's Christmas party was at full throttle down the street, and ol' Kris Kringle was about to pay the little ones in attendance a surprise visit. This extraordinary fella wasn't THE Santa Claus at all - even though he could have fooled me, and indeed most anyone else. Although this pudgy and jovial gentleman looked an awful lot like the real deal, clearly this man was just another imposter. This guy was one of the thousands of Santa Claus impersonators that are out adding extra joy to the holidays during the Christmas season.

Retailers have been successfully using Santa impersonators as part of Christmas marketing strategy for well over a hundred years. Many years ago, an artist named Thomas Nast came up with the whole modern day concept of Santa Claus and his image as he is widely perceived today. Thomas Nast's drawings of Santa Claus were featured in 1862 in Harper's Bazaar magazine. In Thomas Nast's legendary illustrations, for the first time Santa was depicted as rather chubby, jolly, fully bearded, and wearing a bright red fur suit. In 1890, a merchant named James Edgar decided that dressing up as the beloved Kris Kringle might bring more business to his store. A Christmas tradition was born! For many generations afterward, retailers, shopping centers, shopping malls and many venues around the country have delighted children of all ages with their own hired Santa's. There's a good chance that even you have a planned outing to visit one of these characters over the holidays. Pictures are taken to capture the moment as children whisper their most heartfelt Christmas wishes into the old guy's ear. Whether he is "real" or not doesn't seem to matter--a visit to Santa has become an annual pilgrimage for the masses.

Regardless of where the roots of the real Santa Claus lie, there is no doubt that his status as one of the most legendary characters of Christmas is undeniable. If you are interested in upping your own Christmas game, creating your own "Santa" is very easy. With a proper Santa Claus style beard and a classic red Santa suit the transformation is complete. It's time to start practicing your best "ho, ho, ho!"

Black Friday and Cyber Monday: A Holiday Gift to Shoppers

  • November 22, 2016
  • Jenna Maxwell

When it comes to shopping there are those of you who love it, and not surprisingly, there are plenty more of you who don't. For those who don't necessarily embrace the concept of retail therapy, the holiday season creates a unique set of dilemmas. Christmas shopping, for those who abhor crowds, lines and traffic can be agonizing and downright stressful. On the other hand, there are plenty of those diehard and brave souls who will face whatever is necessary--all in the name of scoring a great deal. The good news for shoppers no matter what your shopping passion level may be is that there is always a way to get that Christmas list nailed.

It used to be that Black Friday was just catchy label created for the shopping day that comes after Thanksgiving. Black Friday was like the proverbial gun that goes off for the race to finish one's holiday shopping. Because so many people were off work and school, Thanksgiving weekend became a very busy time to shop for gifts, and during that period, retailers were bustling. With so much happening in stores and businesses it didn't take long for sellers to figure out that the crowds could be further maximized and substantially increased by offering sales, specials, and huge discounts. That was the point when Black Friday started to get just a little bit crazy.

As the years have gone by, Black Friday has become a bigger and bigger deal. Some retailers offer up something akin to a mini press release, to give shoppers a head's up on some of the most spectacular deals they will be offering come the Friday following Thanksgiving. Other retailers have chosen to up the ante on Black Friday even further by holding Black Friday presales and specials along with increased store hours on Thanksgiving Day itself. It seems that some shoppers would rather forego turkey and football to feast instead on Black Friday discounts. Over the past few years, Black Friday sales have become increasingly popular and with good reason. At this point of the holiday season, the stores still have a good selection of merchandise. Scoring a fantastic deal on something before Christmas (instead of after) is a huge boon for shoppers--particularly those who are seeking fabulous prices on specific gift items.

For those of you who are not into the whole Black Friday scene, do not despair. More and more companies are offering up fantastic Black Friday specials online, meaning you can shop with the best of them, right from the comfort of your home. And there is even more good news for those of you who may want to avoid the chaos of Black Friday entirely. Although it hasn't been around for as long as Black Friday, there is a new kid on the block when it comes to holiday shopping. Cyber Monday (as it is affectionately known) is the next big thing when it comes to deal shopping. For those of you who prefer to buy things online--Cyber Monday events are made just for you.

Many online retailers will offer an exciting array of sales and discounts the Monday following Thanksgiving. On Cyber Monday, online shoppers will see exceptional bargains, easily obtained within just a few mouse clicks. With many retailers also offering free or discounted shipping charges, the convenience of online shopping is just what the doctor ordered for many folks who prefer to avoid crowded malls and superstores during the holiday season.

On your mark . . . get set . . . SHOP! Happy Black Friday and Cyber Monday from your friends at Halloween Express!

Making Your Christmas POP with Christmas Crackers

  • November 18, 2016
  • Jenna Maxwell

The Christmas season has a myriad of traditions, many of these having roots deep in history. Part of the magic of yuletide is that in spite of modern technology, we still continue to love the old-fashioned, time-honored rituals of days gone by.  Christmas trees, wreaths, candles, lights and holiday gifts--these are just some the wonderful customs that we all look forward to each and every year during the holiday season.  There is a lesser-known Christmas tradition, however, primarily embraced by those who live across the pond in the United Kingdom.  Consider this your official introduction to Christmas Crackers.

"Christmas Crackers," you say? "Meaning those little round flaky biscuits served with cheese?" No, dear holiday loving friends, the Christmas Crackers we're talking about here are far different, definitely not an hors d'oeuvre, and we think you are going to love the very idea of them.

Back in the mid-nineteenth century, there was a candy maker named Tom Smith.  Tom Smith enjoyed making sweets, but when business began to slow down a bit, he needed to find a way to perk up his sales. Tom came up with a novel idea using French bonbons as his inspiration.  Taking a tube of cardboard, Mr. Smith filled the cylinder up with sweets as well as a sentimental message and wrapped it all up in brightly colored paper, tying off each end, so it looked like a large piece of candy.  Tom liked what he had come up with--but he still felt that something was missing. 

One night as Tom Smith sat beside the warmth of his fireplace listening to the burning logs crackle and pop, he got an idea.  What if he created a tube that when it was pulled apart made a distinct popping sound?  This stroke of inspiration changed Tom's unique gift from that point going forward.  Devising a tube that used a friction strip containing materials similar to those in a cap gun, Tom was able to create a container that would indeed "pop" when pulled apart.  The Christmas Cracker was born!

Eventually, the sweets inside the Christmas Crackers were replaced with small trinkets or toys, a silly party hat and instead of a love note, the tube now contained a brief motto or even a riddle.  The tradition of the Crackers caught on, and in the United Kingdom on Christmas day it is popular to see holiday dinner tables set with a Christmas Cracker as a party favor at each place setting.  Rumor has it that even the queen herself has been known to participate in the Christmas Cracker tradition.

Christmas Crackers can be used in many different ways.  As we mentioned, one of the oldest traditions is to have the crackers set at the table during Christmas dinner. When guests sit down, before eating, each person will hold their cracker in their right hand while using their left hand to simultaneously assist the person next to them in pulling their cracker apart.   The crackers will pop and spill open, the contents then revealed.  Nowadays, Christmas Crackers hold a wide assortment of novelty items or even small prizes.  The love notes or mottos once contained within the Cracker's, have over time, devolved entirely into some pretty groan-worthy, corny jokes - but this is all considered to be part of the holiday fun. As bad as the jokes inside of the crackers may be, it's considered tradition to share them aloud with the other guests. And speaking of tradition, the party hats contained within each of the Christmas Crackers are supposed to be worn during the rest of the festivities.  These crown-shaped hats are said to symbolize the crowns worn by the legendary Three Wise Men who traveled to see the Christ child thousands of years ago.

For over 150 years, the simple ritual surrounding Christmas Crackers has delighted many families overseas as well as here in the homeland.  Perhaps the Christmas Cracker tradition is just what you need to add a little bang to your own family's holiday festivities! 

Last Minute Halloween Hacks

  • October 31, 2016
  • Jenna Maxwell

Last Minute Halloween Hacks

Human nature makes procrastination easy.  Here it is, Halloween, and perhaps you have found yourself in a bind.  Not only is your pumpkin sitting uncarved, but also you need something to bring to a party, and you haven’t given a single thought to your Halloween costume.   For those of you who need some help getting ready for the big event--and fast-- we are here to help.  Here are few tips to help you pull off a fantastic Halloween without a lot of prep. 

Last Minute Decorations:

No time to carve those pumpkins?  Do not fret because there are many super cool ways of decorating that gourd that do not even involve picking up a knife.  You may also get a few bonus points for creativity!  (As for waiting until the last minute, your secret is safe with us!)

  • Pumpkins are easily (and quickly) painted.  Not only is painting an effective method of decorating, but the results you get are pretty unique and special.  Grab some acrylic craft paints and get started! 
  • Paint your pumpkin using the colors of Candy Corn.  Paint the pumpkin in thirds using three different colors.  Paint the bottom of the pumpkin yellow, the middle of the pumpkin orange and the top section of the pumpkin, white!  SO CUTE!
  • Spray your pumpkin with black chalkboard paint.  Once the paint is dry, using ordinary white chalk draw any design or message that you like.  Write a Halloween message to your guests, or draw on a spooky face. The beauty of chalk is that if you make a mistake, you can wipe it off and try again.
  • Melt unwrapped crayons on your pumpkin, so they drip down the sides. This effect is especially cool if you use a white pumpkin.  Try using a medley of fall colors, or a variety of rainbow colors.  Using just red melted crayon will create a “looks like blood” effect that is very spooky!
  • Mummify your pumpkin by wrapping it with plain white cheesecloth strips.  Add a pair of googly eyes if you have them or draw on a pair of eyes with a black permanent marker.
  • Give your pumpkin a very cool Steampunk-inspired look by spray-painting your pumpkin a metallic color.  Cut out a couple of gear shapes and tie these on the top.
  • Are you really pressed for time?  Simply wrap your pumpkin in an old pair of black fishnets or other black hosiery and tie a bow at the top.  A piece of black lace looks especially glamorous and gothic.

It’s easy to turn your last minute Halloween yard clean up into another Halloween decoration.  Gather all those fall leaves in your yard and pack them all into a 13-gallon white trash bag.  Once the bag is full, tie it off and draw a spooky ghost face on the front of the bag!  Wa-la!  Now you have a whimsical ghost to greet your guests while adding a bit of ghostly cheer to your yard.

Last Minute Costumes: 

Coming up with a last minute costume can be challenging.  Do not despair because a lack of planning does not mean that your Halloween costume will fall into the subpar category.

  • Minnie Mouse:  Wear a simple black dress combined with a pair of mouse ears.  Accessorize your look with red shoes, a red belt, and a red cardigan sweater.  Draw a  small mouse nose onto the tip of your nose with black eyeliner and finish your makeup off with bright red lipstick.
  • Modern Vampire:  Create the look of a modern gothic Vampire by using a few clothing pieces that you likely have around the house.  Wear a leather jacket with a sleek black dress with black heels or boots. Finish off the look with very dark lipstick, a pair of fangs and a drip of vampire blood coming out of the side of your mouth.
  • Tourist.  A tourist costume always gleans a lot of laughs at parties, and it’s one of the easiest to put together.  Wear a Hawaiian shirt, a pair of cargo shorts, sneakers and a bucket hat.  Finish the look off with a camera around your neck.
  • Robber: Wearing a black and white striped top with a pair of black leggings quickly puts a cute burglar costume together.  Accessorize these basics with a black beanie, and a pair of black gloves.  You can finish the costume with a simple black mask or choose to paint a mask on your face with black face paint.
  • Nerd: Putting together a nerd costume at the last minute is simple!  Try buttoning up a white shirt all the way to the neck, and then add a bowtie and a pair of suspenders.  Add a pair of glasses taped at the nose, and you are well on your way to Nerdville! 

Last Minute Party Tips:

Even if you have procrastinated your party plans, there are few things you can do to give your party more Halloween panache! 

  • Freeze plastic spiders inside ice cubes for a super creepy cool way of adding a Halloween vibe to your beverages.
  • Clear vinyl medical exam gloves can create a fabulous Halloween party favor.  Fill the gloves with Halloween candy and tie the glove closed with orange and black ribbon.  Put a plastic spider ring on one of the fingers.  This idea is super easy to make--and is so cute!
  • Here is a quick and easy idea for a spooky fun dessert to serve at your Halloween party.  Make (or buy if you are really in a time crunch) cupcakes and frost them high with white frosting.  Use chocolate chips or chocolate covered raisins to add a ghost face to the cupcakes.
  • Lollipop Ghosts are an old stand by party favor for a good reason--everyone loves them! (Plus they take just minutes to make!) Wrap a lollipop in white tissue and tie with a ribbon underneath the bulb of the pop.  Using a permanent marker, draw on a ghost face--that’s it, you’re done!
  • Do you need a hostess gift to take to your grown up Halloween party?  Wrap a bottle of wine in a clear plastic gift bag and tie it off with Halloween ribbon.  Decorate the bag with ghostly stickers. Write on the bag with a permanent marker, “Bottle of Boo’s!” (Yeah, we liked the idea, too!)
We never recommend procrastinating your Halloween preparations, but if you did, it’s hardly fatal.  Happy Halloween from your friends at Halloween Express!

Are You In the Mood for Halloween?

  • October 25, 2016
  • Jenna Maxwell

There is no denying it--the world is going a little bit crazy right now. Are you ready to take a break from the insanity and have a little bit of fun? (We are too.) In case it may have gotten a lost in the shuffle, we're here to remind you that there is a pretty awesome holiday coming up in the midst of all the news and worldly chaos. It's time to regroup and celebrate. Here are some great ways to get into the mood for Halloween!

Music: Have you made your Halloween playlist yet? Whether you are looking for your favorite Halloween-appropriate hits to rock your party, or just want some scary sounds to emanate from your front porch, there is nothing like some good old-fashioned Halloween music to set a spooky mood. Your favorite music app likely has already put together an epic Halloween music playlist--so crank the music up and get in the mood for a few Halloween scares!

Movies: Scary movies are fun year round, but let's face it, at Halloween time, thrilling movies are almost a necessity! The good news is that finding a film to scare the bejeezus out of you is pretty darn easy. Your local theater likely has a few doozies now playing, and there are plenty of classic scares available to rent or buy for a fantastic evening of popcorn-fueled, self-induced terror.

Food: Halloween and yummy foods go hand in hand, and it extends well beyond trick or treat candy. With literally thousands of Halloween and fall recipes flooding the Internet, it's very easy to find new culinary delights for your Halloween festivities or just some fun food ideas for your family to enjoy.

Ghost Stories: With so many haunted venues and movies in town at this time of the year, some of the more old fashioned types of scares may have become a lost art. Telling ghost stories in the dark is a time honored tradition that we think should be kept alive!

Halloween Attractions: You won't have to look very hard to find a Halloween-themed attraction in a neighborhood near you. Between haunted houses, haunted hayrides, spook alley's and the somewhat tamer pumpkin patches, if you are looking for something to do for Halloween, exciting and spooky fun is easy to find.

Pumpkin Carving: Pumpkin carving is one of the oldest Halloween rituals out there. Ancient Celtic people would carve lanterns out of turnips and pumpkins to scare away evil spirits that might be out and about on All Hallows Eve. You won't want to miss out on this perfect-for-Halloween activity. Pumpkin carving fun, and as far as Halloween decorations go, a carved Jack-o-Lantern is a Halloween must! Looking for something unique to carve? Look for some very unusual pumpkin varieties to carve including pumpkins with odd shapes, textures and out of the ordinary colors.

Costumes: It's Halloween, so you've got to dress up! There is simply no better way to get into the spirit of Halloween than by wearing a costume! Getting dressed up in a Halloween costume doesn't have to be stressful or overwhelming. Halloween costumes offer the perfect opportunity to showcase a part of your personality that isn't always apparent in your everyday life. Get creative and don't forget to make it fun--that is the point.

Party: Throwing a Halloween party is a great way to combine some or all of the above elements of Halloween into one spectacular event. With Halloween food, music, fun, scares, costumes and friends together all in one night--really, what could be better?

Happy Halloween from your friends at Halloween Express!

Are You In the Mood for Halloween?