Counting Down To New Year’s - New Year’s Traditions Explained

  • December 29, 2015
  • Jenna Maxwell

Santa has made his exhausted way back to the North Pole, and you’ve barely cleaned up the torn up Christmas wrap when it’s already time to start thinking about New Year’s celebrating.  New Year’s Eve is the big follow-up party to Christmas and has traditionally been a time to welcome in the New Year with varying levels of festivities.  Many will be turning their eyes to New York City’s Times Square to watch the giant, brilliantly lit ball that incrementally falls on New Year’s Eve.  Others will be closer to home, perhaps watching fireworks, drinking champagne, blowing into various noisemakers and looking for that special New Year’s Eve kiss.  But the real question is--why?  Have you ever thought about the origins of some of these crazy New Year’s traditions? 

Resolutions.  Everyone needs a fresh start now and then, right?  The beginning of a brand new year has become the traditional time for goal setting and starting anew.  Although many people will set New Year’s resolutions--few people will actually keep them--in fact, most of these resolutions will be abandoned in short order. 

Toast.  Almost every culture has a tradition akin to toasting or pledging to something with a beverage-filled glass.  The idea of clinking glasses may have come from an old Christian custom that believed that the "ding" sound made by the clanging of the glass would ward off evil spirits.  These days it is most common to drink to health, prosperity and good fortune.  Beginning the New Year with a toast seems particularly appropriate! 

Fireworks.  Before there was even a small notion about dropping a shimmering ball in Times Square, actual fireworks were set off in New York City on New Year’s Eve.  When the fireworks became outlawed in 1904, city officials came up with the idea of a giant illuminated ball dropping down a pole instead.  A tradition was born!  Fireworks are frequently still a part of New Year’s celebrations throughout the world.  Ancient legends taught that the loud booms and fiery blazes of the fireworks frightened off any evil spirits that may be carrying bad luck with them, while at the same time opening the door wide for a very Happy New Year, indeed.

New Year’s Kiss.  It’s tradition to kiss a loved one at midnight on New Year’s Eve--but do you know why?  Not only is it good luck (and just plain fun) to share a kiss with your beau, but tradition also says that if you don’t kiss someone at midnight, you may have a year filled with melancholy and loneliness.  New Year’s kissing is also another mechanism that is thought to ward off any evil spirits that may be lurking.

Auld Lang Syne.  The song entitled Auld Lang Syne wistfully sings a very old Scottish poem that recalls the love and kindness from “old long ago.”  Singing this traditional song at midnight is thought to bring a feeling of fellowship and good will into the New Year.

Happy New Year from your friends at Halloween Express! 

Counting Down To New Year’s - New Year’s Traditions Explained

Christmas Traditions: Why They Matter

  • December 21, 2015
  • Jenna Maxwell

Many years ago when my kids were still very small, the entire family piled up in our minivan on Christmas Eve to drive around and look at the neighborhood Christmas lights.  It was an unusually warm winter, even for Southern California, and since we were all in the mood for a festive snack, we hit the local Jack in the Box (a West Coast fast food joint) to get an Eggnog flavored milkshake to take with us on the drive.  This spontaneous event was so fun and memorable that it ended up happening again the next year.  Year after year, we’d find ourselves heading out for frozen milkshakes to take on our annual winter’s drive.  Now when it comes to Christmas traditions, this one is certainly not exotic, nor is it even close to being Martha Stewart sanctioned.  But somehow the idea of this annual sojourn stuck, and all these years later, the family car will still be stuffed--now with much bigger people--still slurping down a ridiculously cold concoction while admiring local Christmas light displays.  Recently as I sat in the chilly car with my teeth chattering on an especially cold winter night, I asked my family, “Why do we do this again?”  “It’s tradition!” was the enthusiastic response.  Enough said.  Christmas is much more than a holiday.  Christmas is an occasion built around family rituals and traditions, old and new.  The years will come and go.  The gifts and the presents exchanged during the holidays will scarcely be remembered as time goes by, but the memories created within your family will most certainly last a lifetime.  Every family has their unique set of routines that make the holidays special.  What do you do to make your family celebrations memorable?  Do you need to spice up your holidays a little bit?  Here are a few ideas that may add some Christmas magic to your family’s holidays!

•  Cookie Day.  Christmas is the perfect time of the year to bake delicious seasonal treats. Holiday goodies make perfect gifts to share with your friends and loved ones, in addition to adding a sweet and festive touch to all your holiday gatherings!

•  Make a Gingerbread House.  Check your local store for easy to assemble kits, or you can try making very simple Gingerbread-style houses by using graham crackers and stiff frosting.

•  Special Memory Ornaments.  Let your kids make or buy a special ornament to mark a particular Christmas.  Photo ornaments are especially good for this purpose.  Be sure to use a permanent marker to add the child’s name and the year to the ornament.

•  Photos with Santa.  Start a special photo album that contains your kid’s pictures with Santa Claus over the years.  As the album (and the kids) grow, the collection becomes more and more meaningful.

•  Give Back.  Finding a way in your community to help those in need is a great way to add real joy and meaning to your holidays.  Take your kids with you as you select toys, coats or food specifically for donation.  Encouraging your kids to give toys they don’t need is also a very personal way to give back.

•  Christmas Caroling.  There are plenty of people that spend their holidays alone or in places such as nursing or rest homes.  The holidays can be very lonely and sad for many.  Paying a music-filled visit to these folks can be a wonderful way to bring a little Christmas cheer to those that may need it.

•  Track Santa.  Check out a website (http://www.noradsanta.org) specifically designed to learn more about Santa, the North Pole and to see where Santa is while he is on his epic Christmas Eve journey!

•  Watch a Christmas Movie!  Family Christmas movies are easy to find during the holidays. Check out the ABC Family Channel or the Hallmark Channel for lots of fantastic as well as festive holiday programming.

•  Secret Santa. Leaving surprise gifts for unsuspecting friends or relatives is another fun way of getting the holiday spirit.

•  Visits from Santa.  What could be more magical than having “Santa” himself pay a visit to your kids?  Have a friend or neighbor dress up in a Santa Suit and pop in to pay your kids a special surprise visit.  A personal visit from Santa will be a magical event that your children will never forget! 

Merry Christmas from your very jolly friends at Halloween Express! 

Christmas Traditions:  Why They Matter

All I Want for Christmas is …Star Wars!

  • December 17, 2015
  • Jenna Maxwell

Move over toy soldiers and locomotive trains.  Christmas 2015 is the year for intergalactic battles and channeling “The Force”.  This Christmas season brings the long awaited release and the latest chapter of the Star Wars saga; the first to premiere since Disney acquired the Star Wars franchise and Lucasfilm.  This holiday season you can expect the most recent Star Wars film to not only influence the contents of Santa’s bag, but kids of all ages will be ramping up for the big premiere of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.”  The excitement surrounding the big release has guaranteed that Star Wars toys, costumes and all manner of Star Wars licensed gear are all on Christmas’s most-wanted list.  Even the notorious ugly Christmas sweater has taken on a Star Wars twist. 

The seventh installment of the legendary Star Wars franchise is scheduled to open tomorrow - December 18, 2015.  If you haven’t already pre-purchased your tickets for the premiere weekend, you may have to work a little harder to find yourself an open seat.  In many locations, tickets for the opening weekend of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” are already sold out.  With this movie release considered to be one of the most anticipated in history, when the tickets went on sale weeks ago, a massive flurry of sales occurred.  Lucky for the masses, however, theater owners prepared for the demand and have attempted to cram as many show times as possible into their venues. The result?  Hundreds of new Star Wars show times are now part of the schedule in most larger metropolitan areas.

Star Wars is so much more than a movie.  The iconic characters that exist inside the beloved space opera have spanned generations and are deeply imbedded in the hearts of pop culture fan around the world.   In addition to seeing the film, you may be lucky enough to participate in a Star Wars themed event near you. For example, a Star Wars museum exhibit in New York City’s Times Square will display seventy hand-crafted costumes that were an integral part of the first six Star Wars films. (http://www.discoverytsx.com/star-wars-exhibition) Let’s face it; the unique costumes of the Star Wars characters shaped the very identities of these legendary and memorable characters.  From the dark mask of Darth Vader to the glimmering gold suit of C-3PO, this unique exhibit promises every Star Wars fan an up close and personal glimpse of the costumes that were part of one of the most popular movie franchises of all time.

What would the holidays be without toys?  Can you guess what particular toys are on this year’s “hottest toy” list?  No matter what age group you are buying holiday gifts for, Star Wars themed merchandise is hugely popular this year.  Star Wars costumes, action figures, Legos, Hot Wheels and video games are just some of the toy items that may be on you or your child’s holiday wish list.  And of course, there will be light sabers--lots and lots of light sabers. 

Have yourself a Merry Little Star Wars Christmas.  And why not?  It's not every day that a movie franchise with this kind of epic longevity does something this big.

Joy to Star Wars World!

All I Want for Christmas is …Star Wars!

Here Comes Santa Claus!

  • December 06, 2015
  • Jenna Maxwell

When it comes to Christmas celebrating, the legend of Santa Claus has become one of the most beloved and enjoyable focal points of the holiday season.  Our modern image of the jolly ol’ elf characterizes Santa Claus as the ultimate magical Christmas toy distributor, not to mention judge of character.  But, where did we get the modern visage of Santa Claus?  Why does he wear a bright red, fur-trimmed suit?  Here we’ve attempted to answer the most perplexing questions about one of Christmas’s most legendary characters.

Santa Claus is real!  (Well, almost…)  The legend of Santa Claus is based on the life of a Roman Catholic Bishop that lived in Myra (now Turkey) during the year 270.  Back during his time, St. Nicholas did earn quite a reputation for his anonymous gift giving and legendary generosity.  Many stories and legends sprang from the life of this early Saint and were then passed on from one generation to another.  

Santa Claus is 200 years old.  The idea of St. Nicholas is actually far older than 200 years--but Santa Claus became called such approximately two hundred years ago.  Santa Claus is the anglicized name of “Sinterklaas”, a character based on the Dutch tradition of St. Nicholas.  According to Dutch legend, “Sinterklass” would deliver treats to worthy children during the month of December. 

Santa Used to be Skinny!  Can you imagine Santa Claus as a gaunt, somewhat serious and very slender man?  (Neither can we.)  The earliest images of St. Nicholas, however, often depicted him as a rather scary looking man wearing religious robes!  It wasn’t until about 1809 that Santa got his extreme makeover.  At this time, in a book known as the “History of New York”, Washington Irvine made reference to a rather elf-like, pipe smoking, portly and jolly bearded version of St. Nicholas.  Irving was not only the first person to add some pounds to dear ol’ Santa Claus, but he was also the one who came up with the idea of Santa Claus making his grand entrance via the chimney!

Not a Creature was Stirring.  In 1822, Clement Moore penned a poem then known as “A Visit From Santa Claus.”  (Now more commonly known as “Twas the Night Before Christmas”)  The poem was published anonymously in the Troy, NY Sentinel and may be directly responsible for many of the most popular characteristics that we now associate with Santa Claus. 

“He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot
And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot.
A bundle of toys he had flung on his back,
And he looked like a peddler, just opening his pack.
His eyes-how they twinkled! His dimples how merry!
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow.
And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow.

 

The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath.
He had a broad face and a little round belly,
That shook when he laughed, like a bowlful of jelly!
He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself!
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head,
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread.”

Santa…and Coca Cola?  As it turns out, when it came to truly solidifying the happy, jolly, rotund and ho-ho-ho-ing image of Santa Claus, a memorable advertisement created by the Coca Cola company may have had a lot to do with it.  In 1931, Haddon Sundblom created what may be the most legendary characterization of Santa Claus of all time.  Sundblom’s cheery and jovial idea of Santa Claus obviously resonated with the masses because it is this image of Santa that seems to have stuck.

Take Your Place in Line--It’s Time to Visit Santa!  The first known department store Santa Claus available for children’s visits occurred in the year 1890.  James Edgar, the owner of a dry goods store in Brockton Massachusetts, thought that having someone dress up in a Santa Claus suit to pose as Santa Claus would be a great marketing tool for the holidays.  Mr. Edgar was obviously right because Department store and mall Santa’s are now an annual part of Christmas tradition.

Santa…a Bachelor?  Apparently Santa Claus was sworn to the bachelor life until the year 1849 when in a short story called “Christmas Legend” (James Rees) a somewhat mysterious Mrs. Claus was referenced.  Mrs. Claus has loyally been by Santa’s side ever since, baking him cookies and helping him get ready for his epic annual Christmas Eve journey around the world.

Here Comes Santa Claus!

The Ultimate Christmas Gift--Halloween Express Style

  • December 01, 2015
  • Jenna Maxwell

Have you had a chance to look through “The Christmas Book” annually put out for the holidays by Neiman Marcus?  Admittedly, I can afford precious little in the entire lovely luxe catalog, but nonetheless, it’s fun to peruse, if for no other reason than to see how the other half lives, or to think about what spoiled rich kids might find under their Christmas trees.  Presenting what could arguably the ultimate selection when it comes to uber materialistic Christmas gift ideas, Neiman Marcus has been publishing this annual fantasy gift catalog since 1939.  You can buy a subscription to the famous catalog, but it will set you back fifteen bucks, or you can do as cheapy yours truly did and looked at it for free online.  Like every other year, this year’s catalog is loaded with jaw-dropping stuff that would likely leave even Santa Claus simply aghast.  For example, would you like to jump on a slick ride and take a 2-day motorcycle trip with Keanu Reeves and Gard Hollinger?  Plunk down a mere 150K and the trip is yours.  An extravagant trip to Italy is also available for a chump 150K, and a Neiman Marcus Limited Edition Mustang can sparkle in your driveway for an almost budget-conscious 95K.

All these gifts do sound pretty amazing--but alas, barring some major Christmas magic, they won’t be happening anywhere near my house.  I was intrigued, however, to see what Neiman Marcus had for this year’s his and her’s gift choices.  This is where things got a little bit interesting. 

At Neiman Marcus, this year’s his and her’s fantasy gift choices gear themselves toward youngsters.  The gift is your choice of an elaborately decorated and personalized trunk, filled with every kid’s favorite Christmas surprise ever--costumes of course!  The boy’s version of the costume trunk includes five Marvel Superhero costumes.  Spiderman, Thor, Starlord, Captain America and The Hulk.  The little girls costume trunk includes costume character dresses and accessories to dress up as Elsa of Disney’s Frozen, Aurora (Sleeping Beauty), Sophia the First, and Cinderella.  Each trunk, filled with the above costumes, will cost you…(get ready and don’t choke!)…five thousand bucks!  

Are you thinking what I am thinking?? 

I’ve done the math in my head, folks, and it would take one heckuva elaborate trunk to justify laying down that many greenbacks for a dress up box.  Trust me--no kid cares about the actual trunk--it’s what is in it that counts.  What does this mean for you my dear costume loving friends?  It means that you can gift-give like the rich and famous--without the five thousand dollar price tag.  It’s just a matter of knowing where to shop!  (At Halloween Express, of course!) I’m pretty sure there are plenty of creative ways to decorate a box, bin, or yes even a trunk to hold a wide selection of truly awesome costumes, accessories and assorted gear that your kids are going to love.  Don’t be surprised if this costume box turns out to be the gift that your kids love best.  Dress up is great fun for hours of imaginative fun and entertainment--plus if you have a few different costume styles in your box, your kids can invite over all their friends for what is likely to be the ultimate play date.  No need to have Neiman Marcus decide which costume characters best fits your child’s personality, either.  Handpicking what goes inside your costume box is all part of the fun.

Happy (and smart) holiday shopping from your friends at Halloween Express! 

The Ultimate Christmas Gift--Halloween Express Style