Life Lessons from Beauty and the Beast's Belle

  • March 20, 2017
  • Jenna Maxwell

The 1991 Disney animated classic, "Beauty and the Beast" has been reinvented and was just released as a new live action fantasy musical on Friday March 17. This latest adaptation of the classic Beauty and the Beast story features and all-star cast as well as an expanded storyline that features an empowered version of one of our favorite Disney princesses, Belle. Of course we're fans of the Beauty and the Beast costume characters. There are many facets of our beloved heroine that we not only love but can also learn from, in fact, we think Belle teaches us a lot about life.

Don't Be Afraid to be Different. In Belle's provincial, old-fashioned village she receives a lot of harsh judgment from her fellow townspeople. Belle is imaginative, inventive, and an avid reader with a huge imagination. Unfortunately in her world, some of these qualities aren't necessarily the norm and some of the stodgier, more traditional types look down their nose at feisty Belle who seems light years ahead of her time. The beauty of Belle is that in spite of the local naysayers, she embraces her differences and recognizes them as her strengths. Belle knows full well that there is nothing wrong with being smart!

See Beyond our Differences. Belle is used to being different than the other girls in her town, so perhaps this is why she has a natural ability to withhold judgment on the Beast when she first encounters him. Belle teaches us to look past a person's exterior and avoid initial, premature judgments. Belle's ability to see beyond the Beast's monstrous and frightening exterior allows her to see who he really is inside. Her intelligence and love of books gives Belle something in which to find a special connection with the heart of the Beast, thus demonstrating the importance of looking for the best in people.

Live Outside the Box. Because of her love for books and learning Belle recognizes that there is a great big world out there and wants to see it all. Belle is also a very open minded person which eventually allows her to form a deep friendship with her captor, the Beast. Belle speaks often about seeking adventure and seeing the world. "I want adventure in the great wide somewhere. I want it more than I can tell." When she first meets the Beast she probably thinks this is a little more endangerment than she really had banked on--but Belle is nonetheless ready to take on the experience.

Hold Onto Your Values. The true beauty of Belle is how well she knows herself. In spite of harsh judgment and peer pressures, she stays true to herself and follows her heart. Look what happens when she encounters the buffoon, Gaston. She immediately shuts him down because she recognizes his sexist boorishness and lack of intelligence. The Beast, however, has a depth and sensitivity that Belle can appreciate. When Gaston becomes enraged and comes after the Beast, calling him a monster, Belle exclaims one of her more profound lines." He's no monster Gaston, you are!"

When Life Gives You Lemons, Make Lemonade. When Belle became a captive of the Beast, at first glance the situation seems dire. Belle quickly makes the best of the situation by trying to reach out to the monster and form a connection with him. What on first glance looked like the worst possible circumstance, eventually turns into an amazing opportunity. The Power of Love. Gaston and other villagers hated the Beast and even wanted to kill him. Belle staunchly defends her new friend and ultimately, it is the love Belle has for the Beast that saves him.

Believe in Miracles. Hope is what keeps both the Beast as well as Belle going, even when the situation seem completely hopeless. In the end, the Beast get the miracle he has long awaited, and so does Belle because the lovely friendship she has formed with the Beast is now miraculously transformed in the most stunning way by the power of true love.

Here's a link to view the Beauty and the Beast US Official Trailer

The Shocking Truth about St. Patrick's Day

  • March 14, 2017
  • Jenna Maxwell

This Friday, March 17, 2017 is St. Patrick's Day. You may think you know a lot about St. Patrick's Day, but not so fast! There are a few details about St. Patrick's Day that you probably didn't know, some of which may even surprise you!

Surprise, surprise--St. Patrick was not Irish. In fact, St. Patrick wasn't even named Patrick. St. Patrick was christened Maewyn Succat and was born someplace in England.

St. Patrick did not wear green. The wearin' o the BLUE may sound all wrong--but it actually may be a bit more accurate when it comes to the patron saint. Blue was the preferred wardrobe color for all of St. Patrick's robes and vestments.

Drinking on St. Patrick's Day used to be banned. Although in our current day, St. Patrick's Day is well known for celebratory drinking, believe it or not from 1903-1970, St. Patrick's Day was considered a religious holiday in Ireland, and for that reason, all pubs were closed!

Corned Beef and Cabbage is actually about as Irish as macaroni and cheese. Favorite Irish foods include traditional fare like Irish bacon, lamb, and soda bread and of course, Irish stew. The tradition of corned beef and cabbage likely came from Irish immigrants who had to make do with what food was available to them once they arrived in the United States. No, Shamrock Shakes aren't typical Irish food, either!

There's a good reason for all that St. Patrick's Day drinking! St. Patrick's Day falls during Lent, the six-week period of prayer and fasting observed by many Catholics. On St. Patrick's Day, the eating and drinking restrictions of Lent were put on hold temporarily. Thus St. Paddy's day became a celebration much like Fat Tuesday, with much eating, drinking and lots of merrymaking. On an average day in the US approximate 5.5 million pints of Guinness are consumed. On St. Patrick's Day, nearly 3 x that many pints are gleefully downed! Cheers!

Believe it or not, as popular as the shamrock is, it is not the officially sanctioned symbol of Ireland. This honor actually belongs to a musical instrument--the harp.

There are many more people of Irish descent living in the United States than there are in Ireland! Over 34 million people of Irish ancestry live in the US compared with the 4.5 million people that live in Ireland.

St. Patrick's Day celebrations in the US started during the 18-century, led by persecuted Irish immigrants who not only wanted to celebrate but desperately wanted to try and hold onto some of their Irish customs.

St. Patrick was absolutely not a snake exterminator although if you listen to ancient Irish lore, you may think otherwise. The truth is that weather conditions on the Emerald Isle make snake existence virtually impossible. Thus there have never been any snakes living there at all. The legend of St. Patrick driving the snakes from Ireland is nothing more than a myth.

In his youth, St. Patrick was a slave. Kidnapped at age 16, St. Patrick was forced to take care of flocks of sheep until he escaped, after ten years of being held in captivity. St. Patrick went back to England where he hid out in a monastery. St. Patrick eventually became a priest, changed his name to Patricius and believe it or not, it then became his ultimate desire to return to Ireland to preach Christianity to the Irish people.

There are no girl leprechauns. Sorry, PC crowd, the leprechaun gig is for men only.

Shamrocks were initially considered to be a religious symbol. It is thought that St. Patrick used the 3-leaved shamrock to teach his parishioners about the Holy Trinity.

Now might be an excellent time to learn some basic Irish lingo. For example, what the heck is the meaning of the famous Irish phrase, "Erin Go Bragh?" Do you want to brush up on some St. Paddy's day jargon? Check out our posting on St. Patrick's Day terminology.

And now for what could arguably the best Irish news of all! Did you know that the world's best holiday, Halloween, came from Ireland? Modern day Halloween most likely stems from the ancient Celtic festival known as Samhain. Thus it seems appropriate that in honor of upcoming St. Patrick's Day we would write a Halloween themed Irish Limerick.

There once was a monster of doom
Who invited a ghoul to his room.
They had a large fight
That went late into night-
Just who should be frightened of whom?

Perhaps we should stick to our day job.

Happy St. Patrick's Day from your friends at Halloween Express!

Celebrate Reading on "Read Across America" Day

  • February 27, 2017
  • Jenna Maxwell

This Thursday, March 2nd will mark a genuinely fun and fantastic day in our country--it's time to show some love for the once a year celebration known as "Read Across America!" 2017 will pay homage to the 20th anniversary of this unique festivity, and with well over 45 million readers anxious to participate, there is no time like the present for everyone to get involved. "Read Across America" promises to be a truly exciting event, with all the hullabaloo and hoopla of the event focused on just one thing: getting kids excited about reading!

Back in late 1997, the National Education Association, or NEA, came up with an excellent idea to have a special day specifically designed to celebrate reading. That was the point in which a very simple concept became the NEA's biggest celebration, known as," Read Across America." In 1998, March 2nd became the date of the first Read Across America celebration. This date was special as it was also the birthday of one of the most beloved children's book authors of all time, Dr. Seuss. A wonderful tradition was born!

During the days surrounding March 2, Read Across America events will span the entire nation. More likely than not, some of these exciting book-centered functions will be happening somewhere near you. During "Read Across America," everyone gets involved in promoting reading. Teachers, higher education faculty members, and administrators all will have a role in "Read Across America." Educators know the critical importance of reading and the tremendous impact it can have on a child's life. Kids who read are smarter, have a greater vocabulary and also have a greater imagination and sense of the world around them. Additionally, parents who read to their kids are forming a unique bond of trust with their children. For all these reasons and much more, on "Read Across America" day you can expect to see millions of kids, parents, teachers, librarians, local politicians, and even a few celebrities all out there making a strong case for literacy, books and of course, reading. Now, what's not to love about that?

Getting involved in the "Read Across America" festivities is easy. Your local school, library or community center is likely holding various events designed specifically to mark this unique and extraordinary day. Parties, book fairs, book readings and dress up days are just some of the activities that will be on tap. The whole idea of "Read Across America" is to make books and reading fun. Thus you should not be surprised to see folks wearing Cat in the Hat-style red and white striped hats or even be alarmed if the school cafeteria is serving up green eggs and ham. On "Read Across America" day all these things are considered normal! The most logical way to get into the spirit of "Read Across America" day is simply to read to a child--not just on March 2, but every day!

Happy Read Across America Day from your friends at Halloween Express!

Everything You Need to Know About Mardi Gras, A-Z

  • February 23, 2017
  • Jenna Maxwell

Ash Wednesday - This coming Wednesday March 1st is Ash Wednesday. It marks the first day of Lent, the six-week period of prayer and fasting that immediately follows the feasting and celebrating of Mardi Gras.

Beads-Beads are one of the most coveted "throws" that float riders toss to spectators during Mardi Gras parades. These inexpensive plastic strings of beads have been a favorite souvenir of Mardi Gras since the late nineteenth century when Krewe members first tossed them to very enthusiastic spectators.

Costumes-Just like Halloween, Mardi Gras celebrations often focus on dressing up in elaborate or even crazy costumes. Anything goes for Mardi Gras, but traditionally costumes are comprised of the designated Mardi Gras colors of purple, green and gold. A broad range of accessories will enhance Mardi Gras costumes including wigs, gloves, and hats. The most well known Mardi Gras accessory to wear, is, of course, a mask.

Doubloons-Another favorite Mardi Gras souvenir or "throw" is a commemorative doubloon. Mardi Gras souvenir doubloons look like coins but are crafted from colored aluminum, and then stamped with various Krewe's insignia and the year of the celebration. Seasoned Mardi Gras revelers will bring a bag to collect and carry their doubloons along with other Mardi Gras souvenirs.

Extravaganza-Mardi Gras or Fat Tuesday truly is nothing short of a full-blown extravaganza. With a steady stream of food, drink, costume parties, parades and masquerade balls, this grand celebration is an event for the ages.

Fat Tuesday-Fat Tuesday gets its name from being a day of extreme eating, drinking and partying that happens just before Lent. Ash Wednesday begins this six-week period of fasting and self-denial.

Glitz-Nothing about Mardi Gras is dull or blasé--in fact, if ever there were a time to put on the glitz, this would be the day!

Hangover-Mardi Gras is well known to be a time for eating and drinking, often in excess. For some, this may mean an inevitable hangover.

Imaginative-Mardi Gras and imagination go hand in hand. There are many opportunities to use your creativity while celebrating this exciting event. Now is the time to put together an exciting Mardi Gras costume look that expresses your unique personality.

Jazz-The celebrations of Mardi Gras have adopted much of the finer parts of New Orleans culture which naturally includes The Big Easy's best jazz music.

King Cake-The King Cake is one of the most traditional party foods served during Mardi Gras celebrations. The King Cake gets its name from the three kings or wise men that visited the baby Jesus after his birth. Made of pastry, the King Cake is baked into a circular shape and is then decorated with sprinkles of green, purple and gold sugar. Baked inside the King Cake is a small plastic baby. Tradition states that whoever gets the piece of cake that holds the baby must hold the following year's party.

Lent-Lent is the six-week period of prayer and fasting that begins on Ash Wednesday and ends on Easter Sunday.

Masks-The wearing of masks is a longstanding tradition of Mardi Gras. The masking tradition started many years ago as a way to conceal one's true identity during the extreme feasting, revelry and sometimes, debauchery that occurred during the celebration of Mardi Gras. Wearing a mask allowed for an easier abandonment of societal restrictions as well as the mixing of social classes without any repercussions.

New Orleans-New Orleans is the home of the largest Mardi Gras celebration in the United States.

Outrageous-When it comes to Mardi Gras festivities, one word comes to mind. Outrageous! From costumes and favors to food and parties, Mardi Gras is well known for being the time to eat, drink and be merry.

Parades-During the period leading up to Mardi Gras you can expect to see many fabulous parades. The amazing spectacles begin in the month of January and continue all the way through Fat Tuesday. All float riders are masked, and most will be tossing throws and trinkets to parade onlookers.

Queen-At each year's Mardi Gras celebration a King and Queen are named to rule over all of the carnival festivities.

Rex-Rex is the legendary King of Carnival or Mardi Gras. The Rex Organization is one of the longest functioning Krewe's of Mardi Gras and has been hosting the celebration since 1872. Shrove Tuesday-Shrove Tuesday is another name for Fat Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday and has long been a traditional day for feasting and celebrating.

Trinkets-What would Mardi Gras be without a full assortment of trinkets and souvenirs? Popular Mardi Gras trinkets include plastic beads, doubloons, cups and stuffed animals.

Ultimate Party-What more do we need to say about Mardi Gras? The term "ultimate party" pretty much sums up the experience to a tee.

Voodoo-A longstanding part of New Orleans history, the Voodoo religion came to New Orleans with slaves who had practiced the religion in their homeland of Africa. Some areas of the Voodoo religion have been passed on for generations in this southern region of the country, including various religious ceremonies and of course, Voodoo themed costumes.

Waving-If you are going to watch a Mardi Gras parade, get ready to do a lot of waving. Waving to the float riders to capture their attention will likely get more parade throws tossed in your direction!

Xylophone-The unique xylophone is just one of many great instruments used to play the festive and sometimes raucous music that made Mardi Gras famous.

Zest-If you have a zest for adventure. Mardi Gras celebrating is the holiday for you! Even if you can't make the trip to New Orleans, consider holding a Mardi Gras party in your own neck of the woods!

Happy Mardi Gras from your friends at Halloween Express!

The Surprising Truth About Presidents' Day

  • February 16, 2017
  • Jenna Maxwell

This coming Monday, February 20th is Presidents' Day . . . or is it? One look at your calendar and it's very easy to verify the existence of the upcoming holiday that gives many of us a wonderful winter three-day weekend. What you may not realize, however, is that there is a bit of confusion about the specifics of Presidents' Day. The truth is, Presidents' Day may not be the holiday you think it is at all. To get to the bottom of all the confusion, we must first go back into history.

Celebrating George Washington's birthday is a great American tradition that is as old as America. In fact, the first birthday festivities held for George Washington happened during the late 18th century while he was still acting as President of the United States. There is little doubt why folks would want to honor the first President and his incredible legacy, which is why this great tradition continues into our modern day. Thus, it makes sense that in 1885, President Chester Arthur signed a bill that made celebrating February 22, Washington's Birthday, a federal holiday.

Meanwhile, many folks felt that Abraham Lincoln's birthday (February 12) also should be recognized and deserved some attention. Although Lincoln's birthday never became a federal holiday, many states went ahead and celebrated it on their own. So what caused the Presidents' holiday confusion? It all seems to have started with Congress and something called the Uniform Monday Holiday Act.

In 1968, Congress signed into law an act that would change the official dates of certain federal holidays. The purpose of the revised federal code was to ensure that certain holidays would always occur on a Monday, which tacked the holidays onto a weekend, creating three-day long weekends for each of these celebrations. Beginning in 1971, the Uniform Monday Holiday Act changed Washington's Birthday, Memorial Day, Labor Day, Veterans Day and Columbus Day holidays all to an expressly indicated Monday.

At the time of the implementation of the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, there was also a movement to change the name of the George Washington's birthday holiday to "Presidents' Day" to simultaneously honor both George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. Congress rejected the change, but interestingly enough, the movement to cause the name change received so much publicity that even though it never became legal or an official change, the name "Presidents' Day" stuck. Additionally, because the new official Monday given to mark Washington's Birthday holiday is the third Monday in February, it will always fall in between Lincoln's and Washington's Birthday. This timing only reinforced the false notion that the holiday should honor both former presidents, Washington and Lincoln. The strange truth about Presidents' Day is that technically, there is no Presidents' Day. The Federal holiday that is celebrated on the third Monday in February is George Washington's Birthday, and sadly, there is no national holiday set aside to recognize the birthday of Abraham Lincoln.

So, it seems that depending on how you look at it, either the Father of Our Country or Honest Abe may be getting a little short changed. There are plenty of folks that firmly believe that Lincoln truly deserves his holiday and others feel that using the term, "Presidents' Day" takes something away from the great legacy of George Washington. The reality is, however, that even though this important holiday may technically be "George Washington's Birthday," most workplaces, schools, calendars, advertisers, and even many government agencies still use the term, "Presidents' Day."

No matter how you celebrate your upcoming three-day weekend or what you choose to call it, Presidents' Day is a spectacular time to reflect on some of the many accomplishments of these two very influential past Presidents and how these great men impacted the many freedoms we enjoy in our country today.