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    For many people, Thanksgiving is what marks the beginning of the winter holiday season. There is something special in the air around this time of year-and I don't mean the smell of smoke from neighborhood fireplaces. But when the breeze gets chillier, the nights get colder, and it gets dark out earlier, it just feels like it's time to get into the Christmas spirit! You can begin by doing some simple things to create a festive mood at home.

    A Home for the Holidays

    1. Have a tree trimming/house decorating party. Pick a theme and everyone can bring ornaments reflecting that theme. In just one afternoon, you and your friends can turn your home and yard into a winter wonderland while having a merry time! Be sure to take a photo. It can be a great addition to your holiday cards.

    2. Add scented pinecones to a roaring fire. Your whole house will be filled with a wonderful fragrance that will last for hours.

    3. Wrap real or artificial garland around handrails and mantels.

    4. Make some festive decorative placemats to frame your dinner plates.

    5. Include the holiday cards you receive as part of your decorations. Tape them around your doorway frame for a festive touch with no extra expense.

    6. Candlelight adds a nice warm touch. Try making some unique candles yourself.

    7. Holiday music creates a festive atmosphere. Start playing it right now to get into the mood of the season.

    8. Put several cinnamon sticks (break them in half) and whole cloves into a pan of boiling water or apple cider. You can even squeeze in some fresh orange juice. The spicy aroma will fill your house. Or make a fragrant pomander by pushing whole cloves into a small orange.

    9. Nothing can replace the smell of fresh-baked pies or cookies. For an extra special touch, dip chocolate chip cookies halfway into melted chocolate.

    10. Create a wreath of well wishes. Paint some clothespins green and make a wreath from them. As you receive holiday cards, clip them on. Your wreath will be a symbol of your friendship with others. Or make a holiday card wreath by gluing the cards together in an overlapping wreath shape. Finish it off with a fancy bow.

    Keep the Holidays Happy

    1. Plan your holiday budget to avoid starting out the new year with checkbook shock. Take into consideration all travel, entertaining, parties, gifts, donations, gift wrapping and shipping costs. Watch for sales on items that you want to buy. Remember, even the little things add up.

    2. If you plan to send family photos to people, have them taken and developed early to beat the last-minute rush at the photo department.

    3. Avoid stress by aiming to get everything done ahead of time so you can take care of any unanticipated problems or extra errands and still have time to relax at the end.

    Holiday Cards

    1. Instead of hand-writing addresses on envelopes, you may want to type the addresses into your computer and print out the list of your card recipients onto address labels.

    2. Try sending some of your holiday greetings online to those who have internet access.

    3. Design your own Christmas cards on your computer and print them out.

    3. Another option would be to send a photo postcard. Simply take a favorite family photo and have it printed in postcard size and format (4 x 6). You can write a quick message on the back, put on a stamp, and it's ready to mail!

    4. If you have trouble getting your holiday cards out on time, send them out late on purpose. Call them New Year greetings. It'll be one less worry for you now, and your friends will appreciate getting a card after Christmas when they have more time to read it.

    5. Creative Ways to Personalize Your Cards: tape a family photo inside; enclose a favorite family recipe on a 3x5 card with the name of the relative you associate with it; copy and enclose a cherished holiday poem; pen your favorite scripture focusing on Jesus; enclose a one-page holiday update to share what's been going on in your family.

    Gift Giving

    Every year you say you're going to start your shopping early so you're not running around at the last minute. But here it is December already, and you've barely begun. Worry not! Here are some gift-buying tips.

    1. Shop online this year and use one of the online comparison shopping sites.

    2. Have your gifts wrapped at the store, or look for one of the charity organizations that sponsors gift-wrapping fundraisers at malls.

    3. People to put on your gift list: husband/wife, children, mom, dad, brothers, sisters, grandparents, nieces/nephews, father-in-law, mother-in-law, favorite relatives, friends, neighbors, teachers, boss, co-workers, clergy, lawyer, dentist, doctor, hair stylist, babysitter, domestic help, pets, and don't forget someone less fortunate.


    Fun Gift Exchanges: White elephants (something used but useful, or bizarre and useless); a favorite book (write in the front what it has meant to you); ornaments (under $10 each); picture frames (under $10 each); mugs (along with hot cocoa, coffee or tea); gourmet food samples; a half dozen of your favorite Christmas cookies (plus the recipe on a 3x5 card for each person).

    Hostess Gifts: Fragrant potpourri; pretty soaps; fancy stationery; decorative candles; unique tree ornaments; tin of cookies; potted plants. (Keep a few extra gifts like these handy for when you are invited to someone else's home, or in case someone drops by with an unexpected gift for you.)

    For the Person Who Has Everything: a gift certificate, magazine subscription, or book that relates to their interest; an object to go with a collection of theirs; movie tickets; a restaurant gift certificate; a coupon for a service (such as a weekend of yard work); a humorous joke present.

    Sentimental Gifts For Loved Ones: Handmade ornaments; a favorite family recipe; artwork made by children; cuttings from your favorite greenhouse plants in a small vase wrapped in a holiday bow; a personalized gift basket; a framed photo or poem; a special book; a homemade gift certificate or coupon book (redeemable for a back rub, breakfast in bed, a hug, etc.); a seasonal trip, weekend getaway or afternoon outing; anything that's original and from the heart.

    Families: Board game; chess set; ice cream maker; popcorn popper; bird feeder and seeds; tape recorder/player; gift certificates for video rentals; picnic basket and bright plastic dishes; globe; song books, tapes, or sheet music for sing-alongs; set of musical instruments (kazoo, tambourine, drum, triangle, harmonica, recorder, etc.); restaurant gift certificates; movie tickets; a year's membership in a local museum; a mini-library (collect one book per person, all on a similar topic-such as a children's picture book of deserts, a field guide to desert wildlife, a science book about deserts, and a southwestern travel guide; or an assortment of cartoon books such as Calvin and Hobbes, Baby Blues, Family Circus, and Peanuts; or try combining a book of nursery rhymes with a book of humorous verses for children and an anthology of classic poems for all ages).

    Dad/Husband: Shirt; necktie; belt; handkerchiefs; wristwatch; leather wallet; shaving kit; barbeque utensils; camping or sports equipment; a new briefcase; book; video; CD of his favorite music; computer software; framed photo of the kids to put in his office; electric weed trimmer; tool set/tool box; gas grill; hammock; electric putting cup; his favorite cologne; leather gloves; an audiotape for the car; hobby-related item; candlelit steak dinner for two; book of coupons (for a car wash, mowing the lawn, taking out trash, etc.), gift certificate, movie/concert/sport tickets.

    Mom/Wife: Her favorite perfume; bath oil/powder; set of fancy soaps; small appliance; dinner for two at a nice restaurant; trip to a mountainside bed-and-breakfast; gift certificate for a maid service; book of coupons (for housework, dinner out, babysitting, etc.); an additional piece for a set of china or silverware; jewelry; herbal tea; gourmet food basket; aromatherapy; stationery; scrapbook/photo album; framed family photo; music box; collectible figurine; inspirational book; CD of her favorite music; gift certificate from her favorite store; movie/play/concert tickets.

    Teens: Movie/concert tickets; gift certificate for CD's/videos/DVD's; gift certificate for clothes at his/her favorite store; cordless phone; phone card; bike; camera; radio; portable CD player; computer game; hobby-related item; gift pack of snacks; jewelry; backpack; gym bag; money.

    Grandparents: Children's handprints pressed in plaster; framed children's artwork; framed family photograph; large print book; video of grandchildren at play or a recording of their voices.

    Hospital Patients/Nursing Home Residents: Framed photos of loved ones; a collage of memory pictures; homemade jams/jellies or baked goods; fresh fruit; a potted plant; an afghan; slippers; a sachet of potpourri; a bed lounge pillow; a set of stationery with envelopes and stamps; a box of all-occasion cards; a paperback book; a selection of magazines; a personal care package (hand cream, nail polish, nail file and clippers for women; a razor, shaving gel and after-shave for men).

    Cats: A scratching post; balls; toy mouse; gourmet cat treat; tidbits of turkey, chicken, and ham.

    Dogs: A fuzzy ball; rawhide chew stick; lightweight winter sweater; a comfy pillow; leftovers.

    GIFTS FOR CHILDREN (Find the child's personality type and choose something suitable for their age from the list of suggestions, or just let them circle some items that they would like.)

    Actor/Performer - puppets/puppet theatre; dollhouse; action figures; playset with buildings, people and vehicles; a box of hats and costumes; musical instrument/rhythm instrument set; magic tricks; juggling set; Karaoke tape player; music; videos; tickets to a concert, movie or play.

    Architect/Engineer - wooden blocks; sandbox and molds; 3-D puzzles; toy workbench; carpentry set; Lincoln Logs; Legos; K'nex; Erector sets; electric train set; drafting supplies; construction vehicles; Sim City/Sim Tower software; model building kit; playset with buildings.

    Artist - crayons; coloring books; paints; modeling clay; easel; art supplies; craft kit; stickers; rubber stamp set; how-to-draw books; computer drawing program; pottery wheel; jewelry kit.

    Athlete - ride-on toy; jungle gym; balls; bike; basketball hoop; sled; ball and bat; jump rope; skateboard; skates; scooter; tennis racquet; volleyball set; hockey game; golf set; race track set.

    Nurturer - dolls; stuffed animals; doctor kit; toy kitchen; kid's cookbook; mini baking set; tea set; dollhouse; farmhouse; playhouse; toy store; sewing/needlepoint kit; garden tools; storybooks.

    Scientist - doctor/detective/spy kit; jigsaw puzzle; magnets; microscope; telescope; binoculars; experiment book; chemistry set; electronic circuitry kit; rock tumbler; model kit; computer game.


    These pages are a continuous work in progress.
    Copyright © 2000- by Teri Ann Berg Olsen
    All rights reserved.


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