Archive for November, 2005

Oxford makes Christmas the season

The town of Oxford is making sure no other word but “Christmas” is used to describe the holiday season within town limits.

The town council unanimously passed a motion on Monday proclaiming that the entire month of December should be referred to as the “Christmas season,” because the holiday originated from the birth of Jesus Christ.

Deputy Mayor Leonard Allen says there was no one incident that prompted his motion, only that he believes the word “Christmas” seems to be disappearing.

“I think we live in a free county where we have the right to celebrate things the way as they are, and I don’t see the need to change the name to ‘holiday season’ or ‘mid-winter break’ to make it politically correct,” he said.

The proclamation is not a bylaw, so no one can be charged for calling the season something other than “Christmas.”

Allen says he only wants “Christmas to be Christmas,” and that non-Christians still have the right to celebrate their religion.

Although he expects there are people who disagree with him, Allen says he has heard from many supporters and even some towns that want to follow Oxford’s lead.

Government can do to Christmas what it wants

As millions of Americans prepare for the holidays, a new front in the culture wars has erupted over holiday semantics.

On Capitol Hill, Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., has asked that the giant, decorated spruce that sits on Capitol grounds in December (see: Capitol Christmas tree on its way), which has been referred to as the “holiday tree” for the past several years, be renamed the “Christmas tree.”

It’s an issue that resonates with other Americans as well.

“I think that it’s inappropriate that the name was changed to Christmas tree,” said one person interviewed by ABC News.

“Christmas represents Christ, and this country was actually built on the religion of Christianity,” said another.

In Boston, city officials created an uproar after briefly trying to change the “Christmas tree” into the “holiday tree.” (see: Boston holiday tree causes rift with East Coast logger)

“It’ll be a Christmas tree as long as I’m around,” said Boston Mayor Thomas Menino.

The tiff over tree titles might strike some as just semantics, but the fights raise real questions about the role of religion in public life.

When the Rev. Jerry Falwell heard about the Boston tree, he and a group of 700 Christian lawyers, affiliated with the conservative civil liberties group Alliance Defense Fund, threatened to sue. (see: Reverend enlists followers to prevent Grinches from stealing Christmas)

“Anyone who does not acknowledge that this secularization is in progress and that Christmas is under assault is not being honest or is under-informed,” Falwell said.

But all those lawyers may be just ornamental. If they had sued they probably would have lost, says Douglas Laycock, a constitutional law professor at the University of Texas at Austin.

“This is a publicity trick,” he said. “And it’s a fundraising tool.”

Governments Can Name Trees as They Choose

Governments, he says, are free to call a tree whatever they want.

They’re also free — as happened in Maplewood, N.J., last year— to tell high school bands they can’t even play instrumental versions of Christmas carols, and — as happened in Chicago — to make the lyrics of traditional songs more generic. [Beyond Political Correctness: Are There Limits to This Lunacy?]

On the other hand, governments are also allowed to place nativity scenes in the city square, as long as they’re surrounded by secular symbols. It’s known as the “two plastic reindeer rule.”

As for Christmas trees, the Supreme Court has said they are sufficiently secular to stand alone.

So in other words, sometimes a tree is just a tree. [Does Anybody Have a Problem with That? The Best of Politically Incorrect]

Erasing Christmas from the public mindset

If you follow the news much, you may have noticed the ongoing kerfuffle over Wal-Mart’s request that employees say “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas.” (see: Wal-mart declares war on Christmas)

Wal-Mart has defended its actions as being more inclusive, accounting for celebrations from Thanksgiving to New Year’s. As a result, the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights called for a boycott of the retail giant and “an apology for insulting Christians by effectively banning Christmas.”

From a very basic practical view, Wal-Mart’s approach makes some sense; “Happy Holidays” is an easy, mindless greeting employees can offer as they attempt to handle the mayhem that ensues starting the day after Thanksgiving. After working many a New Year’s and Christmas Eve at McDonalds, I can understand the use of that.

But considering the larger cultural concession American society has been making, this bit of mindlessness might not be worth the cost.

Some of you may have heard about the Capitol Grounds Christmas tree being renamed the “Capitol Holiday tree” several years back. Similarly, retail outlets such as Lowes now sell pre-decorated “holiday trees.” Perhaps I’m misinformed, but I always thought Christmas was the only winter holiday with decorated trees.

And in spite of federal recognition of Christmas as a national holiday, the actual word “Christmas” has all but disappeared from public schools; Christmas break has become “Winter break,” Christmas performances are now “Holiday plays,” “Holiday concerts,” or even “nights of seasonal entertainment.”

When I was a kid in public school, we spent a day of class learning about the significance of Hanukkah — dreidels and all — yet there was not a word about the historical religious traditions of Christmas, a holiday that most students in my class only understood to be “Santa Claus Day.”

The list goes on ad infinitum, from banning of nativity scenes on public property, to companies listing Christmas as simply “December 25th” on their holiday calendars. People are going to ridiculous lengths to avoid the C-word and anything closely related to it, all for the sake of remaining non-offensive and inclusive.

This certainly isn’t a new complaint, but I believe we often characterize the issue incorrectly. It’s more than whining about the silly political correctness that infects every aspect of our lives. [Beyond Political Correctness: Are There Limits to This Lunacy?]

And it isn’t about a bunch of rabid fundamentalists trying to impose their religion on the rest of the country. The problem is that we are increasingly coming to understand “inclusive” to mean ignoring our own culture for the sake of others.

Whether the multi-culties like it or not, the majority of Americans celebrate Christmas. For Christians, like myself, it is a day of deep religious significance. For others, it is good food, a generous spirit, and the chance to spend time with friends and family.

Christmas, be it the traditional religious celebrations or the commercial incarnation more popular today, is a part of our culture here in the United States. Yes, for a few it is just another day of winter. But holidays such as Christmas and Thanksgiving have ingrained significance for this country throughout history.

But instead of celebrating our history and culture, we tip-toe around the very mention of it, fearful that by asserting our own traditions we’ll somehow damage the sensibilities of those around us. [One Nation, After All : What Americans Really Think About God, Country, Family, Racism, Welfare, Immigration, Homosexuality, Work, The Right, The Left and Each Other]

And yet we don’t expect others to do the same for us. I wouldn’t be offended at being wished a “Happy Hanukkah.” What, exactly, makes “Merry Christmas” so much more offensive? [Festivals Together: A Guide to Multi-Cultural Celebration]

If ignoring such a culturally significant holiday makes our nation more “inclusive,” perhaps we ought to ignore all celebrations and greet everyone with “have a happy winter day” instead?

Christmas revellers to spend 31 million on taxis

Christmas partygoers across the country will spend 31 million on taking taxis home this year, a study claimed today.

The figures are based on research carried out in the UK in October which revealed that seasonal revellers there will fork out one billion on cabs.

The study by budget hotel chain Travelodge found that 96% of UK workers will spend an average of $32 on taxis home from office parties this Christmas. [The Party Planner]

The researchers allowed for a lower average taxi spend in Ireland and calculated that if 96% of the working population each spend an average of $17, they will face a bill of more than 31 million.

Travelodge has three hotels in Dublin and four more in Cork, Limerick, Galway and Waterford.

In Northern Ireland, Travelodge has a presence in Belfast and in Derry.

Travelodge Ireland director Seamus McGowan claimed the party season could be a lot easier on people’s wallets this Christmas if they stay in a budget hotel.

“People are always looking at ways to save money at Christmas and dread the often long and cold wait for a taxi after enjoying the office party.

“It also means that people can get a few valuable extra hours sleep and enjoy the party for that bit longer.”

Daily christmas costs man half million dollar in 12 years

Christmas fanatic aims to top festive charts

A MAN who has spent £250,000 ($430,000 US) celebrating Christmas daily for 12 years is releasing a single.

The new song by hit-hungry crooner Andy Park, aka Mr Christmas, is fittingly called It’s Christmas Every Day. [Christmas Every Day – the book]

Since “becoming Mr Christmas” in 1993, the 45-year-old electrician has eaten 109,500 sprouts. He devours 25 of them with a full roast-turkey dinner daily before watching a recording of the Queen’s speech, sherry in hand.

“I’ve been doing this for 12 years and I’m going to be doing it for another 12. I’ve never, ever got bored of it. I absolutely love Christmas,” he said.

But despite his year-round festive joy, his number one Christmas wish remains sadly unfulfilled.

“I would love to sing just one song with Des O’Connor, but so far Santa hasn’t delivered on this one,” said Mr Park, of Melksham, Wiltshire.

He continued: “It’s Christmas Every Day is BBC Radio 2 style. It’s very professional: the video features Mike Reid and the producer was Andy Whitmore, who has worked with Peter Andre. I want to be number one.”

So deep is his love for Christmas that, over 12 years, he reckons he has consumed 4,380 turkeys (one a day), 87,600 mince pies (20 a day), 2,190 pints of gravy (half a pint a day), 26,280 roast potatoes (six a day), 30,660 stuffing balls, 219,000 mushy peas, 4,380 bottles of champagne, 4,380 bottles of sherry and 5,000 bottles of wine.

He has given 21,900 presents, mainly to himself, and spent £12,000 ($20,000 US) on lights and effects. “I’ve spent about £250,000 celebrating Christmas for the past 12 years,” he said. “I’ve also got through 36 ovens and 42 video recorders by watching the Queen’s speech as well as Christmas films.” His daily routine consists of breakfast – six mince pies and a turkey sandwich – then doing his work as an electrician until about 11.30am when he returns home to cook his roast.

Lunch is at 2pm. Crackers – 40 a day (175,200 over 12 years) – are then pulled, usually on his own. A video of the Queen’s speech is played at 3pm. And at 8pm he lays his presents under the Christmas tree.

Yesterday, he gave himself a dinner jacket. Today he is getting a suit, he said. His girlfriend, Janet Lancaster, 44, and his daughter, Caz, 20, call him a “crackpot”, he said. “If I go to a restaurant or a friend’s for dinner, even abroad, I insist on a full Christmas dinner,” he said. [Southern Living Our Best Christmas Recipes]

Christmas Chopping

With the Christmas season approaching faster than Santa’s sleigh riding a strong tailwind, business at Jackson County tree farms is in full swing.

About 10 a.m. Sunday, the first customers arrived at Dabbert’s Christmas Tree Farm on Dearing Road. [The Wonderful World of Christmas Trees]

Off-and-on rain showers and muddy ground kept Sunday sales low, owner John Dabbert said, but there was a trickle of customers throughout the first half of the day.

Phil and Cathi Hanes and son Nate Hanes made the drive from Concord to Dabbert’s farm Sunday afternoon. It was their first visit, Phil Hanes said, but the family always has used live Christmas trees.

“The main one with the presents under it is a live tree,” Cathi Hanes said.

Hanes uses small artificial trees for decorations, she said.

John and Evelyn Dabbert, with the help of their four daughters, began selling Christmas trees 45 years ago. The trees were grown at the farm and sold for $2 each.

“When (the kids) were in school, that was the only help we had,” John Dabbert said.

“We didn’t have any motorized equipment, so they would drag the trees out by hand.”

Dabbert’s tree prices have not risen all that much since those early days. He sells spruce and fir trees for $20.

“It’s been a hobby more than anything,” Evelyn Dabbert said.

Visiting a tree farm to search for and cut a live Christmas tree is a “nice family outing,” Cathi Hanes said.

“People just love to come out,” John Dabbert said. “A lot of them are from town and don’t get out in the country.” [An Old-Fashioned Country Christmas: A Celebration of the Holiday Season]

Horse-drawn wagon starts Christmas season at White House

A horse-drawn wagon pulled up to the White House Monday with an 18 1/2-foot Christmas tree that will adorn the Blue Room, marking the official start of the holiday decorating season at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. [Christmas in the White House]

First lady Laura Bush walked outside to receive the Fraser Fir that was pulled up the driveway to the North Portico by two horses, including one that didn’t seem happy in his work.

“Our horses aren’t working as a team this morning,” Mrs. Bush said as she eyed the restless horse and scanned the tree, which was bound and protruding from the back of a green-and-red wagon.

The tree was donated by Buddy and Betsy Deal of Smokey Holler Tree Farm in Laurel Springs, N.C.

Gary Walters, chief usher at the White House, and Mike Lawn, grounds foreman, selected the tree at the Deal’s farm on Oct. 20. The tree for the Blue Room as well as trees for the Bush family’s private residence and the Oval Office were cut on Nov. 25 and transported to Washington.

This year, the holiday decorating theme at the White House is “All things bright and beautiful.” The Blue Room is the centerpiece of the White House decorations. The tree must be 18 1/2 feet tall because a chandelier is removed so the tree can be attached to the ceiling.

“The decorators are in there right now,” Mrs. Bush said. “Santa’s elves are in, decorating the White House.”

The National Christmas Tree Association has presented the official White House tree since 1966.

Members of the association, which represents about 4,500 people involved in the production and sale of real Christmas trees, compete in state and regional competitions to become eligible to take a tree to the national contest. The Deals, who have been growing trees for about 34 years, competed and won the North Carolina contest and then beat 22 other entries at the national convention.

The Deals, who have about 240,000 trees growing on their farm, won the national competition with another Fraser Fir that was between 6 and 8 feet tall – the size popular among homeowners. After the Deals won the national competition, the White House staff members traveled to the farm and chose the trees.

“We had tagged this one, hoping it would be the one picked,” Earl Deal said. “This is a dream come true. I think every Christmas tree grower hopes that they will someday provide a tree to the White House, but it’s still hard to believe that it will ever happen to you. There is no higher honor in this business.”

• See also: Capitol Christmas tree on its way!

2005 Miracle Child To Light Christmas Tree

The 2005 Miracle Child has been named. Four year old Sierra Stephens will light this year’s Christmas tree for the annual lighting ceremony in downtown Tyler.

Less than a month ago, Sierra and her father were returning from a trip to Dallas and were in a head-on collision on the interstate.

Sierra was treated for a severe liver injury.

Doctors say liver injuries happen more often in children than adults because the ribs are more flexible. Sierra’s dad says it’s going to be a very special Christmas.

Brian Stephens, Sierra’s Father says, “Still having my daughter with me, that’s the best gift that I can ask for, coming out of the wreck alive and both of us well and healing, still have my family all together.” [Miracles]

Sierra will help light the Christmas tree on Thursday.

The tree was set up on Monday on the square. Workers estimate the tree is more than 40 feet tall.

The tree was donated by Mr. and Mrs. Randy Oldham.

Lights out: Christmas king pulls the plug

THE plug has been pulled on one of Sydney’s biggest and brightest annual Christmas lights display.

Peter Olsen, who for years has lit up his Lugarno home, has decided this year’s decorations will be his last.

“We would love to continue the display forever but it is time to spend some more time with our family,” the grandfather of nine said.

“Whenever the grandkids are over I am always up a tree working on the lights. It’s time to change that.”

Decorating houses with lights has become a Sydney Christmas tradition with some suburbs attracting thousands of visitors a night to see elaborate displays. Councils, in a bid to have some sort of control over light displays, run official Christmas lights competitions and block off roads to cope with the crowds. [Holiday Lights! : Brilliant displays to inspire your Christmas celebration]

Work started on the Olsens’ Maple Street display in August and the finished product will be unveiled on Thursday.

“I have gone all-out this year,” Mr Olsen said. “This year will be the biggest and best display ever.”

The display will feature 86,000 lights, animated cartoon characters, a six-metre-high wine bottle, a 20-metre-long “Happy Christmas” sign and a life-sized nativity scene.

A huge clock made from fairy lights will count down the days until Santa arrives.

This year’s display is so big lights have been installed on neighbouring houses.

“The children’s favourites have always been the displays of Mickey Mouse and the animated Thomas the Tank Engine with Santa aboard,” Mr Olsen said. [Merry Christmas, America: A Front Yard View of the Holidays]

The displays have been a labour of love for Mr Olsen.

He uses the lights to raise money for the Make-A-Wish Foundation and this Christmas wants to top the $112,000 collected last year.

“So many people will go to extraordinary lengths to raise funds for children’s wishes,” Karl Hale, from the Make-A-Wish Foundation, said.

“But the Olsens’ Lugarno lights display actually gives to all children by letting them enjoy the magic of Christmas in their own backyards.”

Chopping Christmas tradition alive and well

The tradition of chopping down your own Christmas tree is alive and well in Clarks Grove at Budd’s Tree Farm.

Budd’s Tree Farm, owned by Paul and Val Budd, consists of 18 acres with approximately 12,000 to 14,000 trees. The Budd’s started the farm in 1973 and started selling trees in 1983. [Grandfather’s Christmas Tree]

“This is a choose and cut farm,” said Paul Budd. “We hand people a saw at the gate, they come in, find a tree they like and cut it down. The trees are tagged with a number and a price.”

The tree farm is located on County Road 22, also known as North Bridge Avenue, across County Road 25.

There are three different kinds of pines at the tree farm: the long needle White and Norway pines and the medium needle Scotch pine.

“We have all different lengths of needles,” said Paul Budd. “We also have Fraser, Balsam and White firs which are short needle and we have Blue Spruce. They aren’t as popular because the needles are really shaper but they are a very pretty tree. The Balsam fir has a beautiful smell, and the White fir has a fruity smell.”

Cutting down a tree is only half the battle, you have to get it home.

“When they get home, we recommend they get them in water right away,” said Paul Budd. “If you wait too long you have to make another cut on the stem. You have a pretty good period of time, about 8 hours, before you have to have it in water. We always use hot water. It kind of steams up the tree and it brings out the fragrance. It is important to keep it watered.”

Most people have trouble keeping the trees watered, said Paul Budd.

“Most stands have the capacity to hold quite a bit of water, but the tree can drink a lot of water too,” he said.

The Superior Tree Stand, designed by Budd’s father, is available at the tree farm for $20.

“Back when he invented it most people had a small pot with three legs, which was not stable and hard to adjust and it didn’t hold a lot of water,” Paul Budd said. “Dad decided to use a tent stake method to have four guide ropes come to the tree, hook to a chain and then pull tight. It holds a pretty good size tree if it is straight.”

“We’ve had so many people say it has saved their marriage,” said Val Budd. “It is so easy to set up and it works so well.” [Family Countdown to Christmas: A Day-By-Day Celebration]

At the tree farm, pines run between $20 and $35 and firs run between $40 and $75.

“We price by size and quality, we use to price them per foot, but that is very long and tedious,” said Paul Budd. “We can’t be competitive with Wal-Mart and Home Depot, their prices are way under.”

Wreaths and swags are also for sale at the tree farm and area 4H clubs bake cookies and have hot cider available for people.

“We have fun with the farm,” said Paul Budd. “A lot of people come out and we can all visit. We have a good time. A lot of the same people come back every year. We’ve tried to create something that is going to be fun, something that people can do together.”

New Zealanders adopt outside Christmas lights

It’s that time of year again, when Christmas decorations come out of the box and onto the streets as New Zealanders adopt the northern hemisphere tradition of decorating their homes with strings of sparkling Christmas lights to mark the festive season. [Merry Christmas, America: A Front Yard View of the Holidays]

Last year Kiwis purchased around one million sets of Christmas lights to decorate their homes, but turning the outside of your house into a Christmas wonderland can be dangerous if not done properly.

The Warehouse is encouraging families to decorate their homes creatively and responsibly this Christmas through its ‘Light Up Your Home’ competition (entries close 13 December) which is searching for the best decorated home in the country.

To help New Zealanders tackle outdoor Christmas lighting safely this festive season, The Warehouse brings you these important safety tips.

– When selecting lights, extension cords or outside decorations, check the packaging to ensure the item is approved for outdoor use. Do not use any item outdoors unless it is specifically designed and labelled for exterior use.

– Do your maintenance. Before you hang the lights, take the time to check the bulbs, sockets, light cords and extension cords for nicks, cuts, broken insulation or exposed wires. Do a test by putting the lights on a non-flammable surface (a concrete driveway is good) and plugging them in for 10-15 minutes. Watch for any sign of melting, smoking or overheating. Replace any damaged lights or cords before hanging.

– If bulbs need replacing, be sure to use the same voltage and wattage. The wrong bulbs may overheat and start a fire. Always switch off and unplug the lights before replacing bulbs.

– Keep decorations and ladders away from overhead electrical lights and power lines.

– Make sure light strings and extension cords are fully unwound to avoid overheating and the risk of fire.

– The New Zealand Fire Service recommends that outdoor lights should be connected to a residual current device (RCD) or an isolating transformer. RCDs will automatically cut the power to the lights in the event of an accident or shortage, preventing electric shocks.

Christmas lights can be big business or a family affair

Putting up the Christmas lights is a tradition following Thanksgiving. The frustrating job of unwinding light strands, testing bulbs, and climbing ladders has plenty of people looking for someone else to do the job for them. [Holiday Lights! : Brilliant displays to inspire your Christmas celebration]

Christmas light installation is big business dominated by landscape lighting companies. Longhorn Lighting, Got Lights and Rooster Mac Landscape Service all do Christmas lights to make money in the off-season.

“It accounts for half of our annual business. We’ll light up between 500 and 600 houses and businesses this year,” Longhorn Lighting owner Louis Petrik said.

Large scale decoration takes a lot of manpower. Longhorn Lighting uses 10 crews working full-time. They replace bulbs as needed, take down the lights after Christmas and store them in a warehouse so your garage won’t be cluttered.

Not all installation businesses offer such comprehensive service. Westlake homeowner James Caswell chose Petrik’s company because last year wasn’t a winter wonderland.

“They weren’t professional. It seemed like they were just starting out, and they hadn’t been doing it for very long,” Caswell said.

Most businesses rely on word of mouth. Only a handful of Christmas light installation businesses existed about 10 years ago. Now there are dozens in the Austin area.

The cost of the service can range from about $200 to $5,000 for residences and upwards of $10,000 for businesses.

Of course, some people feel it’s not Christmas unless they put up their lights themselves. Across the street from Caswell’s home in Westlake, the Parkens had everyone helping out to make it a family affair. [Chicken Soup for the Soul Christmas Treasury for Kids: A Story a Day from December 1st through Christmas for Kids and Their Families]

Todd Parken said it takes them two weekends to string lights around 20 trees on his property.

“First off, I try to go through all the lights and try to figure out which ones still work, which normally is about 50 percent, and then I string out all my extension cords, and then I try to wrap every tree, and then I try to turn them on to make sure they work,” he said.

Both choices have their unique benefits. It’s just that one might cost you some nerves, and the other, some cash.

The first American Christmas tree

If you’re getting ready to put up your Christmas tree, just thank Williamsburg.

Back in 1842, a German immigrant brought the Christmas tree tradition to the colony.

And that short, tabletop tree with candles, gilded walnuts and a few paper decorations may be the earliest recorded use of a Christmas tree in the United States. [Christmas in America: A History]

Now, PBS stations across the country will see Williamsburg’s role in the development of the Christmas tradition.

A production crew spent four years creating the show and found no documented claim better than the Williamsburg one to the first American Christmas tree.

There are competing claims from Rhode Island, North Carolina and Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

The story of the Williamsburg tree wasn’t known until an interview with a 95-year-old woman who recalled the tree in a Richmond newspaper in 1928.

Punters are all aflutter over white Christmas

BOOKIES are expecting a flurry of bets on a white Christmas, with forecasters predicting the coldest winter in years. [White Christmas : May Your Days Be Merry and Bright and May All Your Christmases Be White]

Coral announced that its current odds of 3-1 for snow on Christmas Day in London are the shortest they have ever offered in November.

The bookmaker said it was expecting a rush of bets, and also has odds of 15-1 on the UK experiencing a record low temperature this winter.

William Hill believes Aberdeen has the best chance of seeing snow this Christmas, with odds of 7-2.

Meanwhile forecasters said there was an outside chance of snow in the Lothians today, but probably not in the Capital.

They predicted the weather would be cloudy with rain and sleet, possibly falling as snow over the hills.

See also: $1.5 million bet rides on one snow flake

World’s Biggest Floating Christmas Tree lit

A Christmas tree lighting ceremony was held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on Nov 26.

According to Guinness World Records, the 82-meter-tall tree decorated with 2.8 million colorful bulbs is the biggest one in the world. Or at least the biggest floating Christmas tree. [Guinness World Records]

At the base it has a diameter of 24 meters.

It is placed in the Rodrigo Freitas lake in Rio de Janeiro every year since Christmas of 1999.

The sheer size of the tree may not come across on photos, so just remember that the tree is as high as a 27-storey building…

Christmas trees a family tradition

Haley Booth has spent the past 40 years looking after Christmas trees.

Booth labors five years to eight years on each tree. [Christmas Trees : Growing and Selling Trees, Wreaths, and Greens]

Then after Thanksgiving, his work is chopped down or dug up and sent to a new home to be decorated and surrounded by presents.

The 56-year-old said he looks forward to Christmas Day for a different reason than his customers at Booth’s Christmas Tree Farm.

“It’s a relief,” he said. “It’s finally a day of rest.”

As a teen, Booth helped his father tend to 43 acres of these trees. When his father died, Booth took over the business: pruning, watering and selling the cedars, pines and firs that are his family’s lifeblood.

The holiday season is crunch time for Booth, his wife and about six employees. Booth said Christmas tree sales can take a toll.

“As far as Thanksgiving, we don’t have much of a Thanksgiving anymore,” he said.

Booth will donate the 28-foot tree for Conway’s holiday celebration on Dec. 1. He sells up to 1,000 trees annually and grows about 15,000 at a time on his 28-acre farm off S.C. 22 outside Conway.

“You just have to have patience, and seeing the families come out helps keep the spirit up,” Booth said. “I like to see the children get excited about Christmas.”

The S.C. Christmas Tree Association lists two tree farms in Horry and Georgetown counties: Booth’s farm and Daly’s Christmas Tree Farm in Conway.

Booth, who does carpentry work on the side, has seen various competitors come and go over the years but said it takes a real people-person to run a Christmas tree business like his.

Sunny weather brings customers out, as does colder temperatures, but Booth said Sunday’s rainshowers didn’t stop 15 people from venturing out to his farm to pick out a tree.

“I enjoy talking with people. My dad did, and he’s the one who really got this business started,” Booth said. “After he passed away, I decided to keep with the family tradition.”

What to buy, what to skip, what to download to iPod

Ah, the holidays.

You can tell it’s that time because every retail store, mall, post office and hot dog stand is draped in Jesus-came-so-you-can-shop decorations. For people who love holiday music, every year brings a new batch from famous, not-so-famous and used-to-be-famous folks, and this one is no different.

But how do you choose? Well, we don’t want you to waste money on bad tunes, so here is a sampling of the 2005 crop of holiday offerings. Of course, if you don’t want to or can’t spend money on Christmas music this year, Joy of Christmas offers over 35 downloadable Christmas MP3’s for free: check out the free Christmas MP3’s section.

Kenny G, The Greatest Holiday Classics

The sounds of the world’s best selling soprano saxophonist tend to polarize listeners. There are few surprises in song choice (My Favorite Things) or arrangements (a jazz breakdown in the middle of Sleigh Ride), so enjoyment of this collection of tunes from his past albums depends entirely on your gut reactions to Mr. Gorelick’s music. If his lyrical style makes you want to snuggle up in front of a fire with a warm cup of cocoa and a loved one, then you’ll enjoy it. If his metallic, vibrato-laden tone makes you want to punch the nearest person in a holiday sweater, then stay away.

Best for people who like: Kenny G.

Hit the skip button on: Again, still Kenny G, it’s kind of an all-or-nothing listening experience.

Regis Philbin, The Regis Philbin Christmas Album

Unlike his barking, overly excited speaking style, Philbin’s singing voice is much smoother, but still unmistakably Reege. Several of the usual suspects are here, including duets with wife, Joy, on Baby, It’s Cold Outside and Winter Wonderland, and a cameo from Donald Trump on Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer. The arrangements lean toward traditional cocktail jazz and Philbin is obviously having a good time, not taking himself too seriously. The collection is neither particularly impressive nor wincingly embarrassing (though “The Trumpster” firing Blitzen and hiring Rudolph is a low point), so this is for fans of Reege and that perky, blond baby machine he hangs out with five mornings a week.

Best for people who like: Regis Philbin and unobtrusive versions of holiday classics

Hit the skip button on: The Trumpster’s contribution, Rudolph ,followed by a long list of shoutouts to Gelman, the Yankees (“Hey Rudolph, there’s A-Rod!!”) and other NYC icons.

Brian Wilson, What I Really Want for Christmas

Wilson’s completion of his “lost masterpiece” Smile was a heartwarming rock ‘n’ roll story. Now that he’s back in circulation, he’s in a Christmas mood, mixing newly arranged traditional tunes such as The First Noel and O Holy Night with originals, including the new Wilson/Jimmy Webb composition Christmasey. The patented Wilson harmonies and his unique way with melody are in full effect, lifting the album out of the realm of vanity project (see Regis Philbin). There is an inherent innocence in his voice and it lends sincerity to all the tracks. Highlights include remade versions of the Beach Boys’ The Man With the Toys, the surf-sounding Little Saint Nick,the vaguely Latin Deck the Halls and a beautifully harmonized a cappella Auld Lang Syne.

Best for people who like: Beach Boys-style harmonies.

Hit the skip button on: Nothing, it’s all pretty good.

Rev. Horton Heat, We Three Kings

The right Rev. has a dedicated following who await his punchy rockin’ rockabilly stylings with bated breath. This album also mixes well- and lesser-known holiday tunes, arranged in Heat’s signature retro style. There’s nothing too fancy here, but it is a fun listen.

Best for people who like: Revved-up rockabilly.

Hit the skip button on: A very straitlaced, subdued version of Silver Bells.

Jane Monheit, The Season

This successful young female jazz singer is known for her come-hither poses almost as much as her voice (though Diana Krall bests her with a “come get some” reclining pose on her recent holiday album). Monheit has a smooth voice and the arrangements by Rob Mounsey are mostly low-key and soothing with a few nice solos. Monheit sings Sleigh Ride and Santa Claus is Coming to Town, but also includes less famous tunes, such as Donny Hathaway’s classic This Christmas and My Grown Up Christmas List.

Best for people who like: Jazzy renditions of tunes you may not know.

Hit the skip button on: Does the world really need yet another version of Moonlight in Vermont?

Various artists, Christmas Angels

A mostly countrified collection by respected female country and Christian singers including Deana Carter, Tanya Tucker, Suzy Bogguss and Bethany Dillon. The arrangements range from newcomer Amber Dotson’s twangy Blue Christmas to Alison Krauss’ old school R&B-laced Shinny Down the Chimney (Fill Up My Stocking).

Best for people who like: A healthy heaping of twang in their Christmas songs.

Hit the skip button on: There’s nothing here particularly egregious.

Aaron Neville, Christmas Prayer

Neville’s wafting, light-as-a-feather tenor could make Black Sabbath’s Iron Man sound plaintive, so holiday tunes are a natural match. Mixing traditional songs with a few originals by Curtis Mayfield, Charles Brown and himself, Neville’s album is a soulful holiday celebration featuring gospel classic Go Tell It on the Mountain, the doo-wop arrangement of White Christmas and an a cappella Joy to the World featuring the Blind Boys of Alabama.

Best for people who like: Neville’s voice.

Hit the skip button on: A slightly overcooked and sappy Hark the Herald Angels Sing.

Tony Orlando & Dawn, A Christmas Reunion

Admit it. You missed the bushy mustache, the powder blue tuxes and the long flowing cocktail dresses. Orlando, Telma Hopkins and Joyce Vincent Wilson are back with some of your Christmas faves. It isn’t nearly as Vegas-buffet cheesy as one might expect, as all three are talented singers, still sound pretty good and employ arrangements ranging from jazz to light contemporary R&B.

Best for people who like: A holiday-themed vocal menage a trois.

Hit the skip button on: Nothing.

Jana, American Indian Christmas

An interesting collection performed in American Indian languages including Navajo, Oneida, Chiricahua Apache and Lakota. Jana Mashonee has a powerful, clear voice and she’s a confident singer. The grandiose string arrangements are a bit heavy-handed and overly reverent, but few people can say they’ve heard Silent Night sung in Arapaho.

Best for people who like: Stately and reverent Christmas music sung in different languages.

Hit the skip button on: If you don’t mind the arrangements, there’s nothing that should offend.

Fight breaks out during U.S. pre-Christmas shopping frenzy

U.S. shoppers rose before dawn, lined up in below-freezing cold and got into scuffles Friday as crowds across the nation chased discounts on a frenzied first day of the Christmas shopping season.

The morning after the Thanksgiving holiday, millions flocked to the country’s 48,000 shopping malls and other stores. The day kicks off a period accounting for almost a quarter of U.S. retailers’ annual sales. [Through the Shopping Glass : A Century of New York Christmas Windows]

Computers, electronic games, toys and clothes were hot items on what has become known as Black Friday – the biggest sales day in 2003 and the second-biggest last year, according to industry data.

Consumer rage flared as several men tackled one shopper to the ground at a Wal-Mart in Orlando, Florida, in an apparent fight over a bargain item.

Store employees threw free laptops into a crowd of shoppers and shoppers ripped boxes of merchandise from each other’s hands, witnesses said on Cable News Network (CNN).

Meanwhile, shoppers in Washington state reportedly called the police to complain about people who cut in line in front of them.

Some stores gave away gift cards for 10 dollars or 15 dollars to early birds. Retailer Target Corp. offered wake-up calls from Kermit the Frog to entice shoppers to its stores, the Bloomberg financial news agency reported.

Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the world’s largest retailer, said it had 2 million customers in the first two hours of shopping today after opening its stores at 5 a.m.. Crowds lined up for DVDs priced as low as 3.44 dollars and a Hewlett-Packard desktop computer selling for 398 dollars, Bloomberg said. [The Wal-Mart Way: The Inside Story of the Success of the World’s Largest Company]

Retailers will be closely watching this year’s take after high petrol prices and rising inflation raised questions about U.S. consumers’ ability to keep spending at their usual torrid pace.

MasterCard says Christmas Eve busiest hour

When it comes to holiday shopping, this might be the year of the procrastinator.

The busiest shopping hour of the year won’t likely happen on the Friday after Thanksgiving, but rather the afternoon of Christmas Eve, according to an annual analysis conducted by MasterCard International Inc.

MasterCard predicts the busiest hour of shopping this year will be 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. EST on Dec. 24. [Chicken Soup for the Soul Christmas Treasury for Kids: A Story a Day from December 1st through Christmas for Kids and Their Families]

The analysis also found that shopping in the evening and morning hours is the best way to avoid long lines and crowded parking lots, said Linda Locke, a spokeswoman for Purchase, N.Y.-based MasterCard International, whose data office is based in suburban St. Louis.

MasterCard analyzes about 900 million credit card transactions each November and December to gauge shopping patterns for the next holiday season. This year, it also conducted a consumer survey and found that respondents wanted to reduce the time they spend shopping, Locke said.

Michael Niemira, chief economist with the International Council of Shopping Centers trade group, said the Saturday before Christmas – which falls on a Sunday this year – became the biggest annual shopping day about 15 years ago.

Retailers are trying to boost shopping the day after Thanksgiving with big sales and early openings, which could siphon some shopping from Christmas Eve. But regardless of when the shopping happens, Niemira posed another query: “I guess the question is: Do we care?”

Christmas tree 6 stories tall

Hot chocolate, cookies, music and a Christmas tree 6 stories tall were the main ingredients in the mix Wednesday to get valley residents into the holiday spirit a little bit early.

With a few scattered torches and a stage spotlight providing the only illumination, more than 800 people waited at The Lodge at Rancho Mirage for the 60-foot-tall white fir tree to be lighted for the holidays. They passed the time by drinking hot chocolate, eating Christmas cookies, and reportedly welcoming Santa Claus and his elves.

About 6:15 p.m., 83,350 golden tree lights illuminated the hotel grounds in Rancho Mirage. [Holiday Lights! : Brilliant displays to inspire your Christmas celebration]

“It was well worth the wait,” said Cathedral City resident Jennifer Altenburg, 34. She was accompanied by her 17-month-old son, Ashtyn, and her 4-year-old daughter, Aria.

“It’s just a whole experience – the view, the tree, the setting and the music. Just seeing Santa Claus made it that much more (special), especially for my daughter. She’s a little older, so she can enjoy him.”

About the same time, a few miles away in Palm Desert, another tree lighting ceremony was taking place at the Marriott Desert Springs Resort. That event also featured a visit from Santa Claus, with arts and crafts activities for children, and a fireworks display also planned.

In Rancho Mirage, the Southwest Community Church and the Rancho Mirage Elementary School choirs entertained audience members with Christmas carols until moments before the tree blazed with light.

And when it did, their applause for the musical entertainment turned into a collective “ooh” and “ah” for the tree.

“Feliz Navidad,” Indio resident Hilda Romero shouted when the tree lit up.

Standing high above Rancho Mirage, the tree can be seen from Interstate 10, said Herbert Spiegel, vice president and general manager of The Lodge. He said the tree lighting ceremony has been a tradition at the hotel for about 15 years.

“We’re thrilled and proud to continue with the Christmas tradition,” Spiegel said. [300 Ways to Make the Best Christmas Ever! : Decorations, Carols, Crafts & Recipes for Every Kind of Christmas Tradition]

The tree was delivered Nov. 9 from Oregon, and it took hotel staffers 13 days to decorate it, Spiegel said.

Lodge employees didn’t just help with the tree, though. Lisa Acosta handed out candy canes while dressed as one of Santa’s elves.

Decked out in red, white and green, Acosta, 42, of Palm Desert was thrust into the holiday spirit.

“It makes me feel like a child again,” she said. “I remember what it was like to have Christmas as a kid.”

There were plenty of children in the audience, too. Cathedral City resident Danielle Dumas, 6, was shy, but she said she loved drinking hot chocolate and eating cookies.

“I never seen (a tree) that big,” she said.

Grinch to great

AS Christmas lights go on around the globe, Sydney will be putting on a show worthy of its status as one of the great cities of the world.

Unlike last year, when Lord Mayor Clover Moore was accused of being a scrooge for skimping on the city’s decorations, there will be flowers, banners, illuminated buildings, carols and, of course, the giant Martin Place Christmas tree.

Ms Moore said yesterday: “The Christmas message of peace, hope and renewal has meaning for us all, whatever your own beliefs or faith.

“I wanted it to be a Christmas with an Australian theme, Sydney in summer rather than Northern European settings.” [Christmas in Australia]

Ms Moore doled out Christmas cheer early, handing over the keys of two specially equipped trucks to the State Emergency Service, the City of Sydney’s Christmas charity.

Tonight, the 20m-high Martin Place tree will be lit as part of a 2 1/2-hour children’s concert.

Decorations include Christmas floral displays, light shows, banners and carols at St Andrew’s and St Mary’s Cathedrals.

Meals on Wheels volunteers set to deliver more than 250 Christmas hampers and Kings Cross and Surry Hills libraries are collecting food and clothing for homeless shelters.

Latest word in fairy lights spells end to a festive tradition

THE traditional festive search for the one fairy light that’s broken could soon be a thing of the past.

This Christmas consumers are snapping up illuminated decorations that use LED technology instead of filament bulbs.

LEDs (light-emitting diodes) use less energy and last longer than normal lightbulbs, but according to one Welsh store that’s not the only reason people are switching.

“A lot of people are buying LED Christmas decorations this year,” said Stephen Donaghy, of Blooms garden centre in St Mellons, between Newport and Cardiff. [Holiday Lights! : Brilliant displays to inspire your Christmas celebration]

“That’s because LEDs are energy-saving and if one bulb goes you don’t have to find the dead bulb and replace it.”

Traditional fairy lights for Christmas trees and other festive applications are often connected in series. Electricity has to pass through each bulb to complete the circuit, so if one bulb fails the whole string won’t light up.

The only way to discover which lightbulb has broken is to try a new bulb in place of each old bulb, and Sod’s Law dictates the culprit is always one of the last ones you try.

Individual LEDs in a decoration can’t be replaced once they break, but they last much longer than ordinary bulbs that work by heating a filament – which consequently becomes brittle.

The best-selling LED Christmas decoration at Blooms this year is a Santa Claus made of rope lights, retailing at £12.99 including a transformer to convert mains electricity to the LEDs’ lower voltage.

LED lighting is also safer for various indoor and outdoor applications, including Christmas lights. It operates on low voltage, an important consideration in households where children might play with the lights on the Christmas tree. It also produces no heat, so there’s no risk of fingers being hurt or fires being started from materials overheating. [Merry Christmas, America: A Front Yard View of the Holidays]

Friends of the Earth Cymru is excited by the new technology. Energy spokesman Neil Crumpton said, “An LED uses probably about 10 times less than a contemporary bulb. You can get decorative LED lights. Their life expectancy is something like 50,000 hours, so that’s a lot of Christmases. The cost and quality of LEDs are improving all the time.”

Martin Smith, showroom manager at EMA Lighting in Ocean Way, Cardiff, said LED lights were not yet bright enough to be used easily to illuminate homes.

But many people were buying LEDs for features such as floor lights in bathrooms or lighting to denote steps. At his store a “walkover” light containing four LEDs costs £33.

“It’s definitely the way forward,” said Mr Smith. “Month on month there’s a new development with LED lighting.”

Sally thinks savvy on Christmas

When it comes to Christmas, Sally Tamblyn is one organised, careful shopper.Not only does the 57-year-old Welcome Bay woman always hit the shops with a list of possible gifts for the people she is aiming to buy for, but she sets herself a price limit on how much she may spend on each item. [The Budget Kit : The Common Cents Money Management Workbook]

“I’m not totally strict about that but I don’t like to go over the top for Christmas, like I possibly could do for someone’s birthday,” Mrs Tamblyn told the Bay of Plenty Times.

“But I do like to buy the gift receiver something that they wouldn’t otherwise buy for themselves – and I like to get value for money,” she said.

According to an annual Christmas shopping survey undertaken by credit card company Mastercard International, Kiwis will spend on average more then $900 each this Christmas – and national spending over the period is expected to add up to about $2.7 billion.

The survey also reveals there has been a significant shift in the type of items New Zealanders are likely to buy this year, moving away from the big-ticket items popular in 2004 and instead treating themselves with food and drink. [Eating Your Words: 2000 Words To Tease Your Taste Buds]

Mrs Tamblyn said that although she and her husband, Gary, have 20 people to buy for – including their grandchildren Jack, 3, and Sally, 2 – they only plan to spend in the region of $1000 – the same as they did last year, including food and groceries.

Mrs Tamblyn said she wasn’t surprised the average Christmas spending on credit cards was $900, as a big spend for food could easily cost $200.

“I’m certainly more aware of my own spending this year … I don’t really know anyone who really goes silly at Christmas, most people simply don’t have the funds.”

But Cabbage & Kings owner Val Auld said there was definitely “no resistance” when it comes to people spending this Christmas.

“If people want something special they won’t hold back on their spending.

“However, shoppers are also looking for something people can keep and to get value for money this Christmas.”

Mrs Auld said when it came to gift selection, there was also a huge trend of people wanting to get something that makes their own or other people’s homes more homely, such as perfumed candles.

“These days people also tend to want to buy everything in one shop because it makes it so much easier, especially when they can have the presents wrapped too, like this store does.”

People are definitely also taking a lot more time over their gift selection.

Mrs Auld said one of the most popular items in her store this year had been large candy canes, specialty chocolates and electronic games sets.

Peter James menswear shop owner, James Kerry, said trade had started to pick up as Christmas draws nearer, and a lot of other retailers were reporting trade was generally up on last year. “When it comes to clothes, people tend not to hold back.”

The survey results show the 1.7 million adults who use their credit cards for Christmas spending, will ring up more than $1 billion on plastic. The survey was done to determine spending trends across seven categories – food and drink, clothing and shoes, toys, home entertainment and electronics, home and garden furnishings, computer equipment and jewellery.

Every year, the neighbors light up his life

“Hey,” my brother said last week. “Are you decorating this year?”

“Decorating what?” I asked.

“Your house. For Christmas. Joyce and I are getting all new decorations and we thought you might like to have our old ones.”

“Oh. Well … I don’t know …”

I’ve owned my house for eight years, and every December I’m faced with the same dilemma: Should I or I shouldn’t I?

My neighbors have no such qualms. The day after Thanksgiving they’re all outside stringing lights and hammering sleighs onto their roofs, while I’m inside wondering whether to have my next turkey sandwich on rye or pumpernickel.

By the following night, they’re usually finished. And I have to say, they do a great job. By Dec. 1, the entire block looks like a winter wonderland – until you get to my place, which looks like the Norman Bates house in “Psycho.”

Two years ago, I did buy a wreath with a big red bow to hang on the door. But the wreath died, so last year I just hung up the bow.

When I was a kid, my father decorated our house with lights, and so did most of our neighbors, even though it was a popular prank in those days to steal bulbs.

One year, my friend Eddie’s mother had an idea: She told Eddie and me to paint a sign and put it in the front yard, next to one of her azalea bushes. It said, “Keep Christ in Christmas, Don’t Steal the Bulbs!”

The following night, vandals stole all of the bulbs she had wrapped around her front door. Then, two nights later, they stole the sign.

When I was in high school, people decorated their homes, but they didn’t DECORATE the way they do now. My father used to run one simple strand of lights around our front door. He also placed two stereo speakers in the windows. And that was it. [Images of America: Christmas on State Street – 1940’s and Beyond]

On the nights when my parents were home, you could hear Andy Williams’ Christmas carols wafting down our block. On the nights when my parents weren’t home, you could hear “Whole Lotta Love” by Led Zeppelin.

My friend Vinny’s family was the first in our neighborhood to go hog wild outside with enormous plastic angels with light-up faces.

They were soon joined by three enormous plastic wise men, five enormous plastic animals and one enormous plastic Jesus.

As you might imagine, their front yard emitted so much light that pilots began mistaking their driveway for Kennedy Airport. Of course, Vinny was thrilled by this. “Every night,” he said, “people drive by the house to see how beautiful it looks!”

I can’t vouch for how beautiful it looked at night, but during the day it looked like a yard sale at Disney World.

Soon, Vinny’s neighbors got into the act, and the next thing you knew, there was this Christmas Decoration Duel to the Death going on. More angels! More wise men! More Jesuses! And lights and extension cords everywhere.

All of this angered Vinny to no end. “See how people are? You do something nice and they have to one-up you!”

So they one-upped him, and he one-upped them, and by the time they were finished, the homes on his block were using so much electricity that people on the NEXT block lost their power.

Eventually there was a backlash to all of this, and decorators went the austere route: blue lights everywhere – a look that, quite frankly, scared the hell out of me.

After our blue period, decorations began to get lavish again. And this wasn’t limited to homes in the Northeast.

One year, I went to Fort Lauderdale for Thanksgiving to visit my friend Scott. I noticed his neighbors putting up all of their Christmas junk. It seemed so ODD to me.

So anyway, there I was, sunbathing on Scott’s lawn – it had to be 85 degrees that day – while the people across the street were constructing a Santa display under a palm tree. A speaker blared Bing Crosby crooning, “I’m dreaming of a white Christmas …” [White Christmas: The Story of an American Song]

In Florida?

Yeah, Bing. Keep dreaming.

They worked for two days on that display. My neighbors all seem to spend two days on their decorations, too. And my friend Vinny spent two WEEKS putting everything up, and another week taking it all down.

This is why I’ve decided not to take my brother up on his offer this year. I think a simple red bow gets the point across, don’t you?

And because I’m the nostalgic type, I’ll probably blast some Led Zeppelin a few nights a week. For old times’ sake.

Kylie Minogue to release downloadable Christmas song

Brave pop star Kylie Minogue is to release a re-recording of the classic ‘Somewhere Over The Rainbow’ on Christmas Day. [The Wizard of Oz]

The single will be the first track that she has recorded on digital release.

Minogue, who is currently recovering from treatment for breast cancer, recorded the song earlier this year at London’s Earls Court as part of her ‘Greatest Hiss Tour’.

The ‘Spinning Around’ singer also revealed that festive favourite ‘Santa Baby’ will fill the B-side on the new track.

Kylie will release eight more tracks available for download in early December, as well as three videos.

Did you know that… you can download free Christmas MP3’s?