Archive for the ‘Christmas News’ Category

Christmas lights to cost £252,500

More than a quarter of a million pounds is to be spent by the city council on Dundee’s Christmas lights displays this year.
The economic development committee unanimously gave approval for the provision of displays in the City Square, the city centre and at several local centres across Dundee.

Dundee Contract Services has been awarded the installation work for the city centre, Broughty Ferry, Westport, Seabraes, Stobswell, Lochee and Whitfield at a total cost of just over £218,000.

Economic development director Doug Grimmond said the City Square display is in the final year of a three-year lease arrangement with Scotia Animations Ltd and will cost just over £34,500.

City Square will have a 45-feet high artificial tree, with red bows and thousands of white lights. Greenery will be attached to the Caird Hall columns, the City Square fountains illuminated, light cones put on natural trees and the area behind the Caird Hall columns back-washed with coloured lights.

For the rest of the city centre, light features will be displayed in Reform Street, Whitehall Street, Crichton Street, Castle Street, Commercial Street, Murraygate, High Street, Nethergate and Union Street.

In Broughty Ferry, there will be a natural tree and lights at the library and in Brook Street and Gray Street; Lochee will have a natural tree and lights on the roundabout at the by-pass; natural trees and lights will also be put up at Westport, at Seabraes in Perth Road, in Whitfield at the police station and in Stobswell in the Morgan Academy grounds.

DTI to monitor Christmas lights sale

WITH the Christmas season just a couple of months away, the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) in Southern Mindanao is now intensifying their monitoring of the influx of Christmas lights in the city’s trading centers.

In an interview Monday, Boy Cubillas, Senior Trade and Industry Development Specialist of DTI said they are now monitoring the influx of Christmas lights into the region without the Import Clearance Commodity sticker being issued by the agency.

“Like last year, we started around September, we do not do it during December,” Cubillas said.

“We monitor it during the months leading to the Holiday season.”

Christmas lights without the quality seal of the DTI usually proliferate in the various shopping establishments in the city.

Due to their substandard quality, these Christmas lights usually cause electric short circuits resulting to fires.

However, a bigger problem being faced by the trade department is the modus operandi of some importers who initially submit quality Christmas lights for testing by the trade department.

Afterwards, these importers would then import sub quality Christmas lights and use the codes of the ICC given by the trade department for the sub quality Christmas lights.

Ice destroyed Christmas lights must be replaced

Last winter’s ice storm completely destroyed Clay Center’s Christmas decorations, but Chamber officials are in the final stages of selecting complete new designs to replace the old.

“They (city utilities) said there is nothing left,” Chamber director Andy Contreras said. “We’ll be getting them replaced and we’ve picked out a design we’re happy with.”

Contreras said the Chamber is in negotiations with two vendors, and that a final decision won’t be made until after Piotique.

“We’re not doing anything until Sept. 29,” Contreras said. He said the Chamber has access to some funds but may need to raise some contributions to complete the decoration replacement.

Among decorations being considered are five foot banners for light poles.

“I don’t know if we’ll be able to do all of it this year,” Contreras said, “but we’ve been working with Bill (Callaway) and he has been very helpful.

Contreras said he is spending most of his time in preparation for Piotique Sept. 27 and that the Chamber’s web site has received a lot of electronic registrations from vendors, parade participants and those interested in participating in the three-on-three basketball event.

“We still need people to sign up for basketball,” he said.

Will Christmas light shine in Malmesbury?

MALMESBURY faces the prospect of a Christmas without lights this year after the chamber of commerce revealed it can not afford to chip in towards the cost.

The chamber has paid a donation each year since the town council took over responsibility for the illuminations back in 2004.

Last year it helped to raise money towards a £3,000 new set of LED lights and handed over a £500 towards the annual bill, which is usually around the £2,000 mark.

But now it says there is nothing left in the kitty.

Chamber chairman Alan Woodward explained: “Money has become tight over the past couple of years especially. We employ a secretary part-time and to pay her wages we need every bit of money spare that comes in.

“By the time we have paid our subscription to the Wessex Association and the secretary’s wages there is nothing left.”

He said the late night shopping evening was their main event of the year and a lot of time and effort was put into it.

“We have written to non-member retailers in the high street to ask for support and the response has been feeble.”

Only two businesses, one a major chain, had responded.

But many more had the chance to benefit from the event. “Our members are basically subsidising them,” he said.

As far as the lights themselves were concerned, members did want to see them up but last year’s £500 donation had left the organisation in desperate straits.

The main cost involved is putting up the display and paying for the electricity.

Mayor Andrew Woodcock said: “It would be a dreadful shame when all the surrounding towns, Cirencester, Tetbury and Chippenham have them.”

The council, which was due to discuss the issue as the Standard went to press, is hoping to canvass chamber members and other traders before taking a decision on the future of the lights.

One choice is to pay the full costs itself. But Mr Woodcock said: “If push comes to shove the problem is that we have only got one source of revenue, which basically is the ratepayers.

“We would very much like to put the Christmas lights up but we are cognisant of the fact that at the end of the day it is those ratepayers that will have to foot the bill.”

For Christmas magic head to the forest

In the heart of The National Forest lies an enchanting woodland grotto. At Conkers’ Winter Wonderland Extravaganza, all good girls and boys will be invited to travel on the festive train and weave their way through the trees to reach the cosy century-old log cabin and receive a present from Santa.

His reindeers will be close at hand for children to meet. Places are restricted with set time slots throughout the day, so booking is essential. Dates to see Santa include the 6th, 7th, 13th and 14th December and then every day from 18th December to Sunday 4th January (excluding Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, Boxing Day, New Years Eve and New Years Day).

Conkers will also be hosting four Christmas Party Nights on 12th, 13th, 19th and 20th December, the panto favourite Dick Whittington on 13th and 14th December and a beautiful candlelit carol service on 23th December. To finish off the festive period there will be the annual New Years Eve Extravaganza on 31st December, which this year has a Disney Theme.

Nearby Moira Furnace will be open until 9pm on the 27th November and 6th, 13th and 20th December with a craft village, Santa’s Grotto and choir.

Pokey Hole’s Christmas Special will be at Moira Miners Welfare on 29th December with music performed by Herman’s Hermits.

Visitors to Calke Abbey on 29th-30th November can help make decorations and dress the trees on the Christmas Tree Trail that weaves from this fascinating house, up through the gardens to the church. The trail will be open on 6th, 7th, 13th, 14th, 20th and 21st December and will be illuminated by Christmas lights and lanterns after dusk. Families can listen to the seasonal music, enjoy children’s craft activities and visit Father Christmas in his grotto.

From 7th November to 31st December the Ferrers Gallery at Staunton Harold will have a Christmas Exhibition including a special ‘Sparkle’ Christmas jewellery showcase.

Christmas celebrations start in South Derbyshire on Friday 28th November with Swadlincote Christmas Lights switch-on. Celebrations go on all day with music, entertainment, stalls and rides, followed by a spectacular firework display. Sharpe’s Pottery Museum has a packed Christmas Programme. Coinciding with Swadlincote Christmas light switch-on, it is hosting a Christmas Fayre with stalls, crafts, pottery tree decorations, as well as carols, songs, stories and poems to entertain all the family.

A Christmas exhibition runs throughout December at this beautifully restored pottery including hand painted Christmas themed ceramics and cards. And visitors can learn Christmas Flower Arranging on 6th December or how to write a Festive Tale on 9th December. This workshop is suitable for complete beginners or those with some writing experience.

Wild Orchid Theatre will present a selection of humorous Christmas plays that include Santa going on strike, misbehaving angels, three wise men from Bootle and a bowlful of bickering cake ingredients on 6th December. Or for more traditional Christmas music, Karl Harper presents A Victorian Christmas on 19th December and there will be a concert in the Kiln on 20th December.

Children can visit Santa’s Grotto and ride on the Ice Train at Staunton Harold Nursery on 8th, 15th- 16th, 22nd – 23rd and 29th – 30th November, 6th- 7th and 13th – 18th December. There will also be a children’s entertainer and competitions. And from 23rd November to 23rd December Ingleby Gallery will be hosting a Christmas Exhibition.

Santa will also be visiting Melbourne on 6th December where there be a street fair, funfair rides for small children and performances by Melbourne Town Band.

Christmas festivities at the National Memorial Arboretum start with the hugely popular Reindeer Parade on 7th December. Santa will be there every weekend throughout December and on 19th December the arboretum is hosting an open air traditional Christmas concert. There will be a brunch-time guided walk on 1st January to walk off those Christmas excesses.

Create beautiful Christmas cards with Forest Arts’ Watercolours Workshop at Rosliston Forestry Centre on 12th November. With places limited on this popular session, booking is essential.

Rosliston Forestry Centre is holding a Christmas Craft Fair on 6th December where you will find special gifts and unique Christmas presents. Or if all the Christmas shopping is too much, visitors to Rosliston Forestry Centre on 13th December can enjoy a bracing guided walk followed by a warm up of mulled wine and mince pie in the restaurant.

The splendid Illuminated Christmas Trees along Tutbury High Street will be officially switched on during the town’s Christmas Festival on 28th November from 6 pm. It will be a lively evening with a traditional street market, fairy grotto, the Ghost of Christmas Past and music from Tutbury Band.

For those people scratching their heads for Christmas gifts, the Forest may hold the perfect solution. Plant a Tree is a gift that grows. The recipient receives a certificate and is invited to a special tree planting day to actually plant the little tree in a new woodland. Or how about a gift voucher for one of the fantastic woodland craft and bushcraft courses in The National Forest. Greenwood Days, Woodland Ways, Survival School and Woodland Survival Crafts all offer gift vouchers that make perfect presents.

Finally, where better to get your Christmas tree than The National Forest! Real Christmas trees are available during December from the Forestry Commission at Rosliston Forestry Centre and Sence Valley Forest Park as well as Forest Timber, near Conkers Waterside in Moira.

Approaching holiday means lots of work

The cool, crisp in the morning air may have just alerted some of you that fall will soon be upon us. And if you’re the kind of laid-back, go-with-the-flow person who is just realizing this, I envy you.

I, like many other busy working moms, have to anticipate the coming of the winter months way in advance. There are coats and new shoes to buy, costumes to pick, decorating to do, gift lists to make, and, above all, scheduling to be done.

This is the part the men in my family seem unable to understand. “Thanksgiving and Christmas are still MONTHS away,” they whine. “Why are we having to talk about it now?” Oh, how wonderful that existence must be. I’d love to proceed throughout the holiday season on a well-oiled schedule, visiting every family member in turn, eating festive meals in each of three states, and all without a care in the world.

But, well, it doesn’t work that way. In order for the holiday season to proceed that way, someone’s got to make all those plans. And who does it? Why, your friendly neighborhood mom, that’s who!

So, here we are. Christmas is 100 days out, and I have schedules to organize, gift lists to compile, budgets to make, meals to plan and secrets to keep. While I’m doing that, I have to make sure all the in-laws are happy, and no child can possibly think he’s less special than any other child.

Oh, you know, and the day-to-day business of being a government beat reporter, a wife, a mother, a friend … all that jazz.

If this sounds exhausting and unfamiliar to you, then you’re probably not a mom. If you’re laughing and saying, “Wow, that’s my life, too,” well, you probably ARE a mom.

The truth is, it is exhausting. The holidays wear me out. By the time Valentine’s Day has come and gone I’ll be at the end of my proverbial rope. But I can’t help it … I love the holidays.

I love when the air gets that tell-tale bite. I love pumpkins and homemade ghosts in the trees. I love watching my son crack the wishbone. I love working on Christmas music in our church choir. I love thinking about the look on my best friend’s face when she unwraps the “perfect” pair of shoes I bought her (oops!). There’s absolutely nothing about the holiday season that isn’t worth the rush it takes to get it done.

But someday, oh sweet someday, I hope I’ll have a holiday season where everything’s just taken care of. Where I’m shuffled from place to place, blissfully unaware of the work that went into planning these gatherings. Where my name is signed to the card attached to everyone’s perfect gift. And, well, ideally I’d be able to accomplish this stress-free holiday season without either going back in time and being a toddler or fast-forwarding to my octogenarian days.

Or, you know, without having to endure a Freaky Friday incident and switch places with my husband.

Light up this Christmas with new ideas

If you own a local business and have ideas about how to make this Christmas a special one for residents, members of the annual Mayerthorpe Lite Up have a job for you.

Members of the group met last Thursday to discuss ideas for this year’s event and to encourage new volunteers and local businesses to help out in making the Lite Up even brighter than last year.

Organizer of the Mayerthorpe Lite Up, Charlotte Arthur, said the group is looking for new businesses to get involved and are already excited to see that a new business has joined in.

“We’re just really wanting to focus on fun, fellowship and shopping,” she said.

“We are trying to get people to come downtown, even if you don’t shop, to get in the spirit and be happy.”

According to Arthur, the Lite Up is a night of many different Christmas specials including a parade, a big bon fire on Main Street and even a visit from one very special person.

“The stores have lots of specials and we usually have a concession,” she explained.

“We have Santa Claus from two different times in the day and evening (so) people can get a pic with Santa for a very reasonable price without having to travel to the city.”

Arthur also said the town can look forward to the delightful sound of Christmas music, playing for the whole month of December.

“You can hear it from the Mini Mart to the hotel,” she said.

A variety of other local businesses will also be participating in the event, Arthur said, so there is so much more for residents to look forward to.

“Uptown Auto does the greeting window (so) if you walk in with a loonie you can write a message on the window (and) the money goes to the food bank,” she said.

“The Treasury Bank (ATB) does a colouring contest (and) kids bring their posters to the night of the Lite Up.”

There will also be a business challenge where local businesses will be judged on how well the outside of their building has been decorated for the Christmas season.

Arthur explained the goal of this year’s Lite Up and how organizers hope to get as many people involved as possible.

“Our main idea and our main focus was to decorate the entrance into town,” she said.

Christmas shopping in September

Personal Finance Reminder: avoid busting your budget by shopping early for Christmas.

Early birds get more time to look for bargains, more time to stretch artistic skills to create unique and personal (and less expensive) gifts, and avoid overcharging credit cards and paying hefty fees.

Sometimes, the late birdies do get rewarded, because retailers have been known to cut down prices at the last minute. But would you like to fall prey to an “if?”

What are your plans for a money-smart Christmas? Let me hear those ideas!

Christmas sales forecast cheerless

Christmas sales are expected to grow at the slowest pace in six years as shoppers worry about jobs, the housing and stock markets and high gas and food prices, according to a forecast from the National Retail Federation being released today.

The outlook from the retail trade group joins other weak Christmas sales predictions issued so far that will likely lead to aggressive discounting and pre-Thanksgiving sales blitzes as stores try to pry dollars from frugal shoppers.

Merchants have also scaled back Christmas inventories and seasonal sales staff from a year ago. The challenges are compounded by a Christmas shopping season that has five fewer days between Thanksgiving and Christmas Day than in 2007, which could make consumers delay their buying.

“You don’t have a good picture,” said Rosalind Wells, the federation’s chief economist. Last week’s financial turbulence, from Lehman Brothers filing for bankruptcy protection to a proposed $ 700 billion government bailout of the financial system, “only increases the uncertainty and anxiety,” she said. Wells said she doesn’t expect an economic turnaround until the second half of next year.

The Washington-based trade association predicted that total Christmas sales will rise a modest 2. 2 percent for the November and December period from a year ago, to $ 470. 4 billion. That would be below the 10-year average of 4. 4 percent Christmas sales growth and a bit below the 2. 4 percent gain last year. It would also be the slowest pace since 1. 3 percent in 2002.

Total retail sales figures from the National Retail Federation exclude business from auto dealers, gas stations and restaurants. The estimate also excludes online sales and reflects last week’s financial turmoil, Wells said.

Two other forecasts, from Deloitte Research and TNS Retail Forward, that were made before the recent market turbulence had predicted the weakest Christmas sales growth since 1991 — though they use different metrics.

Deloitte Research expects total Christmas sales — excluding motor vehicles and gasoline, but including online sales — to rise 2. 5 percent to 3 percent in the November-through-January period, less than last year’s 3. 4 percent gain. A rise of 2. 5 percent to 2. 8 percent in that period would be the smallest gain since 1991, Deloitte noted.

TNS Retail Forward, a global market information group, sees retail sales rising 1. 5 percent in the October-through-December period, the weakest performance since 1991. The figure includes online sales but excludes sales from gas, supermarkets, restaurants, drug chains and autos.

The downbeat forecasts come as many retailers have already suffered from a weak fall shopping season. While autumn selling isn’t a predictor of Christmas sales, it’s seen as a barometer of consumers’ willingness to spend. And currently, shoppers don’t seem to feel generous. While they have been squeezed by high gas and food prices, they are also contending with a weak job market and tighter credit. Last week’s financial turbulence could further rattle people’s confidence, which was near historic lows in August, according to the Conference Board. The group is expected to release its latest reading on Sept. 30.

Stores are closely monitoring what’s happening on Wall Street as lawmakers rush to put their imprint on the Bush administration’s plan to save financial markets. Any more upheaval could lead to stores’ retooling their plans, including hiring. Christmastime hiring is already likely to fall significantly short of last year’s total, which was the lowest since 2003, according to job placement consulting firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas.

Given the anemic environment, Wells expects discounters to keep faring well as shoppers focus on prices. Joshua Thomas, a spokesman for Target Corp., which has been hurt in this weak economy because of its emphasis on nonessentials such as trendy jeans and housewares, said the chain is focusing on gifts under $ 25 in its Christmas marketing.

Chris Byrne, a New Yorkbased toy consultant, said that toy sales could suffer too as parents might cut back. “Consumers are nervous about what they are going to spend. They may buy fewer toys,” he said.

Byrne believes, though, that there will be isolated hits. He cited Elmo Live, made by Mattel Inc. ’s Fisher-Price unit, which will be in stores Oct. 14, as well as anything related to Star Wars and Bakugan, action figure warriors from Spin Master Ltd. that he said have been very popular.

Mall-based apparel stores will likely keep struggling, as shoppers cut back on discretionary spending or shift their buying to stores such as T. J. Maxx, which offers major brands at discounts.

Analysts are closely monitoring luxury stores, whose sales have slowed in recent months. Goldman Sachs analyst Adrianna Shapira noted in a report last week that New York City luxury flagships are unlikely to remain bright spots amid Wall Street’s turmoil.

“The slowdown will undoubtedly ripple beyond NYC to impact others tied to high-end spending such as Coach, Nordstrom and Ralph Lauren,” Shapira wrote.

Retailers readying for early holiday shopping

Monday is the first day of autumn, but for some area merchants, the focus is already very much on a certain winter holiday. Retailers are wishing you a “Merry Christmas” earlier than ever.

The Christmas shopping season used to begin the day after Thanksgiving. But that is no more, as the date has now been pushed up to right after Halloween.

Stores that sell December’s holiday decorations are stocking the shelves beginning in late summer to try and expand their sales volume and profitability.

But will the increasingly early jumpstart to Christmas actually pay dividends for business?

“I think households will determine the amount that they are going to spend,” explains UNLV Economics Professor, Dr. Keith Schwer. “They will simply spend the same amount distributed over as larger amount of days. I think in the final analysis, it probably doesn’t have much impact in the total level of revenues of the firms.”

In case you are counting, there are only 93 shopping days left until Christmas. Chances are that most of us will be decking the halls with “boughs of holly” long before then.

Cleric’s warning as store kicks off Christmas

A SENIOR cleric has sounded a note of caution after a department store unveiled a Christmas display.

Debenhams presented a festive range for shoppers at Londonderry’s Foyleside Centre last week.

But Dean of St Columb’s Cathedral in the city, the Rev Dr William Morton, said: “What we need here is a sense of balance.

“I am not against people or traders planning for Christmas.

“But, what is not good is the dreadful commercialisation which is against the true message of Christmas.”

Dean Morton also stated that the Christmas rush becomes so intense that it places people in a “terrible position”.

“This will particularly apply this year with the recession or credit crunch, whatever you choose to call it,” he said.

On a spiritual level, Dean Morton said it was becoming increasingly difficult each year to get the true message of Christmas across to a wider number of people.

“Thankfully there are still a lot of people out there who know the real meaning of Christmas.

“But people are almost wishing their lives away and it means they are missing the importance of everyday opportunities and challenges.”

Dean Morton also said over-commercialisation places children under severe peer pressure in terms of comparing what they receive with what other children are given.

City Centre Intiative (CCI) manager Sean Trainor said that having worked in the retail sector he understands the need for businesses to prepare early.

“Christmas certainly does come early every year within the retail sector. That sector depends heavily on revenue gathered at that period.

“It is certainly true that if you don’t have a good Christmas you don’t have a good year.”

Mr Trainor said that up to a third of the retail sector’s money is gathered at the festive period and as such most businesses would have their plans in place by the end of August, although he said that displays at this time “did appear to be a little early”.

“This, however, is not exclusive to Debenhams,” he said.

“From a commercial point of view, most multi-nationals want to have their brand associated with Christmas.”

A spokeswoman for Debenhams said: “We begin to install our Christmas departments at this time every year. This is in response to customer demand for availability at this time.

“By doing this, we allow our customers to spread the cost of their Christmas shopping over a number of months which is especially important in the current climate.”

You can be part of the magic of giving

Several businesses, organizations, volunteers and government officials from both sides of the border are joining forces to put together a blow-out Dia de los Reyes celebration for Ambos Nogales children.

“The magic of Dia de los Reyes is the overwhelming involvement … to make more than 4,000 children smile for a day,” said Gael “Sylvia” Pullen, owner of the Nogales McDonald’s restaurants.

“The real surprise is that it is the children who make more than 250 volunteers smile,” she said.

For about 30 years, McDonald’s restaurants in Nogales has partnered with immigration and Border Patrol officials, service organizations and a host of community volunteers to provide Happy Meals, clothing and school supplies to children from Nogales.

In 2008, the Pullen family expanded the Christmas tradition to bring joy to more than 4,000 children from Ambos Nogales.

Dia de los Reyes is on Jan. 6, but the celebration comes a bit early on New Year’s Day as it captures the spirit of the Three Wise Men by bearing gifts of encouragement, food and clothing to children who otherwise would be completely without, Pullen said.

“The children are truly grateful for any and all gifts,” she said.

Last year, those gifts included backpacks, rice, beans, produce, tortillas, blankets, scarves, knit caps, gloves, toys, candy, cookies and school supplies.

Organizers are hoping to garner 4,000 of each item through donations, Pullen said, adding that the deadline for delivering the items will be Friday, Dec. 5.

It takes a Snow Village to warm a heart

Virginia Walker has the perfect view of the sparkling, bustling downtown in Snow Village – from the comfort of the center cushion on her living room couch.

From there, she can keep an eye on the distinguished Victorian homes on the bluff and the worker-bees on the south side farm and rail station.

She can watch children playing in the snow, youngsters ice skating on the pond and the old man sitting on a snowy bench, reading the newspaper with his mittens on.

“Sometimes, you get down and out, and you come in here and you just lose yourself in it,” said Walker.

A whole world of magical, peaceful delight known as Snow Village by Department 56 has been a part of Walker’s Farmington Hills home since she started the collection 22 years ago.

The snow-themed collection has been a work in progress and has evolved to a multilevel, 15-foot by 4-foot snow-dusted arrangement, assembled by Walker’s longtime friend and neighbor, Louise Clark.

“It’s just been a progressive thing,” said Clark, who designed and built the display. “It’s been a hobby of mine for years.”

The collection, which has about 85 structures, 400 people and cars and 250 trees, will soon be relocated to Greenfield Village, where Walker decided to donate it. Walker’s first pieces are her favorite – St. James Church, the Springfield House and the Habersham House.

Her display reminds her of circa 1900 East Coast.

“It’s just so restful,” she said.

Walker has enjoyed opening her home and her Snow Village to visitors through the years – more than 400 per year. She has left the display up year-round for the past four years. Now, she’s ready to reclaim the space in her condo.

The collection will reflect an age-old holiday tradition, said Jeanine Miller, curator of domestic life exhibits at The Henry Ford.

“The scope and the attention to detail brings out the charm of miniature scenes, which have been a part of Christmas for more than a century,” said Miller. “This collection is the continuation of a very old Christmas tradition.”

Jim Johnson, senior manager of creative programs for Greenfield Village and The Henry Ford, said it will likely be placed in the pavilion inside the Village during Holiday Nights in December. They plan to set it up on various levels, so visitors can “virtually step into it.”

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Dexter can’t afford Christmas lights

There’s no doubt that holiday lights will twinkle in downtown Dexter this holiday season. What’s not clear is who will pay for the decorations that have become a Christmas tradition.

At its meeting Monday night, the Dexter Village Council discussed an Aug. 18 letter from the Dexter Area Chamber of Commerce that said the chamber can no longer afford to pay the approximately $5,000 cost for the holiday lights that adorn lampposts, trees and displays in Monument Park.

“While we all so much enjoy the lights and we feel they are important to all the citizens of Dexter, financial constraints make it impossible for the Dexter Chamber of Commerce to continue to bear all the costs and responsibilities of the project,” the letter states.

The letter notes that the chamber “has been working aggressively to reduce costs by cutting staff and implementing cost-cutting measures throughout our organization.”

The chamber said it could offer a yearly $1,000 contribution to the project as well as a donation of the lights that are stored at the old Department of Public Works Building below the fire station. The board encouraged the council to take over the project.

Council Member Paul Cousins, who is the liaison to the chamber, said that in the past the chamber hired someone to put up, maintain and take down all the lights.

“The chamber decided that its funds should be used for more business-oriented things,” Cousins said.

Council President Shawn Keough said he would approach the village’s Downtown Development Authority to see if it was interested in picking up some of the costs for the annual holiday lights.

“I don’t have a problem with us helping with this,” he said.

Council Member Donna Fisher said she thought the lighting of downtown “should be a DDA function.”

In addition, there are liability and manpower issues that will need to be worked out, said Village Manager Donna Dettling.

Cousins said the village lift truck could be used to help install the lights, but he said that the work usually takes place at the end of November, which is also the end of the village’s leaf-pickup season.

“If we are going to take it over, let’s have snap and pop, simple, clean white lights,” that are easy to install, said Council Member Ray Tell.

British Muslims say: Put Christ back in Christmas

Muslim leaders joined Britain’s equality watchdog Monday in urging Britons to enjoy Christmas without worrying about offending non-Christians.

“It’s time to stop being daft about Christmas. It’s fine to celebrate and it’s fine for Christ to be star of the show,” said Trevor Phillips, chairman of the Equality and Human Rights Commission.

Mr. Phillips, reflecting on media reports of schools scrapping nativity plays and local councils celebrating “Winterval” instead of Christmas, worried the unintended consequences of secularizing the holiday would “fuel community tension.”

So he joined forces with minority religious leaders to put out a blunt message to the politically correct: leave Christmas alone.

Muslim Council of Britain spokesman Shayk Ibrahim Mogra said, “To suggest celebrating Christmas and having decorations offends Muslims is absurd. Why can’t we have more nativity scenes in Britain?”

“Hindus celebrate Christmas, too. It’s a great holiday for everyone living in Britain,” said Anil Bhanot, general secretary of the UK Hindu Council.

Sikh spokesman Indarjit Singh said: “Every year I am asked ‘Do I object to the celebration of Christmas?’ It’s an absurd question. As ever, my family and I will send out our Christmas cards to our Christian friends and others.”

More than 70 percent of Britons – some 41 million – are Christian, according to 2001 census figures. Muslims are the second-largest religious group with about 1.6 million in Britain.

Suicide bombings by British Islamic extremists in July 2005, which killed 52 people in London, have prompted much soul-searching about religion and integration in Britain, a debate that has been echoed across Europe.

The threat of radical Islam, highlighted by the July attacks, prompted reflection about Britain’s attitude to ethnic minorities and debate about whether closer integration was more important than promoting multiculturalism.

Shoppers splurge $7000 a minute on Christmas gifts

SHOPPERS at Melbourne’s mega-malls will pay as much as $7000 a minute in the countdown to Christmas.

More stores will be open for longer this year as the festive spending spree hits top gear this weekend.

Chadstone Shopping Centre expects more than 200,000 people this weekend alone.

New figures reveal shoppers splurge an astonishing $412,000 an hour at the centre during the festive season.

Chadstone will add an extra 20 hours to its trading schedule this year and will again be open around the clock on December 23.

Highpoint at Maribyrnong will also trade all night.

The centre will also launch a $20 valet parking service.

From Wednesday, shoppers can pull in at the Myer entrance off Rosamond Rd, have their car parked and then returned when they leave.

“For people who do all their shopping at one time, many will believe it is worth it,” marketing manager Marlene McGregor said.

Open Family will receive $5 from each $20 ticket.

Most major shopping centres begin extended trading hours this weekend.

Chadstone centre manager Stephen DeWaele said the Christmas rush had begun slightly later this year.

Staff were being encouraged to park off-site to free spaces for patrons.

Mr DeWaele said shopping in the small hours had hard-core support.

Up to 7000 people an hour pass through the centre’s stores between 2am and 3am, he said.

“It’s incredible. For some people it’s a real social destination as well as being popular with last-minute shoppers,” Mr DeWaele said.

Chadstone will be open from 8am next Sunday until 6pm on Christmas Eve.

Its Boxing Day sales start at 7am.

Chadstone launched its shopping season with its annual VIP night on November 21, when more than 70,000 people turned up.

The Australian Retailers Association is expecting a fruitful Christmas season with sales of more than $35 billion nationally.

A survey this week tipped each Victorian would spend an average $882 this year.

Each shopper would buy 12 Christmas presents for family and friends, the Sensis Consumer Report found.

Family delights in putting twinkle in children’s eyes

Just on dusk, pajama-clad children begin appearing on the lawn of a Cambridge house.

With great anticipation the switch is flicked, and the lawn is lit with thousands of fairy lights.

“You hear them go `ooh’ and `ahh’,” said Oaklands Dr homeowner Jos Philip. “The kids really love it, it has become a tradition.”

Mrs Philip, her husband Glen and their two-year-old son Luke are one of the growing number of Waikato families decorating their houses with Christmas lights.

“This year there are about 16,000 lights. We almost didn’t do it this year because there was vandalism last year, but we had kids asking for the `twinklies’ so we couldn’t let them down.”

The Philip family’s collection began eight years ago as a single string of fairy lights, and things have since snowballed.

On December 1 friends and family held a working bee to help hang the lights and set up the collection of six white Christmas trees, a flying Santa, reindeer, candy canes and “another reindeer or three” at a cost of thousands of dollars.

“I would hate to know how much we have spent on it but people really love it and now we have our son and another on the way it is something really nice to share with them,” Mrs Philip said.

Should you say “Happy Holidays” or “Merry Christmas?”

This season we are once again presented with a controversy that seems to rear its head more and more this time of year…

Should you say “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays?”

It’s a simple question, but the answer is far from easy…

“MERRY CHRISTMAS Everyone,” calls Daniel Dudley at the Red Bank Christmas Parade.

People aren’t shying away from Merry Christmas this year in Red Bank.

A push toward the more inclusive “Holiday” by some major retailers has brought a major back lash.

Many Christians feel there is an active War on the religious theme of Christmas…

Marcine Austin is also enjoying the Christmas parade.

She says, “Christmas should be the time of year for everybody to celebrate Jesus Christ’s birth.”

Live Nativity scenes across the country, even in downtown Chattanooga, have been questioned.

And… as some public organizations try to call last years Christmas tree this years holiday tree, Christians are pushing back, saying they want to keep the Christian tradition in the holiday.

Pastor David Bouler of Highland Park Baptist Church says, “Christmas is about Jesus.”

The church sponsors a sign along Interstate 24 that proudly declares “Jesus is the reason for CHRISTmas.”

Pastor Bouler says he’s not fighting Happy Holidays, but he wants to celebrate a Merry Christmas too…

Bouler says, “Don’t take away our freedom to lift up Christ, don’t take away our freedom to enjoy Christmas.”

UTC Religious Studies Professor Charles Lippy says a diversity of cultures and religious beliefs is part of what makes America great.

But he says a push to be politically correct, in many cases, may have gone to far…

Lippy says, “We’ve become overly concerned with not wanting to offend anybody and I sometimes think we anticipate what folks will find offensive whether anybody actually does or not.”

Ninety-six percent of Americans celebrate Christmas and many of them are non-Christian.

Lippy says most people like to be given well wishes and whether or not you say “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays” really isn’t that big a deal.

Instead, he says, people should simply be comfortable with the greeting they give.

Back at the parade a group of children call “Merry Christmas!!!!” as their float passes by…

Pastor Bouler says everytime someone wishes him “Happy Holiday” he smiles and wishes them a “Merry Christmas” right back.

Putting the Christ in Christmas shopping

Shopping for Christmas cards used to be a source of frustration for Sandra King.

Over the years, King found that fewer and fewer stores carried cards with a real Christian flavour. There were lots of cards offering “seasons greetings” and the like, but few that mentioned or even hinted at Christ’s birth.

“I want my cards to say that because that’s what I’m celebrating – the birth of Christ,” says King.

On Tuesday, King drove several kilometres to Universal Church Supplies at 11105 102nd Ave, Edmonton. While there, she stocked up on Christmas cards with an unambiguous Christian message, and also bought a special Bible as a Christmas gift for her grown-up daughter.

Since discovering the store many years ago, King has become a regular visitor. She likes Universal’s broad selection of inspirational books, music, and other merchandise.

King, who works as a pastoral assistant at Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Sherwood Park, enjoys the oasis of calm she finds at Christian bookstores like Universal.

The store is one of at least a dozen in the Edmonton area where Christians aren’t greeted with blank stares if they ask about books, music or other goods connected to their faith.

In his office, store manager Roger Lamoureux says that whatever the customer flow, the environment is always relaxed compared with the “frantic desperation” at many places.

And unlike some stores, his staff aren’t out to squeeze every last dollar out of customers. In fact, Curtis Stang, the owner of Universal, is giving staff the day off on Dec. 24, traditionally one of the busiest shopping days of the year.

Another store that’s popular with many Christians, but also those with a strong social conscience, is Ten Thousand Villages at 10432 82nd Ave. The store is one of six in the province operated by the Mennonite Central Committee.

A non-profit organization, Ten Thousand Villages specializes in fair-trade gifts and decor items – including lots of Christmassy fare like Nativity displays.

“Essentially everything is from Third World Countries,” says Diane Reddekopp, a co-manager.

A Sunday School teacher at a local Mennonite church, Reddekopp was a volunteer for five years before the manager’s job became available.

“I liked the fit; I liked what the store stood for,” says Reddekopp, who points out that Third World artisans are paid 25 per cent of the retail cost of their items as opposed to one per cent at most retail stores.

For shoppers who aren’t already aware, volunteers explain to those needing help what the store stands for.

On a recent Saturday, there were smiles even on the faces of people queuing at the counter with about a dozen other customers. If anybody minds, it doesn’t show.

Reddekopp isn’t surprised. In the short time she has been a manager, a few customers have told her they do all their Christmas shopping at Ten Thousand Villages because “they know that marginalized people are being helped.”

Viewers dismayed at Christmas TV

Christmas television in the UK is a disappointment, a survey of 2,000 viewers has suggested.

More than half (57%) said Christmas TV, which includes several high-profile soap storylines and the Queen’s speech, was “not as good as it used to be”.

Only 9% deemed the schedules “excellent festive entertainment”, while 24% branded them “completely over-rated”.

In a separate poll, viewers said they would prefer to watch blockbuster films than soaps or dramas over Christmas.

The YouGov survey of 2,111 adults revealed that recent big-budget films like Harry Potter and Pirates of the Caribbean were the most desirable viewing on Christmas Day.

Only Fools And Horses was the second most popular choice, with viewers opting to spend their afternoon in the company of Del Boy and Rodney.

Classic films like Mary Poppins or Chitty Chitty Bang Bang rounded out the top three.

Dawn French’s The Vicar of Dibley took fourth place with ITV soap Coronation Street just beating the BBC’s EastEnders for a place in the top five.

The Queen’s speech came ninth in the survey.

The younger generation, aged between 18 and 24, said their top Christmas Day show would be The Simpsons.

The research into favourite programmes was carried out for media company ANT Software, while the survey of attitudes into viewing habits was commissioned by media website Utalk.

“The chocolate box image of families crowded around their TV sets next to a roaring log fire simply doesn’t exist in today’s Britain,” said Utalk founder Niall McKinney.

“The internet has transformed the way we spend our time and, Christmas Day or not, many of us still like to feel connected by going online to check in with distant friends.”

Man delights in ‘fanatic’ lights

The 500 extension cords, the 100,000 lights, the 57 flying metal reindeer, the neon nativity scene, the bubble machine, his very own FM transmitter so he can synchronize all this to “Boogie Woogie Santa Claus,” it’s tempting to conclude that Marty Slack is a fanatic. But as he told a reporter for CBS News last December: “I think I’m beyond fanatic. I was fanatic a few years ago.”

Slack has become a Christmas icon in the Salt Lake Valley, where on a typical weekend night in mid-December a thousand cars snake through his neighborhood to get a look at his house at 5631 Whispering Pine Circle. And then last year his fame went global when he won grand prize in the PlanetChristmas Worldwide Decorating Contest. That was in the “over the top” category, in a contest where nearly everyone had multiple inflatable snowmen and programmable lights.

There were thousands of entries from all over the world, says PlanetChristmas founder Chuck Smith of Franklin, Tenn., who decided not to run a 2007 contest because “the people who lost took it very seriously.”

There is no succinct term for people whose hobby is decorating their houses with Christmas lights. Smith has settled, instead, on the word “addict.” In the chat room on his Web site, he says, 6,000 people talk about Christmas 12 months a year.

If there is a typical Christmas lights addict, Smith says, it’s a middle-aged man with extra money to spend and a vivid childhood memory of the one house in his neighborhood that went overboard with decorations.

Marty Slack can still remember the thrill of looking at Christmas lights from the back seat of his parents’ car, and 40 years later he wants to re-create that feeling of enchantment, for himself and everybody else. He is fond of saying that he has often observed tired, ornery people drive up to his house, he imagines them, just minutes before, grumpily trudging through the mall and then they see his display and suddenly they’re smiling.

Slack’s journey began in the early 1990s, the Christmas after he and his wife, Micalle, moved to their split-level. Micalle wanted some Christmas lights, so Marty hung a few strands along the rain gutter which he left until the next Christmas. By then the sun had bleached the reds and greens to white.

And then one thing led to another, he says. One year he built a 40-foot tower of lights, and another year a giant star. He was starting to get his Christmas excitement back. Pretty soon people were stopping to admire his work, which made him want to try even harder. So he added live music in his garage, and in 2003 he figured out how to do a synchronized light show.

Because Slack’s creations can be viewed on his Web site, christmasutah.com, he gets letters and e-mail from all over the world. Some want tips for their own decorating. The ones who have seen the house in person thank him for cheering them up. One woman, who had lost both her husband and a son that year, credited Slack’s extravagant, playful display with making her want to keep on living.

But, to tell you the truth, “it’s a lot of work and a lot of money,” says Slack, who is operations battalion chief with the Unified Fire Authority. What most people don’t realize, he says, is that it takes 30 hours just to lay out the extension cords right. And then there are the months he spends figuring out how to program the lights and to line up each blink with a beat of music. One minute of music takes 20 hours of thinking and fiddling. Plus, the lights fade and parts wear out, and before you know it the cost of replacing and expanding adds up to $5,000 a year.

“I look at it this way,” he says. “All my friends have boats and trailers and jet skis. And I have Christmas.”

“Marty can never do anything in moderation,” says his wife. She and their two daughters and son have come into the kitchen on this weekend morning, the day after the official lights-on ceremony, and they all begin to gently rib Slack. He smiles but also looks a little bit hurt.

In the early years of Christmas Utah, before Slack fine-tuned the display, the family had to sit inside the house with the indoor lights out, and if they tried to use the clothes dryer it would overload the circuits. Micalle felt like a hostage in those days. Now the only problem is getting back into the neighborhood if she goes out on an errand. The line of cars waiting to get into Whispering Pine Circle can back up past Vine Street onto 5600 South on the weekends right before Christmas.

The light display is synchronized to music broadcast by Slack on 99.9 FM. The lights are on from 5:15 to 10 p.m., Sunday through Thursday, and until 11 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, through the first week of January. That’s more than 200 hours of viewing and even then there have been people who have knocked on the Slacks’ door at midnight, rousing the family from sleep, asking him to turn the lights back on.

Paris Hilton dresses pet pooch up in Santa outfit

Paris Hilton has been getting into the festive spirit – by dressing her dog in Christmas clobber.

The heiress, 26, was snapped last week at the Kitson store in Beverly Hills with her pet done up in a Father Christmas outfit.

This weekend the Simple Life star was spotted again in Miami Beach, Florida, with another of her puppies in a Rudolph The Red Nose Reindeer costume.

Pairs Hilton christmas pooch

She’ll be putting one of her mutts in a fairy dress next and popping him on top of her Xmas tree.

Green Gifts

So you got a goat for Christmas.

Well, not you specifically, but a family in an African village got a goat, thanks to a donation made in your name by your do-gooder sister as a holiday gift to you. You, however, would have been happier with a luxury goatskin handbag.

Still, you feel guilty about being disappointed, and what about those hapless African villagers? So you smile and trill, “Wonderful!” Inside, you’re peeved, on the way to seething.

Is this your family at Christmas?

Fact: The holidays can be brutal on your near and dear. The usual reasons for bickering and bad feelings — airline nightmares, frantic busyness, rampant consumerism, sky-high prices, general excess — are still there, but now there’s a potential new source of tension: agenda-driven gift-giving tied to moral, political, charitable or environmental passions.

“It’s a growing issue, but I would put it more in the category of one to stay aware of. It’s not yet a widespread problem, but it has the potential to add new complications” to already fraught relationships during the holidays, says Anna Post, great-great-granddaughter of Emily Post and etiquette expert at the Emily Post Institute.

Of course, there’s nothing intrinsically wrong (nor new) about charity donations in lieu of loot as a holiday gift; some of these charities, such as livestock-donating Heifer International and Christian-oriented World Vision, have been around for decades and have helped millions.

This year, the increasingly popular new twist in gifting is “green” giving: donations to environmental groups, eco-friendly apparel and house wares made of recycled materials and the like.

The choices and quality of green gifts have grown in the past few years. Thus more consumers are buying. An October survey for Conservation International, for instance, found that more Americans than ever want to give or receive green gifts this year.

“Social responsibility is hot this year as well, so everyone is trying to be less consumption-oriented and more cause-oriented,” says Amanda Freeman, a founder of VitalJuiceDaily.com, a health-and-wellness website.

Well, not everybody, she concedes; some, especially kids, “want what they want. They tell you specifically, ‘get me these sneakers,’ so they’d rather get something tangible than a donation.”

Picture a teen who really, really wants an iPhone. Instead, Aunt Sadie gets him a carbon offset from TerraPass.com. Is he happy and grateful?

He is not. He doesn’t even know what it is. (You donate in his name to fund clean energy projects to “offset” his carbon footprint, thus reducing greenhouse gases.) It’s not something you can wrap and put under the tree.

Besides, colorful Christmas wrapping paper and ribbon is wasteful and just fills up landfills, according to current green thinking. Better to use old newspapers or brown paper as wrapping paper.

You can see where a dedicated, heedless eco-warrior in the family might get on nerves.

“Not every gift has to be on a mission to change that person or to save the world,” says Peter Imburg, creator and chief “elf” at Elfster.com, an online secret-Santa gift exchange that promotes reduced holiday excess and consumption. “If you give someone something they don’t want, that’s not a very good example of giving. You should get to know them and understand them, not try to change them.”

Tempers can really start to rumble if gift-givers in a family seem to be more interested in promoting their causes than in the needs of the recipient, who might not even approve of those causes.

“I am definitely in favor of charitable gifts at the holidays, but it should be one that the recipient would support and approve of, not the one you think they should support,” says Rebecca Ligtenberg, 32, a marketing executive in Fallbrook, Calif. “A gift that shamelessly plugs your agenda is not a gift at all.”

The line between being passionate about a cause and distasteful pushiness is not always clear, which helps exacerbate the kinds of misunderstandings that can arise during holiday madness.

“It’s the thought that counts, but not everyone agrees with the specific thought,” Freeman says.

Stephanie Preble, 37, a Seattle teacher, caterer and mother of three, says her family can live without Christmas wrapping paper. They also plan to donate to Kiva.org, the online loan-giving charity, but will still keep the traditional stocking-stuffers and gifts from Santa for the kids. Balance is good; extremism is bad, she says.

“A little push is good. A gentle reminder, a bit of education, some inspiration — all good,” she says. “Foisting, on the other hand, is annoying. Anything in the extreme is annoying. There has to be a happy medium.”

When Mark Spellun, editor of Plenty, a green lifestyle and culture magazine, spent his first Thanksgiving with his in-laws-to-be last year, he offered to get an organic turkey. No thanks, he was told. At Christmas, he replaced their Christmas lights with energy-saving LED lights — surreptitiously.

This year, now that’s he’s officially part of the family, he ordered an organic turkey from a local dealer, and it was a big success. He gave his mother an organic bouquet-a-month as a Christmas gift last year; she said it was her favorite gift ever, he says.

“The holidays are about tradition. People want to do the same thing every year, so there can be conflict in even trying to make modest changes, whether it’s a recipe or a gift,” he says. “You have to be patient, and understand you may not get it all done in the first year. After all, global warming is a long-term problem.”

It should be obvious how a donation to a political cause or organization could be occasion for a real donnybrook in a family. If Junior donates to, say, the National Rifle Association in his mother’s name, and Mom is strongly anti-guns … well, that’s not going to be a merry Christmas.

But non-partisan, non-political charitable giving at Christmas is practically a tradition in the USA, and Americans are famously generous. Donations to the nation’s 400 largest charities grew by 4.3% last year, to $67.5 billion, according to The Chronicle of Philanthropy’s annual Philanthropy 400 survey.

Since 1944, Heifer International, a favorite charity of such celebrities as Susan Sarandon and Bradley Whitford, has donated livestock and training to nearly 10 million families — and nearly 700,000 families in 2006 alone.

Such donations are popular, especially among people who say, “I already have too much stuff!”

“At 57 years old, I have enough stuff to last a lifetime,” says Jeanne Liston Barnes, a graphic designer in Chesterfield, Mo., who was delighted when her brother adopted a wolf for her for Christmas last year.

“I am trying to minimalize my life by giving junk away and trying not to purchase new junk. I also try to give gifts that are perishable —cookies, cakes, candy. Americans have entirely too much.”

But even the most charitably oriented person might be put off by a gift that seems to be unsuitable to the recipient. Or worse: Remember that old Seinfeld episode when cheapskate George, in lieu of gifts, said he donated to the fictitious “Human Fund” (slogan: “Money For People”). Eventually, he was found out; hilarity ensued.

“People can smell a rat,” Post says. “Even though it’s a good thing to send money to charities, (it’s not) if they only did it to save time and not because they really care about the charity.

“Giving to charity should be my choice, and giving me a charity gift card takes that choice away,” says Parissa Sai, 33, a computer programmer in Millersville, Md.

Contributing to a charity is such a personal thing, adds Jennifer Williams, 36, a yoga teacher in Chesapeake, Va. “It’s between me and the organization, not the rest of the world.”

Nickole Ketterer, 27, of Cincinnati, a Kentucky government worker, says she suspects people say they like charitably oriented gifts because “they don’t want to seem like jerks,” but they may in fact be largely unmoved by them.

“If I specifically asked for something and got a charitable donation in my name to an organization I never heard of, I would probably be a little irritated,” Ketterer says.

On the other hand, if she hadn’t made a specific request, a charity donation would be far better than “some junk I would never use and that would just collect dust.”

But there are pitfalls to this kind of giving: How to avoid family tension? Plenty magazine and the Sierra Club’s website provide little tongue-in-cheek scripts that eco-warriors can follow to slip hints into holiday dinner-table conversation with their less eco-obsessed families.

But really, all you need to do is to remember some of the things you learned in kindergarten: Use common sense, watch your manners, communicate and above all, think about the recipient first.

Hap LeCrone, 67, a clinical psychologist in Waco, Texas, who writes a newspaper column, grumbles that people today are more self-centered. He says they suffer from a form of “cultural narcissism.”

“A gift is supposed to be something that the receiver would like to have. It’s not supposed to be about the giver making a point,” he says. “But people today don’t seem to mind doing in-your-face things with pure lack of consideration of other persons’ feelings.”

The Center for the New American Dream, a 10-year-old non-profit dedicated to educating people on how to “live consciously, buy wisely, make a difference,” has sterling do-gooder credentials. Executive director Lisa Wise says there should be no conflict between “giving with our values and at recognizing the person we’re giving to.”

“When you’re giving something, make sure it’s a meaningful exchange, a gesture that will be recognized.”

“I believe in Santa Claus again”

When Danette Meola’s parents died three weeks apart in 2006, she lost some of her holiday spirit.

But after a visit from Santa and Mrs. Claus Thursday night, her faith and Christmas cheer have been restored.

“Honestly, I believe in Santa Claus again,” the 44-year-old mother of two said.
Santa, who bears a strong resemblance to Ed View Jr. of Mohawk, travels around the area visiting homes and children during the Christmas season.

Today, Santa will be going to eight homes with Diane O’Donnell, director of communications for the American Red Cross Mohawk Valley Chapter. At each stop, parents will make a donation to the Red Cross, and Santa will spend time with the children.

“It’s a fun thing to do, and it’s his way of giving back to the Red Cross,” O’Donnell said.

Santa said he tries to spread holiday cheer and explain what the true meaning of “ho, ho, ho” is.

“The ‘H’ stands for help and ‘O’ stands for others,” he said.

Santa said he loves making the holidays a little better for other people.

“I love it,” he said. “I’m a 62-year-old kid.”

Meola said Santa’s visit meant so much to her family.

Santa sat in an oversized maroon recliner in the Meola living room, next to the fireplace. Meola’s children, Kayla Maxam, 7, and Joseph Maxam, 1, and some of Kayla’s friends sat around Santa on the floor while he told stories.

“Every once in a while he just broke out into a Christmas carol,” she said. “It was magical.”

Meola said she can’t remember the point when she stopped believing in Santa, but she will certainly always remember the night she rediscovered her faith in him.

“He just brightened up the holidays for us more than he can imagine,” she said.

Meet someone who has all her Christmas shopping done

Lindale Mall hums with activity. A brown-haired boy excitedly drags a frazzled parent from store to store. A couple, their hands entwined, stroll.

Days until Christmas: 15 and counting. Prime shopping time.

Everyone seems to be taking part in the holiday’s ultimate tradition. Except one. She’s done.

With the exception of her husband’s stocking material — but those items can wait, can’t they? — Becky Esker of Cedar Rapids completed all of her Christmas shopping by Halloween.

It’s all about organization.

“My innate nature is to plan and prepare,” she says, in repose among the hordes of shoppers near Lindale’s center. “And it drives me crazy, all this chaos. The lines, the people. You can’t even get down the aisles.”

Throughout the year, Esker keeps a keen eye out for presents for her family and friends, refusing to let Christmas sneak up on her.

“I actually get a lot of my shopping done the day after Christmas” for next year, she says.

With every gift idea and purchase, Esker marks it down in her “gifts” folder — under “G,” she says — before she tucks it away in storage.

For most people who push back their shopping until the next day, the next week, Esker’s approach is alien.

Lisa Williams of Coggon and her daughter, Stacey, weave throughout Lindale searching for just the right gift, the whole hurried experience a joy.

“It would take the fun out of it to be that organized,” Williams opines. “And even if we don’t find what we want, part of the fun is thinking of something at the last minute.”

Not for Esker, who snakes around Lindale’s parking lot, glad the December excursion is a rarity. She’d rather be at home watching the temperatures drop, sitting in front of a fire with a cup of cocoa in hand.

“This is why I did all my shopping months ago,” she says. “To avoid this.”

That’s why, she says, she shops so early. To take away the stress. And to cut the cost of the holiday.

Her Christmas ideology is spreading like Christmas pudding among her family members, Esker says. Her 13-year-old daughter, Madison, who’s labeled Esker as the “organization lady,” will probably begin shopping incredibly early as well when she’s a bit older.

“It feels so nice” to be done, she says. “Just today someone asked me, ‘Are you ready for Christmas?’

“And I said, ‘You know what? I think I am.'”