Category: Holidays

The Benefits of Making New Year’s Resolutions

The end of December is a busy time of year. Families are shopping for gifts for loved ones and friends, holiday celebrations are in full swing and thoughts begin to turn to the new year ahead.

At the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve, it is customary to sip a glass of champagne and toast to the new year. Many people use the dawn of a new year as a time to create a list of resolutions that reflect positive changes they hope to make in the year ahead. Between 40 and 45 percent of American adults make resolutions each year, according to the health and wellness group Proactive Mindfulness. According to John C. Norcross, Marci S. Mrykalo and Matthew D. Blagys, coauthors of the study “Auld Lang Syne: Success predictors, change processes, and self-reported outcomes of New Year’s resolvers and nonresolvers,” within six months of starting a resolution 46 percent of people are still maintaining their resolutions. Resolutions may seem silly to some, but there are several positive reasons to make them.

• Resolutions provide practice setting goals. Goal-setting is an important component of life. Goals are key because they provide general direction in life. A goal is a map that can give you an idea of where you are heading and what path you need to take to get there, according to the self-improvement guide Success Consciousness. Resolutions can be fun, low-pressure goals. Think of them as dress rehearsals for bigger life changes.

• Resolutions offer time for reflection. Too often people are rushing through daily life without stopping or slowing down to truly assess the impact of their actions. Resolutions help you reflect on the past, present and future, figuring out what has been working and what may need to be changed to provide a boost, according to the wellness resource Alternative Daily.

• Resolutions can serve as a catalyst for positive change. When something isn’t working with your routine, personal health or relationships, resolutions can serve as the catalyst that ultimately rights the ship.

• Resolutions can promote self-esteem and empowerment. Making resolutions and keeping them can provide a sense of accomplishment that comes with goal-setting and following through. Resolving to lose five pounds and then seeing the proof on a scale can be a powerful motivator that compels you to make other self-improvements. Accomplishing small goals also can boost self-esteem.

Resolutions are often made at the dawn of a new year. These efforts can provide the motivation and direction people need to make positive changes in their lives.

Must-Haves to Achieve a Holiday Wonderland

The end of the year marks a period of heightened festivity. Come the holiday season, homes and businesses are decorated and everyone seems to have an extra spring in their step.

The sight of snowflakes, candy canes, evergreen wreaths, and Christmas trees can elicit nostalgia for happy holidays of the past, as well as excitement for what is yet to come. When it comes to decorating for the holidays, there are certain items that set the scene.

• Christmas trees: Germany is credited with starting the modern Christmas tree tradition. It dates back to the 16th century when devout Christians brought trees into their homes and decorated them. German settlers brought Christmas tree traditions to America upon their arrival in Pennsylvania in the 19th century.

• Mistletoe: Mistletoe is known as the “kissing plant” and it is customary for couples to kiss while standing beneath the plant, typically hung in doorways and arches. Mistletoe was once hung to drive off evil spirts and ensure fertility. Kissing under the mistletoe was first found associated with the Greek festival of Saturnalia and later with primitive marriage rites.

• Lights: Lights are commonly seen during the holiday season. The custom of having holiday lights dates back to when Christmas trees were decorated with candles, which symbolized Christ being the light of the world. These traditions evolved from pagan rituals that would celebrate the return of light of the sun as the days grow longer after the winter solstice.

• Yule log: Many families burn a yule log in the fireplace and watch it burn while listening to Christmas carols. The familiar custom of burning the log dates back to solstice celebrations and the tradition of bonfires. The Christmas tradition called for burning a portion of the log each evening until Twelfth Night, also known as the Epiphany, which takes place on January 6.

• Poinsettias: Poinsettias are a tropical plant that originated in Mexico. Joel Roberts Poinsett was the first Ambassador from the United States to Mexico. He became enamored with the plants, and brought them back to his native South Carolina. An old Mexican legend suggests a poor girl had nothing to offer baby Jesus at Christmas Eve services, so she picked a handful of weeds and put them at the bottom of the nativity scene. These weeds burst into bright red flowers and became known as “Flores de Noche Buena,” or “Flowers of the Holy Night.”

Holiday decorations borrow traditions from all over the world to help establish a festive wonderland.

6 Ways to Stick to a Holiday Budget

The holidays are an exciting, fun and joyful time of year. And for many people, the holidays also are expensive. According to the Motley Fool Company, a financial wellness resource, the average American spent $882.45 on Christmas gifts, food, decorations, travel, and other holiday-related expenses in 2019. Around 56 percent of gift shoppers set a budget for holiday spending, but only 64 percent stuck to it. In addition, 21.5 percent of respondents went into debt due to holiday shopping.

Who doesn’t want to have a super holiday with delicious foods on the table and lots of presents to share with family and friends? While that’s tempting, such a bounty should never result in financial peril. These six strategies can make it easy to establish and stick to a budget this holiday season.

1. Budget for everything. When working out holiday spending plans, factor in all of the expenses associated with the holidays — not just the most obvious, like gifts. Costs for gas, parking lot fees, greeting cards, postage, travel expenses, and much more should be included in your final number.

2. Determine how much you can spend. Money for gifts and other holiday expenses should ideally come from your disposable income. Look at your finances in advance of the holiday season and figure out how much extra cash you have for the holidays, and use that figure to determine how much you should spend. Find ways to make up any deficit by curtailing expenses like dining out or entertainment extras. Many people plan to use credit cards to pay now and worry about the aftermath later. Only use credit cards if you have the money in the bank and can pay off the entire bill when the balance due is in January.

3. Set a spending limit for individuals. Based on your numbers and how much you plan to spend overall, start allocating money to categories, including gift recipients. Come up with a spending range for each person and stick to it.

4. Pay in cash as much as possible. It’s easy to know what you’re spending when using cash as opposed to credit. There is some risk with carrying around cash, but that risk may be offset by the benefit of spending only what you can afford to spend.

5. Track all purchases. Save the receipts and keep a running total of expenditures so you can see how you’re spending is measuring up to your budget. If necessary, scale back on one category if you’ve tipped the scales in spending on another.

6. Shop sales and deals. High-end stores may have the impressive tag, but their prices can set you back. Instead, look for comparable gifts at discount stores and other retailers. Also, if you must use a credit card, use one that earns you a cash-back bonus for added savings.

A holiday budget is a must to avoid overspending and finding yourself in debt early next year.

How to Support Small Businesses This Holiday Season

The holiday season is an important one for small businesses every year, and it figures to take on heightened importance in 2020. The outbreak of the novel coronavirus COVID-19 in late 2019 and early 2020 hit small businesses especially hard, with many being forced to close their facilities to customers in an effort to prevent the virus from spreading. Estimates regarding the effects of the COVID-19 outbreak on small businesses varied, but many small business owners were forced to let go employees as they confronted steep declines in revenue. A ZenBusiness survey of more than 1,000 small business founders, senior managers and decision makers found that 37 percent of small businesses that employ between 11 and 25 people were considering laying off more than one-fifth of their workforce.

As small businesses face difficult challenges, it’s no surprise that many consumers want to support locally owned small businesses this holiday season. Such support not only can help small businesses, but also can help to revitalize local communities.

Shop online. Online shopping has traditionally been dominated by big box retailers. However, many small businesses increased their e-commerce capabilities to generate revenue. Shoppers concerned about shopping in person this holiday season should explore the delivery and curbside pickup options available at locally owned small businesses. Even businesses that have not traditionally been allowed to deliver, such as breweries and wineries, have been able to do so during the outbreak, giving consumers unlimited online shopping options.

Purchase gift cards. Gift cards take the guesswork out of holiday shopping, and such cards are easily shipped or even emailed to loved ones. That’s a significant benefit during the 2020 holiday season, when delivery times are expected to be lengthy. Gift cards to local businesses simplify holiday shopping, support small businesses and help shoppers avoid potential delivery delays.

Share your experience. Word-of-mouth is vital to small businesses at any time, and can be especially valuable as these companies try to overcome the challenges posed by the COVID-19 outbreak. Holiday shoppers can share their experiences with local businesses via social media. Share information about the lengths local small businesses have gone to in regard to safety measures, order fulfillment and their delivery and pickup efforts. Such sharing may compel neighbors and friends to follow your lead and provide vital support to local businesses in need this holiday season.

Small businesses are the backbone of many communities, and the holiday season provides a great opportunity to support such firms as they look to recover from a difficult year.

Shop Safely this Cyber Monday

Cyber Monday is a lucrative day for retailers. According to Adobe Analytics, which measured transactions from a majority of popular online retailers in the United States, consumers spent an average of $11 million per minute between 11 p.m. EST and midnight EST on Cyber Monday in 2019. And it wasn’t just the final hour of Cyber Monday that proved popular, as total sales in 2019 increased by roughly 19 percent compared to Cyber Monday a year prior.

The internet has made holiday shopping easier than ever, and retailers capitalize on that convenience every year on Cyber Monday. Savvy consumers recognize there’s great deals to be had on Cyber Monday, but the popular shopping holiday also marks a great time for cyber criminals to target unsuspecting online shoppers. Holiday shoppers spend more time and money buying gifts online every year, so before the buying season begins it’s wise for shoppers to consider a few strategies for shopping safely this Cyber Monday.

Beware of malvertising. In recent years, cyber criminals have employed malvertising to trick online shoppers into taking them to websites that look reputable. But looks can be deceiving. Malvertising injects malicious code into legitimate online advertising networks. If consumers accidentally click a malicious ad, the malvertising can trigger a code that installs malware or adware on their computers, redirect users to a malicious website instead of the one the ad suggests or redirect users to a website that looks just like a legitimate retailer’s site, even though it’s not. Update antivirus and ad blockers prior to Cyber Monday. In addition, update browsers and plugins, which can often prevent malvertising attacks.

Update your software. Skipping or delaying software updates on a computer, tablet or smartphone can make online shoppers vulnerable to hackers and other cyber criminals. Install new operating systems on your devices when such updates become available, and check to see if any new updates can be installed before shopping on Cyber Monday.

Avoid searching through search engines. When shopping, resist the temptation to look for deals through search engines. Cyber criminals can insert malicious links into search results, directing unsuspecting to consumers to malicious websites designed to target their personal information. When looking for deals, visit the websites of established retailers instead of conducting searches through browsers like Google or Firefox.

Read a URL before buying anything. One old yet still effective trick cyber criminals employ is creating websites that look identical to those of trusted retailers. These copycat sites may only be one letter different from legitimate sites. By reading URLs closely prior to entering any personal information, such as their credit card numbers, consumers can protect themselves from copycat websites.

Cyber Monday is a popular shopping holiday. Cyber Monday shoppers should be as cautious about cyber criminals as they are excited about finding great gifts for their loved ones.

How Small Businesses Can Prepare for a Unique Holiday Season

When the famous ball dropped in Times Square on New Year’s Eve and 2020 officially began, few people might have anticipated what awaited the world in the months ahead. By the end of March, a global pandemic had changed the way people across the globe lived their lives as governments scrambled to prevent a potentially deadly virus from spreading. No aspect of life has been left untouched by the COVID-19 outbreak, including how people shop. Stay-at-home measures and government-mandated closures proved a formidable challenge for small business owners. Another challenge awaits such businesses this holiday season, when consumers are expected to do much of their shopping online.

Many small businesses thrive on welcoming customers into their facilities. While no one can predict how long social distancing measures will remain in place, it’s reasonable to assume that consumers may be hesitant to visit stores en masse this holiday season. But the spirit of the holiday season will return, and that spirit will still compel consumers to look for gifts for their loved ones. Small business owners looking to capitalize on the holiday shopping season can try these strategies as they prepare for what promises to be a unique final month of 2020.

• Start early. Holiday promotions typically feature discounted items, and small business owners can hit the ground running by announcing sales well in advance of the holiday season. Consumers have adapted to lengthy delivery times during the outbreak, and retail analysts predict many will begin shopping earlier than ever before to account for potential delivery problems. By discounting items early, small business owners can put themselves in position to capitalize on early bird shoppers.

• Keep sales going. The Bureau of Economic Analysis noted that economic growth in the United States declined by 5 percent in the first quarter of 2020, and in June the Congressional Budget Office predicted that growth would ultimately decline by 38 percent. Such figures suggest that money will be tight this holiday season, and small business owners can expect to compete for every dollar. By starting sales early and keeping those sales going throughout the holiday season, small business owners can put themselves in the best position possible to capitalize on consumer spending, however limited that spending may be.

• Apply past experiences. Small businesses have had more than a few litmus tests to gauge consumer behavior during the outbreak. Easter marked the first major holiday to occur while stay-at-home restrictions were in place, and since then retail holidays like Mother’s Day and Father’s Day have come and gone. Small business owners can examine consumer behavior during past retail holidays to inform their approaches to the coming holiday season. If consumers expressed a desire for gift packages that reduced their need to make multiple shopping trips, small business owners can design and promote gift baskets filled with an assortment of products available in their stores. Creativity figures to be a necessity to attract customers this holiday season, and past retail holidays can inspire a new approach.

Small businesses can confront the challenge of the coming holiday season by embracing a handful of strategies to attract consumers during what promises to be a season unlike any other in recent memory.

Grilling Secrets for Your Labor Day Weekend

You’ve been grilling all summer long, which means you may be in need of some new ideas this Labor Day Weekend. Experts say, no matter what equipment you’re using, the secret to making a big impact on the flavor of your food is BBQ pellets.

“With the amazing wood smoke flavors that cooking with wood pellets offer, it’s truly a game changer for any backyard barbecue,” says Ben Madden, product manager at Bear Mountain BBQ Woods, crafter of gourmet, hardwood pellets. Bear Mountain BBQ pellets are made from 100% premium all-natural hardwoods, with no flavorings, fillers, or additives, which create amazing wood-smoke flavor.

Pellet grills have soared in popularity over the past few years and show no signs of slowing down, mostly due to the flavor, versatility and convenience they provide over other types of grills. Using a pellet grill along with hardwood pellets creates wood-fired flavor that truly elevates the overall grilling experience.

No pellet grill? No problem. Here are some alternate ways to use pellets on any type of grill or smoker.

• Fill a pellet smoking tube as directed by the manufacturer and light the pellets using a torch. When the flame goes out, the pellets will smolder and smoke. This method is great for smoking food on gas and charcoal grills.

• Fold a large handful of pellets in foil and crimp the edges. Poke a few small holes in the pouch and place it on top of the burner or coals. This works great to reverse-sear food — smoking first, then finishing over higher heat.

Just keep in mind, different pellet blends create different flavors. The team at Bear Mountain has dialed in the right combinations of hardwoods to craft the best flavor for different types of grilled meats and vegetables. A rule of thumb is stronger hardwoods add richness to beef, medium to mild woods pair perfectly with chicken, pork and vegetables, and lighter fruitwoods complement the delicious flavors of seafood. Having a variety of pellet types handy can help you become a more versatile grill master.

So what should you serve this Labor Day Weekend? For a dish that’s both down home and a cut above, try this Reverse Sear Tri-Tip recipe. Tri-tip is a perfect cut of meat to reverse sear and lock in that juicy, smoke flavor with a high-temperature finish. Straight from Bear Mountain’s recipe collection, you can use a pellet grill or a gas or electric grill with the folded foil method.

Prep time: 5 minutes

Cook time: 1-2 hours, depending on size

Ingredients:

• 2-3 pounds tri-tip trimmed

• 3 tablespoons Coffee Spice BBQ Rub (recipe on bearmountainbbq.com)

• Olive oil

Preparation:

1. Lightly coat the meat with olive oil, then Coffee Spice Rub to completely cover the meat.

2. Set grill to 225 F. When up to temperature, place meat on the center of the grill and close the lid.

3. Slow cook to approximately. 120 F, then increase the temperature to high to sear the outside.

4. Continue to cook until reaching an internal temperature of 130 F (for medium-rare).

5. Remove from the grill, tent with foil and let sit for 15 minutes. Remove foil, slice and serve.

For more recipes, tips and information about Bear Mountain pellets, visit bearmountainbbq.com.

With a few new grill techniques, you can make this Labor Day Weekend all about incredible flavor.

The History of America’s Independence Day

Few summertime holidays elicit as much excitement as the Fourth of July, also known as Independence Day in the United States. Each year, family, friends and revelers anticipate the arrival of the holiday so they can host barbecues, enjoy the sun, listen to their favorite summertime tunes, and commemorate the freedoms afforded by the monumental events that led to the holiday’s establishment.

Independence Day became a federal holiday in 1941, but July 4th has stood as the birth of American independence for much longer. July 4th marks a pivotal moment in the American Revolution. According to PBS, the colonies were forced to pay taxes to England’s King George III despite having no representation in the British Parliament. “Taxation without representation” became a battle cry and was one of several grievances colonists had with Great Britain.

Conflict between the colonies had been going on for at least a year before the colonies convened a Continental Congress in Philadelphia in June of 1776, says Military.com. On July 2, 1776, the Continental Congress voted in favor of independence from England. Two days later, on July 4, 1776, delegates from the 13 colonies adopted the Declaration of Independence.

The Declaration of Independence is a historic document drafted by Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson was considered the strongest and most eloquent writer of the declaration writing committee charged with putting the colonies’ sentiments into words. Richard Henry Lee of Virginia was one of the first people to present a resolution for American independence, and his commentary was the impetus for the formal Declaration of Independence. A total of 86 changes were made to Jefferson’s original draft until the final version was adopted. The signing of the document helped to solidify independence, and eventually lead to the formation of the United States of America.

A total of 56 delegates signed the document. Although John Hancock’s signature is the largest, it did not hold more weight than the other signatures. Rather, rumor has it, Hancock signed it so large so that the “fat, old King could read it without his spectacles.” However, the National Archives says it was also customary that, since Hancock was the president of the Continental Congress, he be the first person to sign the document centered below the text.

The Pennsylvania Evening Post was the first newspaper to print the Declaration of Independence on July 6, 1776. The first public readings of the Declaration were held in Philadelphia’s Independence Square on July 8, 1776.

Tips for Buying Jewelry This Valentine’s Day

Valentine’s Day is rife with tradition. Couples may have their own unique traditions, but others, like Valentine’s Day date nights, are widely popular.

One Valentine’s Day tradition many couples embrace is the exchange of gifts. Shoppers might not need much advice when purchasing heart-shaped boxes of chocolates or flowers for their sweethearts. However, when shopping for jewelry, Valentine’s Day celebrants may feel as though they’re in over their heads. The following tips, courtesy of the Better Business Bureau®, can help shoppers as they navigate the potentially confusing process of buying jewelry.

Diamonds

The BBB notes that diamonds’ value is based on color, cut, clarity, and carat. Often referred to as the “4 Cs,” this criteria refers to the grade of the color (color), the way the diamond is finished (cut), how flawless the diamond is (clarity), and its weight (carat). When shopping for diamonds, the BBB advises asking jewelers if they have the most up-to-date testing equipment, which makes it easier for them to distinguish between diamonds and lab-created gemstones. That’s important, as lab-created gemstones resemble diamonds and may not be detectable if jewelers are using testing equipment designed to identify cubic zirconia.

Colored gemstones

Colored gemstones are very popular, and the BBB notes that various new stone treatments have been developed to improve their appearance and durability. However, the BBB also notes that such treatments may adversely affect the value of the gem and necessitate special care in order to maintain the gem’s appearance. When shopping for colored gemstones, ask the jeweler if an item has been treated and if there’s any special maintenance required. Imitation or assembled stones may look like natural stones, so shoppers should ask if a stone is natural, synthetic or imitation before purchasing anything.

Gold

When used alone, the word gold implies an item is all gold or 24 karat gold. But the BBB notes that gold is naturally soft and, as a result, is typically mixed with other metals to improve its hardness and durability. The karat-quality marking indicates what proportion of gold is mixed with other metals. For example, the most common mark for gold jewelry is 18K of 750, which signifies an item is 75 percent gold. Lower-karat gold jewelry may include copper, silver, zinc, or other metals. Consumers should ask about these alloys and determine if the item’s ultimate recipient is allergic to certain metals or if he or she has a high acid content in their bodies. People with high acid content in their bodies may have their jewelry turn black as a result.

Buying jewelry can be intimidating. However, jewelry buyers can work with their jewelers to find a beautiful piece their sweethearts will be proud to wear this Valentine’s Day.

More information on buying jewelry can be found at www.bbb.org.

Top Gifts for Your Valentine

Valentine’s Day is an opportunity to show the ones you love just how much you care about them. This is achieved through various gestures, including giving heartfelt gifts. Research from Business Insider found that 51 percent of Americans now celebrate Valentine’s Day. While a recent poll from Insights West found that although many Canadians view Valentine’s Day as overly commercial, 75 percent still plan on celebrating it. People are still spending big bucks on making Valentine’s Day special. The National Retail Federation indicates Americans spent more than $20.7 billion on the holiday in 2019 and forecasters predict similar spending in 2020.

Every Valentine’s Day, certain gifts emerge as the most popular. While certain gifts are common, there are ways to make them seem fresh and exciting. Here are some ideas for Valentine’s Day gifting.

Flowers

The National Retail Federation estimates that people spend around $2 billion on flowers for gifts. While roses are much sought after, thinking outside the bouquet can produce unique results. Choose different blooms, perhaps a loved one’s favorite flower or something regional. Potted plants also will last longer than cut flowers, giving them more staying power. Skip bouquets in favor of table centerpieces, which can be eye-catching.

Jewelry

Gifting jewelry can be tricky because it is such a personal gift that must tie into a sweetheart’s style. It may be tempting to go with something large and flashy or full of diamonds, but a better option is to take inventory of what your loved one wears on a daily basis and try to mimic the size and scope in your gift. Other thoughtful jewelry gifts include understated pendant necklaces or bracelets engraved with key dates or the names of their children. Colored gemstones in lieu of diamonds also may be a striking choice.

Entertainment

Dinner and a movie is a classic date night, but on Valentine’s Day restaurants and theaters may be overcrowded and only offer limited menus. An alternative can be to arrange for a gourmet meal to be delivered and wrap up a new streaming movie/TV device already primed with a subscription to his or her favorite streaming service. Then all you need to do is snuggle on the sofa for a romantic night in.

Chocolates and candy

Roughly $1.8 billion is spent on candy each Valentine’s Day, says the National Retail Federation. A box of chocolates certainly can fit the bill, but other options abound. Perhaps a sweetheart has a favorite candy that recalls his or her childhood or prefers a chocolate maker from his or her hometown. Purchase those items to add a bit of nostalgia. Make the holiday magical by setting up a candy bar right at home, where your sweetheart can pick and choose from candies displayed in eye-catching bowls and canisters. Another novel idea is to use candy molds to make your own sweet treats.

Thoughtful Valentine’s Day gifts can make the day even more special for sweethearts.