Category: Holidays

Strategies to Avoid Holiday Weight Gain

Staying fit during the holiday season can be quite challenging, even for the most ardent fitness enthusiasts and disciplined calorie-counters.

Between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day, many people are offered a wide assortment of foods, beverages and other indulgences — typically in mass quantities. According to researchers at Stanford University, although the average person only gains around one pound during the holiday season, quite frequently that pound sticks around, and those extra pounds add up year after year. As a result, it doesn’t take too many years of holiday bundt cakes to gain a considerable amount of weight.

Holiday season weight gain is not unique to the United States and Canada. Investigators at Tampere University of Technology in Finland tracked weight gained in the United States, Germany and Japan during those countries’ festive times and found that each country’s participants gained weight, particularly during the holiday season. Annual holiday weight gain can contribute to weight-based problems such as obesity, heart disease and Type 2 diabetes. The holiday season might not be the best time to start a diet, but holiday eating does not have to derail healthy lifestyles. The following are ways to avoid holiday weight gain and still enjoy all of the parties, adventures and time spent with friends and family.

Focus on festivity instead of food. When hosting holiday festivities, make the bulk of the celebration about an activity rather than food. If guests are focused on fun, such as a sing-a-long, dancing or tree-trimming, they may be less likely to overeat.

Don’t show up starving. Eat a light, healthy snack before participating in any holiday revelry. Hunger pangs may drive one straight to the buffet table.

Survey your options prior to eating. Guests should scope out the food choices and then make the smartest selections possible. Avoid creamy sauces, greasy foods and those that are heavy on cheese. Fill up on vegetables and then you won’t feel bad about splurging on a dessert.

Go sparingly on alcohol. People seldom realize how quickly calories from beverages can add up. A 12-ounce glass of beer has about 150 calories, a five ounce glass of red wine has about 125 calories and a 1.5-ounce shot of gin, rum, vodka, whiskey, or tequila has about 100 calories, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Furthermore, alcohol lowers inhibitions, so you may be more likely to overindulge in more spirits or extra food when intoxicated.

You can’t buy back calories with exercise. Putting in a marathon exercise session the next day probably will not undo the damage done from overeating the night before. Maintain a consistent workout schedule all through the holidays.

Holiday weight gain is not inevitable for those who take control and exercise discipline.

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Christmas Music Origins

Scores of artists have released Christmas albums or holiday-infused singles during their careers. Christmas music can be broken down into two distinct categories: traditional hymns and carols and popular secular songs.

Some believe that the religious standards have been passed down since the earliest days of Christianity. However, that is not so. Before the 12th century, music wasn’t typically included in religious services, and even then music was included only sporadically. In present day, religious tunes identified as Christmas music typically are not sung until Christmas Eve and thereafter until the Epiphany.

Many of the oldest Christmas songs are not old at all. Many popular carols sung today are less than 200 years old. The world’s most popular Christmas carol was originally a poem penned in 1816 by Austrian Catholic priest Josef Mohr. Two years later, Mohr asked Franz Xaver Gruber, an organist and local schoolteacher, to put his words to music. The resulting song, “Silent Night,” was not translated into English for 40 years.

“Hark the Herald Angels Sing” also originated from a poem and had the original opening line of, “Hark how all the welkin rings.” The subsequent version was more catchy, and the faster-paced accompaniment was courtesy of Felix Mendelssohn, added 100 years after the poem was written.

“Jingle Bells,” a nonreligious tune that has become synonymous with Christmas, was not originally written as a Christmas tune. In fact, the song was intended to celebrate Thanksgiving.

Christmas music is diverse, with lively tunes, modern interpretations and religious classics enjoyed through the years.

Be Prepared for Unexpected Company

The latter part of the year is full of social engagements with family and friends. Pew Research Center says 92 percent of all Americans plan to celebrate Christmas as a holiday, with 69 percent using it as an opportunity to spend time with family and friends.

While many social occasions surrounding Christmas are anticipated for months in advance, unexpected pop-ins are also the norm this time of year. Rather than being caught off guard, individuals can take steps to prepare for unexpected guests.

· Have food available. Even if guests pop in for a little while, it’s nice to be able to offer them something to eat. Keep cheese and crackers, fresh fruit, pretzels, and other snacks on hand. Make-ahead, crowd-friendly foods can be prepared and frozen. Casseroles, pasta dishes and stews are hearty and can serve in a pinch when unexpected visitors arrive. Simply take out to defrost and heat up. Keep cookies in air-tight tins and purchase a premade frozen pie to serve, if necessary. In a pinch, you can always order out, but over time the cost of having food delivered can add up.

· Keep the bar stocked. Toasting to a happy holiday season is the norm during this time of year. Toasting requires hosts have some spirits on hand. Stock the bar with a few staples, such as red and white wine, vodka, rum, whiskey, and mixers. Also, you may just want to create a signature or seasonal cocktail that can be served when guests arrive, such as a spiced punch or a holiday eggnog.

· Cue the playlist. Put together a playlist of favorite holiday music that will provide the ideal ambiance should guests ring your doorbell. Thanks to services like Spotify, Amazon Music and Pandora, holiday music that fills a home with the sweet sounds of the season is now always accessible.

· Keep things neat. Set aside a closet or space that can serve as a catch-all where errant items can quickly be stored should guests arrive. Gather loose toys, books or stray papers in a basket and then stash the basket in the closet until guests depart. Routinely empty the dishwasher so dirty dishes left in the sink can be quickly loaded before guests arrive.

· Create an aromatic atmosphere. Scented candles that evoke the aromas of the season can refresh stale indoor air. Butter cookie-, apple pie- and cinnamon-scented candles can make it seem like you just finished some holiday baking.

Guests tend to drop by on a moment’s notice come the holidays. Preparing for the unexpected can make such visits more enjoyable.

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Holiday Gift-Wrapping Tips and Tricks

After all the holiday presents have been purchased, the task of wrapping can begin. Although some people find wrapping is relaxing and provides a chance to embrace one’s artistic flair, many others find wrapping gift after gift becomes tedious quite fast.

While there are no statistics on just how many gifts the average person purchases over the course of the holiday season, the National Retail Federation says the average consumer will spend around $800 on all things holiday. That means there will be a lot of gifts to wrap before the big exchange. Those who want to make gift-wrapping less tedious this holiday season can consider these ideas to streamline the process.

Gather all supplies

When the time comes to wrap gifts, there’s nothing more frustrating than hunting for wrapping supplies. Have paper, bows, bags, tissue, pens, tape (double-sided tape streamlines the process), scissors, ribbon, and any other wrapping accoutrements at the ready. Set up a folding snack table near your wrapping area to hold the supplies so they don’t get in the way.

Choose the right location

Always wrap on a large, flat and sturdy surface. Avoid wrapping on a carpet, which will give gift wrap a wrinkled look and increase the amount of time needed to wrap.

Square it up

If you are a master at wrapping rectangular or square gifts but fail when presents are oddly shaped, place misshapen gifts into boxes and then wrap the boxes. Gift bags also can be used for such gifts, but wrapped boxes may look more appealing under the tree.

Fabric over paper

If you think gift wrap is wasteful, think about repurposing fabric into beautiful wrapping for presents. A square of leftover fabric, a piece of a t-shirt or even a portion of a sweater that has seen better days can be transformed into an innovative package for gift-giving. Tie the gathered ends into a bow and skip the tape as well. Dress up with ribbon and a tag for extra flair. Fabric bends and moves, making it more forgiving for oddly shaped gifts as well.

Stock up on paper shopping bags

On your next trip to Trader Joes or Whole Foods, bring home more than organic produce. Walk away with paper bags and free gift wrap. Craft a DIY stamp roller or handmade stamps to dress up plain brown bags. Or wrap the gift in twine and add a sprig of evergreen for a rustic look. Children can even use markers or crayons to create their own designs on gifts, personalizing even further.

Diversify gifts

Identify each recipient’s gifts by wrapping in a different color or style. Just jot down the key to decoding the wrapping, and you’ll save time on individual gift tags.

Wrapping presents doesn’t have to be a chore. With some time-saving tips and tricks, the work can be a breeze.

A Quick and Delicious Holiday Dessert

The holiday season is synonymous with many things, including delicious foods. While Thanksgiving turkeys or Christmas geese will be found on many a table this holiday season, baked goods and desserts are what many people look forward to this time of year.

Holiday hosts with a lot on their plates might not have the time to prepare homemade baked goods for their guests. Thankfully, the following recipe for “Chocolate-Strawberry Pie” from Addie Gundry’s “No-Bake Desserts” (St. Martin’s Press) can be prepared in just 15 minutes, all without turning on the oven.

Chocolate-Strawberry Pie

Yields 1 pie

1 pint fresh strawberries, washed, trimmed and halved
1 store-bought (or homemade) chocolate cookie pie crust
2/3 cup sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon minced crystallized ginger
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
Pinch of kosher or sea salt
6 large egg yolks
21/2 cups half-and-half
6 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
1/2 tablespoon rum extract
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Additional strawberries for garnish (optional)

1. Place the strawberry halves in a single layer in the bottom of the pie crust.
2. In a medium saucepan, whisk together the sugar, cornstarch, cocoa powder, ginger, nutmeg, and salt over medium heat.
3. Whisk in the egg yolks to create a thick paste. Gradually whisk in the half-and-half until the mixture thickens, about 5 minutes. Bring to a boil and cook for 1 minute. Remove from the heat.
4. Add the chocolate and whisk until combined. Add the rum and vanilla extracts. Cool the mixture for 4 minutes.
5. Pour the filling over the strawberries and up to the top of the crust. Chill the pie for 2 hours or until set.
6. Garnish with additional strawberries, if desired.

Immune Boosting Tips for a Healthy Holiday Season

The hectic holidays and chill in the air can take a toll on the immune system making one more susceptible to cold weather challenges. Stay healthy and vital all season by taking the following steps.

Be Balanced

From eggnog and cookies to champagne toasts, you may be more likely to over indulge during the holiday season than at other times of the year. Be mindful of what you are eating and drinking at parties, and then balance out these extravagances with plenty of rest, regular exercise, healthy hydration and an otherwise nutrition-filled diet.

Get Some Support

“We are learning more each day about what weakens the immune system and how we can strengthen it for better health,” says Larry Robinson, PhD, vice president of scientific affairs at Embria Health Sciences, a manufacturer of natural, science-based ingredients that support wellness and vitality. “Good immune health requires more than just getting enough vitamin C.”

For some extra support this season and beyond, consider taking an immune-supporting supplement that goes further than a standard vitamin C tablet.  For example, NOW EpiCor Plus Immunity contains Zinc, Selenium, and vitamins D-3 and C, and can give you the nutrition you need to help you make it through the holidays healthfully. To learn more, visit nowfoods.com.

While all these statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration and this supplement is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent disease, many experts believe they can help maintain your daily health.

Relax

The holiday season is meant to be joyful. Unfortunately, it can also be stressful. From navigating a shopping mall parking lot on the busiest day of the year to dealing with the extended family, stress can compromise your immune response. Use at least some of that time you may have off from work to truly relax, scheduling some down time for yourself — whether it’s curling up with a glass of green tea and a paperback, taking a bubble bath or doing yoga.

For a happy holiday season, take steps to treat your body right and to prioritize health and wellness. (StatePoint)
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PHOTO SOURCE: (c) georgerudy/stock.Adobe.com

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The History of Christmas Stockings

Just when the excitement of opening presents abates after the last of the packages under the Christmas tree have been torn open, children and adults alike may discover that there are more treats to be had nestled inside of stockings hung on the mantle.

The hanging of Christmas stockings is a tradition with an extensive history. Several legends attribute the hanging of stockings to different people or events. Here is a look at some of the stories that have made Christmas stockings so popular.

St. Nicholas Day

Rather than hanging stockings on Christmas, many countries celebrate Saint Nicholas Day on December 6, and this is when stockings are proudly left out for treats. The small, inexpensive trinkets are later unwrapped and enjoyed on Christmas Day.

Dutch heritage

One tradition says that, in 16th century Holland, children kept their clogs filled with straw in front of the hearth for Santa’s reindeer to find. They also left treats for Santa Claus. In return, Santa would leave gifts in the clogs. Over time, stockings were swapped out for clogs.

Merchant’s family story

A popular tale tells the story of a merchant, his wife and three daughters. After the wife falls ill and dies, the man becomes devastated and squanders all of his wealth on frivolous things to mask his sadness. When it comes time for the daughters to marry, the man does not have money for a dowry. St. Nicholas hears of the plight and knows the man would be too proud to accept charity. Therefore, St. Nicholas anonymously tosses three bags of gold coins down the chimney. The man’s daughters had done the laundry prior and left their stockings hanging by the fireplace to dry. The gold landed in the stockings, thus starting the Christmas stocking tradition.

Italian good witch

One stocking story does not attribute the tradition to Santa, but to a kind-hearted Italian witch named “La Befana.” La Befana arrives on a broomstick the night of January 5 and fills the stockings of good children with sweet treats and toys. Bad children are awarded lumps of coal. La Befana is also credited with being the old woman who the wise men ask for directions to Christ’s manger in the Christ child’s story. After turning down an offer to accompany them, La Befana later carried gifts in search of Christ.

Christmas stockings have become part of holiday traditions, and this beloved tradition has its own unique history.

Warm Up With a Classic Hot Toddy This Holiday Season

Come the holiday season, hot toddies are ideal for entertaining, providing spirited fun and a means to chasing away the winter chill.

Hot toddies have been around for centuries. Usually a mix of a spirit – either whiskey, rum or brandy – hot water, honey and spices, some believe the word “toddy” comes from an Indian drink of the same name that is produced by fermenting the sap of palm trees. Other sources say the hot toddy was created by Dr. Robert Bentley Todd, an Irish physician who prescribed a drink made of brandy, white cinnamon, sugar syrup, and water. The drink was dubbed the “hot toddy.”

Hot drinks embellished with alcohol were long used for medicinal purposes. While alcoholic beverages are no longer used as medicine, hot toddies can still chase away a chill. “Grog” is another name given to hot alcoholic drinks, or any drink in which unmeasured amounts of spirits are mixed with other ingredients. Grog may also refer to a water-and-rum mixture that sea merchants once drank. The water kept the merchants hydrated, while the rum prevented the water from spoiling during voyages.

The classic hot toddy can be a versatile drink used to keep guests comfortable and cheerful. This warm libation is soothing and savory, mixing citrus, honey and spices, which each have their various health benefits.

Although hot toddy recipes vary, the following is the recipe for a classic hot toddy, as culled by recipes from Wine Enthusiast, Imbibe and PBS Food.

Classic Hot Toddy

• 11/2 ounces bourbon, whiskey or another brown liquor
• 1 tablespoon honey
• 1/2 ounce fresh lemon juice
• 1 cup boiling water
• Cinnamon stick
• Lemon wedge
• Cloves or star anise

Combine liquor, lemon juice, honey, and boiling water together in a mug or Irish coffee glass. Push cloves or star anise into the lemon wedge. Add the cinnamon stick and lemon wedge to the mug. Allow lemon and cinnamon stick to steep in the beverage for a few minutes. Stir and enjoy.

Experience Gifts Are Out-of-the-Box Exciting

The holidays are a season for decorating, entertaining and, of course, figuring out what to get all of the special people on gift lists. Instead of navigating crowded stores to find a gift that may just take up space in their loved ones’ closets, more and more people are giving the gift of an experience.

According to Dr. Thomas Gilovich, a professor of psychology at Cornell University, new belongings will only be exciting at first, but then people adapt to them. If shoppers’ goals are to prolong those feelings of excitement, then personal experiences can be more effective than material goods.

When shopping for those who seemingly have everything, a gift of an experience may be a smarter choice, especially if the experience is something the recipient may never have done before or wouldn’t think to get for him or herself. For those who need a little inspiration, the following are some ways to treat loved ones to special experiences.

· Wine tasting: Find a local winery that offers tours and other wine-tasting experiences. Many areas of the country not particularly known as meccas for wine are still homes to local wineries. Treat a loved one to a day at a nearby winery or vineyard, bringing along some snacks, such as bread and cheese, to pair with the wines.

· Fitness class party: Enable fitness enthusiasts to try out new and trendy exercise classes by giving the gift of a class or membership. Consider tagging along to a class so the recipient doesn’t have to go it alone.

· Head in the clouds: Book a trip aboard a sight-seeing plane, balloon or helicopter for the high-flying thrill-seeker on your holiday shopping list. Contact a nearby airport or sightseeing company to find out what is available. Some tours circle national monuments and points of interests, providing more bang for the buck.

· Action and adventure: There’s adventure to be had on land as well. Racing fans can sit behind the wheel of a race car and lap the racetrack like their favorite NASCAR® stars. Those who prefer getting a little wet with their wild may enjoy a whitewater rafting excursion.

· The choice is theirs: If you’re stuck on what to get, let recipients choose their own experience. Companies like Cloud 9 Living enable individuals to choose their experiences from a wide variety of options.

Giving experiences can equal a year of entertaining and enjoyable memories for gift recipients.
 
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Travel Gifts for the Holiday Season

Vacations create memories that last a lifetime. But across North America, surveys indicate that fewer people are cashing in on all of their vacation days. Some may be too busy to travel as much as they would like, while others might not be able to afford to travel. A gift of travel removes much of the expense of traveling and can serve as a catalyst one needs to go and explore.

Escaping to warm climates can be just what the doctor ordered when winter weather sets in at home. Although that first snowfall can make for a picturesque holiday season, there’s a good chance that after several storms and navigating icy roads, a getaway to sunshine and sand can help beat winter blues. When gifting travel this year, consider these great places to travel in January and February.

· Anguilla: Anguilla is a British territory in the Eastern Caribbean, just east of the British and U.S. Virgin Islands. It’s known for its long sandy stretches of beach and pleasant winter temperatures, which average 83 F. There isn’t much hustle and bustle, so this island destination can be the ideal place for relaxation.

· Australia and New Zealand: January and February are summer months in the southern hemisphere. These vibrant countries offer everything from costal charm to remote plains.

· Costa Rica: An abundance of wildlife, unspoiled beaches and rain forests draw visitors to this Central American locale. Travelers can hike active volcanoes or surf warm turquoise waters. The “dry season” arrives in December along with moderate temperatures.

· Honolulu: The weather in Hawaii tends to be beautiful year-round, but February can be an especially good time to travel to this U.S. island chain. Travel & Leisure says that hotels often slash their rates by up to 40 percent in February. This makes it much more affordable to gift a stay in Honolulu.

· Orlando: While holiday crowds peak in November and December, visiting Orlando and its main attraction, Disney World, is much easier when the crowds thin out in January and February. The slower season means affordable hotel rates and shorter lines for attractions.

· Montreal: Those who don’t want to escape the snow but embrace it might find a vacation in Montreal a welcome diversion. This cultured city offers Old World charm plus modern amenities.

· Puerto Rico: American travelers can vacation in Puerto Rico without needing travel visas or passports. While all of Puerto Rico is a sight to be seen, the capital of San Juan has thriving arts and culture.

· St. Martin: Also known as St. Maarten, this paradise offers two different cultures for the price of one. The island shares French and Dutch territory status. Visitors who like to eat well and party into the morning often find St. Martin an ideal destination.

Gifting plane tickets, hotel reservations or upgraded meal plans can make winter vacations that much more enjoyable.