Learn how to decorate with fresh greenery

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Happy Holly Day!

It’s wonderful to add the natural touches of holly, pinecones and greenery to your Christmas or Yuletide home decorations. Even before the birth of Christ, greenery was an important and symbolic part of winter festivities.

  • The Christmas colors of red and green come from the ancient use of holly in December celebrations. Evergreen holly is associated with everlasting life. Its red berries symbolize vitality and in Christian times became associated with the blood of Christ. The ancient Romans brought holly into their homes for the winter festival of Saturnalia. The prickly leaves were thought to protect the inhabitants of the house. Holly also figured in pagan rituals and celebrations.
  • Evergreen pine trees and pine cones have been associated with immortality or long life since pre-Christian times, as well as strength, as they stand up to winter storms. The ancient Romans associated them with the goddess of love, Venus and ancient Celts put them under their pillows as a fertiility charm.
  • MIstletoe is another evergreen plant that has been associated with Christmas. This is another plant that was used by the Romans during Saturnalia and it was also revered by the Norse peoples, who associated it with the goddess, Frigga. Ancient Celts believed mistletoe helped bring good luck, fertility and healthy crops.

Would you like to learn how to decorate with greenery? Peg from Merrifield Gardening Center shows you how to create gorgeous table decorations, swags and bows in this new video.


Non-Alcoholic Festive Drinks

Here are some of my favorite festive drinks — non-alcoholic so you can enjoy them anytime!

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The Mary Christmas In  a glass with ice, pour in mandarin orange seltzer. Top with cranberry juice cocktail. Sprinkle a pinch of ground cloves on top. I also add a twist of orange peel (when I eat an orange, I freeze the peel and store it in a freezer bag). This drink smells and tastes just like Christmas 🙂

The Holly Jolly This is nice to drink if  you are at an office party with an open bar and you don’t want to drink alcohol. Ask the bartender to make you a spritzer of plain seltzer topped with cranberry juice (plain seltzer with cranberry juice) and add a wedge of lime. It looks festive, it’s refreshing, it’s low calore and most importantly, non-alcoholic! Tip: If you are making this at home, try freezing some whole cranberries and fresh rosemary sprigs in some ice cubes for an extra festive touch.

Mom’s Mocktail My mom likes this. Mix cranberry cocktail with gingerale. Yes, they make this flavor. B ut the blend you make yourself is more tasty! To make this even more festive, rim the glass with green sugar.

The Rudolph In a glass with ice, mix coca cola with a little cherry juice from the maraschino cherry jar. Add a cherry. Bonus points if you rim the glass with cocoa or chocolate syrup.

The Clarice In a glass with ice, mix Sprite with a little cherry juice from the maraschino cherry jar. Add a cherry. Bonus points if you rim the glass with pink sugar!

Three Wise Men In a glass of ice, add a couple of splashes of tart cherry juice and an equal amount of pear juice (you can use the pear syrup from an individual cup of pears or pear nectar). Fill the rest of the glass with plain seltzer or mineral water, mix and add an anise star.

Origin of the Christmas Cookie

Today is Bake Cookies Day! Do you bake Christmas cookies? On the right are some of my humble (but tasty) samples.

Did you know that the tradition of Christmas cookies began in medieval Europe? The Dutch brought the custom of baking Christmas cookies to the United States in the early 1600s (Wikipedia).

Cookie cutters were imported to the U.S. from Germany around the turn of the century (early 1900s, that is). In those days, people hung treats and candy from Christmas trees to be removed and eaten by children, so the cookie cutters fashioned cookies to be hung that way.

Children started leaving cookies and milk for Santa Claus in the United States in the 1930s.

What kind of cookies will you be baking this Christmas? Tip: after cooling, store sugar cookies, chocolate chip cookies, spritz cookies, bar cookies and nut balls in a cookie tin with a tight-fitting lid.

Here is a poem that captures the essence of the tradition of baking Christmas cookies

Christmas Cookies by C. F. Kelly

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The mixer in the kitchen purrs;
it twists and tosses as it stirs
the cookie batter Mom will bake
and then let me help decorate.

The silver cutters wait in lines
to shape their own unique designs
when rolling pin has done its job
and flattened out the doughy blob.

She wipes her brow, adjusts her sleeves,
and starts to cut out holly leaves,
then picks the joyful rocking horse
and stars and bells and birds, of course.

The trees and Santas wait their turn,
while angels, next to snow men, yearn
to don their robes and join the crowd—
I’m sure they want to sing out loud.

The powdered sugar frosting spreads
with ease and forms the sticky beds
on which the colored sprinkles rest,
where red-hot buttons look their best.

And I would like to make it clear
that these creations disappear
because in spite of looking neat,
they’re really baked for us to eat.

© by C.F. Kelly

Support Wreaths Across America

You can make your Christmas even more meaningful this year by contributing or volunteering with Wreaths Across America.

Sponsor a “National Wreaths Across America” wreath to be placed at the grave of a departed member of the U.S. military services for $15 a wreath. November 1 – December 18. Volunteers are also needed to lay wreaths at the tombstones at Arlington National Cemetery and at the gravesites of veterans at 2,900 locations around the country on Saturday, Decemeber 18. Important to know:

Partridge in a Pear Tree Smoothie

I was reminded of the song, On the Twelth Day of Christmas, when I thought of the idea for this pear smoothie. You know, the patridge in a pear tree?

This drink will give you lots of energy. I like it as an afternoon pick-me-up. This makes one serving.

In a blender, add, in this order:

  • 6 ice cubes
  • 1/2 cup canned pears in juice, mashed (you can also use very ripe, fresh pears. I left the peel on mine)
  • A splash of the juice from the can (use water or apple juice if you are using fresh pears)
  • 1/2 cup of plain yogurt
  • 1/2 cap of almond extract
  • Dash of cinnamon
  • Pinch of ground cloves
  • If you have it and you like the taste, a pinch of cardamon
  • A squeeze of honey

Blend and enjoy! By the way, this beautiful Partridge in a Pear Tree ornament is made by Old World Christmas.

🎄Cool Watch Party: About a Boy 🎄

In another installment of Christmas movies that aren’t Christmas movie, I bring you About a Boy (2002), the Nick Hornby adaptation starring Hugh Grant and Toni Collette. Trigger alert: themes about human flaws, bullying, depression and suicide appear in this movie. Because the holidays for most us just aren’t like the ones in Hallmark movies. It’s free to watch on Peacock TV. 


In the season of giving, give the gift of life

It’s kind to volunteer and to give money to charities, especially this time of year. But have you considered giving the gift of life?

The American Red Cross and other organizations have a critical need for blood donors right now. You can donate whole blood, which takes 1/2 hour or you can donate platelets or plasma or other blood products, which takes 2 to 3 hours. Both are needed. “As a result of low blood donor turnout in recent months, the Red Cross is heading into the holidays with its lowest blood supply in more than a decade at this time of year. The ongoing effects of COVID-19 and a summer spike in delta variant cases significantly challenged the nation’s blood supply heading into the fall. The pandemic also resulted in fewer blood drives at schools and colleges, contributing to a 34% drop in new blood donors from last year − one of the largest year-to-year decreases and one that could threaten essential medical care for patients.” (Red Cross website).

Make an appointment to be a blood donor: American Red Cross Blood Services

Make an appointment to be a blood donor: INOVA Blood Services (Northern Virginia)

I have signed up to be a first time platelet donor! I will be donating on Monday, December 20. Remember, if you only have time to be a whole blood donor, that’s okay, too.

Watch a video about platelet donation:

How to Cope with a Blue Christmas

Do you have the Christmas blues? You are not alone. In fact, as much as I love Christmas and everything about it, I am having a Blue Christmas and I am really, really sad. Perhaps you have experienced

  • A recent breakup or divorce.
  • The passing of a loved one.
  • You lost a pet.
  • Separation from a loved one.
  • Dementia in a parent or grandparent.
  • Child custody issues.
  • An illness or watching a loved one suffer.
  • Empty nest: children moved away.
  • A personal setback or disappointment.
  • Family conflicts.
  • Seasonal depression (SAD) or other form of depression.
  • Memories of sad events that happened during Christmas.
  • Loneliness or isolation.
  • Anxiety about the pandemic, social injustice, the environment or world events.

Grief must be experienced and how long it takes to work through it is different for everyone. Well, I have an idea. This year, instead of fleeing from your feelings of sadness and pain associated with the holidays, let’s embrace them and make it a true Blue Christmas.

At least, just for today, or just for December 21st, which is the official Blue Christmas Day, accept that this is part of you. The idea behind fully experiencing my grief was suggested to me in grief therapy. It is evidently better to acknowledge and experience your feelings than to repress them. We may even celebrate our capacity to grieve, because if we experience pain and loss, it is a testament to our abilty to love and care.

Here are some ideas for a meaningful Blue Christmas

(1) Atttend the Washington National Cathedral service tonight. There will be a Blue Christmas service at 7 p.m. ET for people who are experiencing grief or loss this Christmas season. The service will be broadcast online on YouTube and you may also attend in person in Washington, DC. If needed, you may arrange in advance to speak with a chaplain for spiritual support by pre-registering.

If you can’t go, you can view the entire Blue Christmas service from last year on YouTube.

(2) Wear blue tonight and/or on December 21st, which is Blue Christmas Day.

(3) Does misery love company? Maybe! if you have some grieving friends or family members, you could have a Blue Christmas dinner or get together.

(4) Learn about the experience of grief. This counselor really understands what it means to experience grief around the holidays. I learned a lot from this video.

(5) Decorate a mini tree or wreath with blue and silver decorations. Or string up some blue lights. You can even get a blue poinsettia from Michael’s!

(6) Hang up a blue Christmas stocking and fill it with self-care items for yourself.

(7) Buy a blue spiral notebook or journal. Light a blue candle  and write down your feelings as specifically as you can, such as “I am feeling defeated because ________.” “I am feeling lonely.” “I am so disappointed about __________.” Or write a letter to the person or thing you lost or miss in your journal and how much you love them. (You need never send this).

(8) Write a letter in blue ink to yourself in your journal to be read in a year about how you feel today and your hopes for your healing a year from now.

(9) Buy yourself a pretty blue Christmas card and display it.

(10) Listen to Elvis sing Blue Christmas.

(11) Stock up on tissues and allow yourself to cry as much as you need to. Need some privacy? Drive your car to an empty church parking lot and play some Christmas music. Believe me, you will cry. Still not crying? Emotionally congested? Watch Judy Garland sing Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, which has got to be one of the saddest Christmas songs (among so many sad Christmas songs!)

(12) Sometimes the people closest to you don’t truly understand what you are going through, or you don’t want to bum them out. Anonymous help is available with a text. Send a text to 741 741. It is excellent, free support when you need it. I have used it and it helped me.

(13) You may feel that your mood has made you feel more tired or that it takes longer to do things than it used to. You may have difficulty sleeping or concentrating. Try to reduce your work demands and build in extra time for rest and relaxation in your schedule. You need this for healing.

(14) Yoga is highly effective for grief. Here is a yoga workout for grief from Adrienne.

In this video, I talk about journaling about your grief and setting aside time to face it.

I hope you found this supportive in your time of grief, loss or pain. Take care.

Happy Cocoa Day! Gourmet Cocoa Ideas…

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Happy Cocoa Day!

Health benefits of hot chocolate or cocoa include antioxidants that help prevent heart disease and stroke. And it gives you such a lift on a cold day!

There are plenty of ways to make a cup of cocoa special. Try these at breakfast with your family, set up a cocoa fixings bar at work or your holiday party, or just make a special cup for you or someone you love.

Try adding…

  • Coffee
  • Whipped cream
  • A drizzle of Hershey’s chocolate syrup or caramel syrup on the whipped cream
  • Some red or green sugar on top of the whipped cream
  • Some sprinkles on top of the whipped cream
  • Marshmallows — which now come in a variety of flavors
  • A sprinkle of cinnamon
  • A pinch of chili powder
  • A twist of orange peel
  • A splash of egg nog
  • Any flavored creamer, such as hazelnut or pumpkin spice
  • A Stroop waffle
  • A candy cane stirrer (I like Spangler’s or Bob’s candy canes best)
  • A little Kahlua, Amaretto, Grand Marnier or Bailey’s Irish cream

Which way is your favorite?

Why we have poinsettias at Christmas

The tradition of the poinsettia as a Christmas flower goes back to the 17th century when Franciscan friars in Mexico used the brilliant flower, in bloom at Christmas, in nativity processions. Dr. Joel Poinsett, the first U.S. ambassador to Mexico and also a botanist, brought a specimen of the wild weed to the United States in 1825 and the plant was named after him. The plant was cultivated into the beauty we enjoy today.

Listen to the children’s story, The Legend of the Poinsettia, retold and illustrated by Tomie de Paola.