Category Archives: Christmas Traditions

Happy Poinsettia Day! How to Select and Care for a Poinsettia

This is a good time of year to pick out a Poinsettia for you or for a friend. Poinsettias are different, beautiful and affordable — and they don’t have any calories! 🙂 Sometimes, you can buy 3 for $10 on sale. Guys like them, too! Think about giving one as a colorful holiday surprise to anyone who needs a lift or as a way of saying thank you.

Here’s how to pick out a good one: the center little yellow-green nubs are the flowers (the red “petals” are actually leaves). These should be closed, they’ll open eventually. Skip a plant that has curling, yellow, or dead leaves.

Don’t let the plant get cold on the way home. Unfortunately, you have to take the pretty wrapping off the plant pot, as you don’t want the poinsettia to stand in water and get wet feet. If the soil feels dry to the touch you will need to water it. Take the plant to the sink and gently run water into the soil until it pours out of the drainage holes. Drain well. Place on a water proof plate and situate the plant near a sunny window away from direct heat and cool drafts. Check soil daily for dryness.

Poinsettias are not poisonous, but they’re also not cat food, so if you have pets at home, you may want to purchase the convincing-looking artificial ones.

Check out this video for more tips…

Why do we give presents on Christmas?

Many of our Christmas traditions are centuries old, others have only been around less than 200 years. Gift giving, as we know it today, wasn’t always part of Christmas.

Pagan Origins

It’s possible to trace the practice of giving gifts at Christmas time to early pagans. The midwinter festival was a time for feasting, drinking, performing skits and ritualistic begging. Continue reading

Origin of the Christmas Stocking

Do you know how the tradition of Christmas stockings began?

The Legend of Saint Nicholas

According to legend, St. Nicholas (a priest, then bishop, who was reputed to be generous to the poor) heard of a man who had three daughters but not enough money for their dowries.  Wishing to bestow an anonymous gift, St. Nicholas threw gold down the man’s chimney, which landed in the stockings of the daughters, washed and drying on the mantel.

For this reason, many people today still put a tangerine or orange in the toe of a Christmas stocking. It represents the lump of gold.

Saint Nicholas is the patron saint of pawnbrokers, as well as children. If you see a symbol of three golden balls on a pawn shop sign, you now know they represent the three lumps of gold the saint bestowed on the daughters of legend.

The dreaded lump of coal

How about the lump of coal? Well, you can imagine what a big deal it was to receive gifts in the old days. It didn’t happen every day. Children had a big incentive to behave themselves, so their benefactor would bring them a surprise on St. Nicholas Day. What happened if they didn’t? They knew they would receive sticks, switches (to symbolize a thrashing) salt or lumps of coal to make the stocking look as if something was in it, bu not contain any small toys or gifts. Sometimes, there was another, more frightening figure to bestow the presents or punishments on naughty children. Coal was commonly used in later centuries, as it was handy. Today, of course, coal is usually placed in the stocking as a gag gift.

Although I remember hanging one of my real socks on Christmas Eve, nowadays, it’s more common to see a stocking that is shaped like a Santa Claus boot, and some adults also put up stockings. The humble sock has transformed into a decorative piece that can cost $50 or more.

Does your family hang stockings on Christmas Eve? What are your traditions?

Free to view Christmas Rom Coms

Yeah, they’re formulaic. But fun! The cute clothes! The hard-working heroines! The cheeky girlfriend sidekicks! The dreamy guys! The over-the-top Christmas decorations! The warm and fuzzy romantic endings!

Check out these three Cool-Yule-tested favorites that you can watch for free online via TubiTV. (You don’t have to register, if you don’t want to…just go straight to the video.) The previews are below…

Holly’s Holiday (2013) (AKA “A Perfect Christmas”)

Holly is a hard-working advertising executive in Manhattan. One day, she bumps her head and the perfect man helps her to her feet…and sweeps her off her feet! But is he really all that perfect? And is Mr. Right waiting right under her nose? (P.S. “Grimm” fans will recognize Claire Coffee, the star of this movie!)


A Cinderella Christmas (2018)

Angie is a hard-working event planner who learns life isn’t always fair. But can a magical evening at a masked ball change her life forever? And will she stand up for herself and what she wants? Starring Emma Rigby. Ms. Rigby is an English actress. She is best known for her appearance in British TV soaps and various movie roles.


The Christmas Calendar (2017)

Emily inherits a bakery in a quaint small town and works hard to make it a success. When a handsome Frenchman moves into town, is he her biggest competition? Or her new Christmas romance? Starring Laura Bell Bundy. You might have seen this actress in “Hart of Dixie” or “Anger Management,” but did you know that she is also a country and western singer? Ms. Bundy gave birth to her first baby in 2019, so she is going to have a Merry baby Christmas!


Okay, here’s one more. This isn’t on TubiTV but you can find it on YouTube and Amazon. This is my favorite! It’s adorable! If you like cats and you like fire fighters, this is your Christmas rom com. Brandon Routh, the star of the movie, also played Superman in 2006. Kimberley Sustad has appeared in several Hallmark productions, as well as its podcast, Hallmarkies.

The Nine Lives of Christmas (2014)

A commitment-shy, bachelor fire fighter becomes attached to a stray cat…and a kind-hearted veterinary student who needs his help but isn’t ready for romance in her life…yet. Oh, and did I mention how both of them are very hard-working? 🙂 Will the cat help bring them together this Christmas?

What is Advent?

You may have heard of Advent, and you may have had an Advent calendar as a child. But do you know what Advent means?

Advent is a Christmas tradition and liturgical practice that marks the days of waiting before the birth of Jesus Christ.

Since early Christian times, it has taken place on the four Sundays before Christmas. The first Sunday of Advent is the first day of the Christmas season of religious observance and also the first day of the Christian liturgical year.

That day is today. Today is the first Sunday of Advent.

The last day of the Christmas celebration is Epiphany, in many traditions, which is January 6, and celebrates the day the Wise Men came to visit the baby Jesus.

You have heard of the 12 days of Christmas? Those are the 12 days between Christmas and Epiphany.

The Advent Candles and Wreath

Some families have an advent wreath at home. When they do, it’s traditional to gather reverently to light a candle on the evening of each of the four Sundays preceding Christmas. Candles also appear at Sunday services in the churches of many denominations. The candles are often placed in a wreath of greenery and represents God’s never-ending love.The wreath is a custom that comes from Germany, like the Christmas tree.

On the first Sunday you light one candle, the second Sunday, two candles, and so on.

While the traditional colors of Christmas are red and green, Advent candles are often purple (the first two and fourth Sundays) and pink (the third Sunday). The clergy’s vestments during Advent are also purple and rose on these days. But there are different colors and customs. Some candles are all red, all white or other colors.

Meanings of the Four Advent Candles

The candles have different meanings and tell, sequentially, the story of Christmas.

  • The first candle is called the “Prophet’s Candle” and represents hope. The prophets of the Old Testament waited in hope for the arrival of the prophesied Messiah. The first, second and fourth candles are often purple, but in some denominations, they are blue. Purple represents penitence (and is also used during Lent), while blue represents hope and expectation.
  • The second candle is “Bethlehem’s Candle.” The candle represents the faith that Jews held that a Messiah would be born in Bethlehem.
  • The third candle is the “Shepherd’s Candle.” It represents joy, the joy the shepherds had when the angels came to them to tell them that Jesus was born. This candle is pink. It is pink, because in liturgy, the color pink stands for joy. The joy is the anticipation of the birth of Jesus and the arrival of the Messiah. This service or Mass is also usually a joyful one.
  • The fourth candle the “Angel’s Candle.” It represents peace. The angels told that Jesus had come to bring peace to all people.
  • Sometimes, people or churches add a fifth candle, in the middle of the wreath and light in on Christmas Day. This one is usually white and is is called “Christ’s candle.” The candle represents the purity of Christ. It is also the color of celebration in the church, so vestments are white on Christmas and Easter.

Advent is a lovely, quiet and reverent tradition to add to your celebration of Christmas.

Cool Yule Picks for 31 Days of Holiday Fun in December

Photo by fotografierende on

So, the December calendar looks pretty…ah…full. What you see below is just a sample! Hopefully, you’ll find something to look forward to doing. Here are the Cool Yule picks for each day in December!

Sunday, December 1. Winter Bird Walk 2:30 p.m. – 3:30 p.m. Ellanor C. Lawrence Park, Chantilly. $6.

Monday, December 2. Church Street Holiday Stroll. Santa will arrive on his firetruck at the Freeman Store (131 Church Street, NE, Vienna) at 6:15. Tree lighting. 6 p.m – 8:30 p.m. Cool Yule Tip: The Freeman Store has unique gifts, candy and stocking stuffers for sale.

Tuesday, December 3. Holiday Extravaganza and 23rd Annual Norwegian Tree Lighting Ceremony. 6 p.m. – 10:30 p.m. Union Station, Washington DC. Cool Yule Tip: Look for the Yeti on the model train display! It’s really hard to find.

Wednesday, December 4. U.S. Capitol Tree Lighting, 5 p.m. West Lawn, U.S. Capitol, Washington, DC. Cool Yule Tip: Lighting the tree will be House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Thursday, December 5. She and Him (Zooey Deschanel) Christmas concert. 8 p.m. The Anthem, Washington, DC. $46 – $76. Cool Yule Tip: You’ll love their Christmas CD! Zooey is the love interest in the movie, “Elf.” Continue reading

Christmas Tree Lightings in November and December

Do you light up like a Christmas tree when they light up Christmas trees? Here’s an ahhh-some (and printable!) list made just for you.

Some of these tree lightings occur in November so I’m giving you advance notice. Most events include free entertainment, visits from Santa Claus and in some cases, toy collections. Click the links to learn more and plan your fun evening.

Friday, November 15, 6 p.m. Tree lighting at Holiday Light-Up, Fairfax Corner, Fairfax. Plus: horse carriage rides!

Friday, November 15, 6 p.m. Tree Lighting on the Plaza with Tommy McFly and musical entertainment. The Plaza, Tysons Corner Center, Vienna.

Saturday, November 23, 6 p.m. Tree Lighting Ceremony in Old Town Alexandria, City Hall on King Street and Market Street.

Friday, November 29, 6 p.m. Tree lighting and Sing-a-long at Fountain Square in Reston Town Center. While you’re there, visit the Hyatt Hotel lobby to see a real gingerbread village.

Monday, December 2, 6 p.m. Tree lighting in the Town of Vienna at The Church Street Holiday Stroll. Santa arrives by firetruck!

Tuesday, December 3, 6 p.m. Norwegian Christmas Tree Lighting and ceremony at Union Station, Washington, DC. Plus: the famous model railroad display on view all December!

Wednesday, December 4, 5 p.m. U.S. Capitol Tree Lighting, West Lawn, U.S. Capitol, Washington, DC. The tree will be lit by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and will be illuminated each evening in December until 11 p.m.

Thursday December 5, 5 p.m. The National Christmas Tree will be lit by the First Lady and will remain on view through December at the Ellipse (in back of the White House) in Washington, DC. The National Tree is surrounded by 50+ smaller trees for each U.S. state and territory.

Saturday, December 7, 5:30 p.m. Tree lighting at The Festival of Lights and Carols, Old Town Square, 10415 North Street, Fairfax City. Holiday Festival of Lights and Carols 2 pm. – 7 p.m. with live music, s’mores and hot cider.


Spread a little Yuletide Cheer

Mom making her purchases at The Christmas Mouse

Mom making her purchases at The Christmas Mouse

There’s this thing I do now during the holidays that I learned from my mom. I guarantee it will really make you feel Christmas-y.

Buy some small treat — you know like a Russell Stover mini box of chocolates, or a Godiva Bar. You don’t have to spend more than a couple of dollars, if that. And it doesn’t have to be candy — it can be like a $5 gift card for McDonalds or Starbucks or something. Even a candy cane or an extra Christmas card would do.

Just keep ’em stashed in your purse, or on you.

Then when you go out this time of year, like say to a restaurant, you leave that token along with the tip for the waiter. Or if you are Christmas shopping, you give it to the person who rings you up, even at the grocery store. At the drive-thru. For your pharmacist. For your bus driver.

Anywhere where people are nice to you or you think they could use a lift. The more random and anonymous, the more fun it seems to be.  You know, like your left hand doesn’t know what your right hand is doing.

By the way, if you have kids, this is something you want your kids to “catch” you doing from time to time. Generosity is learned and modeling is the best way to do it. And what better way to be generous, in any way you can, than during the holidays?

This isn’t to replace the conventional tipping you would do during the holidays, like for your barber or hairdresser, dog walker, babysitter, etc. This is a little extra you give to people who would not expect it.

Let me tell you: people act like you gave them a million dollars! You want see a tired person grin, just try it.

They’re so surprised and pleased, and they really appreciate it — all you have to do is give it to him or her with a quick and warm thank you, and of course, Merry Christmas. Strangers have hugged me!

It is so much fun and it will make you feel like Santa Claus!

Celebrate Epiphany with a Kings’ Cake

January 6 is Epiphany, or the twelfth day of Christmas.  It is traditionally celebrated as the final day of the Christmas season, is a feast celebration, and marks the day that the wise men brought gifts to the Christ Child.

In our household, as in many, Christmas greenery is left in place until Epiphany passes.

When I lived in France, it was traditional to eat a delicious Kings’ Cake on this day, called a “galette des rois.” It’s different from the Mardi Gras King Cake you might have seen, which is shaped like a ring and decorated with purple, gold, and green sugar, and beads.  The Mardi Gras cakes are also offered on Epiphany through Mardi Gras, or the Tuesday before Lent.

The French Kings’ cake is a flakier pastry concoction, however, more like a Pithviers than a layer cake, and typically has almond paste inside, and is generally eaten during Epiphany.   The cake concealed a small baby or other nativity figure, and was adorned with a gold paper crown.  If you got the token in your slice of cake, you got to wear the crown and would be king for the day.

It can be hard to find a real, French-style king’s cake in this area.  I saw one at La Madeleine Bakery and Cafe this week, however, for about $16.

Holiday Tipping

If you have not already distributed presents and Christmas gifts to people who work for you, Boxing Day (December 26) is  traditionally a time when servants were recognized with gifts of cash and is a perfect opportunity to do it.

Wondering how much to tip people who work for you?

The postman isn’t supposed to get cash. I wish I had known this, but you are not supposed to give postal workers cash, and they are not supposed to take it.  It’s against their policies.  They can accept presents with a value of less than $20.  My postman took the money I gave him, but I’ll remember that next year.

Don’t forget your regular baby sitter or nanny. You should give your sitter the equivalent of a night’s pay, plus a small token gift from your child. Your nanny should get a substantial cash bonus, equivalent to a week’s pay, plus a small wrapped gift.

Did you know you were supposed to tip your personal trainer? I didn’t.  If you have been working with a personal trainer for a year, regularly, tip them the equivalent of one training session.  I haven’t worked with a trainer for a while (can you tell? 😉  But I have given my workout instructors small gifts, like bubble bath sets.

Say thank you to your child’s teacher. I hope you don’t have to recognize as many people (16+) as I do around the holidays.  When you have a child with special needs, you spend a lot of time saying thank you in as many ways as you can.  But if your child just has one or a few teachers, I find that teachers appreciate consumable gifts, like fragrance or bath sets, or candles, since they get a lot of stuff from students.  Also music CDs have been a big hit.  Evidently, they already get plenty of ornaments and cookies.

Random tipping. My mom randomly tips people, and I think this is a nice custom around the holidays.  If someone gives you nice service in a fast-food restaurant, or elsewhere, and you slip them $5 with a quiet Merry Christmas, they will appreciate it.

There are lots of other guidelines for tipping, e.g. for dog-walkers and barbers, but I thought these would be the most common.

Oh, are you traveling for the holidays?  Bring lots of cash for tips!

  • Don’t forget, in a hotel, anyone who helps you with a bag, it’s about $1 to $2 a bag. The person who ultimately gets the tip is the person who takes the bags to your room.That can be confusing in a big hotel where it seems like your bags are shuttled between a lot of people.
  • Leave $3 to $5 a day for the maid.
  • If you call down for something, like an extra pillow, then tip $1 to $2 per item when it’s brought to the room.
  • You don’t have to add extra for room service — the gratuity is always there on the bill, isn’t it?  But they always seem to expect a little something, so be prepared with a couple of extra dollars.
  • Help from a concierge or doorman with recommendations or directions is about $5 (something I myself did not know until now).
  • You tip the valet who takes your car when he brings your car back, not when he takes your car, and $3 is acceptable.