Six Home Hunting Tips for 1st Time Buyers

Whether you’re looking for a Western New York home right now or plan to be on the hunt some time this year, don’t just stumble into a house hunt unprepared. While the process is exciting, there might be a few things you want to make sure you have on hand during the search so you can hunt for the home of your dreams smarter.

1. A trusted friend

Even if you’re searching with an agent (like me), you might still want to enlist a friend (preferably someone who’s been through the home buying process before) to get sage advice from. And if they know you, your personality and your style, they might help you see clearly when you’re being blinded by price or other charming home elements.

2. Your list of priorities and a checklist to run down

That assembly of dream home elements that are floating around in your head? Write them down as a list instead, organized by priority of what you and your family need in a home. It’ll help you stay focused when you run into neat design elements in houses that while are great to look at, aren’t what you need or even necessarily want. Also consider taking a physical list with you of the things you should look for when looking at homes — like the roof, plumbing, neighborhood — in case you get excited and forget all about it when you see big windows and real wood flooring.

3. A notepad and pencil

You’ll want it with you to take notes and maybe even sketch floor plans. Don’t trust your memory after looking at lots of properties; you might mix them up. And it’ll be helpful to have when you do any second, third or more viewings.

4. A camera

Yes, these days real estate listings come with plenty of pretty photos to flip through, but bring your own camera (or use your phone)  to record the things that caught your eye — from beautiful design elements to flaws that you want to remember. It’ll be helpful to take notes alongside the images so you have references to go back through.

5. Comfortable, easy-to-slip off shoes

House hunting is physical work, and you’ll want comfortable shoes you can walk all over with. But since some open houses might require you to take your shoes off before viewing the home, maybe leave those lace-up, knee-high boots at home so you don’t get frustrated every time you want to see the inside of a property.

6. Furniture measurements and a tape measure

For those with large or unusual furniture pieces they know they’ll be moving with and those looking at particularly tiny homes for sale, you might consider bringing a few important furniture measurements to see how your style and furnishings might fit into the homes you’re looking to buy. This shouldn’t be the reason you pass on a great deal or location, but it could factor into the decision making process.

Happy House Hunting Home Buyers in Western New York!


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19 Indoor Activities with Kids

Winter has hit hard here in Western New York and the kids are probably saying “We are bored” Here are just some general ideas to keep you and the kids from going stir crazy this winter.

1. Camp out inside

Susan G. and her kids, from Stratford, CT, set up tents and sleeping bags in the living room. They make hot dogs, popcorn and s’mores and watch a movie or listen to their favorite music. “Instead of going upstairs for bed, the kids just camp out. The next morning, it’s pancakes for breakfast served tentside!”

2. Serve up a living-room BBQ

Relive the warm and lazy days of summer by cooking up a batch of favorite summer foods usually done on the grill. Try burgers, potato salad, lemonade/iced tea and more. Enjoy everything together while dining on a blanket spread out on the floor.

3. Snuggle up

Daphne R., from Portland, OR, explains how her family will “take advantage of the cozy factor and snuggle up with lap robes…reading good books in front of the fire.” Take the opportunity to read a book out loud with the kids taking turns too!

Andrea has five children and tells us they gather together and take turns reading chapters from their favorite books. They also play board games and sing songs. “Winter is a wonderful time for togetherness. I love it!!” she says.

4. Puzzle Time

Kim T., from Topeka, KS, has her family of six (ages six to fourteen) do a puzzle together, usually 500 to 1,000 pieces. “We don’t try to do it all in one night. We leave it up for several days and work on it little by little. It’s amazing how into the puzzle the kids will become, even over watching TV.”

5. Game Day

Turn off the TV and video games and get together for an old-fashioned game night. Let the kids take turns picking a game for the whole family to play, or resurrect half-forgotten (or never-learned!) card or board games.

6. Try a no-repeats weekend

Make a game of trying something new every weekend, with no repeats! Eat new foods, learn something new as a family or go places you’ve never been before.

7. Try a game of sock volleyball

Betsy M. and her boys, from Westmoreland, OH, clear off the family-room floor and blow up a couple of balloons for “sock volleyball.” They mark off the court and, wearing only their socks or playing in bare feet, “play volleyball using our feet instead of our arms….It keeps us laughing hysterically.”

Feel the rhythm.

Put on some great music and dance, dance, dance. You’ll have a great time introducing the kids to your favorite moves, and they’ll be able to show you what they’re into now. You could even take the opportunity to learn some partner dancing (waltz or mambo, anyone?) together!

8. Family Time

Cheryl has “Family Time” once a month. “We all gather at my house to have a quick meal and then we play games like bingo.” She also gets inexpensive prizes from the dollar store to add to the fun! It doesn’t really matter what you do just that you do it as a family.

9. Relive old memories

Break out the photo albums! Chrissy V., from Greensboro, NC, plays family videos and she and her family “are all entertained for hours!” They especially love “the older videos of when the kids were really small. They can’t get enough of seeing themselves.”

10. Host a film festival 

Introduce your kids to old movie greats. Or take turns choosing a genre (comedy, scary movies or adventure). You can extend the theme by cooking meals that fit the films. What could be more fun than eating spaghetti and meatballs as you watch Lady and the Tramp during your “Doggone Great Dog Movies” weekend?

11. Pamper and primp

Tamera finds that her two little girls, ages three and four, are easily bored when they’re stuck in the house. “We have a few things we do…but a fun one is Beauty Parlor Day! We style hair, paint nails, put on dress-up clothes, and have an indoor picnic on the floor.”

12. Let’s Get Cookin’

Jennifer E., from Oradell, NJ, bakes with her three children (ages ten, seven and two) whenever it’s cold or nasty outside. She gives each of them a job so everyone can help in his or her own way. “Cookies, cakes or brownies…we always have so much fun!”

13. Learn more about your family

Margaret Z., from Westland, MI, has “Scrapbook Weekends” in the winter months for grown-ups and kids. She says they learn a lot about their family history, especially from older family members, and the kids can tell stories using their latest vacation pictures. If you do this, consider videotaping it for a visual record of your family’s history.

14. Put on a play

Work together to make up a story, create costumes and design a set with things you have at hand. Then sit back on the sofa and get ready to applaud the entrances and exits that will be treasured memories for years to come. Videotape this too!

15. Craft it

Annie G., from Spencer, IA, taught her daughter how to crochet last year. “We now make afghans out of all the leftover yarn from other projects and donate them to the women’s shelter.”

16. Volunteer

Linda K., from Nyack, NY, says her family volunteers at a soup kitchen once a month and the kids serve meals. “It feels good to know you are helping someone who has no place to go and who really appreciates the hot meal on a cold day!”

17. Donate

Roseanne K., from Warminster, PA, sometimes gets her husband and kids to sort through their clothes and toys when the weather is bad. They then donate whatever they can to a local charity-run thrift shop.

Sometimes you’ve just gotta get outdoors—even when it’s cold. Here are a couple of fun ideas to help everyone focus on something besides the weather.

18. Make snow paintings

Brenda G., from Sheridan, IN, tells us her daughters are older now, but they used to play inventively outside on snow days. “I would save squeeze bottles and fill them with water colored with food coloring. We would take them outside and draw pictures on the snow.”

19. Go on a photo scavenger hunt

If it’s not too cold, hand out some disposable cameras, assign a topic and roam the neighborhood. For example, if the subject is lions, you may be surprised at the number of door knockers, statues or team mascots that fit the bill.

Hope you are staying warm and now you have some great ideas to bet those winter blues.


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Wild About You at Buffalo Zoo

You and your special someone are invited to celebrate Valentine’s Day (2/14/15) at the Buffalo Zoo. Enjoy a candlelit dinner catered by Frontier Catering and be serenaded by a string duet, while surrounded by our exotic animal collection. For $150 per couple, you will enjoy a three-course dinner for two, wine, entertainment, a special gift and personal visits from Zoo animals. Seating is limited. 

You must be 21 or older to attend.

Dinner Includes:

*Tossed house salad

*Hand sliced roasted tenderloin of beef, topped with a homemade bordelaise sauce


*Chicken supreme, topped with a roasted red pepper pesto cream sauce

*Fresh Yukon Gold mashed potatoes

*Honey Dijon baby carrots

*Fresh baked artisan breads

*Creamsicle cake

CLICK HERE to purchase tickets.

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Mortgage Rates Start 2015 at Long Term Lows

Mortgage rates improved significantly to kick off the new year.  The gains are a combination of actual improvement in bond markets and lenders lowering their guard from conservative holiday pricing strategies.  In other words, lenders had been holding back a bit during the holidays.  That’s normal and we’d discussed it as a factor.  And now, not only are those conservative strategies fading, but underlying bond markets (which drive mortgage rates) are improving to boot.

The positive double-whammy brings rates in line with–or lower than–anything else in the past 19 months.  The most prevalently-quoted conforming 30yr fixed rate for top tier borrowers is now easily 3.875% and an increasing number of lenders are at 3.75%.

All that having been said, it’s important to keep in mind that markets aren’t fully back up and running in terms of participation and volume.  While the holidays are behind us, many market participants won’t be back in the office until next week.  We’ll have to wait until then to see if today’s strength is the start of a new trend.
Loan Originator Perspective

“Happy New Year!!! Prior to the Christmas break, i advised readers to float through the volatility that year end brings and look to lock once 2015 is here. If you followed that advice, you will be happy when you speak to your loan officer today. Rate sheets this morning are about as good as i have seen in over a year. I rarely advise to lock on a Friday, but if you are within 15 days of closing, i would strongly consider locking. If you choose to lock today, i would wait until later in the day to allow lenders time to pass along the morning gains. As of noon eastern, a handful of lenders have already repriced for the better.” -Victor Burek, Open Mortgage

“The first day of 2015 has been kind to mortgage rates as we continue to incrementally improve on the best pricing we’ve seen in over a year and a half. Is this a sign of things to come in the 1st quarter of the year? Perhaps, but if I haven’t locked my rate yet and my closing is coming in the next few weeks I would be inclined to protect what’s in front of me now and lock. If my closing is much further out, floating may be safe but be wary of the market and the many landmines that have a tendency to surprise us from time to time and stay tuned in.” -Hugh W. Page, Mortgage Banker, Seacoast Bank

“Rates improved again, on the first trading day of 2015 as manufacturing data pointed to slowing US growth. We’re near our best pricing since May, 2013, and floating borrowers might want to lock up the gains. The long term trend still points downward, and those who missed the refi boat when rates rose quickly in 2013 may want to call their favorite originator to check pricing. Great time to be a borrower!” -Ted Rood, Senior Loan Originator, MB Financial Bank
Today’s Best-Execution Rates

30YR FIXED - 3.75 – 3.875

FHA/VA – 3.25

15 YEAR FIXED -  3.125

5 YEAR ARMS -  3.0 – 3.50% depending on the lender
Ongoing Lock/Float Considerations

The hallmark of 2014 was a narrow range in rates.  Too many market participants bet on rates going higher in 2014, and markets punished that imbalance with a paradoxical move lower.  This continues to serve as a reminder that prevailing beliefs about where rates will go won’t necessarily be correct simply because they’re the most prevalent.

European bond yields trended constantly lower in 2014, thus playing a prominent role in keeping US rates lower than they otherwise might be.  Many feel that Europe will continue to slide until their central bank engages in US-style quantitative easing.  Some see this happening in early 2015.  In any event, we’re looking for a turn in Europe, first and foremost, before worrying about the longer-term trend in bond markets being at serious risk of reversing.

Much of 2014 could be considered “sideways to slightly lower” in terms of mortgage rates.  All things considered, it actually has been a remarkably gentle drift lower.  Things became less gentle in mid October when rates briefly broke into the high 3′s.  They came back for a more gradual, determined push into the 3′s in December.  Some of the late-year strength was chalked up to an epic slump in oil prices.  This drags inflation expectations lower, which is a net-positive for interest rates, but it could be debated as to whether oil prices were a chicken or an egg in the global growth story.

As always, please keep in mind that the rates discussed generally refer to what we’ve termed ’best-execution’ (that is, the most frequently quoted, conforming, 30yr fixed rate for top tier borrowers, based not only on the outright price, but also ‘bang-for-the-buck.’  Generally speaking, our best-execution rate tends to connote no origination or discount points–though this can vary–and tends to predict Freddie Mac’s weekly survey with high accuracy.  It’s safe to assume that our best-ex rate is the more timely and accurate of the two due to Freddie’s once-a-week polling method).

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Upcoming Williamsville Events

Mark your calendars.  The Village of Williamsville will host their Winterfest on Feb. 8 in Glen Park.



















The annual Mad Hatter gala is to raise funds for the Williamsville Public Library. The library is supported by local community fundraising. Click here for more information on how you can help keep this wonderful community asset open as part of our walkable Main Street!

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5 Simple Tips to Avoid Frozen Pipes

Burr!!! It’s Cold Outside. Here are some Tips to prevent frozen pipes in your Western New York Home.

• Keep garage doors closed if there are water supply lines in the garage.
• Open kitchen and bathroom cabinet doors to allow warmer air to circulate around the plumbing. Be sure to move any harmful cleaners and household chemicals up out of the reach of children.
• When the weather is very cold outside, let the cold water drip from the faucet served by exposed pipes. Running water through the pipe – even at a trickle – helps prevent pipes from freezing.
• Keep the thermostat set to the same temperature both during the day and at night. By temporarily suspending the use of lower nighttime temperatures, you may incur a higher heating bill, but you can prevent a much more costly repair job if pipes freeze and burst.
• If you will be going away during cold weather, leave the heat on in your home, set to a temperature no lower than 55° F.

Stay Warm Western New York!

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Buffalo On Tap is back bigger and better this year with two sampling sessions on Saturday, January 17th at the Buffalo Niagara Convention Center. Choose to attend from 1PM to 4PM (VIP Hoppy Hour Starts at 12PM) or 6PM to 9PM to sample over 150 releases from some of America’s best craft breweries. Plus hang out in an atmosphere filled with live music, delicious food available for purchase, and great vendors.

*Participants must be at least 21 years of age to attend*




  • 3 Hours of Beer Sampling (1PM – 4PM OR 6PM – 9PM)
  • Souvenir Sampling Glass
  • Live Music Entertainment




  • 4 Hours of Beer Sampling (12PM – 4PM)
  • Access to Taste Rare Beers
  • Souvenir Sampling Glass
  • Live Music Entertainment


Buffalo Niagara Convention Center
153 Franklin Street
Buffalo, NY 14202


We recommend arriving 30 minutes prior to the event as ID checks must be performed. In order to be admitted to the event you must have your printed paper ticket in hand or a digital ticket on your mobile device. Additional event information can be found in our FAQ section.

Read More: Buffalo On Tap Craft Beer Festival – Buffalo, NY |

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2015 Brings New Internet Concerns

The Internet of Everything heralds a new kind of world for everyone. But it also requires a new way of thinking about IT security.

Don’t panic just yet: but in a few years, your fridge could become a target for cybercriminals. As the number of devices in the Internet of Everything grows, so does the likelihood that connecting these devices and networking them together could increase the number and type of attack vectors we will see in the future. And that means we need to think differently about IT security and the levels of protection needed for this new, connected world. Protecting all of IoE interactions is crucial in enabling people and organizations to benefit from these advances.

The IoE builds on the foundation of the Internet of Things, or IoT. By comparison, the IoT refers to the networked connection of physical objects (doesn’t include the “people” and “process” components of IoE). IoT is a single technology transition, while IoE is a superset that includes IoT.

Dima Tokar, co-founder and chief technology officer at MachNation, an Internet of Things (IoT) consultancy, says: “IoT brings efficiency to processes and infrastructure while introducing new technologies that bear security risks which need to be considered and addressed.”

He adds: “IoT devices create new attack vectors for hackers, which can be exploited to get access to sensor data and sensitive personal data. Hackers can also take advantage of poorly secured IoT solutions to interfere with processes and critical infrastructure.”

Thankfully, right now the level of risk from IoT-connected devices is largely a matter of conjecture, according toProfessor Rolf H Weber, an IoT expert who is chair for International Business Law at the Faculty of Law in theUniversity of Zurich, Switzerland.

“In theory the risk is substantial, but so far I have not yet seen examples of IoT technologies being compromised,” he says. “However, this could be since the IoT only has a limited practical volume for the time being, which makes it less attractive for hackers.”

What is clear, though, is that the advent of the IoT and the Internet of Everything will demand a re-think on security strategies.

According to the Cisco 2014 Midyear Security Report: “To some, it might seem far-fetched to think something as mundane as a wearable device for tracking fitness or a digital video recorder could pose a significant security risk or would be of any interest to a hacker.

“But as cars and other nontraditional computing devices start to resemble standard computing platforms more and more, they could be vulnerable to the same threats that target traditional computing devices.”

One of the security challenges with the IoT is that hackers could potentially gather much more personal data than at present.

The Cisco report warns: “When adversaries reach a point where they can begin correlating information from different sources … they will be able to gain a much bigger picture about a user than if they were looking at information from only one device, system, or application.”

How to deal with this growing potential threat? Experts say security may need to be built into the fabric of the IoT in an integrated way. Piecemeal or silo-based systems won’t do.

Organizations have a wide range of disparate technologies and processes to protect their information technology (IT) and operational technology (OT) networks, as well as their physical spaces. The combined IT and OT networks are evolving to become IoT networks, equally affected by the wealth of devices and increased attack surface the IoT brings. Decision makers in enterprises need to shift their vision of security to recognize that since every aspect of the network is now working together, cybersecurity and physical security solutions must also work together with a coordinated focus on threats.

Tokar says: “The security risks of an IoT solution are a combination of existing risks from each component of the value chain, as well as new risks introduced by the solution as a whole.”

Hence, he advises: “A secure IoT solution must not only rely on security best practices for each component used in the solution but also take a holistic pass at security end-to-end.”

Research from the SANS Institute predicts the biggest challenge for IoT security could be patch management, implying that software updates and the like may increasingly need to be delivered in a fully automated way via the network.

The fear that IoT devices could spread malware to companies, or be subject to denial-of-service attacks, were concerns voiced by 26 percent and 13 percent of people surveyed by the SANS Institute.

About half of respondents thought devices might pose a risk by virtue of being connected to the Internet. Almost a quarter felt the command and control channel to the device could be an attack risk, while 10.7 percent cited the device’s OS.

But the research also highlights how the IT community has got IoT security in its sights. About half of respondents said they were either completely prepared for it or could cope with minor modifications to their existing setups.

“Security professionals are already dealing with the first several waves of Internet-connected things and have begun to plan for the next wave of more diverse, more complex devices,” says the Institute’s report.

However, it adds: “The basic critical security controls . . . will face new barriers to success if manufacturers don’t increase their level of attention to security and if enterprise security processes and controls don’t evolve.”

Weber agrees that infrastructure and service providers may need to improve security measures. “Furthermore, data protection rules in cross-border data delivery must be strengthened,” he says.

MachNation’s Tokar concludes: “The best IoT solutions have tight end-to-end security. This includes securing the entire IoT value chain, from endpoint devices to networking infrastructure, applications, platforms, and connectivity.”

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A History of the New Year

The celebration of the New Year on January 1st is a relatively new phenomenon. The earliest recording of a New Year celebration is believed to have been in Mesopotamia, c. 2000 B.C. and was celebrated around the time of the vernal equinox, in mid-March. A variety of other dates tied to the seasons were also used by various ancient cultures. The Egyptians, Phoenicians, and Persians began their new year with the fall equinox, and the Greeks celebrated it on the winter solstice.

Early Roman Calendar: March 1st Rings in the New Year

The early Roman calendar designated March 1 as the New Year. The calendar had just ten months, beginning with March. That the New Year once began with the month of March is still reflected in some of the names of the months. September through December, our ninth through twelfth months, were originally positioned as the seventh through tenth months (septem is Latin for “seven,” octo is “eight,” novem is “nine,” and decem is “ten.”

January Joins the Calendar

The first time the new year was celebrated on January 1st was in Rome in 153 B.C. (In fact, the month of January did not even exist until around 700 B.C., when the second king of Rome, Numa Pontilius, added the months of January and February.) The new year was moved from March to January because that was the beginning of the civil year, the month that the two newly elected Roman consuls—the highest officials in the Roman republic—began their one-year tenure. But this new year date was not always strictly and widely observed, and the new year was still sometimes celebrated on March 1.

Julian Calendar: January 1st Officially Instituted as the New Year

In 46 B.C. Julius Caesar introduced a new, solar-based calendar that was a vast improvement on the ancient Roman calendar, which was a lunar system that had become wildly inaccurate over the years. The Julian calendar decreed that the new year would occur with January 1, and within the Roman world, January 1 became the consistently observed start of the new year.

Middle Ages: January 1st Abolished

In medieval Europe, however, the celebrations accompanying the new year were considered pagan and unchristian like, and in 567 the Council of Tours abolished January 1 as the beginning of the year. At various times and in various places throughout medieval Christian Europe, the new year was celebrated on Dec. 25, the birth of Jesus; March 1; March 25, the Feast of the Annunciation; and Easter.

Gregorian Calendar: January 1st Restored

In 1582, the Gregorian calendar reform restored January 1 as new year’s day. Although most Catholic countries adopted the Gregorian calendar almost immediately, it was only gradually adopted among Protestant countries. The British, for example, did not adopt the reformed calendar until 1752. Until then, the British Empire —and their American colonies— still celebrated the New Year in March.

For more New Year’s features see New Year’s Traditions and Saying “Happy New Year!” Around the World.

Read more: A History of the New Year |

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The Holidays Around the World

Christmas as we know it today is a Victorian invention of the 1860s. Probably the most celebrated holiday in the world, our modern Christmas is a product of hundreds of years of both secular and religious traditions from around the globe. Discover the origins of Christmas traditions from around the world, like the Yule log, caroling and how Christmas is celebrated “Down Under.”


Most people in Scandinavian countries honor St. Lucia (also known as St. Lucy) each year on December 13. The celebration of St. Lucia Day began in Sweden, but had spread to Denmark and Finland by the mid-19th century.

Did You Know?

Poinsettia plants are named after Joel R. Poinsett, an American minister to Mexico, who brought the red-and-green plant from Mexico to America in 1828.

In these countries, the holiday is considered the beginning of the Christmas season and, as such, is sometimes referred to as “little Yule.” Traditionally, the oldest daughter in each family rises early and wakes each of her family members, dressed in a long, white gown with a red sash, and wearing a crown made of twigs with nine lighted candles. For the day, she is called “Lussi” or “Lussibruden (Lucy bride).” The family then eats breakfast in a room lighted with candles.

Any shooting or fishing done on St. Lucia Day was done by torchlight, and people brightly illuminated their homes. At night, men, women, and children would carry torches in a parade. The night would end when everyone threw their torches onto a large pile of straw, creating a huge bonfire. In Finland today, one girl is chosen to serve as the national Lucia and she is honored in a parade in which she is surrounded by torchbearers.

Light is a main theme of St. Lucia Day, as her name, which is derived from the Latin word lux, means light. Her feast day is celebrated near the shortest day of the year, when the sun’s light again begins to strengthen. Lucia lived in Syracuse during the fourth century when persecution of Christians was common. Unfortunately, most of her story has been lost over the years. According to one common legend, Lucia lost her eyes while being tortured by a Diocletian for her Christian beliefs. Others say she may have plucked her own eyes out to protest the poor treatment of Christians. Lucia is the patron saint of the blind.


Many Finns visit the sauna on Christmas Eve. Families gather and listen to the national “Peace of Christmas” radio broadcast. It is customary to visit the gravesites of departed family members.


Norway is the birthplace of the Yule log. The ancient Norse used the Yule log in their celebration of the return of the sun at winter solstice. “Yule” came from the Norse word hweol, meaning wheel. The Norse believed that the sun was a great wheel of fire that rolled towards and then away from the earth. Ever wonder why the family fireplace is such a central part of the typical Christmas scene? This tradition dates back to the Norse Yule log. It is probably also responsible for the popularity of log-shaped cheese, cakes, and desserts during the holidays.


Decorating evergreen trees had always been a part of the German winter solstice tradition. The first “Christmas trees” explicitly decorated and named after the Christian holiday, appeared in Strasbourg, in Alsace in the beginning of the 17th century. After 1750, Christmas trees began showing up in other parts of Germany, and even more so after 1771, when Johann Wolfgang von Goethe visited Strasbourg and promptly included a Christmas tree is his novel, The Suffering of Young Werther. In the 1820s, the first German immigrants decorated Christmas trees in Pennsylvania. After Germany’s Prince Albert married Queen Victoria, he introduced the Christmas tree tradition to England. In 1848, the first American newspaper carried a picture of a Christmas tree and the custom spread to nearly every home in just a few years.


In 1828, the American minister to Mexico, Joel R. Poinsett, brought a red-and-green plant from Mexico to America. As its coloring seemed perfect for the new holiday, the plants, which were called poinsettias after Poinsett, began appearing in greenhouses as early as 1830. In 1870, New York stores began to sell them at Christmas. By 1900, they were a universal symbol of the holiday.

In Mexico, paper mache sculptures called pinatas are filled with candy and coins and hung from the ceiling. Children then take turns hitting the pinata until it breaks, sending a shower of treats to the floor. Children race to gather as much of of the loot as they can.


An Englishman named John Calcott Horsley helped to popularize the tradition of sending Christmas greeting cards when he began producing small cards featuring festive scenes and a pre-written holiday greeting in the late 1830s. Newly efficient post offices in England and the United States made the cards nearly overnight sensations. At about the same time, similar cards were being made by R.H. Pease, the first American card maker, in Albany, New York, and Louis Prang, a German who immigrated to America in 1850.

Celtic and Teutonic peoples had long considered mistletoe to have magic powers. It was said to have the ability to heal wounds and increase fertility. Celts hung mistletoe in their homes in order to bring themselves good luck and ward off evil spirits. During holidays in the Victorian era, the English would hang sprigs of mistletoe from ceilings and in doorways. If someone was found standing under the mistletoe, they would be kissed by someone else in the room, behavior not usually demonstrated in Victorian society.

Plum pudding is an English dish dating back to the Middle Ages. Suet, flour, sugar, raisins, nuts, and spices are tied loosely in cloth and boiled until the ingredients are “plum,” meaning they have enlarged enough to fill the cloth. It is then unwrapped, sliced like cake, and topped with cream.

Caroling also began in England. Wandering musicians would travel from town to town visiting castles and homes of the rich. In return for their performance, the musicians hoped to receive a hot meal or money.

In the United States and England, children hang stockings on their bedpost or near a fireplace on Christmas Eve, hoping that it will be filled with treats while they sleep. In Scandinavia, similar-minded children leave their shoes on the hearth. This tradition can be traced to legends about Saint Nicholas. One legend tells of three poor sisters who could not marry because they had no money for a dowry. To save them from being sold by their father, St. Nick left each of the three sisters gifts of gold coins. One went down the chimney and landed in a pair of shoes that had been left on the hearth. Another went into a window and into a pair of stockings left hanging by the fire to dry.


In France, Christmas is called Noel. This comes from the French phrase les bonnes nouvelles, which means “the good news” and refers to the gospel.

In southern France, some people burn a log in their homes from Christmas Eve until New Year’s Day. This stems from an ancient tradition in which farmers would use part of the log to ensure good luck for the next year’s harvest.


Italians call Chrismas Il Natale, meaning “the birthday.”


In Australia, the holiday comes in the middle of summer and it’s not unusual for some parts of Australia to hit 100 degrees Farenheit on Christmas day.

During the warm and sunny Australian Christmas season, beach time and outdoor barbecues are common. Traditional Christmas day celebrations include family gatherings, exchanging gifts and either a hot meal with ham, turkey, pork or seafood or barbeques.


Ukrainians prepare a traditional twelve-course meal. A family’s youngest child watches through the window for the evening star to appear, a signal that the feast can begin.


Most Canadian Christmas traditions are very similar to those practiced in the United States. In the far north of the country, the Eskimos celebrate a winter festival called sinck tuck, which features parties with dancing and the exchanging of gifts.


In Greece, many people believe in kallikantzeri, goblins that appear to cause mischief during the 12 days of Christmas. Gifts are usually exchanged on January 1, St. Basil’s Day.


A manger scene is the primary decoration in most southern European, Central American, and South American nations. St. Francis of Assisi created the first living nativity in 1224 to help explain the birth of Jesus to his followers.


According to reports by Captain John Smith, the first eggnog made in the United States was consumed in his 1607 Jamestown settlement. Nog comes from the word grog, which refers to any drink made with rum.



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