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Christmas Traditions – Mistletoe

Blog by Linda Wallace Mistletoe’s history is a long and interesting one. There are references to “kissing under the mistletoe” in Celtic rituals and North mythology. The Druids considered mistletoe a sacred plant, believed to have medicinal qualities and mysterious supernatural powers. Mistletoe has long been regarded as an aphrodisiac and fertility herb. Going back to Norse and Scandinavian customs, it was traditional that if, while out in the woods, you happened to find yourself under mistletoe while encountering a foe, you both had to lay down your arms until the following day. Central to the history of mistletoe is the Norse myth of Baldur. Baldur’s mother was the goddess, Friga. When Baldur was born, she made each and every plant, animal and inanimate object promise not to harm him. But Frigga overlooked the mistletoe plant, and the mischievous god of Norse myths, Loki, took advantage of this oversight. Loki tricked one of the other gods into killing Baldur with a spear made of mistletoe. Some versions of this myth relate it was agreed, after the death of Baldur, that thenceforth mistletoe would bring love rather than death into the world, and that any two people passing under mistletoe would exchange a kiss in memory of Baldur. Others add that the tears Frigga shed over the slain Baldur became the mistletoe berries. Two hundred years before the birth of Christ, the Druids used mistletoe to celebrate the coming of winter. They would gather this evergreen plant that is parasitic upon other trees and used it to decorate their homes. They believed the plant had special healing powers for everything...

Merry Christmas to the Man in Your Life

Let’s face it, men have it pretty easy in the Christmas shopping department. Women love flowers, spa products or jewelry almost without exception. Women also have to decide every year what on earth to buy for the men in their lives. Men aren’t quite as simple to shop for; it isn’t always golf weather or baseball season! When it comes to shopping for the man in your life, here are some great GiftTree ideas to make him smile this holiday season:  Craft Beer and Snacks Basket This is the ultimate gift for any man. Imagine his delight when he finds you did not get him underwear again this year, but instead a basket of flavorful craft beer. You’ll have the choice of international beer, American India Pale Ales, or 22 American micro-brews to tickle his taste buds. Leather-Bound Golf Log While it may not be golf weather, you’ll have him dying to get out on the green again with this handsomely-bound leather golf log. The genuine, top-grain leather is as soft as butter and comes in a masculine brown. Further, you can have his name engraved on the front cover to ensure a gift he’ll thank you for every time he golfs. The book is small enough to fit inside a golf bag, but large enough for him to easily see his scores. This gift is a score for you, ladies! The Entertainer This gift is a sure point in the win column for anyone. It features a leather tote, two dice cups, dominoes, cards, and a notepad for keeping score, along with your choice of Castello di Querceto...

Christmas Traditions – Nativity Scene

Blog by Linda Wallace A nativity scene is a depiction of the birth of Jesus as described in the gospels. Nativity scenes exhibit figures representing the infant Jesus, his mother Mary, and Joseph. Other characters from the nativity story such as shepherds, the Magi, and angels may be displayed near the manger in a barn intended to accommodate farm animals. A donkey and an ox are typically depicted in the scene, as well as camels belonging to the Magi. Saint Francis of Assisi is credited with creating the first nativity scene in 1223 , having been inspired by his recent visit to the Holy Land where he had been shown Jesus’s traditional birthplace. The scene’s popularity inspired communities throughout Catholic countries to stage similar pantomimes. Up until Francis set up the first nativity scene in 1223, people celebrated Christmas primarily by going to Mass (a worship service) at church, where priests would tell the Christmas story in a language that most ordinary people didn’t speak: Latin. Although churches sometimes featured fancy artistic renditions of Christ as an infant, they didn’t present any realistic manger scenes. Francis decided that he wanted to make the extraordinary experiences of the first Christmas more accessible to ordinary people. The scene, which was set up in a cave just outside Greccio, featured a wax figure of the infant Jesus, costumed people playing the roles of Mary and Joseph, and a live donkey and ox that had been loaned to Francis. The first nativity scene presentation proved to be so popular that people in other areas soon set up living nativities to celebrate Christmas. Eventually,...

Christmas Story

Blog by Kirian McClure I can’t be the only one that always picked Christmas as my favorite holiday as a child. As much as I loved the abundance of chocolatey goodness that was Halloween (but detested the inevitable trip to the dentist soon after), there was something about the combination of wintery weather, jingling bells and great home cooking that inspired an indelible sense of charm wholly unique to this time of year. One family tradition that I always anticipated with great relish was the annual rooftop arrival of Santa Claus. Early on Christmas morning my sister and I would awake to the sound of many feet stomping above our heads just as light was beginning to fill the sky.  With euphoric glee we would spring out of bed and rush to the door, desperately hoping to catch a glimpse of our fabled hero. A familiar jangling sound greeted our ears as we pried the door open and dashed into the snow outside.  As we craned our necks we usually only heard the sound of reindeer hooves or just briefly sighted the signature red cap bobbing out of view. Yet on one such morning we happened to get a long look at Ol’ Saint Nick himself.  He was taller than the pictures I remembered seeing, with less of a belly and more of a beard, but no less jolly than any other incarnation of Santa.  When he noticed that we had seen him he let out a bellowing “Ho ho ho!” before bolting past the high ridge in the roof, obscuring himself from our wide-eyed sight. A loud shout...

Holiday Wine Pairings

The holiday season is upon us and around each day presents a new temptation for the taste buds. From the smells of pumpkin pie and gingerbread that seem to be wafting out of every oven to the beautifully photographed entrees that grace the cover of every magazine in the checkout line, this season is heaven for the avid chef. But for those of us that are less than gifted in the kitchen or simply too busy to perform the feats of culinary prowess the months between November and January can be a blur of sheepishly handing over store-bought onion dip or hiding burnt baking efforts behind more attractive creations on the dessert table. This year though, even the most underachieving cooks can make an elegant contribution to the holiday meal by bringing or sending a thoughtfully paired wine gift. Here are some wine suggestions that brilliantly complement every part of the holiday meal. Appetizers: Champagne gifts immediately gets a crowd into the festive spirit and the crispness of the bubbly pairs well with lighter fare. GiftTree’s, Cheers to You Champagne Basket is a perfect choice, as it comes with the requisite champagne as well as an array of appetizers such as bruschetta and bonbons au chocolat, sure to please anyone in the party. Turkey:  The traditional Thanksgiving dish demands a wine that can stand up to the aromatic spices in the stuffing while complementing the smoothness of the gravy and the meat. Australian Shiraz stands up to the challenge nicely as it isn’t abrasive like some younger reds, but has a distinct spiciness that makes it a formidable contribution...

December Fun Facts

Blog by Kirian McClure Usually, if you ask the average person what their favorite time of year is they tend to say summer. Summer certainly has its appeal but for the more body conscious among us, its obvious drawbacks as well.  Personally, I’ve always had a soft spot for fall and all the amazing things that come with it.  Its a time of change, the final phase before the shedding of the years accumulated trappings happens officially in spring.  Feelings about December run the gamut and it has a dizzyingly enormous number of dates, events, and feelings tied to it. Often people think of frigid cold and interminable darkness when they think of December but that couldn’t be farther away from my perception of it.  Thick coats, tightly wound scarves, snowflakes drifting lazily through the air, that comfortable coziness of getting home and plopping down in front of the heater, these are the lasting memories that I associate with the winter months. Heres a few fun facts that might cause you to see December in a new light: December is both the Universal Human Rights month and the National Read a New Book month December 1st is World AIDS Day In 1836 Alabama became the first state to recognize Christmas as an official holiday Kris Kringle is the namesake for two U.S. towns, these being Santa, Idaho and Santa Claus, Indiana The popular holiday tune “Jingle Bells,” was originally written for an 1857 Thanksgiving celebration The Bill of Rights was passed on December 14, 1791 America’s National Christmas tree is a giant sequoia located in King’s Canyon National Park...

Christmas Traditions – Yule Log

Blog by Linda Wallace A Yule log is a large and extremely hard log which is burned in the hearth as a part of traditional Yule or Christmas celebrations in several European cultures. The Yule log was originally an entire tree, that was carefully chosen and brought into the house with great ceremony with the purpose being to provide maximum warmth and endurance. In some European traditions, the largest end of the log would be placed into the fire hearth while the rest of the tree stuck out into the room. On or about Christmas eve, a big log was brought into a home or large hall. It would be made of a strong, hard wood that would burn all night. Decorated with leaves and ribbons, it was lit by the youngest and the oldest family members after being blessed by the head of the family with oil, brandy or sometimes with a branch that had been dipped in holy water. Songs were sung and stories told. Children danced. Offerings of food and wine and decorations were placed upon it. Personal faults, mistakes and bad choices were burned in the flame so everyone’s new year would start with a clean slate. The log was never allowed to burn completely, a bit was kept in the house to start next year’s log. The ashes were then saved because they would protect the home from lightening and the devil in the upcoming year. The log brought good luck. Any pieces that were kept protected a house from fire, or lightning, or hail. Ashes of the log would be placed in wells...

December Birth Flower

Blog by Kirian McClure While many are worried about holiday preparations and gifts during this time of the year, make sure to also remember those with December birthdays!  The tumultuous frenzy of the month’s festivities means there is a decent chance some of those birthdays could slip through the cracks.  Sometimes there just isn’t enough time to spend thinking about what that perfect gift might be. Consider saving yourself the hassle by sending the gift of a birth flower. For December this means either the Holly or the Narcissus, also referred to as the Daffodil. Hollies are a flowering plant known for their attractive yet toxic red berries, and are a common ingredient in caffeinated teas such as yerba mate. In addition, the wood from Holly plants is regularly used to craft white chess pieces, and similiarly decoractive uses. The Holly symbolizes one’s wish for continued home and family happiness. The Narcissus has a classic beauty, its ring of petals surrounding a trumpet shaped corona. Like the Holly, the Narcissus flower is toxic to humans if eaten. Fun fact: Daffodils are grown commercially in Powys, Wales, to produce galantamine, a drug used to combat Alzheimer’s disease. The Daffodil flower is symbolic of the desire for your significant other to stay just the way they...

Start Shopping Early

Blog by Linda Wallace Every year. EVERY YEAR. I find myself in the middle of December, thinking about all the Christmas shopping I have left to do, dreading the stores, dreading the expense, dreading the stress! We all know the way to avoid this, so why don’t we make an effort to try to get our holiday shopping done early? I know, I know, life just gets in the way…. This year, I have resolved to do things differently. In October, I started keeping my eye out, and started making decisions on what to get for whom. I can already feel the stress of the season decreasing! What I like about GiftTree (amongst many other things), is that I can start placing my orders now for shipping over the holidays. Imagine waking up on December 1st and realizing that everything is taken care of for Christmas! It makes me smile just to envision it. The other thing that I can do with GiftTree is place an order once every two weeks or so, spreading out the cost of the season. I think you know how stressful it is in December, with so much left to do, and it seems like there is no money left to do it! Taking the time to start placing orders early also has the advantage of letting you pick out just the right gift, instead of the “anything will do at this point” mentality that sometimes comes calling when you are doing last minute shopping. Here are some wonderful gifts that you can order now for holiday delivery, that are sure to delight the...

6 General Tips for Holiday Prep

Blog by Kirian McClure Theres something to be said for preparation.  As those on the east coast dealing with the effects of Hurricane/Super-storm Sandy know full well, proper preparation can mean the difference between life or death.  While its likely your holiday season isn’t so fatalistic-oriented, taking the time to prepare now will save you all kinds of headaches later on. Its no secret that this time of the year is chaotic, to avoid getting consumed by that chaos and to ensure that your fall and winter months are as stress-free as possible, give a few of these handy tips a try: Shop when no one else does – consider taking a morning off in the middle of the week so as to avoid the crowds. Or shop online at anytime and avoid them completely. Set a deadline – Establish a date that you must have all your holiday shopping and wrapping completed by, December 15th or even as early as the 1st may be good dates to choose. Then you’ll have plenty of time to relax and really enjoy the great things about the holiday season. Get enough rest – nothing further complicates problems and tests nerves like being sleep deprived, and if that means bowing out of parties or other festivities do it. Your body will thank you later. Avoid Hoarding – Clean out your storage of old items from past holidays and push yourself to let go of sentimental decorations. You’ll space and will be glad you did when the holidays are drawing to a close. Set appropriate expectations for Christmas gifts – This is mainly...

Traveling Made Easy

Blog by Kirian McClure As much as the winter holidays make us want to hunker down and outlast the harsh weather with all the seasons usual tasty (and fattening) trappings, for some they can also trigger an almost obsessive need to travel to the brighter, warmer parts of the world.  Usually my family goes the traditional route, flying relatives in from out of town and spending days and days preparing decorations, food, and presents.  Not to mention taking them out on regular forays to keep them entertained. Tired by the very thought of this massive investment of time and energy, one year me and my father decided to try something different. We figured we’d get as far away from the obligations and the cold as possible and fly down to Mexico for the holidays.  The second our plane hit the tarmac we looked back at each other and instantly knew we’d made the right decision.  We traveled all around the west coast of Mexico, stopping at national parks and monuments along the way, while being sure not to neglect the usually delicious local eateries scattered along the way.  One cannot express just how sublime it felt to be stretched out on a beach with the coastal sun beating down on us while back home everyone else was huddled around heaters and stoves, rubbing their hands together in a vain attempt to get the slightest amount of warmth. I highly recommend breaking out of the standard holiday formula and trying something different this year. I know when I’ve got the resources again, taking a trip is going to be at...

Why I’m Thankful…

Blog by Tracey Graham With Thanksgiving coming up, I’ve decided to be thankful for a new way of thinking instead of stressing over all I have to do. My Thanksgiving thanks goes like this: I am so thankful that my kitchen is large. I am so thankful that my mom and grandma taught me how to cook. I am so thankful that I have little helpers to keep the punch bowl filled. I am so thankful that these same helpers can stay and help clean up. I am so thankful that parades and football will keep most trespassers out of my kitchen. I am so thankful that I have to work on Fridays and will miss my sisters’ idea of a good time shopping. I am so thankful that I can order so many wonderful gifts online and will hardly have to go to a store. I am so thankful that my family understands what makes me happy. I am so thankful that my family will be right where they belong this Thanksgiving, and that is with our family....

My Thanksgiving Ritual

Blog by Kirian McClure Folks will usually answer Halloween or Christmas when you inquire as to what their most favorite holiday is and don’t get me wrong, those two certainly have their appeal.  Costumes are fun and candy is scrumptious, and who doesn’t love giving and receiving presents? However, there’s also a pervasive element of stress associated with all the extensive preparations those holidays entail.  You have to worry about the perfect costume, decorations, lights, Christmas trees, ideal gifts, and you can usually count on snowy weather to further complicate things. With Thanksgiving all that matters is food and family.  Its all those other holidays stripped down to their most basic, and in my view, most appealing level.  One need not fuss about all the extra stuff! My family has a recipe that we’ve tried to fulfill every year, and one that has never failed to guarantee a spectacular Thanksgiving experience (despite that one time when I was a typically moody teenager). Its pretty simple and can easily be summed up with 3 G’s: Good food Good company Good beer (or wine) The first two are a necessity, but the third really ties it all together. Starting the day off with a mimosa and a light breakfast while “Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade” plays on TV is a tradition that never gets old. We also like to divvy up the responsibilities for the day so no one person has an inordinate amount of work to do. My mother will pull all the ingredients out and do the cooking prep while each person works on crafting their own dish according to...

Fun Thanksgiving Facts

Blog by Linda Wallace Fun Facts about the First Thanksgiving: The Plymouth Pilgrims were the first to celebrate the first Thanksgiving Day at Plymouth, Massachusetts in 1621. The Wampanoag Indians were the people who taught the Pilgrims how to cultivate the land. The first Thanksgiving celebration lasted three days. It was not a feast, but rather a time when Native Americans helped Pilgrims by bringing them food and helping them build off the land. Lobster, rabbit, chicken, fish, squashes, beans, chestnuts, hickory nuts, onions, leeks, dried fruits, maple syrup and honey, radishes, cabbage, carrots, eggs, and goat cheese are thought to have made up the first Thanksgiving feast. The pilgrims didn’t use forks; they ate with spoons, knives, and their fingers. Thanksgiving Facts throughout History: Benjamin Franklin wanted the turkey to be the national bird of the United States. Sarah Josepha Hale, an American magazine editor, persuaded Abraham Lincoln to declare Thanksgiving a national holiday. She is also the author of the popular nursery rhyme “Mary Had a Little Lamb” Abraham Lincoln issued a ‘Thanksgiving Proclamation’ on third October 1863 and officially set aside the last Thursday of November as the national day for Thanksgiving. In 1939, President Roosevelt proclaimed that Thanksgiving would take place on November 23rd, not November 30th, as a way to spur economic growth and extend the Christmas shopping season. Congress to passed a law on December 26, 1941, ensuring that all Americans would celebrate a unified Thanksgiving on the fourth Thursday of November every year. The traditional cornucopia was a curved goat’s horn filled to brim with fruits and grains. According to Greek legend,...

Thanksgiving Centerpieces

Blog by Robin Crocker When I think of Thanksgiving I think of pilgrims, cornucopia, and, most importantly, FOOD AND FAMILY! Banquet tables full of yummy food and happy people I love all squeezed together. One of my oldest and best memories is of my grandmother’s country home at Thanksgiving – sweet potatoes, apple crisp, cranberry sauce, and deep-fried turkey (yes I’m from the south!). And every Thanksgiving table she ever set included the same fold-out orange-and-brown-paper Thanksgiving turkey. It’s just not Thanksgiving without that paper turkey! While I would never accept a substitute for Granna’s perfect centerpiece, GiftTree has some awesome festive harvest-themed centerpieces that would be a great addition to any family’s beloved traditional decorations. The Harvest Happiness is a warm, full arrangement of seasonal flowers ranging in tone from burgundy to bronze to sunflower yellow. Arrange this on the table with all your fresh-made goodies, light the candle in the center, and your guests will “ooh and ahhh” in nostalgic delight. The Fallen Leaves centerpiece adds even more holiday hue and warmth to the table with its signature gold bowl, deep orange roses and red chrysanthemums. Everyone loves a candlelit dinner and the double 12” candles top off a unique and creative fall...

The Colors of Autumn

Blog by Linda Wallace Honestly, it seems like summer just suddenly ended here in the Pacific Northwest. Seems like one week we were all out on our patios enjoying the sunshine, and the following week the leaves turned, the rains came, along with the winds, and suddenly it is autumn everywhere you look! We all miss summer when it goes, but there is something so magical about fall. The colors as the leaves are turning are so pretty, the reds, golds and russets always make me smile. This Autumn, we have some beautiful gifts to celebrate the season, and I am sure you will find just the perfect thing! Let’s start with my absolute favorite, the Fall Harvest Cheesecake. The presentation on this gift is unbeatable, and it was even featured in Bon Appetit magazine! Another sure-fire hit is the Family Gathering Centerpiece (gift #16940). It comes in three different versions, each more beautiful than the last. This is the perfect centerpiece for your own table, or a wonderful gift for friends or family to let them know you are thinking of them. The warm color of this centerpiece really compliments the...

Gifts and Tips for the Scotch Lover

Just like Will Ferrell’s iconic character Ron Burgundy in the movie “Anchorman”, I too love scotch. It is smooth, and it does go down nicely while listening to Barry White or reading from some leather bound books by a roaring fire. Scotch is a sophisticated alcohol that intimidates some people who aren’t sure what foods to pair with it and how to properly serve it. After doing some research, I have come up with a list of tips and gift ideas to help out the scotch newbie or the connoisseur. 1.)  Cheese: Scotch goes well paired with stronger cheeses like Swiss and Gouda, or softer cheeses like Brie. The perfect cheese gift to accompany scotch would be GiftTree’s Artisan Cheese Hamper – Deluxe  which offers Gouda, Manchego, Smoked Cheddar, and Swiss, along with some gourmet food options. 2.)  Chocolate: Surprisingly, scotch and chocolate go quite nicely together, especially dark chocolate. For a chocolate related gift, I would recommend gifting The Chocolatier Collection, which is filled to the brim with gourmet chocolates from well-known brands like Godiva, Moonstruck, Ghirardelli, and more. 3.)  Fruit: Choose something more tangy or tart, like apples or pears, to go with scotch, and stay away from citrusy fruits like oranges. The perfect gift in this case would be GiftTree’s Chocolate Dipped Apples & Pears, which includes the freshest, premium Fuji apples and Forelle pears hand-dipped in Belgian chocolate. The best of both worlds. 4.)  Pub mix: Traditional pub snacks aren’t just for the beer drinkers. Foods like pretzels, rice crackers, beer chips, and salted peanuts go together nicely with scotch. For a more upscale version...

Whimsical White Pumpkin Cheesecake

Blog by Linda Wallace One of my favorite things about working at GiftTree is the chance to get the first peek at our ever-changing array of amazing gifts. This one hits near the top of the list for sheer elegance and style. This gift is new this season, and is so incredibly beautiful! It has been featured on Good Morning America, Oprah’s Wedding Issue and Bon Appetit! White pumpkins have moved from a novelty to a very popular fall decoration, and this one has it all! Handmade by San Franciscan artisans, this “pumpkin” is actually a Vanilla and Pumpkin Hazelnut Toffee Swirl cheesecake with shortbread crust and covered in white chocolate. If you are planning to serve this amazing dessert this Thanksgiving, a great centerpiece to go with your meal can be made out of a real white pumpkin. Hollow it out the same way you would with a traditional jack-o-lantern, but instead of carving a face in it, utilize it as a vase! It looks especially stunning with white flowers, but a fall themed bouquet would be beautiful as well. There is enough cheesecake here to feed the whole family, as it serves from 10-12 people. Don’t forget to invite me! I promise to be thankful....
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