The calendar switches to its final month Tuesday.
The countdown begins.
Here are 25 things, in no particular order, to get you ready to embrace the holiday season.
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The scent of a holiday house - there's no mistaking it. Gingerbread cookies. Apple pie. A fresh Christmas tree. Russian tea scented candles. Or home-made holiday potpourri simmering on the stove. Here's how to make it:
Combine the peels of two oranges, three cinnamon sticks, 12 whole cloves and 2 cups of water in a saucepan. Simmer the mixture on the back burner of the stove. Be sure to add water as needed.
Other ideas for scents? Sprinkle rugs with a pine-scented carpet freshener before vacuuming, or light several candles in peppermint, cinnamon, pine or Russian tea scents.
Red and green still rule the way for Christmas, but there are a few more hot colors for the season.
Ricky King, the floral designer at Carolina Pottery in West Columbia, said the No. 1-selling color this year is a chartreuse-lime green.
"It's selling more than emerald or Kelly or forest green. It's a fresher green, and it's a super-hot color," he said. The store is selling ribbons, flowers, ornaments - and many more holiday items - all in the lime shade.
He said other hot colors have been chocolate and warm tones such as copper and bronze. He sees those colors paired with turquoise on the holiday tree and table.
And while trends will always have their followers, the traditional looks are faring well this year.
"Any time we have an uncertain economy, traditional is always strong. We see cycles with that. When things are uncertain, people revert back to traditional," said King, a member of the American Institute of Floral Designers.
He said sales of holiday items have been strong this season at Carolina Pottery.
"We're selling out of a lot of things fast. If they want it, come and get it quickly. Don't say, 'I'll come back,' because it may not be here."
Maybe this is the year to go over-the-top for Christmas. Or at least dream about it.
There's no better place to start than in the pages of the Neiman Marcus Christmas Book. This is the 83rd edition of the celebrated catalog, which was initially intended to be a Christmas card to the store's best customers. Find an online version at neimanmarcus.com.
Each year, it features what it calls "boundary pushing gifts and experiences." This year's book includes a limited edition Jaguar and an Algonquin Roundtable Experience.
The Jaguar is one of just 50 that will ever exist. It can be yours for a mere $105,000.
As for the night at New York's famed Algonquin Hotel, you and a guest can be part of a gathering of at least eight authors. The list includes Christopher Buckley, Nora Ephron, John Lithgow, Anna Deavere Smith, Henry Louis Gates Jr. and more. You pick the day, a Monday between February and June. All for $200,000. (Proceeds go to First Books, Neiman Marcus' 2009 charity that delivers books to children in need.)
Bring a touch of the city - and one of its landmarks - to your Christmas tree with this year's official Columbia Christmas ornament.
The ornament recognizes Adluh Flour Mill, a Columbia fixture since 1900.
The ornaments cost $13 and can be purchased at the Babcock Center Foundation Office, 2725 Banny Jones Ave., West Columbia, or call (803) 799-1970, ext. 112. All proceeds from the sale of the ornaments go to the Babcock Center, a nonprofit organization that serves more than 1,000 adults with mental retardation, autism, brain or spinal cord injuries and related disabilities.
Other South Carolina-themed holiday ornaments are available at stores and museum shops around town. For example, the S.C. Wildlife Shop (part of the state Department of Natural Resources) has several new ornaments this year, including a blue crab resin ornament with colorful details ($18 for glass ball ornaments, $5 for the resin crab; scwildlife.com/shop/ornaments.html)
Chances are you will be giving or receiving a poinsettia this holiday season.
Here's some advice from the Clemson University Cooperative Extension Service on how to make sure it looks its best through the season.
Light: Set your poinsettia in a bright location so it receives at least 6 hours of bright, indirect sunlight each day. Putting it in direct sunlight may fade the color of the bracts. If direct sun cannot be avoided, filter the sunlight with a light shade or sheer curtain.
Temperature: Excess heat will cause the leaves to yellow and fall off and the flower bracts to fade early. The daytime temperature should not exceed 70 degrees. Do not put your poinsettia near drafts, excessive heat or dry air from appliances, fireplaces or ventilating ducts. Chilling injury is also a problem and can cause premature leaf drop if the temperature drops below 50 degrees.
Water and fertilizer: Poinsettias require moderately moist soil. Water them thoroughly when the soil surface feels dry to the touch. Never let the potting mixture completely dry out and never let the plant sit in standing water. When watering, always take the plant out of its decorative pot cover. Water until some seeps out of the drainage hole and the soil is completely saturated. Do not fertilize a poinsettia when it is in bloom.
Poinsettia trivia: The poinsettia is named in honor of Joel Roberts Poinsett, who served in the S.C. Legislature and the U.S. House of Representatives. He also served as a special envoy to Mexico, and in 1825 he became the first U.S. minister to Mexico. An accomplished amateur botanist, Poinsett became fascinated with the native plant Euphorbia pulcherrima. In 1826, he brought the plant home to the United States. It was first called "painted leaf" and "Mexican fire plant" and later was renamed poinsettia (Poinsettia pulcherrima).
Crank up some new tunes this season.
Plenty of artists are releasing new holiday albums, including Taylor Swift, Sting, Michael McDonald, Tori Amos, REO Speedwagon, A Fine Frenzy, Neil Diamond and Judas Priest's Rob Halford.
There's even the first-ever holiday release from Bob Dylan - "Christmas in the Heart" - which includes renditions of "Hark the Herald Angels Sing," "Oh Little Town of Bethlehem" and "Here Comes Santa Claus."
Dylan is donating all the royalties to Feeding America.
Looking for a quick ornament to make with the kids that also makes your house smell like the holidays?
Cinnamon ornaments are a great choice. And you probably already have the supplies to make them.
You'll need: cinnamon (since you'll be using a lot, you may want to consider buying it in bulk containers at lower prices), applesauce, cookie cutters, a straw and ribbon.
To make the ornaments, mix three-quarters of a cup of applesauce and 1 cup cinnamon to form a stiff dough. Use a rolling pin to flatten it out on waxed paper; it should be between one-quarter and one-half inch thick.
Cut the dough with cookie cutters, and use a straw to make a hole at the top of each ornament.
Place the ornaments on a rack for one to three days until fully dry. If you want, you can use a glitter pen or some glue and glitter to add the year or your child's initials to the ornament.
Then string 8- to 10-inch ribbon through the holes and hang them on the tree.
It's time for your cooking skills to shine.
Local establishments offer a full slate of classes and parties this month. Here's a sampling:
- Young Chefs Academy of Irmo: 4-5:30 p.m. Dec. 12, gingerbread house workshop, $40 per family; 8:30-10:30 a.m. Dec. 19, Breakfast with Santa, $30 per child. 7320 Broad River Road, (803) 749-0670. youngchefsacademy.com.
- Let's Cook Culinary Studio: Dec. 1, Wild Women Holiday Dinner Ideas; Dec. 4, Couples' Hands-on Appetizers for the Unexpected Dinner Party, $70/couple; Dec. 17, Hands-on Lasagna for the Unexpected Guest, $35. Unless noted, all classes cost $30 and begin at 6:15 p.m. Let's Cook is at 1305 Assembly St. (803) 250-2569; letscookculinary.com
- Gourmet Shop: 6 p.m. Dec. 4, annual champagne bash with champagne, caviar, sushi and more. $30 in advance, $35 at door, reservations suggested. 724 Saluda Ave., (803) 799-9463; thegourmetshop.net
- Fleur de Lys Home Culinary Institute: Dec. 31, New Year's Eve Gala Black Tie dinner. Four-course meal with champagne. Menu features dove fontina ravioli with foie gras cream sauce and Mumm Joyesse champagne reduction; Maine lobster bisque with vintage Martell cognac; tournedos of beef flambe with French black truffle perigord sauce and mousseline of vegetable au gratin; harlequin of chocolate with Grand Marnier. $333/couple, $167/single; 3001 Millwood Ave., (803) 765-9999
Want a lesson in the comfort of your own home? Join renowned pastry chef Gale Gand for an interactive virtual cooking demonstration Thursday as she celebrates the holiday season pairing of vanilla and red food coloring.
Gand will provide family-friendly holiday baking recipes and tips to put a spin on holiday sweets.
Participants can bake "alongside" and join in the conversation by submitting questions during the live baking class, which begins at 1 p.m. on mccormick.com.
And you thought Peeps were just for Easter.
Just Born Inc., the company that makes those sugary marshmallow creatures, just introduced a new Peep - chocolate mousse flavored marshmallow reindeer.
You can eat the sugary concoctions or use them for craft projects.
Here's an edible table centerpiece:
1 package holiday candies
1 standard box chocolate cake mix (see package for additional ingredients)
1 container chocolate frosting
1 package strawberry-flavored rolled fruit snacks
1 package green rolled fruit snacks (or 1 tube green decorating icing with flat piping tip)
1 tube white decorating icing
1 package red string licorice
1 small sleigh
1. Prepare cake mix according to package directions for 24 cupcakes.
2. Select six cupcakes and frost with chocolate frosting. Set the remaining cupcakes aside. (Don't feel like baking? Purchase a pack of six chocolate cupcakes with chocolate frosting.)
3. Place a dollop of frosting on the side of each cupcake and press a Peeps reindeer firmly into it.
5. Line up six cupcakes in pairs behind one another.
6. Cut six strips of strawberry-flavored rolled fruit snacks about 5 inches long.
7. Place one strip across the top of each cupcake so that it hangs slightly over the sides.
8. Cut six strips of green rolled fruit snacks about 3 inches long. Place one green strip on top of each strawberry flavored strip. (If desired, use green decorating icing with flat piping tip in place of green snack strips to draw belt.)
9. Add dots to corners of each end of strawberry flavored strips with white decorating icing to create bells.
10. Cut the red string licorice into six pieces, making sure the length of each piece is long enough to loop from one cupcake to the one directly behind it.
11. Starting with the first cupcake in line, press one end of red string licorice firmly into the frosting behind the Peeps reindeer. Loop string licorice from this first cupcake to the one directly behind it, pressing the other end of the string licorice firmly into frosting behind reindeer on second cupcake. Repeat until licorice "reins" are complete for all six cupcakes.
12. Behind the cupcakes, place a decorative sleigh filled with candy.
13. Attach string licorice from the last set of cupcakes to the sleigh.
Chocolate and wine - a perfect holiday combination.
Try a bottle of ChocoVine, which offers a taste of Dutch chocolate and fine red wine. It comes from Holland and sells for $13.99 a bottle at Simply Savory on Devine Street.
The wine should be served chilled. Simply Savory owner Rachael Harris said she describes ChocoVine to her customers as a similar taste to Bailey's Irish Cream.
"It's great for the holidays and great for a unique gift," Harris said. "People use it as a dessert wine, but it's also a sipping wine."
Simply Savory is open 10 a.m.-7 p.m. weekdays and 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturdays. Lunch is served 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Monday-Saturday.
Add a few seasonal drinks to your holiday repertoire. Some possibilities:
The Poinsettia, an elegant champagne cocktail that's perfect for holiday parties.
What's in it: 1/2 ounce triple sec; 3 ounces cranberry juice; champagne.
How to make it: Chill all of the ingredients. Pour the triple sec and cranberry juice into a chilled champagne flute. Stir well. Top with champagne.
Remember: With any champagne cocktail, be sure to mix all of the ingredients and add the champagne just before serving.
Hot Russian, a different take on hot chocolate.
What's in it: 1 shot vodka; 1 shot Kahlua; 1 shot eggnog; 2/3 cup powdered hot chocolate mix
How to make it: Place two packets of hot chocolate mix into coffee mug. Add eggnog, vodka and Kahlua. Fill the rest of the mug with hot water. Stir.
Remember: You may need to heat the drink for about 30 seconds in the microwave.
White Christmas, an alternative to plain eggnog.
What's in it: 4 ounces eggnog; 1/2 ounce white chocolate liqueur; 1 ounce Southern Comfort; chocolate flakes for garnish.
How to make it: Layer the ingredients in a snifter and stir gently. Sprinkle chocolate flakes on top.
Remember: Make sure the eggnog is chilled. You can also add a few ice cubes to cool and water it down a little.
What's in it: 2 ounces Midori melon-flavored liquor; 1/2 ounce lemon juice; 1 teaspoon simple syrup; maraschino cherry for garnish. You can make simple syrup by boiling one part water and slowly adding two parts sugar. Stir until completely dissolved.
How to make it: Pour the ingredients into a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake well. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a maraschino cherry.
Remember: The cherry adds a colorful garnish - and can represent the changed heart of the green Grinch.
Try this quick and easy - yet elegant - appetizer suggested by deli staff at Rosewood Market and Deli.
Unwrap a mozzarella roll, line it with prosciutto and spread with tapenade or pesto.
Roll the mozzarella back up and slice into pinwheels.
Serve with crackers or melted on toast. (BelGiosioso brand Unwrap and Roll Fresh Mozzarella recommended.)
Stairways can shine during the holiday season.
Here are some ideas for making your staircase stand out:
- Hang several wreaths up the stairs, spaced evenly along the length of the railing. Or use door swags or bunches of greens, evenly spaced.
- There's no rule that stockings have to be hung at the fireplace. Hang them going up the staircase.
- For a simple look, leave the banister bare and decorate the newel post with a swag, greenery or bows.
- Attach clusters of beaded fruit to ribbons and twigs. Tie these to the banisters about every 3 feet. You also can purchase red berry garland to drape on the staircase alone or on top of greenery.
- If your stairs are wide enough, display small potted poinsettias, topiaries, cedar trees or other plants. Decorate each with a bow.
- A final tip: If you drape garland along a banister, make sure you wire it in place to hold the weight of the other decorations you add to it.
Create a fresh and festive wreath for your holiday door or table in six easy steps. Here are directions from Rebekah Cline of Rebekah's Garden at the State Farmers Market on Bluff Road:
Fresh greenery (the fresher the better) - anything you have on hand such as holly, podocarpus (yew), ligustrum, Fraser fir (other Christmas tree clippings)
Wreath form (wire recommended)
Ribbon (wired works best)
Seasonal decorations (winter berries; pine cones; magnolia leaves; real, artificial or dried fruit; small children's toys; ornaments; lights; natural decorations such as dried hydrangeas, okra pods or abandoned bird nests, etc.)
1. Gather 3-4 stems of Fraser fir in your hand. Fan them out, filling in with other greenery - whatever you have on hand. Stack to get a good handful. Fan out and secure together with floral wire.
2. Place greenery on wreath form and wrap with wire tightly to secure.
3. Repeat step 1 and 2, overlapping and layering each bunch of greenery slightly with the one be-fore it. Layer bunches of greenery all the way around the form to form a thick, lush wreath. (If desired, treat greenery with a preservative, found at hobby or craft stores.)
4. Decide where the top of your wreath is. Cut about 6 inches of floral wire to make a loop to hang the wreath and attach.
5. Attach decorations to floral picks with wire and wrap into the wreath.
6. Add a bow of red velvet or other holiday ribbon. Hang your wreath or place it on your holiday table as a centerpiece.
Here's a little gift with a little price tag for the stylish coffee drinker on the go. Coffee cuffs come in assorted colors and wrap around your hot to-go drinks. $4 each at Pier 1 Imports, with three Midlands locations.
The holidays are all about snacks. Here is an easy one to make: chocolate-covered pretzels. Kids love these - and they can help make them, too.
Start with small circular pretzels. (Or better yet, use pretzels in holiday shapes)
Place the pretzels on a baking sheet. Unwrap chocolate kisses and place one on top of each pretzel. Put them in a 350-degree oven for 1 to 2 minutes, until the kisses start to melt. Remove from the oven and gently push an M&M in the center of each (the red and green ones are perfect this time of year).
Want to give a uniquely Midlands gift? Try a gift bag of locally ground grits and cornmeal.
Joe Trapp grinds S.C.-certified grits and cornmeal in a shed behind his house in Blythewood. His products are sold at several Midlands locations. For a list, go to yellowgrits.com or call Trapp at (803) 754-1906.
Ansley Rast, program coordinator for the Certified S.C. initiative, told The State earlier this year that Trapp is one of a few South Carolinians who knows how to make grits and meal.
"Grinding grits is kind of an old tradition. It's not a very common thing these days," Rast said. "There's not many Joe Trapps in the world."
Adluh Flour on Gervais Street also offers grits, cornmeal, flour and baking mixes. See adluhstore.com for a list of products.
Bring the holiday look everywhere - even on a power strip. The snowmen decorative power strip cover ($12.97 from cableorganizer.com) covers the not-so-attractive power strip under the tree or anywhere else. The plastic cover fits any standard size indoor power strip and features brightly colored, glittery snowmen.
Cheese balls are always on a holiday table. Add bits of red pimento and green onion give one a festive look.
Here's how to make it:
Holiday cheese ball
1 8-ounce package cream cheese, softened
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
2 green onions, chopped
1 2-ounce jar diced pimentos, drained
2 tablespoons butter or margarine, melted
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
- In a mixing bowl, beat cream cheese until fluffy. Beat in cheddar cheese, onions, pimientos, butter and Worcestershire sauce.
- Press into a small bowl; smooth top.
- Cover and refrigerate. Remove from the refrigerator 15 minutes before unmolding.
- Serve with crackers.
- From allrecipes.com
Want to make your home-baked gifts even more personal?
The Stationery Studio offers personalized boxes for cookies or other baked goodies. You start with a set of 25 white boxes ($53) and then add your own designs, writing style and color to the order. ("Merry Christmas from Sally's Kitchen," or something like that). You're on your own for the baking. (thestationerystudio.com)
Now there's help for wannabe party hosts who worry about their grasp of etiquette.
William Yeoward has written "The Perfect Host: Your Entertaining Planner" (Cico Books; $19.95). It goes over everything you need to pull off a perfect party, from sending out invitations (will an e-mail do?) to learning how to select the right china.
The book also includes recipes for desserts and cocktails and a guide so you'll know which wines and foods go best together.
At the back, there is room for notes so you can keep a record of your party and know what worked and what fell flat.
Here are a few simple decorating ideas that are easy on the wallet.
For a simple centerpiece, set three or five candles of different heights on a tray in the middle of the table. Fill the bases of the candles with items from your yard (evergreen clippings, pine cones, nuts), or add apples, glass ornaments and leftover ribbon.
Dress up your house plants by hanging small Christmas ornaments on them.
Give your family room an updated look for the holidays.
That could mean a few holiday pillows on the sofa. Or you could give the sofa a new look with a slipcover. Sure Fit's covers are priced at about $100. surefit.com
Anybody for a new red sofa?
Don't leave those cookies for Santa on a everyday plate. Create one for your own family.
The Mad Platter, at 3101 Millwood Ave., offers all sizes and styles of plates that you can decorate with your own messages. There is a $6 studio fee for adults and $4 for kids 17 and under, plus the price of your pieces.
A typical plate would be $8. And you don't have to stop there. The store has more than 500 pieces in stock, so you can decorate your own platters, mugs, ornaments, flower pots, piggy banks, etc.
After you create it, the staff will glaze and fire the piece for you. You can pick it up four days later. Perfect for grandparent gifts.
Even with all the focus on spending, decorating and entertaining this season, be sure to take some time to give back.
Ask party guests to drop a few canned goods in a basket by your front door to pass along to a local food pantry.
Use an Advent calendar as a reminder of a good deed to do each day - from holding the door for someone to adopting a family at the holidays.