How to keep those New Year resolutions

Posted On December 23, 2009

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How realistic are your New Year resolutions?

Here’s some Tips and Hints to help you keep yours >

Try aiming for something manageable that will still make you feel good.

Tell your friends and family and ask them for help sticking to it. It’s easier if you don’t go it alone.

Don’t make too many resolutions. You’ll find it easier if you have one goal to aim for.


The 10 least Christmassy places on the world

Posted On December 21, 2009

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Bah Humbug! you say? For all you Ebenezers out there, here are the 10 least Christmassy places on the planet Earth.

If the idea of Christmas fills you with dread, there are a number of countries around the world where December 25th is not even a public holiday.  You can hop on a plane, and in a matter of hours, the horrors of present buying, TV specials and the Queen’s speech, can all be left behind. 

In the true spirit of the festive season, we bring you the top ten anti-Christmas getaways. Read on >

Japan > Although you might see giant robotic Santas in Tokyo, Christmas is not traditionally celebrated in Japan. Instead, you can visit cities like Kyoto and Nara to sample traditional culture, head to Tokyo for cutting edge electronics or go to Hokkaido to sample some of the best powder snow in the world.  And all this whilst enjoying the friendly and gracious hospitality of your Japanese hosts.

Saudi Arabia > During the last few years, the last great Kingdom in the world has begun to allow visitors, albeit with fairly strict provisos.  Those furnished with a visa can marvel at Madain Saleh (Saudi Arabia’s Petra), or visit The Empty Quarter (the largest sea of sand in the world) and home to the Arabian oryx.  The country also boasts some of the most pristine reefs in the world and is a scuba diver’s paradise.

Algeria > Algeria is a country with a rich history as well as natural beauty.  The busy city of Algiers will be many people’s first ports of call, and a visit to the nearby ruins at Djemila, Tipasa and Timgad should be on the to-do list.  Other worthwhile destinations include the holy town of Beni-Isguen and the town of Ouargla known as “the golden key to the desert” with its unique architecture.

Iran > Whilst the political situation in Iran makes it a more challenging place to visit, it remains a fascinating country with warm and friendly people.  Visit the ancient ruin of Persepolis, or the cultured and sophisticated city of Shiraz, before heading to Esfahan, regarded as one of the finest Islamic cities in the world.  Afterwards relax in the Alborz mountains and enjoy some skiing or walk the trails round the legendary Castles of the Assassins.

Thailand > From November to February is Thailand’s “cool” period when the humidity drops, and it makes it the perfect winter sun destination, and it also has the added bonus of being Christmas free.  Choose your accommodation from world class resorts to more basic dwellings, whilst sampling traditional Thai food which is surely one of the favourites of anyone with an interest in international cuisine.

Nepal > Whilst snowy mountains might sound a bit too Christmassy for the true avoider of the season, the Himalayas are not just any mountains.  Nepal has become a Mecca for mountaineers, trekkers and enthusiasts of the outdoors with world-class white-water rafting and kayaking as well as mountain biking in some of the most spectacular scenery on the planet.

Turkey > Turkey represents an alluring destination for a winter getaway from the seasonal revelries of the West.  The town of Istanbul, combines  traditional architecture with a growing reputation as one of the hippest towns around.  Apart from anything else, the thought of Christmas in Turkey offers a bewildering array of poultry based jokes which will keep you busy till New Year.

Democratic People’s Republic of (North) Korea > Not only does North Korea not celebrate Christmas, but they are so unfestive, that their borders are closed to all tourists from November 2009 to mid January 2010.  As such, you cannot even go there, and enjoy the Day of the Promulgation of the Socialist Constitution of the DPRK on 27th December.  Worth a mention though as one of the least festive places in the world, 365 days a year.

China > It is a tough task to summarise the attractions of the most populous country on earth in just four lines so a list seems appropriate: bicycles, rice, Great Wall, Terracotta Army, more bicycles, Beijing, pandas, Ming Dynasty, Mao Tse Tung, Communist things (the author accepts this is not a very good profile).

And finally… > With a large bank balance and a really serious case of anti-Christmasness, why not purchase your own private island and escape from everyone.  A nice little number in the Carribean can be had for $25,000,000 whilst if you’re on a tighter budget, Musha Cay in the Bahamas is yours for just $37,500 per day.

Counting on Christmas Statistics > the holidays by the numbers

So you have read our post Counting on Christmas Statistics which goes back to December 19, 2006. We have been asked to provide any latest statisctics, if these were available, so here we are with the latest [if additional details are released, we will update this post].

It’s in the Mail > 19 billion > Number of cards, letters and packages the U.S. Postal Service expected to deliver between Thanksgiving and Christmas in 2008. The busiest delivery day was expected to be December 17, with more than twice as many cards and letters being processed as the average on any given day.

Rush to the Stores > $28.2 billion > Retail sales by the nation’s department stores (including leased departments) in December 2008. This represented a 40 percent jump from the previous month (when retail sales, many holiday-related, registered $20.2 billion). No other month-to-month increase in department store sales last year was as large.

Other U.S. retailers with sizable jumps in sales between November and December 2008 were book stores (95 percent); clothing stores (32 percent); jewelry stores (125 percent); radio, TV and other electronics stores (38 percent); and sporting goods stores (62 percent).

14% > The proportion of total 2008 sales for department stores (including leased departments) in December. For jewelry stores, the percentage was 18%.

23% > The proportion of growth in inventories by our nation’s department stores (excluding leased departments) through August 31 to November 30, 2008. Thanks to the holiday crowds, inventories plummeted by 25% in December.

Note: Leased departments are separately owned businesses operated as departments or concessions of other service establishments or of retail businesses, such as a separately owned shoe-shine parlor in a barber shop, or a beauty shop in a department store. Also, retail sales estimates have not been adjusted to account for seasonal or pricing variations.

$24 billion > Value of retail sales by electronic shopping and mail-order houses in December 2008–the highest total for any month last year.

16,670 > The number of electronic shopping and mail-order houses in business in 2007. These businesses, which employed 268,328 workers, are a popular source of holiday gifts. Their sales: $199 billion, of which 44.6% were attributable to e-commerce. California led the nation in the number of these establishments and their employees, with 2,493 and 32,971, respectively.

If you’re not sure where to do your shopping, choices of retail establishments abound: In 2007, there were 155,371 clothing and clothing accessories stores; 10,116 department stores; 9,515 hobby, toy and game shops; 30,920 gift, novelty and souvenir shops; 23,756 sporting goods stores; 27,484 jewelry stores; and 10,635 book stores across the nation. The figures shown are for locations with paid employees.

Christmas Trees and Decorations > $410 million > The gross earnings of Christmas tree farmers in 2007.

$109.3 million > Sales by Christmas tree farmers in Oregon in 2007, which led the nation.

$470.3 million > The value of U.S. imports of Christmas tree ornaments from China between January and August 2009. China was the leading country of origin for such items. Similarly, China was the leading foreign source of artificial Christmas trees shipped to the United States ($28.6 million worth) during the same period.

Where the toys are… made > 94 > Number of establishments around the country that primarily manufactured dolls and stuffed toys in 2008; they employed 1,641 people. California led the nation with 17 locations.

683 > The number of locations that primarily produced games, toys, and children’s vehicles in 2007; they employed 10,708 workers. California led the nation with 112 establishments.

$3.2 billion > Total value of shipments for dolls, toys and games by manufacturers in 2007.

$4.3 billion > The value of U.S. toy imports including stuffed toys (excluding dolls), puzzles and electric trains from China between January and August 2009. China was the leading country of origin for stuffed toys coming into this country, as well as for a number of other popular holiday gifts. These include roller skates ($30 million), sports footwear ($120 million), golf balls ($31 million) and basketballs ($29 million). China leads Canada as the leading supplier of ice skates ($12 million versus $5 million), with Thailand ranking third ($4 million).

Holiday names > Place names associated with the holiday season include North Pole, Alaska (population 2,212 in 2008); Santa Claus, Ind. (2,314); Santa Claus, Ga. (250); Noel, Mo. (1,608); and, if you know about reindeer, the village of Rudolph, Wis. (412) and Dasher, Ga. (849). There is Snowflake, Ariz. (5,673) and a dozen places named Holly, including Holly Springs, Miss., and Mount Holly, N.C.

Hanukkah and Kwanzaa > 50.4% > Proportion of the nation’s spuds produced in Idaho and Washington in 2008. Potato latkes are always a crowd pleaser during Hanukkah.

$1.3 billion > The value of product shipments of candles in 2002 by the nation’s manufacturers. Many of these candles are lit during Hanukkah and Kwanzaa celebrations.

New Year’s Eve and Day > 79,389 > The estimated July 1, 2008, population of Champaign, Ill., a place whose name alone may get you into a celebratory mood.

$475 million > U.S. manufacturers shipments of effervescent wines (including sparkling wines, such as champagne) in 2002.

More than 308 million > The nation’s projected population as we ring in the New Year.

Source > U.S. Census Bureau.

New Year destinations

Posted On December 16, 2009

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New York (USA) > Times Square is the place to be in the Big Apple if you really want to experience the festive throng and the famed “ball drop”. Be prepared to make new friends from around the world and enjoy the charged atmosphere as the countdown begins. New York at New Year can be chilly, so wrap up warm and don comfortable clothing. 

New York (USA) > Times Square

Tenerife (Spain) > The fact the Tenerife is still a warm 18 degrees in mid-winter is probably why it attracts so many Brits for New Year. The church square in Los Cristianos hosts thousands of revellers waiting to pop their bottles of Cava, and like everywhere else, you’ll be able to join the locals “oohing” and “aahing” over the spectacular firework display. 

Paris (France) > Regarded as one of the most colourful and exciting places to celebrate New Year, Parisians toast the nouvelle année with flutes of Champagne and papillottes, small chocolates which pop like firecrackers when opened. Head to the Champs-Elysees from where you’ll be able to soak up the seasonal atmosphere and get a good view of the Eiffel Tower which explodes with light when the clock strikes twelve. 

Amsterdam (Netherlands) > A year round city of pleasure, it’s little wonder that the Dutch capital draws thousands of Brits for New Year. Known as Oudjaarsavond, meaning Old Year’s Eve, throngs of people will head to the famous streets such as Dam Square and Rembrandtplein to welcome in 2010. The Dutch have a hands on approach to fireworks and you’ll find it all ‘going off’ in the streets, ear plugs and safety goggles are advised. 

London (England) > New Year revellers in the English capital enjoy a choice of bars, clubs and fireworks along the river Thames, at Alexandra Palace or one of the many other displays. Fans of 007 can get shaken (but not stirred) at the Bond Ball at Kensington Close Hotel, clubbers can dance till moon down at the Ministry of Sound party at The O2, and for family fun, head to one of several London ice rinks set up especially for the festive period. 

London (England) > New Year celebrations

Alicante (Spain) > Another Spanish city long popular with Brits, locals tend to start off the Nochevieja celebrations with a huge family dinner at home, after which the younger members hit the town for the night. Plaza del Ayuntamiento (City Hall Square) in El Barrio is the place to gather for the big midnight countdown, then check into one of numerous discothèques and party till Spanish sunrise. 

Malaga (Spain) > A long time favourite of Brits during the summer, Malaga continues to draw UK visitors in winter too. Though it couldn’t exactly be described as balmy on the 31st of December, an average temperature of around 16C means that New Year in Malaga is considerably warmer than in the UK. Grab your bottles of cerveza and take to the town centre to join the New Year festivities. 

Edinburgh (Scotland, UK) > The Scottish capital’s Hogmanay party is one of the biggest New Year street parties in the UK. With live music performances across four different stages from major acts including Madness, The Enemy and Calvin Harris, and midnight firework displays from the city’s high places, Hogmanay in Edinburgh claims to offer the “World’s Biggest Auld Lang Syne”. 

Geneva (Switzerland) > Its popularity as a ski hub is the reason this Swiss city ranks so high in the charts. With over 100 resorts less than a 2 hour drive away, thousands will be seeing in the New Year on the slopes of the Swiss and French Alps. There’s also plenty of celebrations in the city itself; highlights include the organ concert at St Pierre Cathedral, live music on the Promenade Saint-Antoine, plus a line-up of top DJs. Treasure hunts and circus acts will keep the children amused. 

Dublin (Ireland) > Fuelled by fireworks, live music, street entertainment and copious amounts of Guinness, New Year in Dublin is full of craic. In Temple Bar, Dublin’s famed pub district, revellers will pour onto the streets to celebrate 2010 to the sound of firecrackers and cheers. If you’re not suffering too much, drag yourself out of bed to see the New Year’s Day Parade which hosts some fantastic marching bands from both Ireland and around the world. 

Dublin (Ireland) > Irish Beer

Top New Year destinations for 2009

Posted On December 16, 2009

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World’s most popular New Year cities for 2009 > Skyscanner revealed the most popular destinations that Brits are heading to for New Year.

The data, based on user flight searches on the Skyscanner site, threw up an intriguing mix of locations in sunny, city and even snowy destinations that Brits are travelling to for their New Year celebrations.

In the number one position, New York topped the bill as the most searched for destination, and was the only city outside of Europe to feature in the top ten.  The big apple has long been one of the most famous places to see in the New Year, and the weakening US dollar may help explain its popularity.

In second place was Tenerife, a long time favourite for Brits seeking escape from the UK’s winter gloom. Paris and Amsterdam ranked 3rd and 4th, London came in 5th, suggesting many British revellers will be ringing in the New Year on home turf or that they are using London as a connecting hub for onward travel.

Alicante and Malaga, also favourites of British holidaymakers appeared in 6th and 7th, making Spain the most popular country for Brits to celebrate New Year in overall. Edinburgh ranked 8th, suggesting that Hogmanay in the Scottish capital is still a big New Year destination for many in the UK.

Ranking 9th was Geneva, the massively popular ski hub, suggesting that a large proportion of Brits will be seeing in the New Year at one of the dozens of French or Swiss ski resorts that lie within 2 hours of the city. And at number 10 was Irish capital Dublin, which is well known for its New Year’s craic drawing thousands of Brits each year.

Here’s the Top 20 New Year Destinations from UK Airports >

1.  New York (USA)
2.  Tenerife (Spain)
3.  Paris (France)
4.  Amsterdam (Netherlands)
5.  London (UK)
6.  Alicante (Spain)
7.  Malaga (Spain)
8.  Edinburgh (UK)
9.  Geneva (Switzerland)
10. Dublin (Ireland)
11. Berlin (Germany)
12. Barcelona (Spain)
13. Bangkok (Thailand)
14. Prague (Czech Republic)
15. Lanzarote (Spain)
16. Belfast (UK)
17. Faro (Portugal)
18. Rome (Italy)
19. Madrid (Spain)
20. Glasgow (UK)

Ranking based on flight searches on Skyscanner from UK airports for travel over the New Year Period 09/10.

Related Links >

Does she love me, Santa, or does she love me not?

Does she love me, Santa, or does she love me not?

Nicosia resident Sergios Christou said that 20 years ago Cypriots would put gifts under the Christmas Tree on January 1st.

“It seems people have now been Europeanised and they instead gather and exchange gifts on Christmas Day”, Christou said.

“For a while we did gifts on both Christmas and New Year’s but that got to be too much. I actually prefer giving gifts on Christmas. It gives the kids more time to enjoy their presents over the holiday period”.

Despite the change in date, Christou said that many of the traditions, like putting biscuits and milk out the night before Santa comes to vist, still exist, they just now come a week earlier. And Ayios Vassilis, the Saint celebrated on January 1st has become synonymous with Santa Claus.

“The other day my six-year-old granddaughter suggested that Santa might be happier if we instead put out beer for him this year”.

Christou said that a common village tradition is to cross a dry leaf by a fireplace and then, after making a wish to Ayios Vassilis, toss it into the fire.

“Before tossing the dry leaf into the flames, you would say “Ayie Vassili Vasilia deixe tze fanerose an me agapa o…” (Ayie Vassili King, show and illuminate if I am loved by…) and then you name whoever’s love you are hoping for.

“If the leaf jumped up after you dropped it in the fire, then that meant the person loves you. If not, you got depressed and tried again”.

Russian Winter Celebrations > All Power to the Parties

Everyone knows that Russian winters are brutal. Perhaps that’s why, as anyone who knows Russian culture can attest, the winter season is also famous for fun, a festive time for Russians to stave off cold-weather blues.

Although Russians officially switched to the Gregorian calendar after the revolution of 1917, the Russian Orthodox Church has maintained its holiday schedule using the Julian calendar, meaning Christmas is celebrated on the day the Gregorian calendar calls January 7 and New Year on January 14.

Christmas is mostly a family affair, but come New Year, it’s party time. A few weeks later comes the traditional celebration of Maslenitsa, a last-chance party before Lent, like Mardis Gras or Carnival. And because Russians seem to find their holidays too good to leave behind, even if you can’t make it all the way to Russia this winter, you can find opportunities to join the celebration.

London, for example, will hold the third Russian Winter Festival this year on January 13, the eve of Orthodox New Year, in Trafalgar Square. And on February 9 in New York, just before Maslenitsa, February 12 to 18 this year, the Russian Children’s Welfare Society will hold the 42nd Petroushka Ball. It’s a traditional Russian ball, with fine dining, dancing and music at the Waldorf-Astoria. Originally a small, invitation-only charity benefit, the ball, though still formal and rather expensive, is now open to anyone who wants to buy a ticket.

In San Francisco, the Russian Center sponsors a less formal but more open winter festival, now in its 19th year. It’s roughly scheduled to coincide with Maslenitsa in Russia, where the tradition is for people to take to the streets in brightly colored costumes and masks for bonfires and effigy burnings, sanctioned group fistfights and other alcohol-fueled merriment. Everyone eats the traditional Maslenitsa food: blintzes with butter, jam, caviar and other toppings. Organizers in San Francisco expect to have everything but the fighting for their three-day event, which usually draws about 4,000 people.

Maslenitsa actually means something having to do with butter,” said Zoia Choglokoff, vice president and director of programs at the center, the Russian word for butter is maslo. ”It means you can have blintzes and butter and drink and so on, and then for six weeks you have to stop it,” she said. ”It’s an old Russian tradition.”

The Slavic Festival this weekend in Eugene, Ore., though not exclusively Russian, is held in conjunction with the Russian holidays and features traditional food, dancing, music and art that is mostly Russian. It is sponsored by the Slavic Home, a nonprofit cultural organization.

Of course, one of the most recognizable elements of Russia’s culture is its rich legacy of symphonic music. The New Jersey Symphony Orchestra is taking Russian culture on the road this winter with its Russian Romantics Festival, beginning next week. In a series of concerts around the state, the orchestra will feature the music of Rachmaninoff, Tchaikovsky, Borodin and other Russian composers.

Also holding a Russian winter festival is the Tucson Symphony Orchestra: four concerts will feature the music of Prokofiev, Mussorgsky and Shostakovich, among others. George Hanson, the symphony’s music director and conductor, has long had an interest in Russian music.

Mr. Hanson, who won an ECHO-Klassik award in 2003 in Germany for recordings of works by Anton Rubinstein, finds a passion in Russian music that may be echoed in the enthusiasm the country shows for its holidays. ”When a Russian plays the violin, you never have to wonder if it’s a Russian,” he said. ”They dig in. The hairs on the bow start flying onto the floor. A great performance of a Russian work will draw you into a world where the colors are more vivid and the emotions are more keenly felt.”


LONDON > Trafalgar Square; (44-207) 183-2560; What: Russian Winter Festival; free. When: January 13.

NEW YORK > Russian Children’s Welfare Society, (212) 473-6263; What: Petroushka Ball, with dinner, dancing and vocal and balalaika performances; admission from $375. When: February 9.

SAN FRANCISCO > Russian Center of San Francisco, (415) 921-7631; What: Russian Festival in Maslenitsa tradition, $10. When: February 9 to 11.

EUGENE, ORE. > Slavic Home, (541) 510-7651; What: Slavic Festival, $5 a night. When: Tomorrow and Sunday.

NEW JERSEY > New Jersey Symphony Orchestra, (800) 255-3476; What: Russian Romantics festival; most tickets from $20. When: January 9 to 28.

TUCSON, ARIZ. > Tucson Symphony Orchestra, (520) 882-8585; What: Russian Festival; from $18. When: February 8 to March 11.

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