Thursday, December 19, 2019

For a Christmas experience unlike any other, try Rent-A-Santa

Santa Doug makes ready for a big Christmas season

CHARLOTTE, NC – No character or personality epitomizes the spirit of Christmas better than Santa Claus. Wherever you are jolly old St Nicholas is the universal embodiment of the season regardless of what they may call him in any corner of the world. Be it Sinta Klaus or Father Frost, Kris Kringle, Papai Noel, Christkindl or just plain old Santa, the spirit of his message is the same everywhere.

In fact, some people get so caught up in the aura of Santa Claus they even go to school to learn the nuances of portraying the season's most beloved symbol.

It wasn't me -- somebody else ate the cookies
 DougEberhart, a Princeton graduate from Charlotte, NC, is also an alumnus of the C.W. Howard Santa School in Midland, Michigan, where he learned long ago that being St. Nick involves a lot more than donning a red suit and being able to end every sentence with a hardy "Ho, ho, ho!"

Santa Doug has been bringing his alter ego alive for over 40 years using his love of people and his contagious personal charisma to entertain and visit both children and adults. All of his equipment is professional and custom made. Santa Doug visits schools, hospitals, homes, parties and apartment complexes.

Kids love house visits
Among Santa Doug's most popular specialties is house visits where Santa arrives before Christmas to the delight of children of all ages, including adults who are easily the most impressed members of any group.

Visits are a cooperative effort between Santa and the organizer(s) to make everything perfect. In advance, Santa Doug obtains the names of the children who will be present and a fact or two about each child such as their favorite color, a teacher they like, a special interest or a recent accomplishment. Anything that will help personalize the visit.

All of this is wrapped into the spontaneous conversations that evolve during the visit. If small gifts are involved they should be wrapped with a clearly printed label. The packages are all transferred to Santa's Toy Bag before he greets the kids.

During the holidays, anywhere there's a need for Santa, Doug is ready including schools, groups and corporate meetings and outings.

Custom-made costumes

As a true professional, Santa Doug dons the traditional red and white Santa suit with various styles and furs. His beard is real hair, hand tied and custom fitted for him.

Each costume is unique and custom made. Additionally, he has over five vintage Santa suits that are unlike any on the market which have been immaculately created from pictures and postcards from the late 1800’s of Jolly ole St. Nick.

Santa Doug even provides tips on his website to ensure the best possible "Santa Experience."

Two front teeth will be just fine with me
7 Tips for a Good Santa Visit

1. Have the room temperature no higher than 68 degrees.

2. Have a place for me to sit that is sturdy, no lazy boy chairs, and please not near a roaring fire.

3. Try to keep the kids away from me for a few feet, especially if I am bringing in presents.

4. If you have provided presents for me to pick up, let me know where you have placed them and have the names CLEARLY PRINTED on each package.

5. The tags should be taped securely and NO GIFT BAGS as things fall out easily.

6. If you have kids at a home visit, please have them INSIDE during the time I arrive and not outside playing, as I don’t want kids to see me getting out of my sleigh.

7. Take as many pics as you wish but if your baby or child is screaming, it is NOT a good time for the child or for me.

Makin' a list, checkin' it twice

Despite the traditional happiness of the season however, every now and then a serendipitous moment occurs that serves as a poignant reminder to Doug that he, too, can be on the receiving end of the Santa Claus experience:

"Yesterday I picked up a gig at an orthodontic clinic where a Santa had to cancel due to an illness. I had two of God’s beautiful non-verbal special needs girls ages 9 and 12 visit me.
 "The mom was great. She lifted the lighter child out of her wheelchair and placed her on my lap. The younger girl was so excited to have some time with Santa that I could feel her smile next to my face as I held her and looked at the camera. 

Joy and happiness are what it's all about
  "And then the pictures began. (Click. Flash! Click. Spontaneous joy. Flash! Ear to ear smiles. Silent contagious laughter. Click. Flash!) 
 "The older girl smiled and thrashed in her chair with excitement. I was so blessed to have picked up this gig and to meet these two wonderful children, for this is what being Santa Claus is all about.
The gift of Santa Claus is universal
"It's times like these that make me realize WHY I put on the red suit. This isn’t a job. This isn’t a hobby. This is a calling and I am insurmountably blessed that I answered it. We are the magic makers. We are beacons of hope for children of all ages and to those who believe." 

Friday, December 13, 2019

Irish eyes are smiling at Christmas markets in Dublin and Belfast

The Emerald Isle lights up in Dublin and Belfast at Christmas
(Courtesy: Ardfem -- licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license)
IRELAND — For anyone traveling to the Republic of Ireland or Northern Ireland for the holidays, the "Emerald Island" has spruced up and added millions of lights along with plenty of red to compliment its traditional Irish green.

Sparkling with twinkling lights, replete with delicious food and drink and brimming with great gift ideas, Christmas markets are the perfect places to discover a little festive magic, and the two biggest cities on the island of Ireland, Dublin and Belfast, have more than a few seasonal venues that are just bursting with Yuletide cheer.

High angle view of the colorful Christmas market in Galway

For starters a new Christmas market brings all things festive to Dublin Castle this year where the grounds will be transformed into a "magical new experience" from December 12th until December 22nd.

Christmas spirit is everywhere
Over 30 traditional alpine stalls from artisan producers will be present at the event held in the courtyard of the impressive castle.

Dubbed "Christmas At The Castle," local crafts-people will be selling unique decorative gifts and food throughout the day, while evening activities include carol singing and horse-drawn carriage rides around the castle grounds.

Adding to the ancient atmosphere, visitors are also invited to explore the castle’s stunning interiors with complimentary access to the State Apartments from 6.00 pm to 8.00 pm.

At St Stephen’s Green in the heart of Dublin another winter wonderland called the Christmas Market on the Green will open each Sunday until December 22nd to sell everything from vintage and sustainable clothing to vinyl, art and jewelry.

There's an alternative market too
(Courtesy: pxfuel)
Travelers looking for something less traditional with a unique twist, may find the perfect quirky gift for the person who has everything at the Alternative Christmas Market on December 15th at the Grand Social on Liffey Street Lower. Here you’ll find all things weird and wonderful from medieval crafts to gothic clothes.

Goth fashion is a clothing style marked by conspicuously dark, mysterious, antiquated and homogeneous features. It is worn by members of the Goth subculture. A dark, sometimes ghastly fashion and style of dress, typical gothic fashion includes dyed black hair, dark lipstick and dark clothing. Both male and female goths can wear dark eyeliner and dark nail polish - most often black. In other words it's the "Morticia look" for contemporary fashion.

The pub scene is always lively in Dublin
(Courtesy: good free photos)
Still searching? Why not take a trip to the harbor town of Dún Laoghaire just 30 minutes from Dublin to enjoy the Dún Laoghaire Christmas Festival on weekends until December 23rd?

This year's theme celebrates all things retro. Alongside the Christmas market filled with handmade gifts and mouth-watering treats, there will also be a 50s-style Ferris wheel, which was featured in the movie Grease, vintage chair-o-planes used in the TV series Into the Badlands, colorful hobby horses and an old-fashioned rollercoaster.

Christmas lights in Donegall Place in Belfast
(Courtesy: Albert Bridge --  licensed for reuse under the Creative Commons
Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 license)
In recent years, Northern Ireland has become a trendy destination, and Belfast is not to be outdone. The Christmas Market on the grounds of the spectacularly lit City Hall are thec focal point of the city’s Yuletide celebrations right up until the 22nd of December.

With an eclectic array of international traders in beautiful wooden chalets offering incredible food and delightful gift ideas, this is the perfect spot for immersing yourself in Belfast’s buzzing Christmas spirit.

Spicy hot Gluhwein is the
drink of choice
(Photo: Peabod)
Food favorites include French crêpes, Belgian chocolates, Dutch pancakes, and everything from kangaroo burgers and hog roast to specialty cheeses and as well as hot glühwein. All the delicious foods are served alongside quality produce from local artisan food and craft producers.

Looking for an unusual Christmas gift? You might find it here among the handcrafted selection of leather goods, jewelry and crafts.

Elsewhere in Belfast, the famous St George’s Market joyously filled with twinkling lights, festive food and drink and an abundance of locally crafted and made Christmas gifts for all the family.

Scattered throughout the rustic market stalls is a dazzling line-up of local musicians, including school and community choirs that add an extra touch of magic on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays in December.

The always spectacular ever-changing Cliffs of Moher

These are but a few of the holiday treasures taking place during the Yuletide season in Ireland. However, while this story has only a brief shelf-life and appeals largely to those who are already planning to visit Ireland between now and Christmas, the Magellan Travel Club is offering a tour of both countries from July 13th to July 25th, 2020 (including air). A ground-only package is also available.

Ireland is a year-round destination that lives up to its reputation for legendary friendliness and hospitality regardless of when you visit. Yes, the home of the River Dance truly is a "land for all seasons."

Friday, December 6, 2019

Be it traditional to bizarre Finland in winter is Europe's playground

The church in Finland's Snow Hotel on the Arctic Circle
(Courtesy: Snow Hotel Finland)

– No country in the world embraces the short dark days of winter with more enthusiasm than Finland where Finns eagerly greet the first snowflakes of the season with reverent anticipation.

Here Mother Nature turns an entire country into a crystalline playground filled with exhilarating, and sometimes unusual, activities.

No sport represents the Finnish passion for winter more than cross country skiing. Even today, the Finn’s love of their woodlands and lakes is deeply rooted in their rural heritage.

Trekking on virgin snow
(Courtesy: Finnish Tourist Board)
Skis have evolved from a primary means of transportation to the most popular source of cold weather recreation.

Outdoor loving travelers with an appetite for exercise can do cross country hut-to-hut ski tours by trekking through pristine nature, through snow laden forests and across frozen lakes.

Hut-to-hut tours feature rustic accommodations, sometimes with no electricity. On the other hand, because you’re in Finland, no amount of rusticity ever goes without a sauna at every location.

Saunas are everywhere
(Courtesy: Finnish Tourist Board)
While much of Finland is relatively flat, all the familiar winter activities are available with plenty of opportunities to hit the slopes for downhill or alpine skiing. Just below the Arctic Circle in Kuusamo, Mt. Ruka is one of the most popular spots in the country for such traditional ski experiences.

Telemark skiing is another favorite. Perhaps the best way to describe it is that it’s like doing cross country skiing on downhill terrain. Like other forms of the sport, telemark is challenging because it demands stamina combined with rhythm, coordination and balance in order to derive maximum pleasure from skimming across soufflés of powdery white snow.

Much of the fun of Finland in winter however, is leaving traditional enterprises behind to find bold adventures that are unlike anywhere else in the world. It is here that Finnish creativity has no peer.

The Finlandia Ski Race is an international marathon on skis
(Courtesy: Finnish Tourist Board)
Each year in February, the Finlandia Ski Race attracts nearly 10,000 participants from around the world for a marathon on skis. Beginning at the Lahti Ski Center about two hours northeast of Helsinki, this test of speed and endurance features two major competitions. 

The first is a 20-mile race followed by the main event which is 47-miles long. For some the race represents a commitment to a healthy lifestyle, but for most the ultimate goal is to simply cross the “Finnish line.”

Reindeer skiing at a reindeer round-up in Lapland
(Courtesy: Finnish Tourist Board)
How about reindeer skiing which is popular in Lapland? Just hook a bridle and tow-rope to your favorite reindeer and race across the tundra at breakneck speed.

Lapland is also home to annual reindeer round-ups. Just as bison were integral to the lives of native Americans in the western United States for food, shelter and clothing, so too, are reindeer for the Lapps. Round-ups allow visitors to participate in herding reindeer, often by helicopter, as the animals are separated for breeding, slaughter, being returned to their owners or released back into the wild.

Dog sledding is also popular
(Courtesy: Finnish Tourist Board)
Throughout the dark-shortened days of winter in Finland ice sculpture contests are a popular diversion in many small villages.

Just because temperatures are freezing and summer is either long forgotten or too far in the future to dream about, does not mean that Finns don’t remember the range of activities that await after the snow melts.

Let's play 36 holes
(Courtesy: Finnish Tourist Board)
How about a round of snow golf where the “greens” become “whites” and balls are orange to make them easier to find. A little snow will never keep a dedicated Finnish duffer from making his appointed rounds.

How about fishing? After all, the fish are still under all of that frozen water. Drill a hole, set up a stool, get a hot glass of cider, drop a line and you’re in business.

There's horse racing too. The trotters at Vermo run all year long.

Summer swimming is for sissies
(Courtesy: Finnish Tourist Board)
For members of the Polar Bear Club, why not compete in a winter swim meet? A regulation pool is chiseled out of the ice and all the events are just like summer; breast stroke, butterfly, backstroke and freestyle.

Do an icebreaker cruise on the Sampo, then don a wet-suit
for a dip in the Baltic
(Courtesy: Scandi Travel)
Many travelers find cruising relaxing. So do the Finns. That’s why they offer ice-breaker cruises more than half of the year.

The best known and most popular is aboard the Sampo, a retired government ice-breaker that takes travelers out to chop up the ice. Sampo sails out of the seaport city of Kemi. During the tour, participants are allowed to outfit themselves in brightly colored wet-suits and go for a dip in the Gulf of Bothnia.

Where better to see the 
Aurora Borealis than Finland
(Courtesy: Finnish Tourist Board)
Summer has the midnight sun, but even that cannot compete with the Aurora Borealis or Northern lights of winter.

When conditions are exactly right, another phenomenon known as the “blue-moment” occurs just before sunset when eerie shades of blue envelop the surroundings to create an alien-like atmosphere.

Try snowmobiling or dog-sledding. If no dogs are available, no matter, you can do a reindeer safari instead.

Saunas are the Finnish National pastime
(Courtesy: Sauna Society of Helsinki}
Of course there’s always sledding, skating and campfire cookouts.

Whatever your interests, be they offbeat, traditional, adventure or something in between, Finland welcomes visitors to the wonders of winter. The Finns refer to it as “snow-how” because in Finland, there’s no business like “snow” business.