Only 364 days to go!

I used to be sad on Dec. 26.

Radio stations that began playing Christmas music in mid-November abruptly stopped.

Holiday TV specials that ran 24/7 on some channels were replaced.

And seasonal areas of department stores looked like retail war zones.

Dec. 26 wasn’t fun.

At some point as I grew up, I realized Christmas wasn’t about a day.

For people who believe in Christianity, Christmas is a day to celebrate Jesus’ birth.

For others, it’s a day when Santa leaves gifts for those on his Nice List.

For many, it’s a time to be with family and friends.

Leading up to the finish line, it’s an energetic and fun time. But once you cross that finish line, the race seems very distant.

But as I began to understand what Christmas means to me, I realized that a date on a calendar doesn’t have to be the end of Christmas.

And I’m not talking about the 12 days of Christmas or Orthodox Christmas.

Instead, I think of Christmas as a belief. Christmas spirit can live all year long, without wrapping paper and bows and twinkling lights.

Christmas spirit can live in kind gestures, in hugs, in “Jingle Bells” playing in June.

Christmas spirit can live on long after December is gone.

I think of a three songs: B.E. Taylor’s “Feel the Love of Christmas,” Brad Paisley’s “Only 364 Days To Go” and LeAnn Rimes’ “Today is Christmas.”

Take a listen to each of them.

» “Feel the Love of Christmas”

» “Only 364 Days To Go”

» “Today is Christmas”

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A Very Merry Sewickley

‘Twas a week before Christmas and all through the town,
Shoppers trekked through stores and wouldn’t let the rain get them down.

I spent a little bit of time in Sewickley on Sunday afternoon, taking in the beautiful window displays and shops — despite some rain and less than seasonable weather (it was too warm!).

On select days throughout the month, festive music plays over loudspeakers, Santa sits at the town gazebo and visitors can take a horse-drawn carriage around the block.

My first stop was into House 15143, which looks more like somewhere I want to live than a store. The beautifully designed windows could pull even the Grinch into the holiday spirit. But the festive feelings don’t end there.

Inside, the shop is filled with so many wonderful accents. Their decorations offer such a vintage Christmas feel — with old-school blow mold candles, very welcoming Santa faces and so much more.

There were so many ornaments and decorations I wanted that it was hard to limit myself!

I also visited Gather and found myself in a similar situation — trying very hard to not buy everything!

Many businesses in the town have beautifully designed windows, too.

Take a look at the gallery below. House 15143 was, by far, my favorite. But Consign Sewickley, Gather and Pizza Roma all had windows that just stood out to me.

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Hershey’s nips the Kiss

Whether you call it a blossom cookie or a kiss cookie, there’s something off this year if you use Hershey Kisses.

The company has been nipping the tips off the iconic chocolate, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports.

Members of The Wedding Cookie Table Community on Facebook brought the issue to light.

Laura Magone of Monongahela runs the group that includes more than 10,000 people.

She told the PG that a member first posted about the nipped Kiss tips.

That member wrote that the company said the missing tips was intentional.

When Magone bought her own bags of Kisses, she, too, noticed the missing tips.

So she called Hershey’s and got the same response — the company did it on purpose.

“I told her she had to be kidding that she thought I would believe that,” Magone said.

In the Facebook group, others have shared similar frustrations of missing Kiss tips.

“Hershey, quit being jagoffs and fix the tips on our kisses,” one user wrote.

Members don’t believe Hershey’s answer.

“My first blush reaction was, ‘what Hershey? You’ve been doing this way longer than any of us have been making cookies,’” Tamsen Mongelli DiBlasio, formerly of Pittsburgh, told the PG.

And as PG writer Gretchen McKay wrote, “If hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, heaven help the chocolate maker who runs afoul of a disgruntled cookie maker.”

Jeff Beckman, a spokesman for Hershey, said the company “is now looking at the issue.”

The company is reaching out to members of the Facebook group to offer gifts.

But DiBlasio said she wants an intact Hershey Kiss.

“We don’t want a defective product,” she said.

11 Sleeps to Christmas: Kaufmann’s thumbprint cookies

img_9512There is no treat like a Kaufmann’s thumbprint cookie.

And if you’re from the Pittsburgh area, you might be familiar with the iconic skyscraper-looking thumbprint cookies made famous by the longtime regional department store’s Arcade Bakery.

The cookies were the most famous treats from Arcade.

After Macy’s closed the longtime flagship Kaufmann’s location in Downtown Pittsburgh, Prantl’s Bakery continued the tradition.

I recently learned that the Arcade Bakery baker Kevin Ulrich (who Prantl’s hires after Macy’s closed) is back on the thumbprint detail as of August!In September 2015, the bakery released its own version of the cookie. At the time, they tasted fine — not the same, but close enough!

Prantl’s has hired the baker who led the thumbprint cookie creation. So I had high hopes for the future.

In November I had some thumbprints for the first time since early summer and immediately tasted a drastic difference.

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The thumbprint cookie I longed for and remembered was back! But I just assumed it was because I bought them at the Shadyside location instead of Market Square where I usually go. (They’re all baked at the same place but delivered elsewhere. But you know, tastes can change in delivery!)

But GoodFoodPittsburgh.com explains that Ulrich was doing other work for Prantl’s before taking over the thumbprint role again.

“I’m happy it happened like this. The cookie is in the right hands,” Ulrich told the blog.

There are many, many flavors available. So go try all of them! And thank me with a thumbprint cookie!

The ‘Confluence’: Where Pittsburgh and the holidays come together

photo by WESAI was graciously invited to return to 90.5 WESA’s “The Confluence” program to share my love of Pittsburgh and the holiday season with listeners.

We talked PPG Place gingerbread houses, local artisan markets, walking tours, and, of course Kennywood Park’s Holiday Lights.

I joined Rossilynne Culgan, at The Incline and Katie Blackley, of WESA.

Tune in around the 24-minute mark to hear the interview.

It’s not the holidays until we see the Eat’n Park tree!

The little star that could!

Eat’n Park’s popular Christmas commercial has warmed our hearts since 1982.

And every year, Pittsburghers await the first viewing of the iconic ad.

Usually, the commercial first airs during the live telecast of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade on WPXI.

Thanks to the internet and social media, we don’t have to wait to watch the spot.

In a 2012 Post-Gazette story celebrating the 30th anniversary of the ad, an Eat’n Park leader said the company receives many emails from people telling them the spot marks the official start of their holiday season.

“When the Eat’n Park commercial comes on the TV and the Horne’s tree goes up, those are the two starting points of Christmas,” Graham Small told the PG.

Read more from Eat’n Park about the story of the popular commercial.

Baby, it’s cold outside … so let’s drink? Study says we drink more in winter

As Straight No Chaser sings … who spiked the eggnog?

Think you drink more during the winter?

A study out of the University of Pittsburgh says you do.

Colder climates apparently contribute to a higher occurrence of binge drinking and liver disease, Elle magazine reported, citing the study.

That warm and toasty feeling you get after throwing back a few relaxes the blood vessels and increases the flow of warm blood to the skin.

And because of that, people tend to want to drink more alcohol in the winter.

Of course, it might also be due to the fact that we tend to be around family more during the holidays.