Category Archives: Gift giving

Only 364 days to go…

The Christmas tree in our living room
Fills the room with pine perfume
And colored lights dancing on the walls
While Nat King Cole sings “Deck The Halls”
Don’t you get the sense tonight
That for now the world is right
And as another Christmas ends
My mind drifts and once again
I’m thinking like a six year old
Only 364 days to go

This Brad Paisley song had to work a day later due to leap year.

Enjoy the full song here.

Gift-giving blues this Christmas

It’s no secret I love the holidays (I mean, I did start a website called It’s Christmas 365).

But gift-giving is another story.

As I write this – a mere two days before my family exchanges gifts – I’ve not purchased one gift.

It isn’t that I’m in a frumpy Christmas mood.

Quite the opposite: This probably ranks among my favorite holiday seasons in recent memory.

I dislike the transactional feel of buying gifts – as though, we must buy gifts simply because that is what one does at this time of year.

I’ve never been one to hop into Target or Macy’s or go on Amazon to buy everything. I’ve made such an effort to think local – not necessarily small, but local. For instance, I usually give someone Eat’n Park gift cards. Last year, I gifted my parents a weekend stay at the Sheraton hotel on Erie’s Bayfront.

I like the gift of experience, but my family members don’t seem to be interested in those things. Several years ago, I bought my parents tickets to Kennywood Park. They’d been saying how they hadn’t been there, so I thought it would be great. My mom loved it when she opened it on Christmas Eve.

Fast forward to the summer and I kept asking when they were going. Mid-August rolled around and the tickets hadn’t been used. Someone on Facebook was seeking tickets to the park and I asked my mom if I could have them back to give them to someone who would use them.

My mother’s idea of gift-giving is very transactional: buy things people need. I’m sure I’ll get jeans because she thinks I need them, for example.

I encourage her to be creative. She explains how she’s too busy all month getting ready for one night that she doesn’t have time.

“So let’s change how we do Christmas,” I say. But that’s quickly nixed because she wants to continue the same idea of traditions she has known forever.

It’s hard to change mindsets – especially when people yearn for “the good ol’ days” (whatever those mean for people).

I’d prefer much more of a seasonal celebration – taking in the sights and sounds of events and activities that happen during November and December.

My mom, on the other hand, is a firm believer in Christmas Eve and Christmas Day being this huge production. She loves the entire season, but can’t see beyond Dec. 24-25.

A friend explained to me his family’s list-sharing experience, where they offer lists of items each of them want. So each family member goes and buys things from that list. There’s no element of surprise or room for creativity. While some of the items are useful, I’m hard-pressed to think opening many of the items on his family’s lists would be exciting.

Other friends have shared similar sentiments with me about their families. I recently told a friend (and fellow Christmas enthusiast) that I hadn’t started shopping. He was shocked, but when I explained why, he understood and then offered his own examples of family members buying practical gifts.

Not to turn this into a damn the corporations! post, but … big business wins when we believe the only way to celebrate Christmas is with gifts.

The gift-giving aspect isn’t what my Christmas is about. My Christmas is about spending time with family and friends, making memories, enjoying anything with peppermint in it!

And it isn’t that I dislike giving gifts. I buy gifts for some friends, getting them things I think they’d like. I don’t buy them socks (well, I did buy a friend socks this year, but they’re funny) or jeans.

If I was even the slightest bit crafty, I would make things for people.

Gifts certainly are a great way to show affection, respect, thanks to those we care about. Gifts can be small and inexpensive or whatever we want them to be.

It all goes back to the Grinch: “He puzzled and puzzled till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before. Maybe Christmas, he thought…doesn’t come from a store. Maybe Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more!”

Need to shop for an introvert? Here’s a list of 40-plus gifts for them.

Look, not everybody can be outgoing. Heck, even outgoing people sometimes are introverts.

So, BuzzFeed put together a list of 44 gifts for the introverts in our lives, and, to be honest, some of these are pretty great.

Here are some highlights:

Check out the rest of the list here.

Your ultimate guide to Pittsburgh area holiday events

I curated this epic list of Pittsburgh area holiday events to help guide you through the season! I did it for my actual full-time job since It’s Christmas 365 actually costs me money instead of making me money, haha.

The list has sooooo much in it. Take a look. Share with others! Reach out to me with events I missed. Or if you hit up any of these events, let me know! You might even see me there!

Have ‘A Very Merry Pittsburgh’ with Heinz History Center’s holiday exhibit

Pittsburghers love traditions – especially during the Steelers season and the holiday season.

And, as the years go by, the beginnings of holiday traditions that made Pittsburgh’s once-vibrant Downtown shopping district shine are nothing but a memory.

Horne’s, Kaufmann’s, Gimbels all had extravagant holiday season traditions: windows, tree lightings, amazing interior decorating, Santa.

While those landmarks and many of the events are gone, the memories will live on through a very special exhibit at the Heinz History Center: “A Very Merry Pittsburgh.”

It’s the second year for the unique display (it first appeared in 2017).

The display, which opens Nov. 16, features:

  • The original Santa’s chair from Kaufmann’s Santaland, the giant mailbox where Pittsburgh area children used to mail wish lists to Santa
  • Holiday window display items and other memorable objects from Kaufmann’s, Horne’s and Macy’s
  • An interactive retro toy display showcasing toys from several generations
  • Gifts and toys dating to the 1840s, which show the evolution of gift-giving for the holidays

And, of course, Santa! The History Center welcomes Santa on select days and times.

I visited this exhibit during its premiere year in 2017 and took my mother, who fondly recalled so many toys and items from Kaufmann’s and Horne’s. I loved getting a chance to see old window display pieces up close and to learn more about those pieces.

This is a must-see exhibit for any Pittsburgher!

More details:

A Very Merry Pittsburgh opens Nov. 16 and continues through Jan. 5. The exhibit is included as part of a regular admission ticket to the Heinz History Center.

Santa will be at the History Center from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on the following days: Nov. 16, 17, 23, 24, 29; and Dec. 1, 7, 8, 14, 15, 21, 22, 23, 24.

The History Center is located at 1212 Smallman St. in the Strip District. You’ll want to block off several hours to visit the History Center because of all of the wonderful exhibits, including pieces from “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” and the massive Western Pennsylvania Sports Museum, and so much more! Or, just get a membership and return multiple times throughout the year!

Get event listings and more holiday fun in the It’s Christmas 365 newsletter!

You must see Kraynak’s Christmas Land, but plan ahead!

If Kraynak’s Christmas Land doesn’t get you into the spirit, I’m not sure what will.

With its 300 feet of holiday displays, the garden center and year-round store delights children of all ages.

The displays change yearly (in fact, they also do displays for Easter).

Since 1963, the Hermitage, Pennsylvania, store has offered the Christmas displays. It’s free to walk through, but good luck exiting if you only go to see the display! (But more on that later.)

OK, so for some folks, the displays are a big deal reveal, so if you are someone who wants to be surprised when you see the displays, please tap here to skip the description and photos.

But if you’re someone who wants to see some of what’s displayed (with a few spoilers), read on!

OK… so.

My favorite part of this year’s displays is the nod to Pittsburgh’s favorite neighbor, Mr. Rogers. When I first saw Neighborhood Trolley in the corner of my eye from afar, I paused and started to slowly well up. Mister Rogers does that to me, and like to you, too!

It’s part of a make-believe theme of toys which includes classics (Care Bears and some of the old Fisher-Price toys) along with some newer surprises.

There’s also a K’nex roller coaster (talk about childhood memories!) with a sign honoring Kennywood Park’s latest coaster, the Steel Curtain.

Among the displays is one giving us a peek into Santa’s elves. And, of course, the “We Are Santa’s Elves” song from the claymation classic “Rudolph” plays for that scene.

I won’t spoil the rest for you, but I assure you, it’s worth the trip to see these amazing displays!

OK, you can look again if you skipped!

I’d love to one day do displays like this, so I get so geeked seeing the creativity put into these. The animatronics, decor and lights all are so intrinsically placed to offer such delightful displays.

But, if you’re going to check out Kraynak’s Christmas Land or just want to check out the wide array of holiday decorations, toys, gifts and so much more, you need a plan. The spot is a popular destination for people from all across the region. I spotted vehicles from Erie, from areas around Pittsburgh, from near Cleveland and beyond.

I waited about 15 minutes to get into the display, which I was told wasn’t too bad for a Saturday afternoon in early-to-mid November.

Here are some helpful tips to get you through Kraynak’s and its Christmas Land painlessly as possible.

  • The Christmas display is open through Dec. 31.
  • Go early. The store and display are open 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday and from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday. It’s best to go early in the day or afternoon as the crowds tend to pick up in the evening.
  • Plan for parking. Parking is available on site, but it might take a bit of going aisle to aisle to find a spot. Many people parked in the shopping center across the street, but fair warning, there are signs posted indicating that parking is for shopping center customers only.
  • Find a map in the store or save this image to help you navigate the many, many rooms through this maze. There are so many different areas of the store that it is incredibly easy to get lost. If you’ve ever been in a Las Vegas casino, it’s pretty much like that: you can’t see the exit or daylight, and just when you think you’re nearing the end, another area opens up.
  • Wear comfortable shoes. Sure, it’s not the actual size of a casino or even a mall, but with the amount of people and all of the different rooms and stuff to see, you likely will do a lot of standing and walking up and down aisles.
  • There are a few registers throughout the store that allow you to check out. I had no wait at a main checkout lane and actually saw a line at one somewhere in the depths of the store. But I’ve been told the registers in the main store can back up.
  • Santa is in the very back of the store in a room with no other rooms beyond it. You can get your photo with Santa, and you’re able to take your own photo, but the store requires you to pay for a photo from them before taking your own photo. Makes sense – Santa has to earn some money, too!
  • Find a buggy (cart, shopping trolley, etc) or basket early. Once I entered the Christmas displays and then into the store, I could not locate a buggy or basket anywhere, and I needed one very badly.
  • Strollers and wheelchairs will fit through the aisles, but it might be a tight fit in some areas. If you’ve got one of those SUV strollers (the two-kid-wide ones), you might want to use something else or be prepared to always say “excuse me” when you bump into someone.
  • Be merry! Sure, there are lots of people and noise, but it’s the holiday season and everybody wants to see the spectacular displays and Santa! Take a deep breath, pause, sing “Jingle Bells” and then get your merry on!

More details…

Kraynak’s is located at 2525 East State St., Hermitage, PA 16148.

Note: Do not just type “Kraynak’s” into Google Maps. It will direct you to an area near the Shenango Valley Mall. You must search for “Kraynak’s Lawn and Garden Center” or use that address above

The store is open daily except for Thanksgiving and Christmas Day.

Get events listings, holiday fun and so much more in the It’s Christmas 365 newsletter!