Holiday Traditions

This year we decided to ask some of our Extension agents what their favorite holiday traditions were. Below are their answers.

Matt Browning, Director of Communications – My holiday tradition is to redvelvetcheesecakemake a cheesecake for my family’s Christmas Eve celebration, and I’ve been toying with various recipes for about 10 years. I’ve long been a fan of the red velvet cheesecake at Cheesecake Factory, so a few years ago I concocted my own version by combining a few different recipes. I use these Southern Red Velvet Cake and Cream Cheese Frosting recipes from Food Network and my go-to New York Cheesecake recipe from Kraft (sans the crust and the pie filling). I make each recipe individually (usually doubling the frosting one), slice the cakes horizontally, stack them (alternating layers), and then frost. It’s a bit time-consuming but extremely delicious!

Bonnie Dunn, Extension Specialist – Christmas Eve candle light formal dinner with the family and friends. This is how my children learned their proper dining manners that prepared them for their future place in life. The menu has always been the same — Appetizer: Shrimp cocktail and cheese ball. Dinner: beef tenderloin, baked potato, green beans, salad, homemade rolls, fruit salad. Dessert: pumpkin pie, old-fashioned sugar cream pie, lemon cheese pie and a variety of homemade cookies, iced tea and sparkling cider (non-alcoholic) in champagne flutes. We continue to do this but have had to modify a little as the circle of family and friends has increased.

Stacy Ford, Extension Agent – We always celebrate Christmas on Christmas Eve, so we relax on Christmas day and watch the A Christmas Story movie marathon! Also, my family collects Christmas ornaments, mainly Hallmark, so it’s always fun to get them out and see the ones on my Mom’s tree, too.

Stacy Herrick, Communications Specialist – One of my favorite things to do to eatnparkchristmasstar750kick off the holiday season is to watch the Eat’n Park Christmas Star commercial. I grew up just south of Pittsburgh, and you always knew it was Christmastime when it came on TV.

Kaysha Moreno, Extension Agent – My favorite holiday tradition is being able to sit around with family drinking hot cocoa and watching Christmas movies. Oftentimes, we get so wrapped up in obtaining and giving gifts that we miss the true feeling of peace and love that Christmas brings.

Holiday Savings

By Stacy Herrick, Communications Specialist

‘Tis the season to start shopping for the holidays. Even though it is well before Thanksgiving, it’s never too early to start getting organized and getting ahead of the game. (I started back in October; don’t judge me.) Below are some time- and money-saving tips to help you get started.

Make a List
There are plenty of apps out there that can help you keep track of your Christmas lists, but I find Google Docs to be the easiest, because I already use it a lot as is. Plus, I am able to access it on my computer or phone and share my list with my husband so we can make sure we don’t miss buying for anyone.

Getting the “Must Have” Item on Your List
When purchasing gifts in advance, sometimes you may come across a better deal closer to the holiday. As long as you’re still within the timeframe of returns, that’s not a problem. Not to mention, it can also give you the flexibility to shop around but still make sure you were able to snag that “got to have” item on your list.

An example of this would be wanting to buy one of the “must have” toys of the season, but you’re not sure if you’ll be able to find it on Black Friday or Cyber Monday when everyone else is looking for the same item. Don’t fret! All you have to do is buy the item ahead of time (noting the timeframe you have to return it) and then when Black Friday and Cyber Monday come rolling around, do your best to try to get the item at the deeper discounted price. If you can, great! Go ahead and return the first item you bought at the higher price. If you didn’t get it, that’s o.k. because you were still able to get the item you wanted, just not at the discounted price.

Free is Always Good
Shipping for many online retailers is free during the holiday season. Some sites have a minimum that you have to purchase to get free shipping; however, many of these sites waive that during the holiday season. Either way, when shopping online, be sure to note how long it will take to deliver the items to ensure you receive them in time for the holidays.

When it comes to online shopping, be aware that not all returns are free. Sometimes you will have to pay the shipping to return an item. However, PayPal is offering free return shipping this holiday season on items that you purchase through your PayPal account.

There’s an App for That
Mobile apps are becoming more and more prominent when it comes to shopping. It is not uncommon for these apps to offer additional discounts or special promotions. Two examples of these are the JC Penney app and the Target Cartwheel app. The Cartwheel app offers weekly discounts in addition to what is offered in their circular. These discounts can also be stacked on additional coupons and sales, giving you even bigger savings. And this year, the JC Penney app is offering an early sneak peek to their Black Friday ad before it is publicly released.

Do Your Homework
From scouring weekly ad circulars to checking your favorite websites for the latest updates on sales, this information is everywhere and easily accessible. Follow your favorite stores on Facebook to keep up with the latest updates. It’s not uncommon for companies to offer additional savings to their social media followers. Other sites that you can use to get coupon codes, sales and deals are and Another site that is set up as message boards to discuss current deal and coupon codes is Sometimes sites like these can tip you off to other, lesser-known sales that are happening.

Hopefully this list will help you get you holiday shopping started on the right foot. Good luck and happy shopping!

How to Care for a Poinsettia

By Melissa Stewart, Assistant Director

Poinsettias are one of the most beautiful staples of holiday décor, available in a variety of colors and sizes. But you can’t place one in your window and forget about it until New Year’s Day. Just like a live Christmas tree, with a poinsettia purchase comes the responsibility of caring for a live plant all through the holiday season.

In my previous life as a production grower, I spent many hours obsessing over poinsettias. Trying to grow the perfect plant, with at least 5 to 7 blooms and also compact in nature, was no easy task. My thoughts always went toward how that plant would be cared for once out of my hands. It was as if 50,000 of my children were being released into the world! With that in mind, I always had a few tips I passed along to customers who were excited to have a poinsettia for the holidays.

  • Poinsettias are tropical plants and aren’t ideal for outdoor decoration during the cold winter here in West Virginia. Protect them from the cold at all times, beginning at point of purchase and as you place them in your home. Keep them away from exterior doors where they can be exposed to sudden bursts of cold air.
  • Water your poinsettias when the soil starts to dry, but do not keep them overly wet.
  • Poinsettia pots are typically sold with a pot cover. These will hold in the moisture, and you will need to drain these covers after watering so the roots are not left submerged.
  • Poinsettia stems are delicate. If you notice that a poinsettia bract (flower) appears to be wilting, the stem has likely been broken. Therefore, the affected bract should be removed. Do not take this as a sign that the plant needs water. Check the soil to determine that need.
  • Finally, the berries in the center are an indicator of bloom age. The yellow centers will open, and then begin to drop off. Remove them and continue to enjoy the beauty of the bract colors.

While poinsettias may require different elements of care than many other houseplants, it’s still a minor amount of work compared to the added beauty they bring to your holiday decorations. These simple tips should help to keep your poinsettia happy throughout the holidays! And for even more poinsettia care advice, check out this post from the University of Georgia (keeping in mind that Georgia’s winter climate differs from West Virginia).

How to Choose a Live Christmas Tree

By Brad Cochran, Extension Agent

O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree. It’s that time of year when the lights, decorations and, of course, the Christmas tree go up inside and outside the home. Tree lots suddenly appear all over the neighborhood, selling freshly cut, live Christmas trees. But before you rush out to purchase the biggest and bushiest tree on the lot and strap it to the top of your car, there are a few things you should do to ensure you choose the best tree for your home.

  • How tall of a tree can your home handle? This may seem like common sense, but you don’t want to buy a 10’ tall tree and bring it home to a family room with 8’ ceilings. A quick measurement before you leave the house could save you lots of heartache later on.
  • How wide of a tree can your home handle? This falls right in line with the previous point. It is a good idea to measure all doors and hallways along the path from your driveway to where the tree will be staying through the holidays. Thankfully, tree branches are flexible and can bend a little bit, but trying to squeeze the tree to make it through the hallway always opens up opportunities to damage both the tree and your home. After all, remember what happened to the Griswolds in that holiday favorite National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation!

  • Always inspect the trees at the lot. This allows you to check the tree for damaged places, such as dead or dying branches, and more importantly to check that the tree is well-balanced with about the same amount of greenery on each side. If one side is heavier than the other, it can make insertion and balance in the tree stand difficult.
  • Which species should you choose? One of the best tree species is a Balsam Fir, however other trees to consider are Douglas Fir and Fraser Fir; White Pine; and White, Norway and Blue Spruce. Each of these has positive and negative traits, like needle holding, branch firmness and fragrance to name a few. However, all of these would be quality trees to consider for your live Christmas tree.

Once you are through these steps and have your tree home and placed in the tree stand, be sure to keep it watered thoroughly. The warmer you keep your home, the more water it will require. But generally speaking it will require at a minimum of 20 ounces per day. The general recommendation is to keep the tree stand full, or close to full, at all times. Also, remember to never leave the lights on your live tree turned on while you’re asleep or away from home. Visit the National Christmas Tree Association for some additional tree care tips.

After the holidays are over and you are packing up your decorations, think about disposing of your tree. If you have a backyard space or some unused area, consider placing the tree outside to become a habitat for birds and other small critters for the winter. If you don’t have this sort of space or it doesn’t interest you at all, contact your local Department of Environmental Protection or Division of Natural Resources office. They may be interested in using it for wildlife habitat creation or even in streams to create habitat for fish. West Virginia has traditionally hosted a Christmas tree recycling event each year for the past decade (like this event last year). We’ll share details on a similar event this year should the tradition continue.