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Holiday story ideas from WFU

By Jacob McConnico
336.758.5237
December 8, 2005

CAN BLENDED FAMILIES GET RIGHT MIX OF HOLIDAY TRADITIONS? — Whether it is going to the mountains to chop down a Christmas tree or attending a performance of the "Nutcracker," holiday traditions can pose a challenge for newly blended families, says Samuel T. Gladding, professor of counseling at Wake Forest. Figuring out which traditions should be kept or discarded can either strengthen or divide stepfamilies. "In a blended family, you are always looking at what has been, what is and what can be," Gladding says. "You may need to slow down and get the pulse of the family in terms of what each family member wants instead of one or two people deciding and saying 'isn't that great.'" He suggests making a "traditions" list of "what you especially want to do this holiday season that you don't have to do." Then, he suggests talking it out to settle on what the family would most like to do. "Being flexible and soliciting input from everyone" is important, he says. Gladding, past president of the American Counseling Association and author of the book "Family Therapy," suggests keeping some of the old, but also being creative in coming up with new traditions to help the family forge stronger bonds.

Contact: Cheryl Walker, walkercv@wfu.edu or 336-758-5237.

HOW TO WRITE THE PERFECT HOLIDAY LETTER — Year-in-review letters accompanying Christmas cards have become a popular way to maintain connections with friends and family who have fallen out of touch. As the trend has emerged, so has the fact that in an age of text messaging, e-mail and cell phones, many people today struggle with the art of letter writing. John Llewellyn, associate professor of communication at Wake Forest, says four "YULE" rules can help people compose engaging, thoughtful letters that loved ones will look forward to reading every year.

  • You care for these people. Make the love and caring — the spirit of the season — come through in the letter.
  • Use vivid language to tell your story. Let them "see" the special moments. This is not a drab inventory; it is a catalog of adventures.
  • Leave economic gloating for some other time, if at all. If your biggest problem is where to park the spare Jaguar, don't mention it.
  • Enough is enough. Two pages of news are plenty and may actually be read with interest.

    Contact: Maggie Barrett, barretmb@wfu.edu or 336-758-5237.

    AS SEEN ON TV, SITCOM HOLIDAY CELEBRATED IN REAL LIFE — According to two new books and numerous media reports, Festivus, the anti-holiday holiday introduced to America by the sitcom "Seinfeld," is being celebrated in real life. While Jerry Seinfeld's fictional neighbor Cosmo Kramer might have proclaimed it a Festivus miracle, Wake Forest Assistant Professor of Communication Mary Dalton says it's a prime example of the influence of prime time television. "It's hard to downplay the effect TV programs have on us when you see something like the Festivus celebrations," said Dalton, co-editor of "The Sitcom Reader: America Viewed and Skewed." The book, published in October by State University of New York Press, is one of the first to take a critical look at the sitcom. Dalton says she does not celebrate Festivus, but can see why people are celebrating the holiday by airing their grievances, participating in feats of strength and erecting aluminum poles in their homes. "There is something refreshing about people rejecting the commercialism of the holiday season and embracing the disappointments in their lives. These ad hoc celebrations smack of accepting and liking ourselves instead of continually trying to measure up to an unrealistic, external standard of success created by Madison Avenue."

    Contact: Maggie Barrett, barretmb@wfu.edu or 336-758-5237.

    HAPPIER HOLIDAYS FOR DIVORCED PARENTS AND THEIR CHILDREN — Planning ahead and staying positive can lead to happier holidays for divorced parents and their children, says Christy Buchanan, associate professor of psychology at Wake Forest. Work out holiday plans as far in advance as possible, so children and parents will know what to expect, suggests Buchanan, co-author of the book "Adolescents after Divorce." Be flexible and creative in coming up with new ideas and traditions, she says. Children of divorce often say they feel caught when they have to choose, she says. "Let children have input, if they want it, but don't put it all on their shoulders," she says. "Try not to be defensive if a child wants to spend time with the other parent." Parents who know they will spend a holiday away from their kids should try to do something positive for themselves, she says. "Don't be in a situation where you are home alone on Christmas Day because you didn't plan ahead," Buchanan says. "Make sure you've got something to do that will bring you some happiness. Plan a special trip. Plan to spend time with other friends or family." Showing respect and concern for an ex-spouse by at least refraining from doing/saying negative things is helpful for children of divorce any time, but can be particularly important during the holiday season.

    Contact: Cheryl Walker, walkercv@wfu.edu or 336-758-5237.

    WHAT MAKES A HOT TOY, HOT? — Cabbage Patch Kids. Tickle Me Elmo. Furby. All three had parents lining up outside stores before the crack of dawn on Black Friday in years past, but were relatively unknown three months before they were introduced. What makes a toy become the "must have" gift of a particular holiday season? "It's a three-pronged phenomenon — the three P's of holiday hype," said Sheri Bridges, associate professor of marketing at Wake Forest. Bridges describes the three P's as follows: Promotion on the part of the manufacturers and retailers, peer pressure from other children who talk about what they want Santa to bring, and pestering parents to ensure that this year's "it" gift is under the tree on Christmas morning.

    Contact: Maggie Barrett, barretmb@wfu.edu or 336-758-5237.

    WHICH GYM MACHINE WILL BEST GET YOU FIT IN 2006? — As the New Year approaches, many people will resolve to exercise regularly. Many of those same people will start their new exercise programs by using cardiovascular exercise machines at gyms and health clubs. With gyms featuring stationary bikes, treadmills, stair climbers, elliptical trainers and rowing machines, figuring out which machine would offer the best physical workout can quickly become a mental workout. Michael Berry, professor of health and exercise science at Wake Forest, says that while each machine has advantages and disadvantages depending on individual preferences and abilities, studies have shown that the treadmill is perhaps the best overall machine. "The obvious thing is, it's a type of exercise most people do every day. You can walk or run on a treadmill, so it's easy for people to use," Berry said. Studies also have shown the treadmill offers the highest calorie burn. On the downside, the treadmill may be difficult or painful to use for those with joint problems and people have to pay attention to what they are doing, he says. "You can kind of zone out more on an elliptical trainer, stationary bike or stair climber," Berry said. "You can't really do that with a treadmill, or else you're likely to shoot off the back of it." For those returning to the gym after abandoning last year's resolution to get in shape, Berry recommends trying all of the machines and deciding which ones can be tolerated at a moderate level for 30 to 40 minutes a day, five to six days a week. "The best exercise machine is one that you will use everyday," Berry said.

    Contact: Maggie Barrett, barretmb@wfu.edu or 336-758-5237.

    MAKE NEW YEAR'S RESOLUTIONS AS A FAMILY — In today's fast-paced culture, families often get caught up in their daily routines, which can discourage growth and good communication. Family resolutions can be an ideal way for families to take inventory, set goals, discuss issues and plan activities. "Have a family meeting on Jan. 1 and take stock of what would make life better for the whole family," says Samuel Gladding, professor and chair of the counseling department at Wake Forest. A family resolution meeting can help families be proactive and help foster improved communication, says Gladding who has published several books on family and counseling.

    Contact: Cheryl Walker, walkercv@wfu.edu or 336-758-5237.

    THINKING OUT LOUD CAN TEACH CHILDREN ABOUT GETTING AND GIVING — When trying to help children deal with the holiday season's emphasis on buying new things, parents should "think out loud," says Donna Henderson, a Wake Forest University counseling professor. Parents should say out loud what they are thinking when deciding whether or not to buy something, says Henderson, who has 12 years of experience as a teacher and school counselor. "We do this so quickly in our minds, but we need to actually say it to give children a model for their own decision-making." Providing a "script" for younger children to use for situations when they want a new toy or a new article of clothing helps develop their cognitive thinking skills. This method also works well when parents are trying to encourage helping others. "If you are donating food to a homeless shelter or doing charity work," she says. "Let children know how you reached your decision to help."

    Contact: Cheryl Walker, walkercv@wfu.edu or 336-758-5237.


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