Here's some of my column from the Tribune one year ago on Christmas Web sites:
In a pickle over Christmas? Get your mouse a stirring
December 20, 2002, Tempo; Pg. 2; AT RANDOM. INTERNET
Admit it: you're no Grinch, but at some point during the ordeal of hauling your Christmas tree into your living room, leaving your stomach lined with pockmarks from needle pokings, you may have asked: Why exactly does society mandate we transplant a tree inside our homes each December?
The answers to these and other Christmas-related queries can be found online, if you know where to look.
This is Christmas 101, or, in keeping with the theme of the site, "How Christmas Works." Why the tree? Why the caroling? Why the poinsettias? (Hint: it has to do with a guy named Poinsett, and no, they're not poisonous -- that's a myth). It's a cursory review, and the answers are sometimes a little thin, but it does cover most of the basic questions and you're guaranteed to learn something.
More in-depth (and occasionally morbid) ventures into Christmas folklore are best handled by Barbara and David Mikkelson, arbiters of truth, myth and urban legend at the Urban Legend Reference Pages. It's not true, for example, that anyone has ever died after dressing up as Santa and getting stuck in a chimney. It is true that in German tradition, a pickle ornament is the crowning touch on the tree. The Mikkelsons also offer a more comprehensive history of Santa Claus and the strange superstitions surrounding holly and mistletoe. And the poinsettia myth gets debunked again.
Whether or not your Christmas tree has you perplexed, it's a good idea to take this advice from the experts at the National Christmas Tree Association. Their tree-care tips cover topics such as tree stand size, cutting the stump for maximum water absorbency and a rule of thumb for adding water to the stand (one quart for every inch of the trunk's diameter). But it doesn't take an expert to tell you, "The best secret for keeping your tree fresh is water, water, water."
www.christmasarchives.comTo get a taste of the holiday's international flavor, start with this series of essays on Christmas in Hungary, Poland (see also www.polishworld.com/christmas), Spain and Egypt, a collection edited by Christmas historian Maria Hubert Von Staufer. ...
Can't think of a Christmas movie you haven't seen five times already? According to the Internet Movie Database, you have 568 to choose from (if you include TV movies). One page has helpfully culled IMDB's list to a manageable few dozen (including the seven different versions of "A Christmas Carol). ...
IMDB's most intriguing features are trivia and goofs; here you read, for example, that one scene from "A Charlie Brown Christmas" originally included a soft drink logo posted in the background; that "It's a Wonderful Life" originally ended with "Ode to Joy," not "Auld Lang Syne"; and that "Miracle On 34th Street," an ode to Christmas cheer trumping commercialism, was originally released in May in order to maximize ticket sales.
www.christmas-carols.net'Tis the season for bustling through malls so fast you find yourself humming the slick soundtracks pumped through the stores without knowing what you're humming or what the words are. This site lists the lyrics to over 50 Christmas songs, and plays the related tune when you click on a title.
For popular recordings, see the oldies lyrics database at www.webfitz.com/lyrics/xmas.html which ranks the top 101 Christmas songs (No. 1, of course, is Bing Crosby's "White Christmas") and features a to-the-second Christmas countdown. For Christmas music of a different flavor, check out "Cajun Twelve Days of Christmas" ("Nine oysters stewin', eight crabs a brewin'") at www.cajunradio.org/christmas.html
And to really outdo yourself, learn the words to "Auld Lang Syne" and wow fellow revelers on New Year's Eve: www.elmbronze.demon.co.uk/scotland/burns /langsyne.htm That intimidating title, which means "old long since," can be rendered "times gone by," says www.howstuffworks.com/question279.htm
www.infostarbase.com/tnr/xmasFor a more contemplative Christmas surf, delve into readings such as the original "Yes Virginia, There is a Santa Claus" editorial from the New York Sun in 1897 and Clement Clarke Moore's 1822 poem "A Visit From St. Nicholas," better known as "'Twas the Night Before Christmas." This site also tells you how to say "Merry Christmas" in a variety of languages, from Polish to Punjabi.
You can find other classic and contemporary Christmas stories at www.christmas-stories.com, and if you have a laptop, you can curl up with the full text of "A Christmas Carol" by clicking on "Charles Dickens" at www.literature.org/authors