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The 12 best US small towns to revel in all things holidays

Published: Wednesday, November 01, 2017 @ 11:45 AM

Here’s our favorite dozen, in alphabetical order Asheville, North Carolina Greenville, South Carolina Helen, Georgia Laguna Beach, California Natchitoches, Louisiana Ogunquit, Maine St. Augustine, Florida Taos, N.M. Williamsburg, Va

From quaint town squares aglow in twinkling lights in New England to carriage rides alongside Louisiana lakes, small towns near and far really capture the magic of Christmas.

RELATED: The least and most affordable places to spend your holiday vacation

As you’re planning your winter wonderland adventures, you may be looking for a short drive (or a long one) to towns that have the most holiday spirit. 

If that’s your goal, there is an endless number of towns that go all out for the holidays.

Here’s our favorite dozen, in alphabetical order:

Asheville, North Carolina. For formal events, the Biltmore Estate is dressed up in ribbons, lights and other finery for an annual Christmas celebration from Nov. 3 to Jan. 7. For a more outdoorsy tradition, the Winter Lights at the North Carolina Arboretum features nearly 500,000 LED lights placed throughout gardens and holiday-inspired cocoa, cider and beers.

Cambridge, Ohio. From November through mid-January, the downtown of this Ohio city in the Appalachian Plateau turns itself into the Dickens Victorian Village. The walking tour features 92 scenes of life in 1850s England. The modern era comes to life every evening, with an 8- to 12-minute light show, synchronized to holiday music, which bathes the town's historic (1881) courthouse in 30,000 lights.

Greenville, South Carolina. Just up Interstate 85 is a Christmas-light strewn downtown that includes pop-up retail shops, the St. Francis Foundation Festival of Trees and open-air skating at Ice on Main. Opening Thanksgiving night and running through Dec. 30, the Roper Mountain Holiday Lights also offers a walking tour, Santa Claus and a 1.5-mile drive with 72 glittering displays.

Enjoy a traditional German Christmas in Helen.(Courtesy of Cedar Creek Cabin Rentals)

Helen, Georgia. Come November, this re-created Alpine village sheds the lederhosen (leather pants for men) and readies the lebkuchen (essentially German gingerbread) and other holiday treats. The holidays start with Festival of Trees, which takes the highest bid on decorated trees and wreaths between Nov. 19 and Dec. 9. The Christkindlmarkt, a traditional German market featuring gifts and food, runs Dec. 2-3 and Dec. 9-10.

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Laguna Beach, California. Palm trees can be just as festive as snowy firs given the way this Southern California beach city does Christmas. Think spotting migrating whales instead of scanning the skies for reindeer. Or embrace the arts scene here with the annual Sawdust Winter Fantasy, which features thousands of holiday decorations and hand-crafted jewelry, ceramics and other artwork in addition to outdoor cafes, a petting zoo and, of course, Santa.

Natchitoches, Louisiana. The Natchitoches Christmas lights up the city of 18,000 people with more than 300,000 lights and 100 set pieces downtown and along the Cane River Lake. The aptly named Festival of Lights opens Nov. 18 with free admission to all events and fireworks show that night. Other events during the festival, which runs through Jan. 6, 2018, includes a parade on Dec. 2, arts and crafts that celebrate the town's Creole heritage, carriage rides and historic home tours.

Ogunquit, Maine. The annual Christmas by the Sea festival features bonfires on the beach, hayrides, caroling and a living manger, in addition to traditional caroling and arts and crafts. The brave can also attempt a Polar Bear plunge into the Atlantic Ocean if they dare.

St. Augustine, Florida. Some three million lights adorn every corner of the nation's oldest city during Nights of Lights. Based on the Spanish tradition of lighting a single candle in a window of every home, the lights illuminate the cobblestone streets and iconic Bridge of Lions, in addition to shops and restaurants. Aside from self-guided walking tours, visitors can explore by bicycle, in horse-and-carriage and the city's Old Town Trolley.

SANTA CLAUS, IND.: Another statue of Santa Claus stands in front of the town hall. The town of Santa Claus is located in southern Indiana on interstate 64 between Evansville, Ind., and Louisville, Ky.(Melissa Miller, Spencer County Visitors Bureau)

Santa Claus, Ind. Living up to its name, this tiny town of 2,500 people celebrates Christmas all year long, so when the holiday season finally rolls around, it is strapped for its all-out extravaganza between Thanksgiving and the end of the year. Among the Santa Claus events: a chance to roast chestnuts on an open fire, a 5K race, dinner with Santa and a drive-thru LED light adventure that tells the shining story of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.

Taos, N.M. Yuletide in Taos may sound like the traditional tree lighting and craft fairs, and this high desert town delivers that. However, at sunset on Christmas Eve, the Native American settlement Taos Pueblo leads the Procession of the Virgin, with bonfires and rifle salutes from the top of 1,000-year-old adobe buildings. On Christmas Day, the Matachinas Dance features an ancient Native American ceremonial dance that can only be seen in person, captured on video or film.

Woodstock, Vt. The charming colonial architecture and a historic village green draw tourists year-round to this picturesque small town. But the Wassail Weekend, Dec. 8-10, is the iconic sound and sight of winter New England: sleigh bells and the clip-clop of horses signal the holiday parade, while carolers traipse through town as visitors stroll between historic homes and a craft fair or line up for wagon and sleigh rides.

Williamsburg, Va. Visitors to Williamsburg can taste the holidays the colonial settler way, with roasted turkeys, ham and biscuits and sweet and savory puddings. More modern day festivities, such as a light show and Santa sightings, are also on hand in the historic town and surrounding area.

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April Fools' Day 2018: See this year's top pranks

Published: Saturday, March 31, 2018 @ 12:25 PM

Fun Facts about April Fools' Day

This year, April Fools’ Day is sharing the spotlight with Easter, but there are still plenty of pranks to be found.

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Along with Easter greetings, companies have been hard at work creating their April Fools’ Day pranks. 

Here is a roundup of the best of them. 

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Why is it called Good Friday and what’s so good about it?

Published: Tuesday, March 20, 2018 @ 10:50 PM
Updated: Tuesday, March 20, 2018 @ 10:50 PM

Pictured is a mosaic of Jesus Christ inside Messina Cathedral on the Piazza del Duomo in Messina, Sicily.
Eye Ubiquitous/UIG via Getty Images
Pictured is a mosaic of Jesus Christ inside Messina Cathedral on the Piazza del Duomo in Messina, Sicily.(Eye Ubiquitous/UIG via Getty Images)

Christians believe Jesus was mocked publicly and crucified on a solemn Friday more than two thousand years ago. Today, the calamitous day is celebrated as Good Friday.

But what’s so good about that?

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One answer is that at the time of Jesus’ crucifixion, “good” may have referred to “holy” in Old English, a linguistic theory supported by many language experts.

According to Slate, the Oxford English Dictionary notes the Wednesday before Easter was once called “Good Wednesday.” Today, it’s more commonly known as Holy Wednesday.

And Anatoly Liberman, a University of Minnesota professor who studies the origins of English words, told Slate if we consider the alternative names for Good Friday, such as “Sacred Friday” (romance languages) or “Passion Friday” (Russian), this theory makes a lot of sense.

Another possible reason for its moniker — a theory supported by both linguists and historical evidence — refers to the holiday’s ties to Easter Sunday, which celebrates the resurrection of Christ.

Because Jesus couldn’t have been resurrected without dying, the day of his death is, in a sense, “good.”

“That terrible Friday has been called Good Friday because it led to the Resurrection of Jesus and his victory over death and sin and the celebration of Easter, the very pinnacle of Christian celebrations,” the Huffington Post reported.

A third answer, some believe, is that the “good” in Good Friday was derived from "God” or “God’s Friday” — the way the term “goodbye” comes from a contraction of the phrase “God Be With You.”

Fun Facts About Easter

Still, not everyone refers to this day as Good Friday. For example, 

The Catholic Encyclopedia mentions that, in the Greek Church, the holiday is known as "the Holy and Great Friday." In German, it's referred to as "Sorrowful Friday."

And as aforementioned, “Sacred Friday” and “Passion Friday” are also used.

In addition, because the holiday is also commemorated with a long fast, Good Friday was also referred to as “Long Friday” by the Anglo-Saxons.

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'Beware the Ides of March' -- What does that mean?

Published: Tuesday, March 15, 2016 @ 12:40 PM
Updated: Tuesday, March 15, 2016 @ 12:40 PM

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Today marks the Ides of March, which may vaguely remind you of a high school English class. Here are some things to know about the 15th day of the month.

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Day marks the assassination of Julius Caesar

Most famously on this date, some 2,060 years ago, Roman dictator Julius Caesar died in an assassination by senators at the Curia of Pompey.

Tensions had been simmering between senators and Caesar before his death, fueled by Caesar's continued consolidation of power. However, Caesar considered the senators his allies. Just a few years before his death, Caesar was named “dictator in perpetuity,” a move that further strained relations.

According to historians, sixty senators planned and participated in the conspiracy to kill Caesar in 44 B.C.

Death marked a turning point in Roman history

Caesar was popular with the lower class people of Rome, who saw his death as an unwelcome decision made by the aristocratic class. With Caesar no longer leading, potential leaders waged war to fill the power vacuum.

The civil wars eventually culminated in the end of the Roman Republic and beginning of the Roman Empire.

'Beware the Ides of March' made famous by Shakespeare

In case you really did forget your high school English class, it's worth noting the phrase “Beware the Ides of March” was immortalized by William Shakespeare in his tragic masterpiece “Julius Caesar.”

In the play, a soothsayer warns Caesar to be careful on March 15, although the ruler ignores the mystic with tragic consequences.

Famous line based on historical events

It may come as a surprise to know the well-known phrase was actually inspired by real events.

According to Greek historian Plutarch, a seer really did warn Caesar that he would be at the very least injured by the Ides of March.

Caesar did not heed the warning.

On the day of his death, he saw the oracle and joked that he had made it to the Ides of March, to which the seer responded the day had not yet ended.

So why is it called the "Ides of March?"

The Romans kept track of days on its calendar by dividing each month up into three separate points marking the beginning, middle and end of the month. You may have guessed it but the Ides fall in the middle of the month, on the 15th of March, May, July and October and the 13th for the rest of the year.

The Ides were sacred and marked a monthly sacrifice to the Roman god Jupiter. Various other religious observances also took place on the Ides of March.

Other famous events on this day

Today isn't the anniversary of Caesar's death. Here are a few other famous events that have happened today in history:
  • 1972: Forty-four years ago (yes, that number is right) Francis Ford Coppola's three-hour crime epic "The Godfather" first played in theaters. Before "Jaws" came along in 1976, the film was the highest-grossing film ever made. It went on to win three Academy Awards, including one for Best Picture.

  • 1917: Czar Nicholas II was forced by the revolting Russian people to abdicate the throne after ruling the country for more than 20 years. The February Revolution -- so named because Russia used the Julian calendar at the time -- broke out just four days before the czar abdicated his throne.

  • 1767: Our seventh president, Andrew Jackson, was born on this day somewhere between the Carolinas near the end of the colonial era. His exact place of birth is disputed.

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Valentine's Day 2018: 6 ways to eat for free or cheap

Published: Monday, February 12, 2018 @ 8:18 AM

Valentine’s Day Deals 2018

From flowers to a gift to dinner out, Valentine's Day can be an expensive holiday.

>> White Castle will offer romantic Valentine’s Day package, reservations again

To help you save some money, these restaurants are offering some cheap or free Valentine's Day meals.

Hooters

If you're without a significant other this Valentine's Day – or even if you've found a new sweetie and want to score some free wings – participating Hooters locations will help you shred your ex. Shred online and print a coupon to take to the restaurant or bring in a photo of your former love and let Hooters shred it. In return, you can buy 10 boneless wings and get 10 free – and maybe a bit of catharsis. Learn more at www.hooters.com.

Fogo de Chão

If you make a reservation and dine at a participating Fogo's location anytime from Feb. 10 through Feb. 17, you'll be able to save on a return visit. You'll receive a complimentary churrasco dining card that you can use next time you're in the restaurant. (As is usually the case, "certain restrictions apply.") Learn more at http://fogodechao.com. 

Qdoba Mexican Eats

Take advantage of the restaurant's "Qdoba for a Kiss" promotion, and you'll be able to buy one entrée and get one free at participating restaurants on Feb. 14. Bring your significant other to kiss, smooch a photo of your favorite celebrity on your cellphone or even pucker up to a burrito – anything goes! 

On top of that sweet deal, from Feb. 6-28, if you share a kissing photo on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram with the hashtag #QdobaForAKiss, Qdoba will donate $1 to No Kid HungryFor more information, visit www.qdoba.com.

Outback Steakhouse

Outback Steakhouse offers a Valentine's Day meal for two at participating restaurants from Feb. 12-16. For a special price (which varies by location), a couple can share a Bloomin' Onion, choose two entrees (center cut sirloin, grilled salmon or Alice Springs chicken), two sides, two salads and cheesecake for dessert. Learn more at www.outback.com.

California Pizza Kitchen

Enjoy a "Sweet Deal for Two" at participating California Pizza Kitchen locations from Feb. 14 to 18, and you'll get an appetizer, two entrees and a dessert from their special menu for $35. Choose from among three appetizers, 10 entrees or four desserts. As a further incentive, if you tag your sweetie or best friend in California Pizza Kitchen's Facebook post with the hashtag #CPKgiveaway, you'll be entered to win a $100 gift card. Learn more at www.cpk.com.

Waffle House 

Waffle House probably isn't the restaurant you think of when you're picturing a candlelit dinner with cloth napkins and tablecloths, but that's just what they're doing on Valentine's Day. You can enjoy alcohol-free champagne as the lights are dimmed, and choose from breakfast favorites or special offerings like ribeye and eggs. Many locations are participating, so check for your location's phone number and contact person for reservationsLearn more at ww.wafflehouse.com.

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