Friday, December 8, 2017

The Most Iconic Christmas Songs

As I was compiling some of my recent blogs regarding Christmas songs, it occurred to me that there are quite a few songs that really have one single recording that everyone thinks of when they think of that song. I mean, Mel Torme may have written "Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire," but you just pictured Nat King Cole singing it, didn't you? That's because Nat King Cole's recording is absolutely iconic. No matter what wonderful covers have been done since, that will always be The One.

Here are a few more Christmas songs where there's absolutely one single artist who recorded The One.

White Christmas: Bing Crosby
Crosby first performed this Irving Berlin classic on the radio on Christmas Day, 1941. His 1942 recording was used in the film "Holiday Inn," and topped the US charts in not only 1942 but again during the Christmas season in 1945 and 1946. The 1942 master was damaged, and Crosby re-recorded the track in 1947, with every attempt being made to recreate the original as closely as possible, and this recording is the one most commonly heard today. Crosby re-recorded the song yet again in 1954 for the soundtrack of the film of the same name. The song has been recorded by dozens of other artists since, with varying levels of success, but Crosby's distinctive croon - and his delightful warbling whistle during the chorus - makes his version The One.

Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas: The Carpenters
Judy Garland sang it first, in the 1944 film "Meet Me in St. Louis," but Karen Carpenter's poignant recording from The Carpenters' 1978 album "Christmas Portrait" is The One. Carpenter delivers the song simply but with heartfelt feeling. Everyone from Rosemary Clooney to Kylie Minogue has recoded it since, but no-one else has ever matched the simple perfection of this recording.

It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year: Andy Williams
This upbeat jazz waltz was written in 1963 specifically for Williams to perform on his Christmas show. Williams released his recording on the album "The Andy Williams Christmas Album" that same year, although it was his recording of "White Christmas" and not "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year" that the studio chose to promote as the hit single from the album. Johnny Mathis' 1986 recording is a reasonably close second, but it's Williams' version that makes us imagine ourselves curled up by the fire wearing a cozy sweater and drinking hot cocoa with marshmallows.

It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas: Perry Como
You may be surprised to discover that this song was written by Meredith Willson, the composer of "The Music Man". Both Como and Bing Crosby recorded the song in 1951, the year it was written, but Como's recording, accompanied by the Fontane Sisters and the Mitchell Ayres Orchestra, is still The One.

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer: Gene Autry
Gene Autry didn't have a particularly well-trained voice, but something about his folksy delivery of this children's favorite makes it more charming than any other recording. Ironically, Autry didn't want to use the song, but his wife convinced him to record it. Autry's recording reached #1 on the charts for the week ending January 7, 1950, making it the first #1 hit of the 1950s.

Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree: Brenda Lee

Lee was only 13 years old in 1958 when she recorded the song, and even though it was released as a single in both 1958 and 1959, it didn't really sell that well until 1960 when Lee's career had begun to take off.

Carol of the Bells: The Mormon Tabernacle Choir
The crisp lyrics, the impeccable dynamics, the brisk tempo, the brassy orchestral backing, the perfect cutoffs...this piece sounds somewhat simple but is notoriously difficult to perform well. No-one else does it quite as well as the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Pure brilliance.

Sleigh Ride: The Boston Pops
Anyone who's grown up in the Boston area knows that Leroy Anderson's "Sleigh Ride" is always part of the Boston Pops Christmas concerts. So of course, it's their recording that's The One - but not just the Boston Pops, the Boston Pops under Arthur Fiedler. Fiedler recorded the song with the Pops in 1949, 1959, and 1970, and although the Pops recorded subsequent versions under both John Williams and Keith Lockhart, it's the Fiedler recordings that popularized the song. Interestingly, the song is not technically a Christmas song, as it makes no mention of Christmas (although some vocal recordings change the lyric "birthday party" to "Christmas party"). So Fiedler and the Pops probably had a hand in making it a Christmas staple!

Adeste Fidelis: Luciano Pavarotti
The 1960s and 1970s began to see some increased mainstream recognition of opera singers, and Pavarotti's 1976 Christmas album, "O Holy Night," took full advantage of that recognition. "Adeste Fidelis," although originally written in Latin, was much more well-known in its English translation, "O Come, All Ye Faithful." Along with the title track, "Adeste Fidelis" increased Pavarotti's popularity among the non-opera crowd. Although Pavarotti's rendition of "O Holy Night" is gorgeous, there are many other equally gorgeous recordings. But his "Adeste Fidelis" is, and always will be, The One.

Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow: Dean Martin
You can practically hear the ice clinking in his glass and the ash falling off his cigar as Deano cheerily (and cheekily) warbles his way through this number. Another "Christmas song" that fails to actually mention Christmas, "Let It Snow" was written during a Hollywood heat wave in the summer of 1945, as composers Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne were imagining cooler weather. Vaughn Munro recorded it first, but Martin's 1959 recording is still The One.

Santa Baby: Eartha Kitt
Kitt was the first to record this song, shortly after it was written in 1953. Her breathy delivery is saucy without being over-the-top, and the laid-back tempo completely works. She recorded a more uptempo version in 1963 (after which Madonna modelled her 1987 recording), but it's the earlier, sultrier version that will always be The One.

Frosty the Snowman: Jimmy Durante
We have Rankin and Bass to thank for this recording, as it's taken directly from the soundtrack of the 1969 "Frosty The Snowman" animated Christmas special. The song had been written in 1950 and had seen some success from Gene Autry's recording, but it's Durante's husky voice and unique delivery style in the later recording that really brings Frosty's story to life.

The Little Drummer Boy: Harry Simeone Chorale
An a cappella recording from before a cappella was cool, the Chorale's only instrumental accompaniment here is finger cymbals. Simeone, a conductor and choral arranger, was contracted by Twentieth Century-Fox Records in 1958 to make a Christmas album, and thus the Harry Simeone Chorale was born. Simeone's friend Henry Onorati had written a song called "Carol of the Drum," and Simeone changed the title to "The Little Drummer Boy" and included it on the album, receiving joint authorship and composition credit, although he had no hand in writing the piece. The Chorale had similar success with their recording of "Do You Hear What I Hear?" in 1962.

Joy to the World: Nat King Cole
There's hardly a recording artist alive or dead who doesn't have a Christmas album with this song on it, and yet it's always Cole's version that comes to mind. Recorded in 1960, the upbeat, martial tempo changes it from a "churchy" hymn into a song of celebration and, well, joy. Lasting less than 90 seconds, this recording is still the best version of this song that I've ever heard (or hope to hear). It's The One.

Winter Wonderland: Johnny Mathis
Written in 1934, Johnny Mercer's 1946, Frank Sinatra's 1948, and Perry Como's 1959 recordings were all popular, but it's Mathis' 1958 recording that has best stood the test of time, with his delightful swoops each time the song modulates and his cheerful "giddy-YUP" and "YOO HOO!". I want to jump in the sleigh next to him and go for a ride. Yeah, it's The One.

I'm sure I've missed a few classics - what's YOUR favorite Christmas song that you can't imagine being sung by anyone else??

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Thursday, December 7, 2017

The Best Educational Toys for 2017

As much as kids love getting toys, toys, and nothing but toys for Christmas, we parents like to work a little something practical and educational in there, too. So here are some of the best gift suggestions that fit the bill for both parents and kids! I've divided them by price range, so you can find anything from small stocking stuffers to The Big One.

Under $10
Mini Chess Set ($6.53 from Walmart)
This travel chessboard is just over 6 inches square and includes metallic gold and silver chess pieces. At ages 6 and 8, my kids are learning to play chess faster than I am, and they love trying to figure out their opponent's strategies and get one step ahead of each other. Chess is a great game for learning patterns, strategy, and planning ahead. 

They think they're playing a dice game, but really they're learning math and probability! For 2 or more players ages 8 and up, this fun family game combines luck and strategy, so everybody in the family has a chance of winning now and then.

Mini Lightsaber Tech Lab ($9.98 from Toys R Us)
Learn about science and optics as you build your own 8-1/4" lightsaber with two different lenses and choice of 4 crystals to create a colored "blade". The 3 required button cell batteries are included.

Rory's Story Cubes ($8.01 from Amazon)
Great for inspiring thoughtful story-telling, these picture cubes offer prompts which one or more authors can then make into a story. Younger children will enjoy spinning their yarn out loud (or even acting it out); older ones may prefer taking some time to think through their story and writing it down. Fun for single players or a whole group.

Made By Dad ($17.95 from Fat Brain Toys)
The subtitle of this book is "67 Blueprints for Making Cool Stuff." Projects include a steampunk robot, a miniature zipline for action figures, 3D snakes, a reversible paper castle, and more. Projects come in varied levels of difficulty, require only common household supplies, and come with step-by-step instructions and diagrams.

Insect Lore Butterfly Garden ($19.99 from Amazon)
This kit comes with a large mesh "cage," feeding pipette, complete instructions, and a voucher for 5 caterpillars (additional cost of $7.95). The caterpillars will hatch in 2-3 weeks, and your resident entomologist can observe the butterflies for a few days before releasing them. The viewing cage is reusable so you can purchase additional caterpillars and do it all over again and again!

Lego Chain Reactions Kit ($17.28 from Amazon)
For ages 8 and up, this kit makes a bunch of different moving machines that set off chain reactions, including a seesaw, falling hammer, elevator ramps, and more. The machines can be used to perform a practical function such as ringing a bell or throwing a piece of paper into the trash. The detailed instruction manual offers helpful hints and tips and provides information on the physical principles behind each machine. Many projects require additional blocks, so this gift is best for kids who already have a Lego collection.

Stomp Rocket Jr. Glow Kit ($14.99 from Target)
Give the pedal a big STOMP to send the foam rockets shooting high into the air! Rockets glow in the dark, so there's added fun when shooting the rockets at dusk or at night against a dark sky. 100% human-powered launch - no batteries required.

4-in-1 Catapult Kit ($39.95 from Fat Brain Toys)
Who isn't fascinated by catapults, trebuchets, and ballistas? If you've got a catapult lover in your family, this kit will allow him or her to build an onager, a ballista, a trebuchet, and a battering ram - and learn the history behind each one. Intended for ages 12 and up but younger weapons enthusiasts will still enjoy using the catapults if an older friend or sibling helps to build them.

Super Magnet Lab ($32.45 from Amazon)
This set includes a large horseshoe magnet and 100 magnetic chips and metal ring magnets. The included handbook has ideas for alone and group play, and explains the concepts behind magnetic attraction and repulsion, as well as explaining scientific methods and critical thinking.

14-in-1 Solar Robot Kit ($29.65 from Walmart)
Build 14 different solar-powered robots with this kit for ages 8-15. Like Transformers, the robot "transforms" into different models rather than building each from scratch. Two levels of building provide for both beginners and more advanced "junior engineers". No batteries needed, but it does require direct sunlight to move.

MudWatt Science Kit ($39.95 from MindWare)
Got a kid (or adult) in your house who's fascinated with mud? Discover what really goes on inside mud with this cool science kit. Micro-organisms in the soil generate electricity and within a few days they'll make the LED blink; within a week they'll power a digital clock! Track your progress with a free downloadable app. MudWatt is reusable and each experiment can last for several weeks.

Stop-Motion Animation Kit ($60 from Uncommon Goods)
This animation kit was a huge hit with my 7-year-old. He spent hours creating funny little characters and then using stop-motion photography to make movies showing them falling down, or suddenly disappearing. He designed his own backdrops, wrote stories, and just generally got creative and had fun. The software is easy enough to use that even this non-techie mom could figure it out. 

Even the littlest engineers will enjoy building their own robot with these magnetic click-together pieces. An engine block allows their creations to walk on their own! Comes with directions for 8 different robots, but the set is compatible with most other Magformer toys so they can eventually add on and build their own unique designs. 

This miniature 3D printer allows your young artist to bring their imaginary creations to life in real 3D! The pen extrudes heated plastic which hardens instantly, allowing for 3D drawing. If they can draw it, they can create it!

This "watch" reacts to arm movements with multicolored lights, and can be coded to react in different ways. It has 5 modes that can be coded to react to motion and light - lots of ways to experiment with coding that also require physical movement to test the code! The watch is mounted on a slap band and can be worn as a wristwatch or attached to bike or scooter handlebars. 

Over $100
DIY Starter Robot Kit ($119.99 from Amazon)
This kit will build either a tank or a three-wheeled car, then allow the user to program it to perform specific activities. Kids will learn robotics, electronics, and coding at an easy beginning level for ages 12 and up. A great way to get kids interested in and started with robotics!

Excellerations Magnetic Building Blocks ($107.61 from Discount School Supply)
This collection of 100 brightly-colored, various-sized translucent triangles, squares, and rectangles adhere using magnets, and can be used to build all kinds of structures. Little ones will enjoy snapping the shapes together; older kids can build elaborate buildings and shapes and explore the behavior of the magnets and how they attract or repulse each other.

Cozmo ($170.99 from Amazon)
Experiment with what this amazing little robot can do. Lots of games to play and experiments to explore, and the more you play, the more options you unlock. He can play Keep Away, Memory, and Quick Tap, and he'll even give you hints that he wants to play, like singing a little song or raising his lift for a fist bump. Requires an iOS or Android compatible device.

Holy Stone Quadcopter Drone ($119.95 from Amazon)
This amazing drone is easy enough to use for a beginner, but has advanced features including a wide-angle HD camera with still photo and live video functions, altitude hold, gravity sensor, and VR headset compatibility. Includes high-powered batteries for extra-long flight time.

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Wednesday, December 6, 2017

The Most Beautiful Recordings of Christmas Carols

Christmas music contains some of the most beautiful and haunting melodies and lyrics ever written. Some songs are naturally beautiful in any arrangement; others can be bland until they're performed with exactly the right setting. Here are some Christmas recordings that are guaranteed to give you goosebumps. Curl up by the fire and have a listen!

Wexford Carol, performed by Alison Krauss and Yo-Yo Ma
This simple Irish carol is unusual in that it does not have a repeated refrain, but simply five verses that tell the Christmas story. Krauss' clear, bluegrass-style voice, backed by a simple string arrangement led by renowned classical cellist Ma, doesn't try to over-ornament the arrangement, but rather allows the beauty of the tune and the lyrics to stand on their own. It's as simple and awe-inspiring as the first Christmas itself.

Once in Royal David's City, performed by Aled Jones and Libera
I love the sound of a boys' choir, and this recording of the traditional hymn opens with a glorious, clear boy soprano solo, joined by a few other youthful voices, then the melody is passed to an adult soloist. Finally the entire boys' choir joins in the background, and then continues on alone for another verse, ending with the adult soloist blending in with the full ensemble. The barely-there string accompaniment provides just enough anchor without overpowering the voices. Close your eyes and you'll think you're sitting in an Anglican chapel in Yorkshire.

Breath of Heaven, performed by Amy Grant
Grant rewrote the original lyrics to tell the Christmas story from Mary's perspective. Backed by a simple piano accompaniment with a few additional wind, string, and percussion instruments, Grant's plaintive, whispering voice perfectly expresses both Mary's fear and her faith: "I am waiting in a silent prayer; I am frightened by the load I bear. In a world as cold as stone, must I walk this path alone? Be with me now. Breath of heaven, hold me together, be forever near me." So moving.

Rocking Carol, performed by Mairi Macinnes and William Jackson
One of many traditional "lullaby" carols, this recording features a single voice and a harp, joined only by a few handbells and a synthesized continuo. The simple setting, along with Macinnes' clear Irish soprano, is perfect for this lovely carol.

In the Bleak Midwinter, performed by Dan Fogelberg
Written by choral director John Rutter, this piece is most often arranged for a full chorus with a fully-scored accompaniment, often even with an orchestral backing. But Fogelberg's folksy guitar arrangement and gentle voice allow the listener to truly focus on the glorious melody and meaningful lyrics. It gives me chillbumps every time.

I Saw Three Ships, performed by Orla Fallon
A traditional English carol. the dance-like tune lends itself well to the pennywhistle and bodhran used in this arrangement. Fallon's clear voice - which you may recognize from her tours with "Celtic Woman" - dances right alongside the instruments. It is believed that the "ships" referred to in the song are not sailing ships, but rather camels, the "ships of the desert."

Mary's Boy Child, performed by Harry Belafonte
Most of us are familiar with the pop version of this song recorded by Boney M. But Belafonte's velvety solo vocals, slow and easy tempo, and the mellow, harp- and violin-based arrangement of this recording gives the song a completely different feel.

O Holy Night, performed by Jennifer Hudson
This song has been recorded by dozens, probably even hundreds, of classical, opera, jazz, and pop singers: Luciano Pavarotti, Andrea Bocelli, Celine Dion, Patti Labelle, Mariah Carey, Ella Fitzgerald, Mahalia Jackson, just to name a few. Hudson's is one of my favorites for finding a balance between excellent technical musicianship and heartfelt expression. If you prefer a more "classical" performance, try Josh Groban's recording instead. You'll get goosebumps from either one.

Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, performed by Michael Buble
Buble's smooth-as-butter and warm-as-toast jazz vocals - and orchestra - are at their finest in this mellow, laid-back recording that rivals even the perfection of Karen Carpenter's 1978 recording. Carpenter's version makes me want to curl up by the fire; Buble's makes me want to curl up by the fire drinking champagne.

The Coventry Carol, performed by Anuna
This lovely carol is sometimes arranged in a major key and sometimes with minor variations. This particular arrangement for a cappella women's voices features unusual chords, with occasional dissonant harmonies and unexpected chord progressions. The bell-like notes hang in the air of the stone cathedral, leaving a haunting echo in their wake when the piece ends with a final resolve. Simply breathtaking.

The Holly and the Ivy, performed by The Mediaeval Baebes
Another traditional carol performed with a simple instrumental accompaniment and pure, clear women's voices, this arrangement uses an interesting descant as well as simple harmonies. The perfect diction and complete lack of vibrato keep the focus on the lovely lyrics and the simplicity of the melody.

Away in a Manger, performed by Home Free
This lovely setting follows the most common pattern for contemporary a cappella arrangements and opens with a solo voice backed by "oohs" and beat-boxing, then adds other voices one at a time, with the addition of a gorgeous clear descant mid-verse and a few repeated lines. I love the mix of traditional and contemporary techniques, and the hummed "lullaby" verse at the end. A lovely take on an old chestnut.

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Tuesday, December 5, 2017

The Best Stocking Stuffers, 2017

I love putting together Christmas stockings. Growing up, my mom did the best stockings. If I had to give up either stockings or gifts when I was a kid, I'd have given up the gifts in a heartbeat if it meant keeping my awesome stocking. I like to think that I inherited (or more likely, learned) the gift of stocking stuffing from my mom. Because I put together awesome stockings, if I do say so myself.

The trick to a great stocking, in my mind, is a variety of small gifts that focus on the recipient's tastes and preferences. So when putting together a stocking, you need to think about the kinds of things the recipient already has and loves, and then you need to think creatively to find some unusual items that fits the recipient's personality and taste.

I find it helps to have a few categories to work from. For my family, those categories include: food and drink, toiletries, toys and games, gadgets, art and decor, desk stuff, and random weird stuff. (Never discount the appeal of random weird stuff.) Here are some examples of good stocking stuffers from each of those categories - and every item is $10 or less!!

Food and Drink
And kind of unusual snack or treat is good: gourmet hot cocoa or tea, jerky of any kind, dried fruit, high-end chocolates.

White Chocolate Peppermint Cocoa Stirrers ($6.99 from World Market)
Stir your hot cocoa - or coffee, or even green or white tea - with these rock candy stirrers to add some fancy flavoring. Or just munch them directly from the stick - Santa won't rat you out.

Popping Candy ($4.99 from Think Geek)
It's like Pop Rocks for adults: instead of generic sweet flavors, this gourmet popping candy comes in a 3-pack of wasabi, beer, and bacon varieties.

Snowflake Marshmallows ($8.95 from Williams Sonoma)
Your favorite hot cocoa drinker will love these adorable snowflake marshmallows. They also make great cake and cupcake decorations, add a bit of elegance to a plate of Christmas cookies, or serve as an extra-special lunchbox treat for the kids.

Travel sizes of ordinary products are great for stockings, but even better are samples of fancy, high-end items that the giver wouldn't get for themselves.

Burt's Bees Everyday Essentials ($9.88 from
This kit includes trial sizes of 5 of Burt's most popular items: cleansing cream, hand salve, body lotion, lip balm, and foot cream. It's a stocking-sized dose of pampering!

Detoxifying Charcoal Paper Fask Mask ($2.49 from Target)
This deep-cleaning facial mask promises to clean your pores and tighten your skin, plus it'll give you an excellent opportunity for wacky Instagram and Snapchat selfies.

Fancy Emery Boards ($3 from Natural Life)
Probably every woman on your list carries emery boards in her purse (or should). Give her something prettier than the usual boring tan boards. It's a party in her purse!

Toys and Games
Sneak in something educational in this category and you'll feel like a super-parent. Sneak in something you loved as a kid and you'll feel like a kid all over again. Win-win for all involved.

Hatchimals ($8.79/4-pack from Amazon)
These toys were huge last Easter and the kids still love them. The set of 4 is a random selection from the Season 1 collection of 70 items, including a few rare ones. You won't know what you get until they hatch!

Orbeez ($8.99 from Toys R Us)
I'm not even sure how to describe these: they're little multicolored beads that absorb a ton of water and grow bigger and squishy and get kind of bouncy. Don't worry if you can't figure them out; just give them to some kids (not under age 3, please) and they're figure it out for you.

Gyrobi Fidget Rings ($3.95 from Fat Brain Toys)

Move over, fidget spinners! These colorful gyroscope-inspired toys spin in multiple directions, helping focus your hands and mind. Available in round or square versions.

Depending on how technologically inclined the recipient is, this category can include anything from small but really high-tech stuff to basic mechanical kitchen and shop gadgets.

Smartphone Camera Lens Kit ($9.99 from Citizen Goods)
This 3-in-1 kit includes a 180-degree fisheye lens, a macro lens, and a wide-angle lens to seriously up your photography game without having to invest in a fancy new camera. Each lens attaches easily to any smartphone using the included c-clip. 

This sticky part of this pocket-sized lint roller retracts into the handle to fit nicely into your pocket or purse without making a mess. And it's refillable, so you can put refills packs into their stocking every year!!

Angry Mama Microwave Cleaner ($3.02 from Amazon)
Fill this little lady with vinegar and water and stick her in the microwave, and just a few seconds and a quick swipe later your microwave will be sparkling clean and odor-free. Feel free to give this to anyone in your house who could use a little hint about cleaning the microwave after they use it.

If it makes your home more attractive or soothes your soul, it belongs in your stocking.

Crackle Coasters ($9 from Sur la Table)
You don't need a full set of these gorgeous polished agate coasters; each one stands on its own as both an art piece and a practical, functional home item.

Glitter Picture Frame ($6 from Urban Outfitters)
A great way to show off a little photo, slip a small print inside this glittery frame for instant pop. Fun to keep on a desk at work, inside a school locker, or even stuck on the fridge.

Desk Stuff
This category can include anything from pens and pencils to thank-you notes to wind-up desk toys. If it can go on a desk, it can go in a stocking.

Rainbow Notepad ($7.99 from Amazon)
Remember back in school when you got to use a special pen to scratch off the black crayon and reveal the rainbow paper underneath? It's the same thing, in notepad form. How fun is that?!?

Hand Boilers ($6.88 from Amazon)
Stuck on hold (or on a boring conference call) for hours? Hold the bulb in your hand and watch the liquid level rise along with your blood pressure. A great distraction for any office desk.

Wind-Up Firetruck ($4.39 from Amazon)
This classic vintage-style tin firetruck will zoom across your desk with a few twists of the key. You need to provide the siren sounds yourself, though.

Random Weird Stuff
One man's weird is another man's wonderful. Besides, everybody needs a good conversation piece now and then, right?

Miniature Banned Books Set ($8 from Out of Print Clothing)
This miniature set of matchboxes is emblazoned with the titles of 5 famously banned books tucked into their own tiny bookcase. An interesting addition to any (full-sized) book collection!

K-2SO Magnet ($3.99 from Think Geek)
Stuff this magnet in your Star Wars fan's stocking and you'll earn their everlasting thanks and love. This 4-inch tall K-2SO figurine will happily adorn your fridge, locker, car dashboard, or any metal surface you can find.

Darth Vader Socks ($8 from Urban Outfitters)
Come over to the warm side with these adorable Darth Vader socks. They're sure to be a hit with your resident Star Wars fan.

So now that you have all your wonderful, personalized stocking stuffers, don't forget to fill up their socks with the basics: candy canes, chocolates, a new toothbrush - and don't forget to tuck an orange in the toe!

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