That Other TreeThe tradition of secular ornaments also has held at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue, where the Capitol Christmas Tree has gone up each year since 1964. Each year a different state is selected to supply the tree, and school children from that state are invited to create ornaments. But the criteria are set by the Architect of the Capitol, not the White House.
- In 2007 Vermont was asked to supply 600 to 700 ornaments and
- But this time an Arizona-based group called the "Alliance Defense Fund" complained. The ADF, which crusades against what it calls attempts to "censor Christmas," sent a letter threatening to sue the government on behalf of a mother whose son wished to submit an ornament saying "Happy Birthday Jesus" and another depicting a manger scene with the infant Christ.
- A regional official of the U.S. Forestry Service quickly wrote back to say that the ban would be removed. The official said somebody in the office of the Architect of the U.S. Capitol had "inadvertently provided us outdated guidance," and that "we regret the concerns this has raised." He added, "We look forward to any and all ornaments that residents of Arizona contribute."
The client’s son was allowed to submit his religiously themed ornaments, but hadn’t been told whether or not either had been selected, ADF officials told us. The 2009 tree’s official theme remains secular, however. It is "Arizona’s Gift From The Grand Canyon State."
On-Line Holiday Deals
If you're planning on completing your holiday shopping online this year, log on and make purchases soon -- supplies are limited. ***It isn't only traditional brick-and-mortar retailers who have cut back on inventory this year. Online retailers also have scaled back their stock, in the wake of a weak holiday shopping season last year, said Amanda Pires, senior director at PayPal. ***More retailers offered special promotions for Cyber Monday this year, compared with last year, according to research conducted for Shop.org, a division of the National Retail Federation. And the bargains are expected to continue. ***From about Dec. 7 to 14, for example, it's likely you'll see some of the best TV sales of the season, said Dan de Grandpre, editor-in-chief of dealnews.com, a site that compiles online sales. That's also the window in which toy prices will bottom out, he said. Also this year, expect deep online discounts on GPS devices and laptops, said Laura Conrad, president of PriceGrabber.com. But so far, consumers have been gravitating toward very practical gifts when shopping online -- including auto parts, Conrad said. "It doesn't sound real Christmas-ey... but people are holding onto cars longer in this recession," she said. Other popular items include dinnerware, as people eat more meals at home, as well as puzzles and games, as they entertain themselves instead of going out, she said. ***Online shopping continues to grow in popularity: According to Shop.org, 46% of online retailers expect their holiday sales to increase at least 15% over last year. Customers like the convenience of shopping online as well as the ease with which they can compare prices. But don't stop by comparing prices between retailers. Below are other ways to pinch pennies this holiday season by filling your stocking online. Scout out deals ***Many sites compile online deals and sales, and can be a good place to start a search for bargain merchandise. Dealnews.com, for example, aims to find the best deals on the Web each day, with highlighted deals ranging from wristwatches to laptops and TVs. FatWallet.com also has a deals tab. Visit Dealnews.com. Visit FatWallet.com. CyberMonday.com is a site created by Shop.org to compile Cyber Monday deals at online retailers, but many of those deals extend into the rest of the holiday season. Visit CyberMonday.com. There are also ways to help make sure a deal doesn't get past you. For years, retailers have shared information about sales to shoppers via email; today, shoppers can also sign up to follow retailers or deal sites on social networking tools including Twitter and Facebook. According to Shop.org, 47% of retailers said they would be increasing their use of social media this holiday season. Visit Twitter.Visit Facebook. PriceGrabber.com also has a price alert tool to notify customers when the price of an item has fallen to a set amount they want to pay. Comparison shopping If you know the item you want -- whether you're planning on making purchases online or in a store -- comparison shopping sites can be a great help. PriceGrabber.com allows consumers to compare all types of products, but it typically is a good site to search for technology goods, said de Grandpre. Shopping.com also is a one-stop shop, but he recommends it especially for "soft goods," including apparel.
Visit Shopping.com. Google's product search is one of the most comprehensive, de Grandpre said, but it also can bring up stores that you might not recognize. "If you're not familiar with the store, don't buy from it," he said. That, or do some digging online to find out it's track record and whether it can be trusted, through sites such as the Better Business Bureau. Visit Google's product search.Visit BBB.org. Find additional savings ***Some of the previously mentioned sites also have links to retailer coupon codes. Other sites specialize in compiling online coupons, including CouponCabin.com, CouponMountain.com and RetailMeNot.com.
Visit RetailMeNot.com. Still can't find what you're looking for? Sometimes the simplest way to find a retailer's coupon is to do an online search for the retailer's name and "coupon." Most apparel stores will have coupon codes, de Grandpre said. Amazon.com typically offers separate coupons for categories including kitchen items, electronics and mp3 downloads, while Target.com will sometimes have 10% off everything, he said. Also don't forget to investigate deals available through your credit card for online purchases, often used by clicking through from the card's Web site. "These offers aren't any richer than they have been in the past, but there are a lot more merchant offers than in the past," said Ben Woolsey, director of marketing and consumer research for CreditCards.com, a credit card comparison Web site. Sometimes these savings can be used along with coupon codes and free shipping deals to maximize savings, said Murali Subbarao, CEO of Billeo.com. For example, Visa is offering savings of $25 on the purchase of $75 or more at NYandCompany.com; Chase has an offer to earn $15 cash back at Netflix.com. Billeo, a site that offers online shopping tools for tasks such as remembering passwords and saving receipts, also has an Offer Assistant that works with search engines including Google, Yahoo, and Bing to identify discounts and special offers for debit and credit card customers. Visit Billeo.com. PayPal users are also eligible to take advantage of special deals through its shopping Web site, Pires said. Visit PayPal Shopping. Free shipping ***Free-shipping offers are becoming standard for online retailers -- especially during the holidays, Pires said. Many times you need to spend a certain amount before you qualify for free shipping, which can make it worthwhile to shop at sites that offer a variety of merchandise so you can fill your cart, Pires said. But also don't let the promise of free shipping take your mind off the total cost of your purchase, de Grandpre said. In some cases, it might be better to pay for shipping if your overall cost is lower as a result. And as the clock ticks down to the holidays, expect shipping upgrades as a perk: "Another trend this year that you will see is going to be expedited shipping as well, especially as they're trying to get people to shop online later," Conrad said. You might pay for 3- or 4-day shipping, but shipping could be expedited for free, she said. Pay attention to the return policies as well. For example, some retailers allow you to return items to a physical store, others will require you to ship the item back.