Broadcast: December 19, 2003
Welcome to AMERICAN MOSAIC -- a program in VOA Special English about music and American life. And we answer your questions.
This is Doug Johnson. This week, we present a special holiday Mosaic -- including some new Christmas music from Harry Connick Junior. But first – we'll tell you about some of the gifts that Americans are getting for each other this year.
Holiday Gift Giving
As Americans shop for holiday gifts for family members and friends, Jim Tedder checks out what they are buying this year.
News reports tell us that many young people want cell phones for gifts. Boys also want radio-controlled cars or trucks, but no special kind. In fact, it seems no one thing has become a "must-have" item this year, for children or adults.
For younger children, one toy many people are buying is called Hokey Pokey Elmo. Elmo is a creature from the children’s television show “Sesame Street.” The "hokey pokey" is a dance song. Hokey Pokey Elmo sings and moves his feet. Here, listen for yourself.
For adults, one online marketing survey found that many women want travel as a gift, even if they have to buy it themselves. For men, the most desired gift is electronic equipment like a flat-screen television, or a computer or a digital camera.
One holiday gift this year that proved surprisingly popular is a candle that smells like a fig. Officials of the Bath and Body Works company cannot really explain why their fruit scented candle has sold so well. For one thing, they set the price lower than some other special candles, about twenty dollars. Gifts like candles are an easy choice for someone who is difficult to buy for.
Another way to solve the problem of what to buy is to buy a gift card. These look like credit cards, and come with a set amount of money to spend in the store they are from.
The National Retail Federation says seventy percent of American shoppers plan to buy gift cards this holiday season. Stores say these cards are more popular than ever. But they say people should know there are restrictions. Gift cards can lose some or all of their value unless they are used within a period of time.
Business experts say gift cards earn stores a lot of money. People often spend more once they go to use their cards. Also, about ten percent of the people who receive them never go to the store to buy anything at all.
Our VOA listener question this week comes from Akwa Ibom State, Nigeria. Richard Oscar asks about festivities that Americans celebrate.
This is the big month for celebrations. On December twenty-fifth, Christian Americans will remember the birth of Jesus as they celebrate Christmas. Then, the next day, the African American celebration of Kwaanza begins. This honors the black American family and culture. Listen next week for more details.
And Jewish Americans are just beginning to celebrate the eight nights of Hanukkah. The Festival of Lights is set by the Hebrew calendar, so it is different each year.
The story of Hanukkah goes back more than two-thousand years, to the land that is now Israel. The ruling Greek-Syrian king attempted to suppress the Jewish religion. He placed statues of Greek gods in the Jewish temple and tried to force the people to accept them.
A man called Judah Macabee led a small group of Jews against the king. They won the battle, and the freedom to live by their religion. They began to cleanse the temple of Greek influence. Tradition says they found only enough oil to light the holy lamp in the temple for one day. Yet that oil burned for eight days, until more could arrive.
On Friday night, December nineteenth, Jews around the world will say prayers and light candles in a menorah. A menorah holds nine candles. One is called the shamish (shah-mus). It is used to light the others.
On the first night of Hanukkah, the shamish is used to light one other candle. An additional candle is lit on each of the following nights. On the last night of Hanukkah, all nine candles burn brightly.
It is traditional for parents to give their children a small gift on each night of Hanukkah. It is also a time for special games and foods. Religious leaders say Hanukkah has never been considered one of the most important Jewish holidays. But they say it is good time to remember how people in the past fought for the right of religious freedom.
Oh, and let us not forget one more event in this month of celebrations -- New Year's Eve!
Harry Connick’s Christmas Album
Music is a big part of Christmas celebrations. And the season always brings out new record albums to play at parties. Faith Lapidus tells us about a new one this year from a well-known name in jazz.
Harry Connick Junior was born in a city famous for jazz ... New Orleans, Louisiana. He started to play the piano in jazz clubs when he was thirteen years old. He has been performing and recording ever since.
Harry Connick writes music, too. Four of his own songs are included on his new Christmas album, “Harry for the Holidays.” This one is for children: “The Happy Elf.”
Harry Connick Junior is not alone on his Christmas album. Also performing is country singer George Jones. Harry Connick says George Jones is his favorite singer. Here they are with another song written by Harry Connick, “Nothin' New For New Year.”
Harry Connick Junior says the songs on his album represent very different kinds of music, from jazz to big band to rhythm-and-blues. We leave you with a traditional Christmas song, only it has the feel of a New Orleans street parade. From "Harry for the Holidays," here is “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town.”
This is Doug Johnson.
Our holiday program today was written by Nancy Steinbach. Paul Thompson was our producer. And our engineer was Audrius Regis.
I hope you enjoyed AMERICAN MOSAIC. Join us again next week for VOA’s radio magazine in Special English.