Category Archives: Holidays

1800 Flowers-Valentine Rage

There’s an old saying in the Public Relations world that goes like this…

“Bad press is better than no press.”

I’m pretty sure the folks at 1800 Flowers would disagree with that statement.

Facebook, Twitter and social media in general have become, for better or worse, the customer complaint department. Companies and organizations are grappling with how to manage social media and online presence. In the case where customer service fails like the Valentine Day massacre of 1800Flowers.com public outcry lit up Twitter and Facebook faster than cupid’s arrow.

1800-FlowersSo here’s the situation as the media is reporting it. People by the thousands ordered flowers and such from 1800flowers.com to be delivered on Valentine’s day. Seems easy enough. You take the order, you fill the order, you deliver the order — happy company and happy customer.

Except that’s not what happened. Judging from the volume of messages on Twitter and Facebook there was an epic fail on the part of 1800Flowers to deliver as promised. Girlfriends and wives were left standing at the mailbox in droves, tissue in hand wanting for promised roses that would not arrive. It’s a boyfriends worst nightmare.

The simple thing at that point is to make it right. That’s where epic fail transcended into epic tragedy. When the unhappy customers started piling on the 1800 Flowers customer support line, reportedly staffed by outsourced contractor, customers were left stranded on hold or hours into the hold, dropped off-line without talking to a customer support rep.

So that’s where Facebook and Twitter became the public complaint desk. People unable to get satisfaction from the company defaulted to the Facebook account and literally by the thousands started posting the visions of their experience on 1800 Flowers wall.

The company seeing the bad-light of scorn pasted across their public wall did the one thing that made it worse. They started deleting the customer complaints off the Facebook page.

It’s a PR nightmare swirling around the corporate drain and 1800 Flowers may never fully recover. There’s an old adage in business that goes like this:

[box] If I don’t take care of my customers someone else will.[/box]

So what’s the lesson here?

For the customer I think it’s – pay the extra and support your local florist.

For 1800 Flowers I think it’s – Fix the processes, product sales/order fulfillment and customer service.

Frankly in today’s social world where customer’s are talking to each other like never before situations like this can drown a business in the swarm of negative conversation.

That’s the double edge sword of Facebook. Businesses understand the need to be there to compete, but I don’t think they understand the potential for public disaster. It’s like a company keeping a blank sign out by the street inviting graffiti artists to post to your hearts content.

Companies that don’t understand the power of social media and negative press should contact Guy Collision, Executive Director of the Arizona Humane Society and ask him about their Facebook experience related to “Scruffy.”

The only one smiling here may be the folks at 1-800-SEND-FTD.

Washington Post story on 1800-Flowers

The Stockings Were Hung From the Chimney With Care

StockingsHere’s another Christmas tradition I started thinking about. Who came up with hanging socks on the mantle?

There’s very little real history about where the Christmas stocking came from so we have to rely on legend and myth and Wikipedia. I was able to come up with one story that seems like a good place to start.

I like this tale. I mean after all Christmas legends are the best kind.

The original story has evolved over time to spin the differences in culture and society, but the reality is this is good old fashioned story-telling.

Once there was a father with three beautiful daughters. Although the daughters were kind and strong, the father despaired of them ever making good marriages, because he didn’t have enough money to pay their dowries.

One day, St. Nicholas of Myra was passing through their village and heard the locals discussing the plight of these poor girls. St Nicholas knew the father would be too proud to accept an outright gift. So he waited till dark, snuck to the man’s house, and dropped three bags of gold coins down the chimney.

The daughters had spent the evening washing clothes, and had hung their stockings by the fireplace to dry. The gold coins dropped into the stockings, one bag for each daughter. In the morning, they awoke to find enough money to make them each a generous dowry, and all married well and happily.

As word of St. Nicholas’ generosity spread, others began to hang their stockings by the fireplace, hoping for a similar gift.

I can be a real sap for a good Christmas story.

So how did this tradition take hold for American children? Some folks credit the idea to Thomas Nast, who drew stockings on the mantelpiece in his 1886 illustrations for a George Webster story called “Santa Claus and His Works.” While Nast did create the popular modern image of Santa Claus as a white-bearded, red-suited, boot-wearing jolly man, he cannot be responsible for the stocking tradition.

We know that because Clement Clark Moore‘s famous poem, “A Visit from St. Nicholas” was written a full 64 years earlier. His poem includes the following immortal lines:

The stockings were hung by the chimney with care
in hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there.

It’s likely the Christmas stocking tradition came to America with generations of immigrants. American Christmas is a melting pot of international tradition. Catholics brought the legend of St. Nicholas. The Dutch would put out clogs full of straw for Santa’s reindeer. Italian children brought along the tradition of putting out their shoes for the good witch, La Bufana. And before you could bite into a candy cane the Christmas Stocking became an essential part of the American Christmas.

The Christmas Price Index

Christmas Price Index

Christmas Price Index

The Christmas Price Index was conceived by PNC Bank’s chief economist as a humorous commodity price index to measure the changing cost of goods over time. Commodity price indices, as compiled by economics, use a “market basket” of certain goods and then measure the cost of the goods from year to year to gauge inflation in different sectors of the economy.

The Christmas Price Index chose the items in the popular Christmas carol “The Twelve Days of Christmas” as its market basket: a partridge in a pear tree, two turtle doves, three French hens, four calling birds, five gold rings, six geese, seven swans, eight maids, nine dancing ladies, ten leaping lords, eleven pipers, and twelve drummers. According to tradition, the purchasing of the items begins on December 26 and ends on January 6.

PNC compiles both a “Christmas Price Index” and “The True Cost of Christmas.” The “Christmas Price Index” is calculated by adding the cost of the items in the song. The “True Cost of Christmas,” however, is calculated by following the exact instructions in the song (buying a partridge in a pear tree on each of the twelve days, buying two turtle doves from the second day onward, for a total of 22 turtle doves, etc.) for the complete set of 364 items.

The price of each item is set as follows:

  • The pear tree comes from a local Philadelphia nursery.
  • The partridge, turtle dove, and French hen prices are determined by the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden.
  • The price of a canary at Petco is used for the calling bird, though the price of a blackbird would be more in tune with the song.
  • Gordon Jewelers sets the cost of the gold rings, though the gold rings of the song actually refer to ring-necked pheasants.
  • The National Aviary in Pittsburgh sets prices for swans and geese.
  • The maids are assumed to be unskilled laborers earning the Federal Minimum Wage.
  • A Philadelphia dance company provides estimates for the salary of “ladies dancing”.
  • The Philadelphia Ballet estimates the salary for the “leaping lords”.
  • The going-rate for drummers and pipers is that of a Pennsylvania musicians’ union.

This year PNC Bank has provided a stop-motion video/interactive web site on the web for a better user expereince — go HERE. (Give it some time to load.)

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QvwzslJeeLg]

Rock and Roll Saturday – Christmas Rock

Some of my favorite Holiday music.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UV8x7H3DD8Y]

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yN4Uu0OlmTg&w=480&h=360]

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Khpk9274gMg&w=480&h=360]

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aSynDh_K0EE&w=480&h=360]

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w5cX_ncZLls&w=480&h=360]

And a timeless classic… the Charlie Brown Christmas dance.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YBPcoI4OE9Y&w=480&h=360]

That’s like Joy on steroids!

Ebenezer Scrooge

Scrooge

Jim Carrey as the miserly Ebenezer Scrooge

Charles Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol in 1843. Could Dickens have ever dreamed what would become of his little holiday novella and his dual-personality character, Ebenezer Scrooge?

Ebenezer was a sour-old soul who bemoaned life and lived a prisoner to his greed. He squandered his days in the quest for coin thinking nothing of the plight of family and friends around him.

In the end, old Ebenezer was blessed with the vision of his journey — where he’d been, where he was, and where he was going. Without defense against who he had become, Ebenezer claimed redemption, sought out the comfort of others, and became a changed man.

We’ve all known a Scrooge in our lifetime. Tear down the barriers of age, sex, and race, and remember the people you’ve known through the years. I’m sure at least one of them, likely many more, has Scrooge like qualities.

A Scrooge is selfish,  self-centered, greedy, has the means to be generous yet clutches a dime like it’s the only thing separating them from the poorhouse. A Scrooge may be haunted by their own past and couldn’t see the potential joy in tomorrow if their very life depended on it.

Scrooge and Tiny TimYou getting picture of that person yet?

I have. They look nothing like Alistair Sim, Albert Finney or Jim Carrey.

Oh and if you happen to be looking at that person in the mirror. Seek out the ghosts of Christmas past and ponder Christmas yet to come. For every Ebenezer Scrooge there are hundreds of Tiny Tims waiting for someone’s generosity and love.

The truth be known, there’s a little Ebenezer in all of us. I mean after all, we’re only human.

Holiday memories

OrnamentsI never gave it much thought growing up. Every year just after Thanksgiving mother would start dragging boxes down from the attic marked “Christmas.”

Inside these cardboard cubes was her collection of Christmas lights, decorations, and other paraphernalia associated with turning the average picket-fence home into a holiday wonderland. Or at least that’s how it looked from the eyes of a child.

To talk about ornaments you first have to talk about the tree. In the Mills household we always had a tree.

Aluminum TreeI don’t know if you remember those aluminum foil trees with the rotating wheel of multi-colored lights. We had one of those for many years. I think it was mainly because it was so easy to put up and take down. Mother was known to use every short-cut at her disposal where managing the house was concerned. But come Christmas she went all out in spite of the work involved

In later years I claimed squatter rights to the rotating color wheel. It found its way into my bedroom as a compliment to the blacklight and Jimi Hendrix posters. And that’s all I’m going to say about that.

I’m pretty confident we retired the silver spruce when mother upgraded to the new and improved artificial tree. No muss, no fuss, no pine needles to clean up. We had arrived.

Ceramic tree

I don’t exactly know when but somewhere along the way mother picked up doing ceramics as a hobby. I know before it was all said and done, and she moved on to her next hobby, she had made enough Christmas trees and candy dishes to decorate The White House and half of congress.

She had these little ceramic Christmas villages that would take up table tops, window sills, and mantel space all over the house.

It makes me wonder today what happened to all that stuff. I’d put out a little Christmas village of my own but this little spotty dog would have it in the backyard before breakfast. We can’t have anything nice.

 

Nog

Egg NogMany people believe eggnog is a tradition brought to America from Europe a couple of hundred years ago. This is only partially true. Eggnog relates to many different milk and wine punches concocted long ago in the “Old World.” Once in the Americas, a new twist was put on the old theme. Rum was used in the place of wine. In Colonial America, rum was commonly called “grog”, so the name eggnog is likely derived from the very descriptive term for this drink, “egg-and-grog”, which corrupted to egg’n’grog and soon to eggnog. Make’s perfect sense to me – Eggnog goes good with practically anything that doesn’t involve driving or operating dangerous machinery. Don’t let Uncle Harvey near the wood chipper when he’s been nogging.

Others think the “nog” of eggnog comes from the word “noggin.” In ye bloody ol’ England a noggin was a small, wooden, carved mug. It was used to serve drinks at table in taverns. It is thought that eggnog started out as a mixture of Spanish “Sherry” and milk. The English called this concoction “Dry sack posset.” It is very easy to see how an egg drink in a noggin could become eggnog.

The true story might be a mixture of the two and eggnog was originally called “egg and grog in a noggin”. (Say that real fast three times.)

With its European roots and the availability of the ingredients, eggnog soon became a popular wintertime drink throughout Colonial America. It was extrememly popular in the colonies. What’s not to like? It was rich, spicy, and alcoholic.

Egg NogEggnog, in the 1800s was nearly always made in large quantities and nearly always used as a social drink. It was commonly served at holiday parties and it was noted by an English visitor in 1866, “Christmas is not properly observed unless you brew egg nogg for all comers; everybody calls on everybody else; and each call is celebrated by a solemn egg-nogging…It is made cold and is drunk cold and is to be commended.”

Our first President, George Washington, was quite a fan of eggnog and devised his own recipe that included rye whiskey, rum and sherry. It was reputed to be a stiff drink that only the most courageous were willing to try.

Eggnog is still a popular drink during the holidays, and its social character remains. It is hard to imagine a Christmas without a cup of the “nog” to spice up the atmosphere and lend merriment and joy to the proceedings.

I never met a nog I didn’t like.

Whaddya Mean There’s No Santa Clause?

What? No Santa Clause???Standing before a class full of second graders in a New York elementary school, a teacher took on the role of parent and informed her class there was no such thing as Santa Clause.

Can you imagine that?

Jolly old St. Nick is an illusion parents maintain purely for the benefit of their children. You have to wonder what drug-induced decision making came into play with this ill-placed teacher decided it was okay to blow Santa’s cover.

What I didn’t hear was how this room full of eight year-olds reacted to the news.

I can see their little jaws dropping in disbelief. I imagine there was a tear or two. What about the conversation they had with mommy and daddy that evening trying to get the bottom of this great parental scam.

“The great Santa Clause Hoax!”

Whaddya mean there’s no Santa Clause?

Next thing you know she’ll be telling her students there’s no Great Pumpkin or Mickey Mouse.

Wait…. There’s no Mickey Mouse? Say it ain’t so!!

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/12/01/new-york-teacher-tells-st_n_1123617.html

Rock and Roll Saturday – Bing & Bowie

Bing Crosby & David Bowie

Bing Crosby & David Bowie - Sept 11, 1977

September 11, 1977, one of music’s most unlikley collaborations came together when singer David Bowie stood beside Hollywood legend Bing Crosby. Together they recorded what was to become a Christmas classic: Little Drummer Boy/Peace on Earth.

When asked about it later, Bowie related he only did it because his mother liked Crosby. Producers and others involved in the recording session described the event as “surreal,” a “historic encounter.”

The encounter was for an upcoming CBS special, Bing Crosby’s Merrie Olde Christmas. Crosby was a legendary singer and Bowie was known mostly for Ziggy Stardust and Major Tom. Crosby was touring with his family in England at the time. The session with Bowie was one of his last. The legendary singer died of a massive heart attack on a Spanish golf course less than a month later. The show aired on November 30th, six weeks after Crosby’s death.

45 Single

Bowie balked at singing the Little Drummer Boy. He recalled it was one of his least favorite pieces of Christmas music. The producers called on the songwriting talents of Ian Fraser and Larry Grossman to come up with a counterpoint to Crosby singing Drummer Boy.

The result was Peace on Earth which Bowie sang in harmonic sync with Crosby’s pah-rum-pah-pum-pum. They rehearsed the composition for less than an hour before nailing the song on the first take.

On its release as a single, Little Drummer Boy/Peace on Earth climbed to #3 on the U.K. charts. It has become a staple of Christmas radio in the years since.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DiXjbI3kRus]

On the same Bing Crosby Christmas special, David Bowie sang, Heroes.

This is rare footage of that appearance. (It occurs to me… Can you call it rare if it’s readily available on YouTube?)

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ejJmZHRIzhY]

You’ll Shoot Your Eye Out, Kid.

A Christmas StoryA Christmas Story is one of the few holiday movies that gets it right. The producers managed to capture the essence of a child’s world leading up to December 25th. It works on the strength of a brilliant performance by child actor Peter Billingsly in the lead role of Ralphie.

This 1983 holiday film is based on the short stories and anecdotes of author/storyteller  Jean Shepherd, including material from his books In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash, and Wanda Hickey’s Night of Golden Memories. It was directed by Bob Clark. The film has become a holiday classic and is shown numerous times during December, sometimes in a 24-hour marathon.

The film starts out innocently enough with the camera panning into a display window scene on the corner of Higbee’s department store in the fictional town of Hohman, Indiana. (The original Higbee’s was founded in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1860. It was acquired by the Dillards Corporation in 1992.) Narration for the Christmas Story is done by the author, Jean Shepherd, from the perspective of the adult Ralphie. He is describing the scene of Ralphie and friends drooling over the array of toys on display.

RalphieThe tone is set when Ralphie spots the Red Ryder BB Gun in the window and spends the next hour of the film trying to convince his family, by hook and crook, on why he should get the little firearm for Christmas.

This movie has more subplots than than a centipede has shoes.

  • The ongoing furnace battle
  •  Flick’s tongue stuck on the flag pole
  • Ralphie’s decoder ring (Ovaltine ad)
  • Dealing with bully Scut Farkus (He had green teeth)
  • The Bumpus hounds
  • Feeding Randy
  • The old man’s “Major Award” (Leg lamp)
  • Those glorious fantasy sequences of Ralphie’s imagination
  • Christmas tree shopping
  • “Oh Fudge….”
  • “Soap Poisoning”
  • The trip to Santa Clause
  •  Aunt Clara’s bunny pajamas
  • The not very politically collect, “Fa-ra-ra-ra-ra-ra-ra-ra-ra”

With the calendar flipping to December that can only mean that the first viewing of A Christmas Story can not be far behind and with it some of the greatest lines in movie history….

FragileOnly one thing in the world could’ve dragged me away from the soft glow of electric sex gleaming in the window. 

We’re out of glue.

 I said THE word, the big one, the queen-mother of dirty words, the “F-dash-dash-dash” word!

In the heat of battle my father wove a tapestry of obscenities that as far as we know is still hanging in space over Lake Michigan. 

A Red Ryder BB gun with a compass in the stock, and this thing which tells time.

Over the years I got to be quite a connoisseur of soap. My personal preference was for Lux, but I found Palmolive had a nice, piquant after-dinner flavor – heady, but with just a touch of mellow smoothness. Life Buoy, on the other hand… 

Cast Reunion