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The true magic of the holiday season

Thanksgiving week has arrived, marking the start of the sprint through the holiday season.

Many of us will prepare or share in a big, traditional meal on Thursday. Families will gather in front of TV sets to watch parades and football. Then, once the dishes are done and the leftovers are put away, the shopping will begin.

It’s an American custom to spend weeks seeking out bargains on all the right gifts for our loved ones. Millions of people across the country will rush from store to store later on Thursday and throughout the day on Black Friday. The trend will continue on Small Business Saturday, and some people will choose to peruse local businesses that day.

On cyber Monday, online shopping will be the thing to do. Retailers will offer all sorts of special deals — as long as you buy the merchandise from their websites.

Giving Tuesday, the Tuesday after Thanksgiving, provides a pause from the dash to consume. It promotes charitable giving as a different way to express love and goodwill during the holiday season.

If you have a favorite charity, I urge you to consider donating on this occasion. There are plenty of big, national nonprofits to consider, such as those that fund disease research or disaster relief. Locally, there are many opportunities as well. A quick search online should help you find some organization that is worthy of your gift. Some possibilities might include local animal shelters, private schools, area Habitat for Humanity projects, volunteer fire departments or historical societies.

I also encourage you to remember that shopping and gift giving are not the only activities you can do with friends and family throughout the season. While it is always nice to receive a gift, time spent together doing things you enjoy likely will be far more precious in the long run.

What might some of those activities be? That all depends on who you are and what you like to do.

If you and your siblings ice skate or ski, for example, perhaps a family trip to the rink at Wheeling Park or the slopes at Oglebay is in order. If you enjoy winter sports and the outdoors but don’t have those skills, maybe sledding or tubing at Oglebay will be a better option. But, to enjoy those activities, you will have to wait until Oglebay (or Mother Nature) starts making snow.

If you prefer to spend your time at home, there are plenty of things to do to keep both kids and adults entertained. Groups can collaborate to make dozens of Christmas cookies to be shared at home or given as gifts. Using a slightly different salt dough, people young and old can sculpt and decorate holiday ornaments.

There are hundreds of ideas for holiday-themed crafts and homemade decorations online. Finding one that is perfect for you and your family is as easy as making a few clicks of your mouse.

Other fun and family-friendly activities might include a candy cane hunt (modeled after the hunt for Easter eggs), a hike through a local park, attending an area Christmas parade or taking in a holiday show.

If you spend more time engaged with your loved ones than you do shopping, wrapping and unwrapping this season, that’s OK. You can still do all those things with a spirit of giving – the difference is you are giving your time and yourself instead of giving from your wallet.

Speaking of taking in a show, I had the chance to do that on Wednesday.

My husband, Michael Strough, was one of four magicians to take the stage at the Glitter Box Theater on Melwood Avenue in Pittsburgh. All the performers were members of the International Brotherhood of Magicians Ring 13, which is based in the Steel City.Although the organization has been around for more than 90 years, this may have been the first show it had ever put on. At the very least, it was the first show by the organization in recent memory.

The venue itself is quite interesting. It is run by volunteers and does not serve any type of refreshments, though guests are welcome to bring whatever food and drink they would like. It has an inner lobby behind the main seating area, as well as an outer lobby where people can talk or take calls during a performance.

The seating consisted mainly of folding chairs, and the decor was a bit shabby but in the modern chic sort of way. The little nonprofit provides a flexible setting for many different types of performers and artists to use, and from the large number of appearances being promoted on its walls, I would say it is well utilized.

If you’re looking for an interesting destination in Pittsburgh, check the theater out online and see if it has an event slated that appeals to you.

And if you have the chance to attend a magic show in Pittsburgh or elsewhere, I recommend you do it. Each performer I saw the other night had a different style and approach, and each one was enormously entertaining. Some were old pros while others were making their first attempt at actually performing, yet the entire show went smoothly and I had a great time.

I know I will be attending a few more magic shows this season as Mike entertains local families, fire departments and others. Whatever you choose to do as December passes by, I wish you a magical holiday season!

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