Video of the day: Season’s Greetings from New York City

We at Gadling love a good time-lapse video. Whether it’s at a busy airport in Moldova or the many personalities on the streets of Laos, there’s something about seeing life pass by at fast (or slow) speeds that’s entrancing. With Christmas a few days away and Hanukkah in full swing, we especially love feeling festive without the crowds, the cold, and the hassle. Today’s Video of the Day is perfect for getting into the seasonal spirit of New York City without actually being there. Photographer Cris Magliozzi of health, fitness and happiness website Greatist shot the video on a walk from Central Park to Rockefeller Center, taking in some of the city’s best decorations, carolers, ice skaters, and other revelry. Bonus: no holiday music! Think of it as our gift to you.

Want to give us something for the holidays? Post a link in the comments below or add photos to our Flickr Group for our next Photo/Video of the Day.

Hat tip to our friends across the pond at BBC Travel for tweeting the link.

Winter holiday celebrations in Russia

Winter holiday celebrations in Russia
In most of the western world, Christmas and Hanukkah have come and gone, but in Russia, presents are being wrapped in anticipation of tonight, New Year’s Eve. In the days of the Soviet Union, religious celebrations were frowned upon, so Russians shifted their winter celebrating to December 31 and combining the traditions of gift-exchanging and New Year’s revelry into one night. In the Russian Orthodox church, Christmas isn’t officially for another week, with the Julian calendar corresponding December 25 to January 7, 2011.

I arrived in Moscow last Friday (western Christmas Eve) to find the capital freezing but festive, with New Year’s yolki (trees) decorated all over the city and various versions of Ded Moroz walking the streets, and now in St. Petersburg, locals are rushing home with Champagne and Charlie Brown-like trees under their arms. Nearly every public square has a large decorated tree and every store has elaborate holiday displays.

%Gallery-112268%Ded Moroz (Grandfather or Father Frost in English) is the Russian version of Santa Claus. He wears a blue (or traditional red) and white fur suit and carries a white staff. Ded Moroz originally was a more sinister figure, extorting presents from parents in exchange for not taking their children. In the Russian fairytale (and according to my Russian husband), Father Frost ruled the winter and if children were polite to him, they received gifts, but if they were rude, he would let them freeze to death. Sort of gives a new meaning to naughty and nice! These days, he brings gifts to children at parties rather than leaving them under the tree and he is accompanied by his granddaughter Snegurochka the Snow Maiden. According to the Moscow News, a Ded Moroz appearance can run 2,000 to 10,000 roubles (about $65 to $325 USD) and professional Santas might make more than 10 visits a day during Christmas week, making it a lucrative seasonal profession.

Tonight in Russia, the usual pre-New Year’s partying and indulging is going on, along with tree-trimming and presents. Be sure to stick to your resolutions and be polite to snow kings or you could be left out in the cold next year! S novym godom!

Through the Gadling Lens: capturing your visit home for the holidays

Well, it’s the countdown to the holidays, folks — and whether or not this is your favourite time of the year, or you don’t celebrate any year-end holiday at all, chances are you’re about to get a few days off. Chances are also pretty good that you’re going to be traveling back home for the days to come; or, in the alternative, family is coming to visit you. So rather than dread the tension created by being around your family for an extended period, here’s how to capture some of the best of being back home for the holidays.
1. Snap a shot of the greeting. If you’re picking people up at the airport (or are being picked up), or are just doing the standard road-trip to the old homestead, have your camera ready to capture the hugs, the slaps on the backs, the “Wow, you’re looking great!” moments that happen as soon as you see loved ones. The greetings are often my favourite parts of trips — it’s when all the baggage tends to fall away, and the fleeting moment everyone expresses their genuine happiness to see each other. While, obviously, it would great to ensure that you’ve covered every technical aspect necessary to make a crisp perfect shot, this actually isn’t the time for posed images, or re-shots: so what if the resulting image is blurry, or slightly out-of-focus? The point is to capture the emotion of the greetings as best as you can — and even if the shots aren’t technically perfect, chances are you’ll cherish the images in years to come all the same.

2. Get portraits of the kids. If this is like most of our family gatherings, this might be the first time in a while that all the kids (i.e., all the little cousins) actually get together to play together. Let them go to it, and then, while they’re not paying attention to you, grab some shots of them enjoying each other. And grab some shots of them looking right at you as well. Not only will this capture some great holiday memories for you, but it will also mark their milestones as they grow (you’ll be able to remember when you took the picture because of the holiday associated), and likely become cherished images for them when they’re adults.

3. Capture some images of the everyday chores. Most family gatherings end up revolving around one main room in the house: the kitchen. Not only should you grab some snapshots of people hanging around the kitchen or sitting around the table, but go ahead and capture some images of Aunt Pearl making her world renowned pecan pie. Or the ingredients that are sitting on the kitchen counter, waiting to be turned into Cousin Brad’s famous blueberry pancakes. Or the flour-covered hands of the kids as they roll out the cookie dough. Or your dad lighting the fireplace on the first night. Even though these images might not be posed, they will capture the atmosphere of everyone as they relax into the daily routine of being family.

And if you are celebrating a holiday, be sure to capture some shots of some of the tasks related to the day: children’s hands hanging Christmas ornaments or lighting candles of the menorah, say. These shots will add some holiday meaning to your collection of images.

4. Rediscover your home town. If you’re returning to your childhood home, take some time to take a walk down memory lane: slip away from everyone, and go walk through your city’s streets, visit your favourite old haunts, marvel at how much things have changed (or how much they’ve stayed the same), and grab a few shots. There’s no reason to stick with your family 24/7 while you’re on your visit, and chances are you’re going to want some alone time. Take it — but take your camera along, as well.

5. Snap the iconic shots. If you and your family are celebrating a holiday, be sure to capture the iconic shots: the visit to Santa, the midnight wrapping of the Christmas gifts, the lit menorah or tree, whatever. It’s the holidays, after all! It’s important to capture the meaning behind why you are all getting together. And incidentally, if you’re the time that likes to send out greeting cards, as you take these iconic shots, think about which ones might make great greeting card images for next year’s holidays. That way, you won’t find yourself scrambling looking for holiday-themed images come November 30th, when you start panicking about what your cards should look like.

6. Grab a shot of everyone together. I know, I know — it’s cheesy, but this is one of those shots where it’s difficult to gather everyone together to do it at any time during the rest of the year, and besides — as silly as it seems now, these images are the ones you’re going to love 20 years from now. To make the whole experience less painful, here are a couple of tips:

a) If you use a tripod to take the shot, where you get everyone standing or sitting in place, and then you set the timer on your camera to give you time to run back into the shot and smile, then take two shots: one, where everyone is posed, and smiling and sweet, and then one where they’re not: where they all take a group family hug, or make a face, or turn their backs to the camera, or strike a ballerina pose, or a runway pose, or a whatever pose — something that will make you all laugh at the outcome.

b) To get some wonderfully natural shots, use a big mirror, situate everyone in front of it, and then snap away at your reflection as you all relate to each other in the mirror. This is actually how my husband, daughter and I take our holiday shots every year (this year’s shown above), and I’ve never failed to love the resulting shot.

Good luck getting all your great holiday shots! As always, if you have any questions on how to improve your travel photographs, don’t hesitate to e-mail me directly at karen.walrond@weblogsinc.com — I’m happy to address them in upcoming posts. In the meantime, happy holidays, everyone, and safe travels!

Karen is a writer and photographer in Houston, Texas. You can see more of her work at her site, Chookooloonks.
And for more Through the Gadling Lens, click here.

Light the Menorah

I came across this wonderful video while looking for videos on menorah light up festivities. The blend of the music, the clever lyrics, and the images of Christmas and Hanukkah that interplay as backdrop to the young men who perform gave me a feel good feeling. I’m not usually fond of rap music, but this is an interesting mix between rap and a classical approach. You’ll see.

I’m not sure where this is taking place. One commenters asked if this was filmed in Portland, Oregon, but the lyrics mentioned New York City. Regardless of the location, it’s delightful. Listen for the popular culture references. These guys are smart.

Because this is the season for Hanukkah, as well as Christmas, this video seemed fitting and a companion to the post on public menorahs around the world.

National Hanukkah Menorah and where to find other public displays

Yesterday the National Hanukkah Menorah in Washington, D.C. was lit to celebrate the beginning of Hanukkah the Jewish holiday that commemorates the victory of the Jewish Maccabees over the Syrians who had oppressed them. In a miracle, the oil that was only enough to burn for light for one day lasted for eight.

Although the main lighting of the National Hanukkah Menorah festivities happened yesterday, the menorah, located at the Ellipse near the White House grounds, will be lit each night during Hanukkah.

There are many other public menorahs on display around the world. Here’s a link to the page on Chabad.org that features many of them. Last year, when I came across this link, I was impressed by the scope of where these menorahs are located.

For the largest menorah in the world, head to New York City. It’s on 59th St. and 5th Ave. I don’t think you can miss it. It’s a 32 feet-tall candelabra.