WMU News

Holiday-related tips and features

Dec. 4, 1997

KALAMAZOO -- Winter storms, shopping and travel arrangements may be as much a part of the holiday season as family gatherings, traditional music and fruitcake. Here are several story "tips" that could be used for holiday features.

Media representatives: Each tip includes the name and phone number of a Western Michigan University faculty expert who can supply information on the topic. If you would like help contacting these or other campus experts who can provide information on other holiday topics, please call Ruth Stevens, Cheryl Roland or Julie Paavola in WMU Marketing, Public Relations and Communications, at (616) 387-8400.

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EL NINO TIED TO CHRISTMAS -- With the country moving into El Nino overdose and the weather phenomenon being tied to everything from Midwestern storms to high prices for next season's langostinos, it may be time put El Nino in historical perspective, says a geographer who has been following El Nino and its impact for a number of years. "Its nothing new. El Ninos have been happening for a long time," says Stephen Podewell, WMU instructor of geography. In fact, he says, El Ninos were first recorded by Peruvian fishermen in the 16th century. Every three to seven years when it occurred, the warm ocean waters and the reversal of currents ruined their season's fishing. It became known as El Nino -- the male child -- because the odd conditions were usually noticed around the Christmas holiday. Podewell says it was early in this century before anyone made the connection between El Nino and worldwide weather conditions, and only since the 1950s and '60s that scientists have understood why it impacts our weather. This year's El Nino was predicted far earlier than any other occurrence, and the scientific resources aimed at tracking it this time around are without precedent, Podewell says. For those who are weary of hearing about El Nino, Podewell offers a prediction. He says it may be February before this El Nino peaks. For more about El Nino and its impact, persons should contact Podewell at (616) 387-4988.

HOLIDAYS CAN BE HAZARDOUS -- A WMU expert in motivation says the holidays can be a trying time in the workplace, reducing productivity and increasing the odds for accidents. "I've done some research that suggests when people work faster, accidents are likely to increase -- unsafe behavior increases," says Dr. John Austin, WMU assistant professor of psychology. "If people are indeed working harder and faster during the holidays, this could absolutely impact safety." Austin says the traditional end of the year awards like Christmas bonuses, turkeys and workplace parties can be valuable to improving employee morale. But he says small gestures can also go a long way toward reducing tension during the holiday season. "It doesn't have to be money or a turkey," he says. "It can be a pat on the back or a thank you. Letting the employee know that management appreciates their increased efforts during the holiday season is essential and can help the employee to feel a bit more needed and less stressed out." Austin can be reached at his office at (616) 387-8348.

'ONE-A-DAY' IS HOLLYWOOD'S HOLIDAY MOVIE PRESCRIPTION -- With more than 30 new major films being released for the holidays, rabid fans will have to hit mall theatres at the same rate they visit stores to stay abreast of things. According to Dr. Steven N. Lipkin, WMU associate professor of communication, the Thanksgiving to Christmas period gives the film industry an opportunity to appeal to a wide range of audiences. "Holiday releases try to reach the widest possible range of audiences, rather than targeting younger viewers as the summer film crop tends to do," Lipkin says. And, he notes, there's one audience in particular film producers are trying to reach -- those with a vote in the Academy Awards process. "Producers believe that Academy Award voters will have the freshest memory of the films they saw at Christmas," he says. Variety is the key word for this season's holiday releases, Lipkin notes. The films will include dramas that range from Charles Dickens' "Great Expectations" to the new Steven Spielberg docudrama "Amistad." Comedies include "Flubber," a live-action "Mr. Magoo" and a new Woody Allen film called "Deconstructing Harry." For more about this year's large crop of films, persons should contact Lipkin at (616) 387-3153.

FAMILIES TURN TO TRIPS AS CHRISTMAS GIFTS -- Despite an October stock market ride that gave consumers momentary shivers, many families will continue plans for holiday travel with trips gaining in popularity as an alternative to wrapped gifts under the tree. "Most people had their plans locked in by the time the stock market swing started making consumers nervous," says Dr. Eldor C. Quandt, chairperson of WMU's Department of Geography. Quandt says the trips will come off as planned, and notes that not all those trips will be toward sunnier climes. Michigan tourist attractions are a popular destination even for state residents. Michigan tourism is growing at a rate of 3 to 4 percent annually, and the industry has really geared up for weekend trips, he notes. But the Michigan tourism industry this winter may have to deal with an unpredictable winter season thanks to one other holiday tradition -- El Nino. For more about Michigan's winter tourism prospects and trends in family travel, persons should contact Quandt at (616) 387-3410.

CHRISTMAS MUSIC OFFERINGS REFLECT YEARNING FOR EARLIER TIMES -- MUCH EARLIER -- Dr. Matthew C. Steel, WMU associate professor of music and an expert on music history, says this season's holiday offerings by the recording industry show a dramatic tilt toward early music with Medieval and Renaissance music making up a significant part of the season's classical offerings. The Christmas season has become the one time of year when authentic early music specialists have a shot at reaching a wider audience. Christmas music from such groups a Sequentia and Anonymous 4 and recordings that include music from Medieval Spain as well as traditional Latin pieces are among this season's offerings. "Record companies won't bother with this kind of recording unless they think it's going to sell," he notes. Why would people change their listening habits so drastically for this season only? Steel says he thinks the people who buy these recordings are "looking for an escape from our modern secularization of Christmas and hope that the music from bygone times is somehow closer to the spirit of the event." Even the popular charts in recent years reflect a traditional bent, he notes, with spectacular sales of Christmas music by groups such as Mannheim Steamroller that offer an eclectic blend of music that includes medieval music. For more about the sounds of this and earlier Christmases, contact Steel at (616) 387-4682.

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