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Welcome to Casual Friday where we wake you up with the overlooked news stories of the week.  The offbeat, strange and sometimes downright weird news items that mainstream media tends to ignore, all wrapped up with a few funnies, all designed to get your face in smiling shape for the weekend.

Dear Santa letters answered by U.S. Post Office program

One letter from a 13 year-old boy asked simply for covers for his bed, "so I can stay warm this winter."  Another from a 12 year-old wanted nothing for himself, but asked instead for something for his single mother because she works so hard.  

Heartbreaking letters like these are sent each year to the Post Office's "Letters to Santa" program which is in its 100th year now.  Postal employees sort through the letters so that some can be answered by charitable groups, businesses, schools, postal employees and individual anonymous givers, who all come to participating branches to pick letters and go shopping.

This the Chicago branch has reported letters reflecting a greater need for necessities and have included letters from adults looking for work.

"You're reading letters from six-year-old, eight-year-old kids who aren't asking for video games, they're asking for winter coats and food on the table, which is not something you'd think of kids writing to Santa for," said Kelley Fernandez, 26, who along with her colleague Debbie Schmidt, 53, who work for Toji Trading Group and have answered letters from Santa for three years.
Anyone wishing to participate must fill out a form and provide picture ID.  The giver then must return with a gift to match the letter by December 22 and pay for the postage.  To protect the privacy of the recipients, the full names and addresses are known only to the Post Office which delivers the gifts.

"Secret Santa" gives away $200.00 at western PA mall

A mysterious woman surprised Brenda and Tim Shirley while they were shopping last Friday.  The woman handed them a card with the words "open me" written on it.  The Shirleys opened the card to find $100.00

On the same day, Dave Brozick said a woman dropped a card in his lap with the words "open me" on the outside; inside was $100.00

Brozick and the Shirleys both say the woman left before they could thank her.

Brenda Shirley says the lady "came out of nowhere ... we looked up and she was gone."


Inspired to act: #26Acts of Kindness to honor those lost in Newtown, Conn (h/t to Greg Dworkin)

Ann Curry of NBC News, just like thousands of others, was asking "What can I do" in light of the heartbreak at Newtown.  Inspiration hit and Curry took to Twitter to ask people to imagine what it would be like to commit to 20 acts of kindness to honor each child lost at Sandy Hook.  Then she added this line, "I'm in.  If you are, RT #20Acts."

Tens of thousands of people on Twitter and Facebook not only seized the idea, they increased it to #26ActsOfKindness, to include the heroic teachers, and are launching acts of kindness big and small all over America. The acts are spreading overseas, including one tweeted from Borneo.
Check the link for some moving examples.

Westboro Baptist Church Newtown Funeral Protest Thwarted By Good Samaritans

The "religious" group, Westboro Baptist Church faithful planned on gathering to protest at the funeral of shooting victim Principal dawn Hochsprung, but Good Samaritans were already there, prepared to form a human wall.

Motorcylists lined up on Wednesday to protest the possible protesters. "All these guys see us and think we're bad. We're not. It's solidarity, is what it is," New York native Jim Hannigan told Newtown Patch. "I just felt I had to be here."
The hacktivist group Anonymous, as part of #OccupyNewtown enlisted help from those followers to block Westboro members from protesting.  The FDNY-oriented website "The Bravest" was a posting asking firefighters and police officers to travel to Newtown in plain clothes to assist in blocking those protesters and the group Angel Action created a Facebook event in order to gather even more people to protect the Newtown funerals as well.
UPDATE: Newtown Patch reports that those offering to block any Westboro Baptist Church protesters from the victims' families are leaving because the group has allegedly left the area.

Holiday Tech Guides offers this The worst gifts ever listing of holiday horrible.
Handerpants: Don't be surprised when you are written out of someone's will after showing up for Christmas bearing a pair of tighty whitey underwear that is worn on the hands. Plus, much like your actual underwear, these have holes in them — so they aren't even going to be very warm. I'm more of a boxer guy anyway — but it's really hard to use your hands in the cold with boxing gloves on. $11.95
Other greatquestionable ideas include:

Spyder III laser which claims it is the most powerful handheld laser that you can own, the Office Bed Chair, an Inflatable Fruitcake and the Razor Blade Soap.

This listing at BuzzFeed, 27 Christmas Decorations That Will Haunt Your Dreams is not exaggerating in it's claim.  Just take a look at that elf, will you.  Gad, what evil lurks behind those eyes situated just perfectly between those pointy alien looking ears?  These decorations are definitely for those who have been naughty all year.

There are 27 photos at the link and each one is cringe worthy.  Our little elf friend is #16, my second choice for scariest would be the Santa at #23.  

Some pictures are just too hideous to post so I am forced to provide the links only.  Just remember, you've been warned!

The Twelve All-Time Ugliest Christmas Sweaters

Bad Christmas Sweaters

Awkward Family Photos: Christmas Edition

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