Saturday, 31 December 2011
Friday, 30 December 2011
And where did they get all the fresh meat from? Let’s just say a trip to the zoo on Boxing Day would have been a bit of a let-down.
Thursday, 29 December 2011
Little Mix’s single Cannonball (a cover of the Damien Rice song) has sunk like its namesake.
According to a poll by the British Heart Foundation, asking people to reveal their least wanted Christmas present, twenty-five per cent of those surveyed said the X Factor 2011 winners’ single was the gift they’d least like to receive.
Despite winning this year’s X Factor, Little Mix sold only 210,000 copies of their song during its first week of release. While final figures will be higher, the group look set to record the second lowest sales of a winner's single since The X Factor's inaugural year, 2004, when Steve Brookstein shifted just 128,000 copies of Against All Odds.
Little Mix also have the dubious honour of being only the third X Factor winners not to claim the Christmas number one spot. They were outsold by five-to-one by The Military Wives Choir. Go, Gareth!
The sensible choice was to stay inside at this time of year, safe from the darkness and the horrors it held. To help keep the darkness at bay, on or around the 21 December, the time of the winter solstice, fathers and sons would go out into the forests and bring back to hearth and home the largest log they could find. This massive piece of timber was then put on the fire and left to burn for the entirety of the season of Yule – twelve days altogether.
However, despite the deeply-felt need to keep the darkness outside, in Scandinavia people believed that the burning Yule log also warmed the frozen shades of the family’s dearly-departed, who returned to the ancestral home every Christmas Eve. Some families even went to the trouble of laying a place for them at the dinner table.
The Yule log was once associated with the Norse god Thor, who had a mysterious connection to oak trees.
Wednesday, 28 December 2011
But have you ever wondered why Christmas is so often shortened to Xmas?
In fact, the practice dates back further than you might suspect, ans has nothing to do with devaluing the Christian festival, as many people believe. In reality, both Christ and Christmas have been abbreviated for at least 1,000 years. The word Christ appears in Medieval documents as both 'XP' and 'Xt' and can even be found in this form in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle from 1021. By why were those particular letters used?
To find out more you'll have to pick up my book What is Myrrh Anyway?- or its American counterpart Christmas Miscellany: Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Christmas.
Tuesday, 27 December 2011
"41 days and nights of activity that ranged from BBC Children in Need, to the Christmas Lights Switch On, to a Frankfurt Christmas Market, outdoor ice rink, Aston Hall by Candlelight, Diwali, shopping at Christmas, world class theatre and arts plus, of course, New Year's Eve with its massive 100,000 audience."
Chubb realised that with so many events competing for visitors, marketing them as individual occasions would be expensive, time-consuming and ineffective in acquiring sponsorship or funding. What the events needed, he decided, was a "generic banner under which they could all sit". His team settled on 'Winterval' – a portmanteau of 'winter' and 'festival'.
Little did he or anyone else on the events team realise that this name was to found one of the most persistent urban myths of modern times, and that 11 years later he would be writing an article explaining – again – what the event was and how it was never about renaming or banning Christmas.
Monday, 26 December 2011
The festively illuminated Schoenbrunn Palace, the former summer residence of the Austrian Emperors, provides a spectacular backdrop for an idyllic Christmas village full of the scent of mulled wine and ginger bread. And almost every day, festive concerts spread Christmas mood!
In this lovely historical quarter both traditional and original handicraft is sold on narrow paved alleyways, niches and courtyards. It's Vienna's most authentic Christmas market.
Boxing Day has a whole host of traditions associated with it, everything from horse racing and fox hunting to wren hunting and mummers' plays. As a child I visited the village of Marshfield in Gloucestershire once to watch the famous mummer's play there.
Sunday, 25 December 2011
Saturday, 24 December 2011
There are many traditions associated with this day, but some have long been forgotten. First there is the tradition of the Dumb Cake (a type of loaf!) which a young spinster would make in silence to help her determine the identity of her future intended.
Christmas Eve was considered a day of abstinence and, as such, was a day when traditionally fish was eaten rather than meat. It is also a day when younger parishioners attend a Crib Service at church.
Of course it is tonight when hopeful children (and some adults) hang up stockings (or sacks!) in the expectation that Father Christmas might fill them to bursting with presents.
And some people attend Midnight Mass with churches welcoming in Christmas Day with a peal of bells (announcing the birth of Christ and the death of the Devil).
You can read more about these traditions (and a number of others) in What is Myrrh Anyway? and Christmas Miscellany, which is still available from good bookshops until they close for Christmas later today.
What is Myrrh Anyway? and Christmas Miscellany make the perfect Christmas stocking fillers!
Friday, 23 December 2011
Thursday, 22 December 2011
And of course turkeys aren't originally from turkey - they're from Mexico. The confusion arose due to the fact that they were introduced into central Europe by Turkish merchants.
In France the turkey was called coq d'Inde, (now corrupted to dindon). In Italy, turkey was galle d'India, in Germany the name was indianische henn, while throughout the Ottoman Empire it was called the hindi.
Wednesday, 21 December 2011
The word solstice derives from Latin sol, meaning 'sun', and sistere, 'to stand still'.
Saint Thomas' Day is also celebrated on 21 December. Saint Thomas is commemorated on this day because he was the last one of the apostles to become convinced of Jesus' resurrection - in other words, he was the one who for the longest time remained in the 'night of unbelief and doubt.' He is also supposedly to have died on this day c. AD72, near Chennai in India.
Tuesday, 20 December 2011
For example, did you know that a reindeer calf can outrun a man at only one day old, or that the Finns once measured distance in terms of how far a reindeer could run without having to stop for a pee?
The reindeer is the only deer that can be domesticated, and was the first hoofed animal to be domesticated. It provides the nomadic tribes who live within the Arctic Circle (such as the Lapps) with milk, cheese, meat, fat, clothing, footwear, tools (made from the antlers and bones), highly durable bindings (made from the animal’s sinews) and a means of transport.
Santa Claus - whose association with reindeer cannot go unremarked - has his official post office in Rovaniemi, the capital of the Province of Lapland in northern Finland. The jolly old elf receives somewhere in the region of 600,000 letters each year!
Monday, 19 December 2011