'Twas the Night Before Christmas... Or was it?

Sunday 29 December 2013

When the snow lay round about, deep and crisp and even

Look what this man did...

... wearing a funny pair of shoes.

To see more of Simon Beck's amazing arctic artwork, click this link.

Which would be your Top Ten Christmas movies?

Thursday 26 December 2013

It's Christmas, which means the television schedules are chock full of movies. But what about your classic Christmas movies, and by that I don't mean Miracle on 34th Street or It's a Wonderful Life, but those movies which take place at Christmas time? Like Die Hard (and Die Hard 2), or Gremlins, or Home Alone?

So, over to you. What would make your Top Ten of Christmas movies?

Merry Christmas!

Wednesday 25 December 2013

And while you're tucking into your Christmas dinner today, just bear in mind the poor man from Ayrshire who was hospitalised back in Christmas 2011 after eating too many Brussels sprouts.

The traditional Christmas vegetable contains large amounts of vitamin K, which promotes blood clotting. This counteracted the effect of anticoagulants the man was taking because he had a mechanical heart. Doctors at the Golden Jubilee Hospital in Clydebank eventually realised too many sprouts were to blame.

Consultant cardiologist Dr Roy Gardner said, "Patients who are taking anticoagulants are generally advised not to eat too many green leafy vegetables, as they are full of vitamin K, which antagonise the action of this vital medication."

Jill Young, chief executive of the Golden Jubilee Hospital added, "Whilst we think this is possibly the first ever festive admission to hospital caused by the consumption of Brussels sprouts, we were delighted that we were able to stabilise his levels."

But then again, sprouts are evil.

Merry Christmas.

Track Santa!

Tuesday 24 December 2013

Father Christmas has already set out on his mammoth postal delivery session and in less than six hours time he'll be here in the UK.

You can follow his progress either via NORAD or Google, although according to one here's currently in Georgia and according to the other he's in Armenia. Just so long as he makes it to ours before morning, I don't really mind.

Christmas Eve

Yes, it's almost here - there's only one day to go until Christmas Day! So, what does Christmas Eve itself have in store?

Well, traditionalists will be putting up their Christmas trees and other decorations today, whilst last minute shoppers will be panic buying, spending (on average) £33 on last minute purchases (if they can get to the shops, that is).

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!

O Tannenbaum, O Tannenbaum

Monday 23 December 2013

These days we take the traditional Christmas tree for granted. After all, it's - well - traditional! But if you stick to tradition, then you shouldn't actually put your tree up until Christmas Eve (tomorrow), and not in August like some people!

But to find out precisely how the Christmas tree became a staple of the festive season, you need to pick up a copy of What is Myrrh Anyway? Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Christmas, or the US version, Christmas Miscellany.

But while you're waiting for your copy to arrive, did you know that six species account for about 90 per cent of the Christmas tree trade in the United States? Scots pine (also known as Scotch pine) ranks first, with about 40 percent of the market, followed by Douglas fir, which accounts for about 35 percent. The other big sellers are noble fir, white pine, balsam fir and white spruce.

The first national American Christmas Tree was lit in 1923 on the White House lawn by President Calvin Coolidge, while Franklin Pierce was the first president to introduce the Christmas tree to the White House in 1856.

The Three Wise... Men?

Sunday 22 December 2013

In 2004, the General Synod of the Church of England agreed to a revision of the Book of Common Prayer. A committee agreed that the term Magi, as used in the Bible, was the name used by officials at the Persian court. This means that not only were the three wise men who visited Jesus not kings, they did not number three and were possibly not even wise. They might even have been female as well!

* * * * *
If you have anymore questions about the history and traditions of Christmas, then you'll probably find them answered in What is Myrrh Anyway? Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Christmas, published in the US as Christmas Miscellany.

The Winter Solstice

Saturday 21 December 2013

21 December is traditionally the date of the winter solstice, the year's longest night and shortest day, and sometimes referred to as Yule. The winter solstice occurs at the instant when the Sun's position in the sky is at its greatest angular distance on the other side of the equatorial plane from the observers' hemisphere. Depending on the shift of the calendar, the event of the winter solstice occurs some time between December 20 and December 23 each year in the northern hemisphere.

The seasonal significance of the winter solstice is in the reversal of the gradually lengthening nights and shortening days. How cultures interpret this is varied, since it is sometimes said to astronomically mark either the beginning or middle of a hemisphere's winter. Though the winter solstice lasts an instant, the term is also colloquially used to refer to the full 24-hour period of the day on which it occurs.

Worldwide, interpretation of the event has varied from culture to culture, but most cultures have held a recognition of rebirth, involving holidays, festivals, gatherings and other ritual celebrations around that time.

Did you know...?
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.

These are various traditions practised on this day, particularly in Germany, including the Thomasfaulpelz or Domesel, and the Rittberg wedding.

Thomasfaulpelz or Domesel (the 'lazybone' or 'donkey' of Saint Thomas day) were names given to the last person to get out of bed and for the last student to appear in class on that particular morning in Westphalia (roughly the region between the Rivers Rhine and Weser, located north of the Ruhr River).

The Rittburgische Hochzeit (Rittberg wedding), also in Westphalia, was an opulent meal served in the belief that if you ate well on Saint Thomas day, you could expect to do so all of the next year.

So, Happy Saint Thomas Day!

Have a cool Yule

Friday 20 December 2013

To our pagan ancestors living in the frozen north of Europe and Scandinavia, the dark days of winter were a frightening time. The darkness was the domain of demons and malicious spirits. On top of that, Odin, chief among the Norse gods, flew through the sky on his eight-legged horse Sleipnir, looking down at the world with his furious one-eyed gaze, deciding who should prosper and who perish in the year ahead.

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.

Yule was the name given to the Viking festive feast, a time when light and new birth were celebrated in the face of darkness and death as witnessed in the natural world. It was at this time that evergreens were brought into the house; a sign that life persisted, even during these darkest days of the year.

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.

Did you know...?The Yule log was once associated with the Norse god Thor, who had a mysterious connection to oak trees.

* * * *

You will find many other such tasty morsels of information in my book What is Myrrh Anyway?- and its American counterpart Christmas Miscellany: Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Christmas.

Winterval and Wassailing

Thursday 19 December 2013

Winterval - you might have heard of it. It caused a bit of a furore a few years back.

In fact, it all started in 1997 when Mike Chubb was working for Birmingham city council during the rejuvenation of the city centre. As the council's head of events he and his team were charged with creating a marketing strategy to cover:

"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.

To read more about this story, click here.

Of course, W is also for Wassail. The word 'wassail' comes from the Old English 'waes hael' meaning 'be healthy', but came to denote the practice of travelling from house to house, demanding food and drink in return for a few verses of whatever carol the singers could remember at the time.

Did you know...?
The expression 'to drink a toast' originates with the custom of wassailing?

Today you can enjoy English Heritage's own Wassail Ale and hear a traditional wassailing song as sung by the popular Britpop band Blur!

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You will find many other such tasty morsels of information in my book What is Myrrh Anyway?- and its American counterpart Christmas Miscellany: Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Christmas.

The Glastonbury Thorn

Wednesday 18 December 2013

The Glastonbury Thorn is a hawthorn, of a type which originates in the Middle East, that grows in the grounds of Glastonbury Abbey in Somerset, England. Legend has it that it grew from where Joseph of Arimathea (supposedly Jesus's uncle) laid his staff, and has flowered every Christmas Day since.

A cutting from the Glastonbury Thorn was sent to the monarch each Christmas by the Vicar and Mayor of Glastonbury. However, the tree was pronounced dead in June 1991, and cut down the following February.

Fortunately, plenty of cuttings were taken from it before its destruction so that a new Thorn could be planted. In fact, the hawthorn growing in the grounds of Glastonbury Abbey before 1991 was itself supposedly a cutting from the original plant, planted in secret after the original was destroyed.

Only hawthorn trees that budded or grafted from the original exist. The plants actually blossom twice a year, in May as well as at Christmas. The blossoms of the Christmas shoots are smaller than the ones the plant produces in May and do not produce any haws, the small, oval, berry-like fruit of the hawthorn, which are dark red in colour.

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You will find many other such interesting snippets of information in my book What is Myrrh Anyway?- and its American counterpart Christmas Miscellany: Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Christmas.

Happy Saturnalia!

Tuesday 17 December 2013

Christmas (a.k.a. the Feast of the Nativity) is pre-dated by two major pagan festivals, the Roman Saturnalia and the Viking Yule. Saturnalia is well-known for its turning of the established order on its head, with servants becoming the masters and vice versa. December 17 is the actual date when the Ancient Roman festival - held in honour of the god Saturn, the god of agriculture - began, running until December 23.

Its legacy lived on in the Medieval Christmas when a Lord of Misrule was appointed to oversee the often noisily and disorderly festive celebrations. And its legacy lives on today in modern pantomimes which still involve a reversal of fortunes; Cinderella marries her prince while poor Jack makes a million. This swapping of roles didn’t just apply to master-servant relationships either, but also to traditional gender roles.

The Romans sang ritual songs during the feast of Saturnalia while the mead halls of the Norse would have rung to the sound of sagas being sung around the burning Yule log. During the festival of Saturnalia, people decorated trees with small pieces of metal. Our Roman ancestors also considered evergreens lucky and during the feast of Saturnalia decorated their homes with boughs of holly and the like, believing that both brought good luck, while mistletoe was a symbol of peace. Those participating in the annual Saturnalia celebrations even wore hats, which is part of the reason why we find paper crowns hidden in the crackers we pull at Christmas dinner.

It is thought that these midwinter festivals were transformed into Christmas celebrations after the arrival of Saint Augustine in England, at the end of the 6th century, and the subsequent widespread adoption of Christianity by the British. Certainly Christmas Day AD 598 was marked by a spectacular event, when more than 10,000 Englishmen were baptised as Christians.

So... Happy Saturnalia!

The Nutcracker

Monday 16 December 2013

At Christmas time it is not uncommon for many families to attend the only ballet the will see all year. The name of that ballet? The Nutcracker. But how did a ballet about a mechanical device for cracking nuts become such a popular festive tradition?

The story itself is quite old, older than the one we see portrayed on stage, which is actually an adaptation by the French author Alexandre Dumas, possibly better known for such titles as The Three Musketeers and The Count of Monte Cristo.

The Nutcracker was actually Peter Ilich Tchaikovsky's final and least satisfying ballet, after he took on the project with a marked lack of enthusiasm. It is ironic then that it would be The Nutcracker that was to become one of the most beloved Christmas traditions.

The Nutcracker premiered in Tchaikovsky's native Russia in 1892. It wasn't until 1944 that an American ballet company decided to perform the entire ballet. That year, the San Francisco Ballet took on the task, from then on performing the ballet as an annual tradition.

But it was really George Balanchine who really set The Nutcracker on the path to popular fame. In 1954 he choreographed the ballet for a New York company, and not a year has passed since when the ballet hasn't been performed in New York City.

* * * *

You will find many other such tasty morsels of information in my book What is Myrrh Anyway?- and its American counterpart Christmas Miscellany: Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Christmas.

Gaudete, Gaudete Christus Est Natus

Sunday 15 December 2013

Today, in the liturgical calendar, is Gaudete Sunday, or Rejoice Sunday.

The day takes its name from the first word of the introit of this day's Mass:

Gaudete in Domino semper: iterum dico, gaudete. Modestia vestra nota sit omnibus hominibus: Dominus enim prope est. Nihil solliciti sitis: sed in omni oratione petitiones vestræ innotescant apud Deum. Benedixisti Domine terram tuam: avertisti captivitatem Jacob. 

This translates as:

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice. Let your forbearance be known to all, for the Lord is near at hand; have no anxiety about anything, but in all things, by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be known to God. Lord, you have blessed your land; you have turned away the captivity of Jacob.

Of course, mention the word Gaudete to people today, and they're just as likely to think of the following carol...

Mistletoe demystified

Saturday 14 December 2013

A popular practice among the more lascivious of middle-aged middle managers at the office Christmas party is that of coping a kiss off any unsuspecting young temp who happens to stray too close under the tawdry sprig of mistletoe sellotaped to any convenient light-fitting, smoke alarm or door lintel. But how did such a pervy practice ever come about, especially during a season linked to chaste Christian thoughts and virgin births?

Like so many others, it is one of those traditions that is a hangover of our pre-Christian past. Both the Ancient Greeks and the druidic priests of the Celtic peoples revered the mistletoe, believing it to have supernatural healing properties. To the Romans the mistletoe was a symbol of peace and used as part of the Saturnalia celebrations.

Like other plants that remained green all year long, is was taken as a symbol of prosperity and fertility. Thoughts of fertility returning to the land were foremost in the minds of the early peoples who relied on the land for their immediate survival, especially in the bleak midwinter. In Norse mythology, the plant was sacred to Frigga (also known as Freya) who was the goddess of love.

In medieval times, mistletoe was fed to cattle to make sure they calved in the spring, and any woman hoping to fall pregnant would carry a sprig of it about her person. It was also considered an effective treatment for toothache, nervous disorders, epilepsy, heart disease and snakebites. It was even believed to bring quarrels to an end, and was a sure means of protection against witches and lightning strikes! (One strongly-held belief had it that mistletoe was formed when lightning struck a tree.)

The more modern practice of kissing under the mistletoe can be traced back to 18th century England. Young women who stood underneath the mistletoe could not refuse a kiss and if any unfortunate girl remained unkissed under the berries it was said that she would not marry at all during the coming year.

In one version of the custom, every time a young man stole a kiss from a girl he plucked a berry from the mistletoe bough. When all the berries had been plucked, the privilege ceased, as is recalled by this ditty:

Pick a berry off the mistletoe
For evry kiss that’s given.
When the berries have all gone,
There’s an end to the kissing.

Did you know...?The name 'mistletoe' comes from two Anglo-Saxon words, mistel, meaning ‘dung’ and tan, meaning ‘a small branch’. Birds, (usually the mistle thrush) feast on the mistletoe’s berries, then, having had their fill, they do what everyone does after a big meal – they void their bowels. The seeds excreted in this way germinate in the bark of the tree and a new mistletoe plant grows.

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You will find many other such facts about evergreens in my book What is Myrrh Anyway?- and its American counterpart Christmas Miscellany: Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Christmas.

Christmas Jumper Day

Friday 13 December 2013

Just in case you didn't know already, Friday 13 December 2013 is Christmas Jumper Day, an initiation intended to raise money and awareness for the work of the Save the Children charity.

To find out more about Christmas Jumper Day, click this link.

Buzz off!

It's Friday the 13th today, and for some people - superstitious people - it's a day packed with potential danger. But it's not the only day in the year that comes with more than its fair share of strange superstitions. Take Christmas Eve, for example...

Many people are familiar with the various traditions associated with Christmas Eve but there are a number of older legends that have been forgotten over time. One of these is specifically associated with midnight on Christmas Eve. At this time that bees supposedly hum their own hymn in praise of Christ.

Having never kept bees or been anywhere near a beehive at midnight on Christmas Eve I cannot confirm or deny this myth, but I think it's good that we don't explode every longer held belief associated with such a magical time of year.

And talking of superstitions surrounding bees, did you know that if a bee enters your home it is a sign that you will soon have a visitor? If you kill the bee, you will bring bad luck on yourself, or the visitor will be particularly unpleasant. And it gets worse; a swarm of bees settling on a roof is a sure sign that the house will burn down!

Christmas Curry

Thursday 12 December 2013

A friend of mine is shunning turkey with all the trimmings and having curry for Christmas instead. As he puts it, "I actually like Christmas. I just think that turkey is overrated. Plus, if you go for a free-range, ethically sourced one you can be paying £60 up. Just for something that tastes a bit like chicken but drier and blander."

However, if you're still sticking with turkey (as we are in our household this year) then here's something you can do with the leftover bird the next day, as an alternative to living off turkey sandwiches for a week!

Christmas Roast Turkey Curry

500g Roast turkey 
1 tsp
1 tsp
 Lemon juice 
1 tsp
 Chopped coriander Salt 
½ tsp
 Garam masala 
1/3 tsp
 Chili powder 
½ tsp
1 tsp
 Ground coriander 
4 tbsp
 Cooking oil 
 Onion chopped 
 Garlic cloves chopped 
¼ cup
 Tomato puree 
tsp Ground cumin

Put the oil in a hot saucepan and add the onion and garlic. Fry for 7 minutes. In a bowl, mix together: the tomato puree, cumin, coriander, turmeric, chili powder, garam masala and salt to form a thick paste. Tip the paste into the onion mixture and fry for half a minute. Stir in the turkey pieces and cook for 1 minute. Add 400ml of hot water from the kettle and simmer for 3-4 minutes. Mix in the ginger and the lemon juice.

The Box of Delights

Wednesday 11 December 2013

The Box of Delights is a children's fantasy novel by John Masefield, remembered as much for the BBC's dramatisation of it in 1984. In the story, Kay Harker returns from boarding school only to find himself mixed up in a battle to possess a magical box, which allows the owner to go small, go swift, experience magical wonders contained within and go into the past.

The dramatisation is noted for its yuletide atmosphere (it is set during Christmas, after all) and has become something of a nostalgic treat for followers of cult TV. The seasonal theme music is Victor Hely-Hutchinson's wonderful orchestral arrangement of "The First Noël" from his Carol Symphony.

If you've never seen it, it's worth looking it out, and if you remember it fondly from your childhood, as I do, enjoy the following clip as you take a trip down memory lane and recall a creepy children's Christmas classic...

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow

Tuesday 10 December 2013

Did you know that it can actually get so cold that it doesn't snow? Because snow is frozen water, if there are not enough water droplets in the air it can't snow - simple as that. As a result, the driest place on Earth isn't in the Sahara Desert or the Arizona Desert. It's actually a place known as the Dry Valleys and it's in Antarctica. The area is completely free of ice and snow, and it never rains there at all! In fact, parts of the Antarctic continent haven't seen any rain for around 2 million years! But Antarctica is also the wettest place in world, due to the fact that 70% of the Earth's water is found there in the form of ice.

For more fascinating facts like these, check out Match Wits with the Kids - available now - as well as What is Myrrh Anyway? Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Christmas.

And if you're feeling the cold, why not sit down in front of the fire tonight and enjoy a Snowball? Of the slightly alcoholic variety...

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Snowball Cocktail

2 oz Advocaat 
Top up Lemonade 

1/2 oz Fresh Lime juice

Mix all ingredients in a cocktail shaker / stirrer and pour into an unusually shaped glass. Add Crushed Ice and decorations to create a great speciality drink from an easy to make recipe!

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

And while you're sipping your Snowball, why not listen to this ode to the cocktail, celebrating the fact that you can enjoy all your favourite drinks in the same glass?


Monday 9 December 2013

Snapdragon was a popular parlour game from the 16th to 19th centuries. It was played during the winter, particularly on Christmas Eve or Twelfth Night. Brandy was heated and placed in a wide shallow bowl; raisins were placed in the brandy which was then set alight.

The aim of the game was to pluck the raisins out of the burning brandy and eat them, at the risk of being burnt. 
Other treats could also be used. Of these, almonds were the most common alternative or addition, but currants, candied fruit, figs, grapes, and plums also featured. Salt could also be sprinkled in the bowl. In one variation a Christmas pudding is placed in the centre of the bowl with raisins around it.

Did you know...?
In The Winter's Tale, Shakespeare used the word 'snapdraon' as a verb, to describe a moment when a ship at sea is instantly swallowed up by a storm.

Snapdragon is also mentioned in Alice Through the Looking Glass where Alice meets the peculiar Looking-Glass insects. One of them is the Snap-dragon-fly, with a body made of plum-pudding, its wings of holly leaves and its head a raisin burning in brandy. It lives on frumenty (a traditional Christmas porridge) and mince pies, and nests in a Christmas box.

Festive Bread

Sunday 8 December 2013

Fancy waking up on Christmas morning and tucking into some festive bread, rather than your usual loaf? If so, then this recipe is for you.

Festive Bread

1 ¾ cups flour
2/3 cups brown sugar
½ teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 eggs
1/3 cup butter
½ cup chopped nuts
1 jar (10 ounce size) maraschino cherries

1) Lightly grease a 9-inch loaf pan and pre-heat the oven to 350F (180C, Gas Mark 4).

2) Drain the cherries, reserving 4 tablespoons of juice, and roughly chop.

3) In a large bowl combine the flour, baking powder and salt and mix well.

4) In a separate bowl cream together the butter, sugar, eggs and the 4 tablespoons cherry juice. Mix well until fully combined. Add the butter and sugar mix to the flour mixture and mix well. Then gently fold in the chopped cherries and nuts.

5) Scoop the batter into the loaf pan, and spread evenly.

6) Bake bread for approximately 45 minutes to 1 hour or until golden and baked through. Remove from the pan and cool on a wire rack for 15 minutes.

Merry Xmas!

Saturday 7 December 2013

Every year more than 400 million people celebrate Christmas around the globe, which makes it one of the biggest religious and commercial festivities in the world.

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, pick up your copy of Christmas Miscellany: Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Christmas or What is Myrrh Anyway? time for the festive season. After all, there's only 16 days to go until Christmas! (Or should that be Xmas?)

Merry Xmas!

Every year more than 400 million people celebrate Christmas around the globe, which makes it one of the biggest religious and commercial festivities in the world.

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, pick up your copy of Christmas Miscellany: Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Christmas or What is Myrrh Anyway? time for the festive season. After all, there's only 16 days to go until Christmas! (Or should that be Xmas?)

The Feast of St Nicholas

Friday 6 December 2013

Yes, that's right, today is the feast day of St Nicholas - a.k.a. Santa Claus!

In many countries around the world St Nicholas is the main gift giver. In some places he arrives in the middle of November and moves about the countryside, visiting schools and homes to find out if children have been good or bad. In others he comes in the night and finds carrots and hay for his horse or donkey along with children's wish lists. Small treats are also left in shoes or stockings so the children will know if he has been by the lack thereof in the morning.

In some countries it is St Nicholas' day that is the prominent gift-giving day and not Christmas itself. Parties may be held on the evening of 5 December with shoes or stockings being left out for the saint to fill when he visits during the night.

Did you know...?
Santa has approximately 31 hours in which to deliver all his gifts on Christmas Eve, thanks to the different time zones and the rotation of the earth, and assuming that he travels from east to west.

You can find out more about the origins of one of the world's most popular saints in What is Myrrh Anyway? and Christmas Miscellany - both available now!

You'd better be good, for goodness sake...

Thursday 5 December 2013

In the twenty-first century, we've got so used to the idea that Santa brings gifts to good little boys and girls, it is easy to forget that not so long ago bad little boys and girls were likewise punished.

In the wild heartlands of Europe, such legends are not so easily forgotten, and so it is that in countries such as Austria and Hungary, on December 5 communities remember Krampus*, a demonic anti-Santa who accompanies St. Nicholas during the Christmas season, warning and punishing bad children.

In the Alpine regions, traditionally young men dress up as the Krampus in the first two weeks of December, particularly on the evening of 5 December, and roam the streets frightening children and women with rusty chains and bells. In some rural areas the tradition goes so far as to include the birching of young girls!
Images of Krampus usually show him with a basket on his back used to carry away bad children and dump them into the pits of Hell.

So when the fat man with the bulging sack asks if you've been good or bad, you'd better have been good, for goodness sake...

You can also get hold of some very cool Krampus greetings cards and stickers, and the like, from Miss Monster here.

* The word Krampus originates from the Old High German word for claw (Krampen).

Pizza for Christmas

Wednesday 4 December 2013

Fed up with the traditional turkey for Christmas or just wondering what to do with the leftovers the next day? Then why not make yourself a Christmas pizza this year?

Christmas Turkey Pizza
For the Dough3/4 cup lukewarm water
1 1/2 teaspoons dry yeast
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
2 1/2 cups flour
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
For the Sauce250ml whipping cream
4 tbsp. butter
3 cloves garlic, minced
5 strips crispy bacon, chopped
For the Toppings
1 lb. roast turkey or chicken
3-4 golden fingerling potatoes
1 small red onion
4 tbsp. whole cranberry sauce
1 sprig fresh rosemary
1. Prepare dough – Mix all ingredients and let it rise until dough doubled in size, about 1 hour. Dust a pizza stone with flour. Roll out the dough to fit stone. Let rise for 20 minutes.

2. Preheat the oven to 425°F.
3. Prepare sauce - melt butter over medium low heat. Add garlic and saute lightly - don’t burn the garlic! Stir in the cream and bring to a simmer and reduce heat. Add bacon and simmer until desired consistency is reached.
4. Spread sauce thinly on dough then arrange the remaining toppings as desired.
5. Bake in the center of the oven until the dough is golden at the edges, about 35 minutes. Remove, let sit for 5 minutes, then cut and serve.

And here's a recipe for a sweet Christmas pizza

Sweet Christmas Pizza
12 ounces semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 pound white almond bark divided
2 cups mini marshmallows
1 cup rice cereal
1 cup peanuts
16 ounces red maraschino cherries, quartered
3 tablespoons green cherries
1/3 cup coconut
1 teaspoon oil

Melt chocolate with 14 ounce almond bark in large saucepan on low heat, stir until smooth. Remove from heat. Stir in marshmallows, cereal and peanuts. Pour into greased 12 inch pizza pan. Top with cherries. Sprinkle with coconut. Melt remaining almond bark with oil over low heat. Stir until smooth. Drizzle over coconut. Chill. Store at room temperature.

And here's a Christmas pizza the Franklin family made earlier...

God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen!

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