Wednesday, 31 December 2008
Tuesday, 30 December 2008
The original, traditional version of the carol The Twelve Days of Christmas, does not contain the famous theme 'Five Gooold Rings'.
A man called Frederic Austin changed the way people sang the line 'Five gold rings' to the version we know now, and this version of the line - but only this one line, out of the whole carol - is still copyrighted today.
So if you played or sang 'Five Gooold Rings' over Christmas this year, you owe Novello & Co some money!
Monday, 29 December 2008
What is Myrrh Anyway? in the Daily Express
What is Myrrh Anyway? in the Daily Star
What is Myrrh Anyway? in the Sunday Post
What is Myrrh Anyway? in the Daily Record
Sunday, 28 December 2008
Saturday, 27 December 2008
1 bottle of red wine
1 orange stuck with cloves
1 cinnamon stick
The peel of 1 lemon
Sugar to taste
Friday, 26 December 2008
But in the meantime why not enjoy the sight of Dom Joly in an inflatable Santa suit partaking in a not-so Silent Night?
To find out more about the possible meaning and origins of the carol The Twelve Days of Christmas just delve into your copy of What is Myrrh Anyway?
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.
Thursday, 25 December 2008
Yes, Christmas Day is here at last, and hopefully some of you are waking up this morning to find that Father Christmas has left you a copy of What is Myrrh Anyway? in your stocking!
I hope you all have a wonderful day and remember you can listen to me, Dom Joly and Danny Wallace deconstructing the midwinter feast on Radio 5 Live from 12 noon.
With its meaning deep and true,
And wish a merrie Christmas
And a happy New Year to you.
Wednesday, 24 December 2008
A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols is the Christmas Eve service held in King's College Chapel. The Festival was introduced in 1918 to bring a more imaginative approach to worship. It was first broadcast in 1928 and is now broadcast to millions of people around the world.
This evening the chapel choir from King's College, Cambridge, under the direction of Stephen Cleobury, sings carols old and new in Gothic splendour, everything from God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen to O Come All Ye Faithful. There is also the story of the Nativity and poetry readings from the likes of T S Eliot.
The big man in the red and white suit has already dropped off some some gifts in Russia, Japan, Fiji, North Korea, Australia and New Zealand, and will of course be heading to the UK later. So you'd better be good for goodness sake...
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.
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 hope 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? which is still available from good bookshops until they close for Christmas later today.
What is Myrrh Anyway? makes the perfect Christmas stocking filler!
Tuesday, 23 December 2008
Me in Studio GB
Me in Studio GC
Oh, and Happy Christmas Eve Eve.
4 cups of milk
4 tbs sugar
Monday, 22 December 2008
Did you know?
The song peaked at number three in the UK Singles Chart in December 1980, at one point only being kept from number one by two re-issued songs by John Lennon, who had been murdered on 8 December.
The song was never intended as a Christmas hit, but the line 'Wish I was at home for Christmas' as well as the brass band arrangements made it an appropriately styled song to play around Christmas time.
Sunday, 21 December 2008
Don't say I didn't warn you!
1 bottle of red wine
1 orange stuck with cloves
1 cinnamon stick
The peel of 1 lemon
Sugar to taste
Place the clove stuck orange in a large pan; add the red wine and leave to steep for half a day. During this time the wine will take on the flavours of the orange and cloves. Then you need to add the other ingredients together and simply warm the whole lot through half an hour before serving.
The company hopes the aftershave, called Flame, will be a novelty Christmas bestseller. So far the scent's on sale in New York for a credit-crunching $3.99 (£2.65). But sadly the spray, which apparently incorporates the smell of seduction, is not available in the UK.
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.
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.
Saturday, 20 December 2008
Shot in HD, Crooked House boasts a wonderfully diverse cast which includes Julian Rhind-Tutt (Green Wing), Mark Gatiss, Philip Jackson (Margaret Thatcher: The Long Walk To Finchley), Lee Ingleby (George Gently), Jean Marsh (Sense And Sensibility), Samuel Barnett (Beautiful People), Daniela Denby-Ashe (My Family), Anna Madeley (Brideshead Revisited) and, in his debut dramatic role, illusionist Derren Brown as the mysterious Sir Roger Widdowson.
In addition to writing and co-producing the drama, Gatiss takes the role of a museum curator with an in-depth knowledge of the fictional Geap Manor, stretching through Tudor, Georgian, the Twenties and contemporary times.
When school teacher Ben unearths an old door knocker in the garden of his new home, the curator suggests it may come from the now-demolished house. A house reputed to be haunted... Intrigued, Ben prompts the curator to tell him some of stories about the house and so begins a journey through time.
A corrupt Georgian businessman finds something unexpected in the woodwork of his new home. In the Twenties, a young couple's happy engagement party is spoiled by the spectre of a ghostly bride. And, back in the present day, Ben soon finds himself in darker, more dangerous waters than he could possibly have foreseen...
Mark Gatiss says of Crooked House: "Ever since I was a child and thrilled to the BBC's classic MR James adaptations, I've dreamt of sending a festive shiver down the nation's spine. I'm delighted to finally have the opportunity. A fantastic cast and crew have worked incredibly hard to fulfil this long held dream."
Did you know...?
Friday, 19 December 2008
Before the mid-1800s Christmas presents had usually only been given to children and were small things that might be placed inside stockings on Christmas Eve. However, by the 1880s, the purchase of manufactured goods had increased, as had the production of boxes in which to store them. From there it was only a small step to create special paper to wrap it all up in.
In the late 19th century presents were wrapped in white tissue or brown paper, with a gift tag or token sprig of holly attached. From there people started using coloured tissue paper. Joyce Hall (who would later found Hallmark Cards) started producing wrapping paper in 1918, with the designs becoming more elaborate as the years went on.
And then, of course, there's this sort of Christmas Wrapping (with more of those wonderful lights!).
Thursday, 18 December 2008
I Saw Three Ships is a traditional Christmas carol from England, and some sources assert that this song is "an upbeat variant of Greensleeves", which has a similar meter. The earliest printed version is from the 17th century, possibly Derbyshire.
Wednesday, 17 December 2008
As its name might suggest, Saturnalia was held in honour of Saturn, the Roman god of of agriculture and the harvest, and specifically commemorated the dedication of his temple. In time the festival came to last a whole week.
What made Saturnalia stand out from many other religious festivals was the way in which it was marked by tomfoolery and a reversal of conventional social roles, in which slaves and masters ostensibly switched places. This particular aspect of Saturnalia lives on today most obviously in the modern pantomime.
You can find out more about the traditions of Saturnalia (as well as those of Christmas itself) in What is Myrrh Anyway?
Tuesday, 16 December 2008
These hard-to-come-by signed copies only cost £6.00 each, and post and packing is free!
If you would like to purchase one of these future collector's items, simply email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, and I'll let you know how to proceed.
I look forward to hearing from you soon.
During the 1800s Eggnog became hugely popular in England, especially at Christmastime. It was served as a classic punch, in large volumes to all holiday visitors. It was served both warm and cold to anyone who came calling during the winter season.
American President George Washington loved eggnog and made up his own recipes.
Monday, 15 December 2008
Well, the answer is in What is Myrrh Anyway? (as well as the Bible, as it happens), available from all better bookshops now.
Readers of a certain age may remember the 1984 television adaptation of John Masefield's fantasy novel The Box of Delights, which starred former Doctor Who Patrick Troughton. Well, the seasonal theme music was Victor Hely-Hutchinson's orchestral arrangement of 'The First Noël' from his Carol Symphony.
And here, for your delectation , is the haunting opening to the show and the end of the first episode which features the music more fully.
Sunday, 14 December 2008
'Jul' - or Yule - was celebrated long before Christianity came to Scandinavia. At that time it was an observation of the winter solstice, that from then on the days would become longer and darkness gradually recede. It was a celebration of light returning. Plants are on the windowsill and cut flowers in profusion on tables do much to dispel the gloom.
When you spend Christmas in Finland, you will see that Finland shares some of its Scandinavian Christmas traditions with its neighbour Sweden - but then there are Christmas traditions in Finland that you'd never guess! Fancy a Christmas Day Finnish sauna, anyone?
1 bottle of red wine
25 g dried orange zest
Bring the wine close to the boil in a pot. Put the orange, cinnamon, cardamom and cloves in the cheesecloth, tie it into a bundle and boil it in pot for 15 minutes. Add the almonds and raisins, and cook for another 15 minutes, before removing the pan from the heat. Add the brown sugar and brandy, and stir them in. Then remove spice bundle. Serve hot.
125 g butter
1 cup (220 g) white sugar
1/2 teaspoon almond essence
1¾ cups (220 g) plain flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (60 g) slivered almonds
2 tablespoons (40 ml) milk
for the icing
1 cup (155 g) icing sugar
1/4 teaspoon almond essence
1/4 cup (65 ml) milk
Saturday, 13 December 2008
Friday, 12 December 2008
By the way, the music is a cover version of Band Aid's 1984 Christmas number 1 'Do They Know It's Christmas', by the Removal Men (aka, my best friend's stag-do). The track was even played on Radio 1, don't you know.
Thursday, 11 December 2008
Who can be insensible to the outpourings of good feeling, and the honest interchange of affectionate attachment, which abound at this season of the year? A Christmas family-party! We know nothing in nature more delightful! There seems a magic in the very name of Christmas. Petty jealousies and discords are forgotten; social feelings are awakened, in bosoms to which they have long been strangers; father and son, or brother and sister, who have met and passed with averted gaze, or a look of cold recognition, for months before, proffer and return the cordial embrace, and bury their past animosities in their present happiness. Kindly hearts that have yearned towards each other, but have been withheld by false notions of pride and self-dignity, are again reunited, and all is kindness and benevolence! Would that Christmas lasted the whole year through (as it ought), and that the prejudices and passions which deform our better nature, were never called into action among those to whom they should ever be strangers!
The Christmas family-party that we mean, is not a mere assemblage of relations, got up at a week or two`s notice, originating this year, having no family precedent in the last, and not likely to be repeated in the next. No. It is an annual gathering of all the accessible members of the family, young or old, rich or poor; and all the children look forward to it, for two months beforehand, in a fever of anticipation. Formerly, it was held at grandpapa`s; but grandpapa getting old, and grandmamma getting old too, and rather infirm, they have given up house-keeping, and domesticated themselves with uncle George; so, the party always takes place at uncle George`s house, but grandmamma sends in most of the good things, and grandpapa always WILL toddle down, all the way to Newgate-market, to buy the turkey, which he engages a porter to bring home behind him in triumph, always insisting on the man`s being rewarded with a glass of spirits, over and above his hire, to drink `a merry Christmas and a happy new year` to aunt George. As to grandmamma, she is very secret and mysterious for two or three days beforehand, but not sufficiently so, to prevent rumours getting afloat that she has purchased a beautiful new cap with pink ribbons for each of the servants, together with sundry books, and pen-knives, and pencil-cases, for the younger branches; to say nothing of divers secret additions to the order originally given by aunt George at the pastry-cook`s, such as another dozen of mincepies for the dinner, and a large plum-cake for the children.
On Christmas-eve, grandmamma is always in excellent spirits, and after employing all the children, during the day, in stoning the plums, and all that, insists, regularly every year, on uncle George coming down into the kitchen, taking off his coat, and stirring the pudding for half an hour or so, which uncle George good-humouredly does, to the vociferous delight of the children and servants. The evening concludes with a glorious game of blind-man`s-buff, in an early stage of which grandpapa takes great care to be caught, in order that he may have an opportunity of displaying his dexterity.
On the following morning, the old couple, with as many of the children as the pew will hold, go to church in great state: leaving aunt George at home dusting decanters and filling casters, and uncle George carrying bottles into the dining-parlour, and calling for corkscrews, and getting into everybody`s way.
When the church-party return to lunch, grandpapa produces a small sprig of mistletoe from his pocket, and tempts the boys to kiss their little cousins under it - a proceeding which affords both the boys and the old gentleman unlimited satisfaction, but which rather outrages grandmamma`s ideas of decorum, until grandpapa says, that when he was just thirteen years and three months old, HE kissed grandmamma under a mistletoe too, on which the children clap their hands, and laugh very heartily, as do aunt George and uncle George; and grandmamma looks pleased, and says, with a benevolent smile, that grandpapa was an impudent young dog, on which the children laugh very heartily again, and grandpapa more heartily than any of them.
But all these diversions are nothing to the subsequent excitement when grandmamma in a high cap, and slate-coloured silk gown; and grandpapa with a beautifully plaited shirt-frill, and white neckerchief; seat themselves on one side of the drawing-room fire, with uncle George`s children and little cousins innumerable, seated in the front, waiting the arrival of the expected visitors. Suddenly a hackney-coach is heard to stop, and uncle George, who has been looking out of the window, exclaims `Here`s Jane!` on which the children rush to the door, and helter-skelter downstairs; and uncle Robert and aunt Jane, and the dear little baby, and the nurse, and the whole party, are ushered up-stairs amidst tumultuous shouts of `Oh, my!` from the children, and frequently repeated warnings not to hurt baby from the nurse. And grandpapa takes the child, and grandmamma kisses her daughter, and the confusion of this first entry has scarcely subsided, when some other aunts and uncles with more cousins arrive, and the grown-up cousins flirt with each other, and so do the little cousins too, for that matter, and nothing is to be heard but a confused din of talking, laughing, and merriment.
A hesitating double knock at the street-door, heard during a momentary pause in the conversation, excites a general inquiry of `Who`s that?` and two or three children, who have been standing at the window, announce in a low voice, that it`s `poor aunt Margaret.` Upon which, aunt George leaves the room to welcome the new-comer; and grandmamma draws herself up, rather stiff and stately; for Margaret married a poor man without her consent, and poverty not being a sufficiently weighty punishment for her offence, has been discarded by her friends, and debarred the society of her dearest relatives. But Christmas has come round, and the unkind feelings that have struggled against better dispositions during the year, have melted away before its genial influence, like half-formed ice beneath the morning sun. It is not difficult in a moment of angry feeling for a parent to denounce a disobedient child; but, to banish her at a period of general goodwill and hilarity, from the hearth, round which she has sat on so many anniversaries of the same day, expanding by slow degrees from infancy to girlhood, and then bursting, almost imperceptibly, into a woman, is widely different. The air of conscious rectitude, and cold forgiveness, which the old lady has assumed, sits ill upon her; and when the poor girl is led in by her sister, pale in looks and broken in hope - not from poverty, for that she could bear, but from the consciousness of undeserved neglect, and unmerited unkindness - it is easy to see how much of it is assumed. A momentary pause succeeds; the girl breaks suddenly from her sister and throws herself, sobbing, on her mother`s neck. The father steps hastily forward, and takes her husband`s hand. Friends crowd round to offer their hearty congratulations, and happiness and harmony again prevail.
As to the dinner, it`s perfectly delightful - nothing goes wrong, and everybody is in the very best of spirits, and disposed to please and be pleased. Grandpapa relates a circumstantial account of the purchase of the turkey, with a slight digression relative to the purchase of previous turkeys, on former Christmas-days, which grandmamma corroborates in the minutest particular. Uncle George tells stories, and carves poultry, and takes wine, and jokes with the children at the side-table, and winks at the cousins that are making love, or being made love to, and exhilarates everybody with his good humour and hospitality; and when, at last, a stout servant staggers in with a gigantic pudding, with a sprig of holly in the top, there is such a laughing, and shouting, and clapping of little chubby hands, and kicking up of fat dumpy legs, as can only be equalled by the applause with which the astonishing feat of pouring lighted brandy into mince-pies, is received by the younger visitors. Then the dessert! - and the wine! - and the fun! Such beautiful speeches, and SUCH songs, from aunt Margaret`s husband, who turns out to be such a nice man, and SO attentive to grandmamma! Even grandpapa not only sings his annual song with unprecedented vigour, but on being honoured with an unanimous ENCORE, according to annual custom, actually comes out with a new one which nobody but grandmamma ever heard before; and a young scapegrace of a cousin, who has been in some disgrace with the old people, for certain heinous sins of omission and commission neglecting to call, and persisting in drinking Burton Ale astonishes everybody into convulsions of laughter by volunteering the most extraordinary comic songs that ever were heard. And thus the evening passes, in a strain of rational good-will and cheerfulness, doing more to awaken the sympathies of every member of the party in behalf of his neighbour, and to perpetuate their good feeling during the ensuing year, than half the homilies that have ever been written, by half the Divines that have ever lived.