Thursday, 31 December 2009

The good, the bad and the indifferent

On the sixth day of Christmas my true love gave to me, six New Year's celebrations

It's 31 December 2009, which means that we're now counting down the hours to the beginning of a new decade.

You may well be planning to party in the New Year or carry out some familiar traditions - such as sing 'Auld Lang Syne' - so, to get you thinking, here are six familiar ways of welcoming in the New Year.

1) Watch Night
Many religious communities have a tradition of New Year's Eve being known as 'Watch Night'. The faithful of the community congregate to worship at services that commence on New Year's Eve night and which continue past midnight into the New Year. The Watch Night is a time for giving thanks for the blessings of the outgoing year and praying for divine favour during the upcoming year.

2) The Edinburgh Cannon
In Edinburgh the cannon is fired at Edinburgh Castle at the stroke of midnight.

3) Hogmanay
Scotland celebrates New Year as Hogmanay, which is the Scots word for the last day of the year. The roots of Hogmanay reach back to the celebration of the winter solstice among the Norse, as well as incorporating customs from the Gaelic New Year's celebration of Samhain.

4) Auld Lang Syne
The Hogmanay custom of singing 'Auld Lang Syne' has become common in many countries. 'Auld Lang Syne' is a traditional poem reinterpreted by Robert Burns, which was later set to music. It is now common for this to be sung in a circle of linked arms that are crossed over one another as the clock strikes midnight for New Year's Day. In Scotland the traditional practice is to cross arms only for the last verse.

5) First Footing
The practice of 'first-footing' starts immediately after midnight, and involves being the first person to cross the threshold of a friend or neighbour's house, and often involves the giving of symbolic gifts such as salt, coal, shortbread, whisky, and black bun (a type of rich fruit cake) intended to bring different kinds of luck to the householder.

6) New Year's Resolutions
It is also customary to make New Year's resolutions, which individuals hope to fulfil in the coming year. The most popular resolutions in the West include to stop smoking or drinking, lose weight or get physically fit. What will you give up (or take up) in 2010?
However you're planning to see in the New Year, I would like to wish you all a very happy and healthy...

Wednesday, 30 December 2009

On the fifth day of Christmas my true love gave to me, five corny Christmas crackers

Nothing says Christmas quite like the corny jokes in crackers. Here are five classics of the genre discovered by the Green family this Christmas.

Q: What is green, slimy and romantic at Christmas?
A: A mistle-toad!

Q: What game do cows like to play at Christmas?
A: Moo-sical chairs!

Q: What do you call a cat on a beach on Christmas Day?
A: Sandy Claws!

Q: What's a hedgehog's favourite food?
A: Prickled onions!

Q: What do you call two robbers?
A: A pair of nickers!

To find out more about the origins of the Christmas cracker - and the hopeless attempts at humour usually found within - follow this link to get hold of your own copy of What is Myrrh Anyway? Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Christmas.

Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Monday, 28 December 2009

On the third day of Christmas my true love gave to me, three feastive tipples for a cold and frosty morning

Woke up this morning to a hard frost. It's nearly January and it's getting very cold. So, to warm you up on these chill midwinter nights, why not indulge in a glass of something hot and spicy - in others words mulled wine!

I recommend three recipes in particular, those for Clarrey, Bishop's Wine and Glogg - and you can find all of them in What is Mrryh Anyway? Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Christmas, which is still available!

And here's how I got on when I made some Bishop's Wine for friends and family last year...

Saturday, 26 December 2009

On the first day of Christmas my true love gave to me, a dead wren in a yew tree

Boxing Day is known for its various traditions, including horse racing and fox hunting, but a less well-known practice once regularly carried out on this day was the Hunting of the Wren.

The Hunting of the Wren, was an old ritual once performed on St. Stephen's Day by the children of the village who would go out and find a wren out in the woods, kill it, and then put it in a box. They would then drape the wren in purple cloth and decorate the box with cloth and flowers and carry it from door to door, often singing a song like this one:

Joy, health, love and peace be all here in this place
By your leave we will sing concerning our King.

Our king is well dressed in silks of the best... etc, etc...

There is some speculation as to where the tradition comes from but it may well date back to the Celts and the druidic practice of using wrens to divine the future.

Anyway, whatever you're doing today - whether it's hunting wrens, or otherwise - have a good one!

Friday, 25 December 2009


Here's hoping that Father Christmas brought you everything you hoped for and that you and yours have a happy and memorable Christmas.

Wishing you a
and a

Best wishes

Jonathan Green

And, in case you missed the post earlier in the week, here's a present from me.

Thursday, 24 December 2009

King's College Carols

Don't forget that on BBC 2 at 6.15pm tonight you can enjoy the most sublime celebration of Christmas from The Chapel of King's College Cambridge.

The story of the Nativity is told in the familiar words of the King James Bible, along with Christmas poems by Cecil Day Lewis and Ted Hughes.

The famous chapel choir sing carols old and new, including favourites such as O Holy Night, The Sussex Carol, We Three Kings, God Rest You Merry Gentlemen and O Come, All Ye Faithful.

I Am Santa Claus

Well I know of two small people who are VERY excited that Christmas Eve is here because they only have one more day to last until a certain tubby gentlemen with a thing for reindeer pays them a visit - or so they hope!

This post's title isn't a personal confession, but a reference to a brilliant parody of Black Sabbath's Iron Man track. So, in expectation of the fat man's house invasion on this not so snowy Christmas Eve, sit back and enjoy this existential treatise on the nature of the gift-giver the Chinese call 'Christmas Old Man'...

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Health and Safety Advice for Carrollers

With Christmas on its way the carol singers will surely be out in force.

But if you thought this seasonal tradition was as simple as singing and tin-rattling, you couldn't be more wrong.

As it turns out, there are issues that have, for too long, been left unaddressed – which is why this year's festive singers now have a health and safety leaflet to guide them.

To read more about this story, click here.

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Christmas Past - The Box of Delights

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...

And in other news...

Police in the US are investigating a detective who appears to draw his gun during a mass snowball fight on the streets of Washington DC. You can watch a video clip of the incident below and read more about the story here.

How do you know when Christmas has arrived?

Is it seeing a crisp white blanket of snow on the ground outside? Is it opening the last door on your Advent calendar? Is it Auntie Mabel coming round for extra helpings of Christmas dinner?

Well, apparently now. According to supermarkets, it's the sale of one item more than any other that announces the arrival of Christmas. And it's not mince pies, or turkey, or even Christmas pudding. It is in fact... quilted toilet paper!

You can read more about the Hyacinth Bucket phenomenon here.

NORAD Santa Tracker 2009

It's not long to the big day now and preparations are moving up a gear - at least they are in the Green household! But what my children (and I'm sure children all over the world) are looking forward to in particular is the arrival of a certain tubby gentleman with a bulging sack.

You can follow Santa's progress across the globe on Christmas Eve via NORAD's official Santa tracker here.

But while you're waiting for the night of 24 December, why not enjoy this short video of Santa's 2008 journey around the world?

Monday, 21 December 2009

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow

This afternoon it started raining on top of the frozen snow that fell a few days ago. Then it started to sleet until at last it started to snow. This is the view in my street at the moment...

Apparently bookmakers William Hill have slashed the odds of it being a White Christmas, worried that they'll be facing a massive pay-out.

Did you know...?
It can actually get cold enough 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!

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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?

Merry Christmas from Pax Britannia and Abaddon Books

Glad tidings I bring, to you and your kin...

Those very generous people at Abaddon Books have a seasonal gift for all eBook readers this year - a FREE Pax Britannia short story, by me, entitled Christmas Past. This special edition also has a couple of extras tucked away inside, including news of some upcoming titles.

Go to and you can be the proud owner of a little seasonal madness from the world of Ulysses Quicksilver and Pax Britannia too!

Yo, ho, ho! Merry Christmas!

Happy Solstice! or The Extreme of Winter

As I'm sure you already know, 21 December marks the Winter Solstice, in other words, the shortest day. Hundreds of people gather each year during the winter solstice to watch the sun rise at Stonehenge in Wiltshire, England.

The pagan celebration of the solstice was one of the most popular holidays of the year before the coming of Christmas, Hanukkah and other cultural celebrations that are now celebrated in December. Many of the participants observe the solstice because they believe it is connected to something real in nature rather than just an arbitrary calendar date.

Technically, the Winter Solstice occurs exactly when the earth's axial tilt is farthest away from the sun at its maximum of 23° 26'. although the Winter Solstice lasts only an instant in time, the term is also colloquially used like Midwinter to refer to the day on which it occurs.

The Winter Solstice Festival or The Extreme of Winter is one of the most important festivals celebrated by the Chinese and other East Asians during the dongzhi solar term on or around December 21 when sunshine is weakest and daylight shortest. The origins of this festival can be traced back to the yin and yang philosophy of balance and harmony in the cosmos. After this celebration, there will be days with longer daylight hours and therefore an increase in positive energy flowing in. The philosophical significance of this is symbolized by the I Ching hexagram (復, "Returning").

Traditionally, the Dongzhi Festival is also a time for the family to get together. One activity that occurs during these get togethers (especially in the southern parts of China and in Chinese communities overseas) is the making and eating of Tangyuan (湯圓, as pronounced in Cantonese; Mandarin Pinyin: Tāng Yuán) or balls of glutinous rice, which symbolize reunion. In Korea, similar balls of glutinous rice (Korean: 새알심) (English pronunciation: Saealsim), is prepared in a traditional porridge made with sweet red bean (Korean: 팥죽)(English pronunciation: Patjook).

Did you know...?
Patjook was believed to have a special power and sprayed around houses on winter solstice to repel sinister spirits. This practice was based on a traditional folk tale, in which the ghost of a man that used to hate patjook comes haunting innocent villagers on the winter solstice.

Sunday, 20 December 2009


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.