Saturday, 24 December 2011

Advent Fact

Christmas Eve is celebrated in a variety of different ways around the world, depending upon which country you are in…

In Ethiopia Christmas Eve is called Ganna and is actually celebrated on January 6th when a procession of Christian priests carrying colourfully decorated umbrellas parade through the town streets. The parade ends at the local churches where mass is held.

The Philippines has the distinction of being the country with the world’s longest Christmas celebrations, which often begin as early as September 1st. The nine-day masses begin on December 16th in their traditional Spanish, ending on Christmas Eve, which is traditionally declared a non-working day along with December 28th (Niños Inocentes), December 30th (known as Rizal Day after the execution of Jose Rizal in 1896), December 31st (New Years Day) and Epiphany (the first Sunday of January).

For those in the Czech Republic and Slovakia Christmas Eve is known as Generous Day, or Štědrý den in their own langauge, and is the day when gifts are given in the evening, said to have been delivered to the houses by Ježíšek (Baby Jesus). December 24th is traditionally a time of fasting for both the adults and the children, with feasting reserved for 25th and 26th of December.

The tradition of gift giving on Christmas Eve rather than Christmas Day in Germany first began in the 16th Century, during the reformation, when Martin Luther suggested that the emphasis of Christmas should be on Christ’s birth. The gifts are delivered by Weihnachtsmann (the Christmas Man) and Christmas trees are put up and decorated first thing in the morning.

However, in my house, Christmas Eve is traditionally celebrated by opening big tins of Quality Streets and Celebrations, and sitting down to watch Santa Claus: The Movie and Morecambe & Wise specials with a mince pie and a glass of something festive!

"Merry Christmas"

Friday, 23 December 2011

Advent Fact

Over the years the use of the word 'Xmas' has often caused anger and annoyance amongst people, many considering it a lazy or disrespectful term, a secular attempt to remove the religious element from the Christmas tradition. But the word is, in fact, hundreds of years old, with the 'X' deriving from Χριστος, the Greek word for Christ, often abbreviated as XP or Xt.

Variations on the name 'Christ' have been noted as far back as 1021AD, while derivations of the word 'Xmas', can be traced back to at least 1485.

Thursday, 22 December 2011

Advent Fact

The term Mistletoe is believed to derive from the old Anglo-Saxon words Mistal and Tan, which roughly translates as 'dung twig'; it's scientific name, however, 'Phoradendron' means 'Thief of the Tree'.

Although not strictly classified as a parasitical plant it does actually come very close to being one. Its seeds are very sticky and attach themselves to the fur and beaks of animals in order to travel great distances. Once they have fallen near a host tree, they sink their roots into the ground and steal all of the nutrients for itself.

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Advent Fact

There are many variations on the Father Christmas figure that appear around the world, here are just a few:

In France there is Pere Noel who, along with Pere Fouchette (a sort of Anti-Santa), visits all the homes leaving presents for the children who have been good, and switches (a flexible wooden rod used in corporal punishment) for the parents of the children who have been bad.

In China there is Dun Che Lao Ren, or Old Man Christmas, who brings presents to all the people in celebration of Sheng Dan Jieh (roughly translated - Holy Birth).

In Italy Le Befana a friendly witch who visits children's homes on January 5th, climbing down the chimney holding either a bell or a cane. For the waiting children the bell indicates that they have been good and will receive presents, the cane, however, means the child has been bad and will receive only a lump of coal.

In Russia Ded Moraz (Grandfather Frost or Father Frost) delivers presents to the children on New Year's Eve. In appearance Ded Moraz looks strikingly similar to Father Christmas but does not live at the North Pole, instead he resides at Veliky Ustyug a town in the northeast of Vologda, Russia, where the Sukhona and Yug Rivers meet.

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Advent Facts

In the 19th Century it was considered unlucky to cut a Christmas cake before dawn on 24th December (back then it was traditionally only eaten on Christmas Eve).

It was, however, consider unlucky to cut a mince pie with a knife, regardless of the day. The origins of the mince pie can be traced back to the 13th century when returning crusaders brought back recipes containing fruit and spices back from the Middle East.

Over the years the mince pie has been known under many names, such as Shrid Pie, Christmas Pie and bizarrely even Mutton Pie.

Friday, 16 December 2011

Advent Fact

Popularly known as Santa's Ninth Reindeer, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer was originally created in 1939 by a copy-writer named Robert L. May in a poem for his employer, retailer Montgomery Ward, as part of their Christmas promotional drive.

The poem, entitled simply Ruldolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, which was written to the meter of 'Twas The Night Before Christmas' (see December 8th entry) was published in its own booklet and given away in store (up until that point the retailer bought colouring books to give away at Christmas, but decided to save money by creating their own giveaway book). For that first year of publication over 2.4 million copies of the booklet were given away to customers.

Ten years later Johnny Marks - the brother-in-law of Rudolph creator Robert L. May - adapted the poem as a hit song, which remains as popular today.

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Advent Fact

The Christmas tree that stands in Trafalgar Square every Christmas is actually a gift from Norway given annually since 1947, as a token of appreciation for the friendship and support the British gave to the Norwegian people during the hostilities of World War II (also throughout the war the country's government, along with Prince Olav, lived in exile in London).

In late Autumn the Lord Major of Westminster traditionally visits Oslo and helps in the felling of the tree, after which the Major of Oslo travels to London to perform the lighting of the tree at the Christmas ceremony.

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Advent Fact

The modern day figure of Father Christmas is based on Fourth Century Greek bishop Saint Nicholas (also known as Nikolaos of Myra), the only son of wealthy Christian parents, who became one of the youngest bishops at the age of 17.

There are many stories and legends surrounding the life of Nicholas, one being that he would often be seen dressed in his red and white bishop's robes, riding on a donkey and handing out gifts to children and the needy.

December 6th is St Nicholas Day, a festival for children in many countries in Europe (19th December in most Orthodox countries). The night before the festival, children leave their shoes by the fireplace or outside the bedroom door in the hope of a visit from the great saint, and that they will find them filled with presents the next morning.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Advent Fact

The Christmas cracker was invented in 1847 by Thomas J. Smith, a sweet maker who was attempting to boost the poor sales of his 'bon bon' sweets.

After the idea of putting mottos in the wrappers of his sweets failed to catch on, Smith devised the cracker which would contain a motto, a paper hat and one of his own sweets. The sweet maker got the idea for the 'crack' that the cracker would make when pulled from the crackle of his own log fire. The sweet was, of course, very soon replaced by a small gift.

Monday, 12 December 2011

'Thirteen' Horror Anthology

In a rare lull between various writing projects, the stories for the new audio horror anthology Thirteen have now been completed and delivered into the hands of producer / director Neil Gardner.

The anthology, which was first announced earlier this year, will hark back to those wonderful old horror LPs of the 1970s and 80s, and feature audio readings of brand new stories from some of the most respected names writing in the horror genre, including Stephen Gallagher, Kim Newman and Kaaron Warren.

The full TOC for the anthology is:

Edited by Scott Harrison

Side A:
01 – Dead Space by George Mann
02 – A Girl, Sitting by Mark Morris
03 – Finding The Path by Kaaron Warren
04 – The Hairstyle Of The Devil by Martin Day
05 – Down by Gary McMahon
06 – Tabula Rasa by Alasdair Stuart

Side B:
07 – Half Life by Dan Abnett
08 – With Her In Spirit by Stephen Gallagher
09 – Visions by Cavan Scott
10 – One Hit Wanda by Kim Newman
11 – A Glass Of Water by Mark Wright
12 – Ghost Pit by Simon Clark
13 – I Wish by Johnny Mains
(14) – Hidden Track by Scott Harrison

Recording should begin on the anthology early in the New Year, and will be available as an MP3 download first, with a physical CD pencilled in for release later.

Further information, including confirmation of who will be reading the stories, will be added on this blog as soon as the information becomes available.

Advent Facts

December 26th is actually called St Stephen’s Day, and has only recently become referred to as Boxing Day in the past few hundred years. Although it remains unclear as to how it acquired this name, one theory has it that it is due to tradesmen in the UK collecting their ‘Christmas boxes’ (money or presents) from their customers on the first day after Christmas, while another theory believes it may have come from the lords and ladies of England who would traditionally give gifts wrapped up in boxes to their servants on December 26th.

In 1647 the English Parliament, under the leadership of Oliver Cromwell, made the celebrating of Christmas illegal by law. This has never actually been repealed so technically it is still illegal to eat mince pies and Christmas pud!

Early depictions of Father Christmas’ often portrayed him in a variety of different coloured costumes, depending on which country you were in. From the 1920s onwards it was agreed that the colour of his costume should be red. Contrary to popular misconception, this had absolutely nothing to do with Coca Cola Company.

Friday, 9 December 2011

Advent Fact & Story

The Twelve Days of Christmas refers to the period known as Christmastide (also known as Twelvetide) beginning on Christmas Day and concluding with Epiphany on January 5th, a point that commemorates, in the Western Christian calendar, the visitation of the Magi to the baby Jesus, or the baptism of Christ in the Jordan River in the Eastern Christian calendar – although both ‘acts’ are seen as Christ’s manifestation as the Son of God to the world.

Nowadays, the Twelfth Day of Christmas is viewed as the official end of the Christmas festivities and the day on which both Christmas decorations and tree are taken down.

From January I intend to post regular pieces of flash fiction (1000 words or less) on a sister blog site every week. So, as a prelude to this…

In December of last year my festive flash fiction story The Wintermachine was published in Dark Fiction’s wonderful Christmas anthology 'Twelve Days', a collection based around the Twelve Days of Christmas. It was released as an eBook and as an Audiobook, and both can still be downloaded from Dark Fiction’s website HERE.

For my story (a Steampunk / Supernatural tale set in an alternate blitz-torn London around Christmas of 1940) I chose the Ninth Day of Christmas – Nine Ladies Dancing, and gave it a little twist.

OK, so I know that the Ninth Day of Christmas is actually January 2nd, but as this Advent blog only goes up to Christmas Eve, I thought I’d post this on December 9th instead. For those that missed it, here’s the audio reading of my story, it’s only 8mins 30secs long.

The Wintermachine
(Read by Kim Laikin-Smith)

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Advent Fact

Clement Clark Moore’s 1823 children’s poem A Visit From St. Nicholas (better known under the titles Twas The Night Before Christmas and The Night Before Christmas) is largely responsible for the creation of the modern iconic image of Father Christmas (or Santa Claus) that we recognise today, not just in the US but across the entire world.

Moore’s poem not only was the first to explain the job of Father Christmas (entering family homes via the chimney on Christmas Eve, in order to deliver presents) but went on to describe in detail his physical appearance, the now traditional costume, his reindeers and their names, and the fact that he rides a magical sleigh that flies through the night air.

However, controversy rages to this day over the authorship of the poem (which was originally published anonymously in the New York Sentinal) with many scholars believing it to be the work of Major Henry Livingston Jr., a distant relation of Moore’s wife, rather than Moore himself.

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Advent Fact

The word ‘Advent’ comes from the Latin ‘Adventus’ meaning ‘Coming’ or ‘Arrival’, and was established in the Sixth Century by Pope Gregory.

For the Orthodox Church, Advent (also known as ‘Winter Lent’, ‘Nativity Fast’ or ‘St. Phillip’s Fast’) begins 40 days before Christmas, during which time such things as alcohol, fish, meat and dairy products are slowly cut out of their daily intake, along with popular entertainment such as television. Orthodox Christians believe that Advent is a time for peace and quiet reflection, leading up to the celebrations of Christmas.

Before the establishment of the Christian Advent, Romans commonly used the term ‘Adventus’ to refer to the celebrated coming of the Roman Emperor.

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Advent Fact

The first commercial Christmas card was originally conceived in Italy in 1843 by John Calcott Horsley at the behest of English civil servant and inventor Sir Henry Cole, who wished to raise awareness of the terrible and desolate living conditions of the poor, and encourage people to help those less fortunate than themselves.

The first cards depicted a happy family drinking wine with the now familiar phrase "A Merry Christmas & A Happy New Year To You" (see below). Although they initially proved controversial they were, however, an immediate success, selling a total of 2,050 cards at a shilling each.

Monday, 5 December 2011

Advent Facts

The Royal Christmas Day Speech began 79 years ago with King George V who addressed the nation via radio. It was Queen Elizabeth II, back in 1957, whose Christmas message was the first to be televised.

The word ‘Christmas’ derives from the old English ‘Cristes Maesse’ meaning ‘Mass of Christ’.

The tradition of using an evergreen tree to celebrate the Winter season actually began before the dates given by the Christian calendar for the birth of Christ.

If you were to receive all the gifts listed in the lyrics of the popular Christmas song ‘The Twelve Days of Christmas’ you would be the recipient of a whopping 364 presents.

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Advent Fact

Between the years of 1840 and 1945, the glassmaking German town of Lauscha (a word which translates as ‘eaves-dropper’) in the mountains of Nuremberg, supplied the entire globe with glass tree baubles for over 100 consecutive Christmases almost single-handedly.

The local glassmakers of the town conceived the idea of making glass decorations to hang on the Christmas tree (replacing the then traditional fruit and candy), resulting in almost every house in the town being converted into a little glassmaking factory to meet rising demands.