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- ISBN: 9781782198420 (electronic bk)
- Publisher: [Place of publication not identified] : [publisher not identified], 2013.
A fantastic little book that will have you hooked from the moment you open it. Full of fascinating, but useless, information about Christmas, you'll be able to amuse and entertain your family and friends for the duration of the festive season. Did you know that at one stage in history St Nicholas had evolved into the image of a joker, with a red waistcoat, yellow stockings and a blue three-cornered hat? Did you know that at 46 metres high and weighing 204 tons, the Statue of Liberty was the world's largest gift? Did you know that chocolate coins now come in both Sterling and Euros? A wonderful book packed full of interesting but entirely useless facts about Christmas, the global traditions, symbols, and festivities that we undertake each year.
Electronic reproduction. Chicago : John Blake, 2013. Requires Adobe Digital Editions (file size: 27200 KB) or OverDrive Read (file size: N/A KB).
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The Completely Useless Guide to Christmas
By Martin Pullen
John Blake Publishing Ltd
All rights reserved.
SECTION 1 – HERE COMES SANTA CLAUS,
Chapter 1 – Little Saint Nick,
Chapter 2 – Santa Claus is Coming to Town,
SECTION 2 – CHRISTMAS TRIMMINGS,
Chapter 3 – We Three Kings of Orient Are,
Chapter 4 – Deck the Halls,
Chapter 5 – Pull the Other One,
Chapter 6 – Christmas Wrapping,
Chapter 7 – The Great Escape,
Chapter 8 – Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree,
SECTION 3 – BEARING GIFTS, WE TRAVERSE AFAR,
Chapter 9 – A Time for Giving,
Chapter 10 – A Time for Receiving,
SECTION 4 – NOT A CREATURE WAS STIRRING,
Chapter 11 – Barking Mad!,
Chapter 12 – When a Child is Born,
Chapter 13 – O Little Town of Bethlehem,
Chapter 14 – Oh! What Fun it is to Ride ...,
SECTION 5 – I SAW THREE SHIPS WASSAILING IN,
Chapter 15 – Good Tidings We Bring,
Chapter 16 – Mum's the Word,
Chapter 17 – Custom-a-Relations,
Chapter 18 – Myth Story,
Chapter 19 – Christmas Czech-list,
SECTION 6 – OH, BRING US A FIGGY PUDDING,
Chapter 20 – God Feast Ye Merry Gentlemen,
Chapter 21 – Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire,
Chapter 22 – The World is My Oyster,
Chapter 23 – Ding Dong! Merrily on High,
SECTION 7 – RING OUT, SOLSTICE BELLS!,
Chapter 24 – Bing Bong! Merrily on High,
Chapter 25 – Do They Know It's Christmas?,
Chapter 26 – Do They Know It's Cliff-mas?,
Chapter 27 – Hallelujah!,
Chapter 28 – Let the Games Begin,
SECTION 8 – MAIDS A-MILKING,
Chapter 29 – The Twelve Days of Christmas,
Chapter 30 – On the First Day of Christmas ...,
Chapter 31 – 'Twas the Night Before Christmas,
Chapter 32 – We Wish You a Merry Christmas,
Chapter 33 – On the Feast of Stephen,
SECTION 9 – CHRISTMAS PAST,
Chapter 34 – Christmas Leftovers,
About the Author,
LITTLE SAINT NICK
ST NICHOLAS, known throughout much of the world as Santa Claus, is, amongst many other things, the patron saint of children, merchants, archers, sailors and thieves.
He first became popular in America in the eighteenth century, having arrived from Europe along with the Dutch; the Dutch name for St Nicholas, Sinterklaas, over time becoming Santa Claus.
At first dressed in green, wearing a broad-brimmed hat, a huge pair of Flemish ballooned breeches and smoking a long pipe ...
... Santa later evolved into the image of a joker, with red waistcoat, yellow stockings and a blue three-cornered hat – a colour combination well-deserving of a visit from the fashion police.
The present-day image of Santa Claus is thought to have partly come from Clement Clarke Moore, an Episcopal Church minister who, in his poem, An Account of a Visit from St Nicholas, described a portly figure who flew from house to house on Christmas Eve in a sleigh pulled by eight reindeer.
Squeezing down chimneys, St Nicholas would leave presents for children, but only if they had been well behaved.
In 1881, caricaturist and political cartoonist Thomas Nast, believed to be the creator of the all-American 'Uncle Sam' image, gave Santa a bushy white beard, pot belly and red clothes.
With Santa already dressed in the colours of their logo, in 1931 Coca-Cola commissioned artist Haddon Sundblom to illustrate Santa Claus drinking a bottle of the fizzy beverage for their Christmas advertising campaign.
Although Sundblom's illustrations finally gave us the image most popular today, the claim that this image of Santa was created by Coca-Cola is, in reality, little more than successful advertising.
Saint Nicholas, good holy man! Put on the Tabard, best you can; Go, therewith, to Amsterdam.
Christmas comes early in the Netherlands and many other European countries. Having spent the year noting the behaviour of children in his special red book, Sinterklaas, dressed in Bishop's robes, sets sail from Spain by steamboat, arriving mid-November at Amsterdam docks.
Accompanying Sinterklaas on his journey is his band of 'Black Peter' helpers. The story goes that St Nicholas was at a market in the ancient city of Myra when he saw an Ethiopian boy being sold for slavery. He freed the boy and, in return, the youngster decided to stay with him as his helper. Depicted dressed as a Spaniard, with a feathered cap, black curly hair and a blackened face, the image of 'Black Peter' is no longer considered politically correct, and the modern story tells that Black Peter has a blackened face because he has had to climb down sooty chimneys to deliver the children's presents.
Having disembarked from Amsterdam's docks, Sinterklaas leads a parade through the streets on his white horse, Amerigo. Meanwhile, his helpers throw sweets to well-behaved children, a tradition said to come from the saving of three young girls from prostitution by the tossing of gold coins through their window at night to pay for their father's debts.
Whilst children deemed badly behaved face the bristly end of Black Peter's chimney sweep's brush ...
... really naughty children risk being bundled into Sinterklaas's sack and carted back to Spain!
Santa having arrived early, St Nicholas is celebrated on 5 December, St Nicholas Eve, with the exchange of presents. The following day is St Nicholas Day, and that's it, festivities over for another year.
For country folk, this early end could well be a blessing in disguise as, continuing a tradition announcing the birth of the baby Jesus, every evening at sunset for the entirety of Christmas, farmers in the Netherlands blow long wooden horns.
And just to make sure their signal does not go unheeded, they amplify the sound by blowing the horns over water wells.
In Switzerland, the arrival of St Nicholas is celebrated in the village of Küssnacht with the Klausjagen (St Nicholas chase) Festival.
On the evening of 5 December, following the firing of a cannon, a procession sets off, led by men cracking long sheep whips.
Close behind, white-robed celebrants called 'lifeltrager' pass through the streets wearing illuminated lanterns on their heads. Up to two metres in height, the lanterns resemble a cross between a bishop's mitre and a stained-glass window.
The lightheaded lifeltrager are followed by St Nicholas, his four 'Schmutzli' helpers in black robes, torchbearers, a brass band playing traditional Christmas songs, 700 cowbell ringers and a further 180 men blowing long cow horns.
The parade continues until 7am the following morning, St Nicholas Day. By all accounts, time to invest in a decent pair of earplugs!
Sounding not unlike a muscle pain acquired on a German camping holiday, Krampus is considered to be St Nicholas's evil twin, accompanying him on his travels, delivering Christmas presents to the children of Austria and other Alpine countries. When the horned and monstrous-tongued goat-like creature finds what it considers to be a very badly behaved child, it lures the youngster to its underground lair, later to feast on it for Christmas dinner.
Increasingly celebrated in other European countries and parts of the United States, on 5 December, Krampus Night, men bearing torches and dressed in hairy goat-like costumes pass through the streets of towns and villages, frightening and punishing children who have misbehaved. Only this time, the good ones don't get sweets ...CHAPTER 2
SANTA CLAUS IS COMING TO TOWN
EACH year, Santa Claus visits the Royal Navy Submarine Museum in Gosport, Hampshire, giving out presents to followers of the Christian faith from his grotto inside a Second World War submarine.
Whether squeezing down the hatch of a submarine, or coming down the chimney, Santa arrives in many ways. And he's not always a portly figure with a bushy beard ...
The children of Bosnia receive their presents from Grandfather Frost.
In the US state of California, Santa Claus arrives on a surfboard.
Christmas presents are delivered to children in China by Dun Che Lao Ren, the Christmas Old Man.
On the island of Hawaii, Santa Claus arrives by canoe.
In Japan, children receive their presents from a Buddhist monk by the name of Hotei-osho. Hotei-osho is said to have eyes in the back of his head, and can see if children misbehave.
The children of Syria receive gifts from one of the Wise Men's camels. The camel is thought to have been the smallest one in the Wise Men's caravan.
Whilst the children of the Ukraine sleep, they are visited by Father Frost, travelling in a sleigh pulled by three reindeer.
Father Frost is joined on his travels by the Snowflake Girl, who wears a snowflake-shaped crown and a blue costume with white fur trim.CHAPTER 3
WE THREE KINGS OF ORIENT ARE
THERE is no mention of three wise men in the Bible. There is also no mention of a cat. But there is, however, mention of a car: it says that Moses came down the mountain in his Triumph. They say the old jokes are the best.
The Gospel of Matthew states that 'wise men came from the East' to visit the newly born baby Jesus. Although the Bible fails to record how many they were, it has been assumed there were three as they brought with them three gifts: gold, frankincense and myrrh.
Around 2600 BC, the Egyptian King Tushratta claimed that gold was more common than earth. In a land of sand, the King may well have been right.
With the metal in abundance, the Aztecs described gold as 'the excrement of the gods', placing more value on feathers and turquoise.
Since the ancient Egyptians wrote of gold in their hieroglyphs, around 168,000 tonnes of the precious metal have been mined – enough gold bars to build a second Great Pyramid of Giza.
Rolled out with a giant rolling pin, this would be enough gold leaf to cover the entire British Isles.
The amount of new gold mined each year would just about fill a double-decker bus or – rolled into gold leaf – cover the county of Norfolk.
During the fourteenth century, drinking molten gold and crushed emeralds was used as a treatment for bubonic plague.
A number of Native American tribes thought eating gold would give them the ability to levitate.
An estimated 15,000 tonnes of gold is suspended in the Earth's oceans, although, with only 10 parts per quadrillion, no one has yet found an economical way to extract it.
Resistant to corrosion, alloyed with copper or silver, gold is well suited for use in coins. The Romans minted their coins in the temple of Juno Moneta, in the hills of Rome. It was from Juno Moneta that we get the word 'money'.
A sweet-smelling gum resin, frankincense begins as a thick milky sap, extracted from the Boswellia sacra, a tough old boot of a tree that survives in the dry and rocky soil of Oman and Somalia. To say it survives may be putting it strongly, as recent studies have shown that the population of the tree is in decline, due to a combination of over-tapping, cattle grazing and attacks by the longhorn beetle.
Once worth its weight in gold, frankincense could again prove invaluable, as studies are being carried out into the long-term effects of its use in the treatment of inflammatory bowel diseases.
Were you to be spending Christmas in a hot, wet climate, burning frankincense will keep mosquitoes at arm's length, in turn lowering the chances of contracting malaria.
In ancient times, frankincense enemas were used to treat leprosy.
The Egyptians burned frankincense and ground the remains into a powder, which they used as black eyeliner.
Mostly now used in perfumery and aromatherapy, frankincense scent is thought to represent life, a fitting gift for the baby Jesus.
According to Greek mythology, Myrrha fell in love with her father, fooling him into an incestuous relationship. To save her from her father's rage, the gods turned her into a tree – the myrrh tree – where she shed tears of myrrh.
With its roots on somewhat firmer ground, myrrh is the congealed gum resin from the Commiphora guidottii tree, widely found in Somalia and eastern parts of Ethiopia.
The third of the Wise Men of the East's gifts to the baby Jesus, at the time of the newborn king's birth, myrrh was as valuable as gold.
Ancient Egyptians used myrrh in the embalming of mummies.
As well as being used to relieve rheumatism, arthritis, haemorrhoids and menopausal pain, in Chinese medicine myrrh is thought to have beneficial effects on the invisible meridian channels to the heart, liver and spleen.
In modern medicine myrrh is used to treat tonsillitis, gum disease and sore throats, and is found in antiseptic mouthwashes and toothpastes, soaps, lip balms and many cosmetics.
Most popular in perfumes and as incense, you may well find some myrrh in your Christmas stocking.CHAPTER 4
DECK THE HALLS
The holly and the ivy; and the mistletoe, and the ...
The Romans were the first to bring holly into their homes, the spiky leaves hanging around the fireplace to offer protection from evil spirits entering through the chimney.
The tradition passed on to the Christian church, in time holly leaves coming to symbolise the crown of thorns worn by Jesus on the cross, with the red berries representing Christ's blood.
Before turnips were introduced into Britain in the eighteenth century, the evergreen holly was grown to feed cattle and sheep during the winter months.
Aside from providing a hearty winter meal, the leaves of the Amazonian Ilex guayusa holly tree are used to make ayahuasca, a stimulating herbal tea.
If you care to relax over your afternoon tea with a game, the heavy, hard and whitish wood of the holly is traditionally used to make the white chess pieces, taking battle against their ebony opponents.
And, if you were to expire after the Christmas feast, holly provides the perfect wreath.
Together with a concoction involving opium and wild lettuce, ivy features in one of the earliest recorded medical formulas for what was known as a 'soporific sponge'. Used as early as the twelfth century as an anaesthetic, the sponge, soaked in the liquefied plant's juices, would be placed over the patient's nose and mouth, inducing up to four days of sleep.
In New Zealand, despite being the world's largest exporter of lamb, the fluffy balls of wool-covered meat have never so much as seen a leaf of ivy. Not being native to the country, and with worries that, if introduced, it might spread like an out-of-control bushfire, ivy is banned, excepting, that is, in its depiction on Christmas cards.
The Anglo-Saxons referred to mistletoe as 'dung on a twig'. They had good reason: the mistle thrush feasts on mistletoe berries, then excretes the seeds in its droppings. Coated with a gluey substance called viscin, the seeds stick to the branches of trees, the viscin hardening. The mistletoe then grows from the bird's droppings, using the faeces as food.
Left unchecked, the mistletoe saps the host tree of water and nutrients, reducing its growth and – with heavy infestation – eventually kills the tree.
With a particular liking for apple trees, and with apples increasingly imported from northern France, orchards in Britain's 'cider counties' of Kent and Somerset are in decline, and British mistletoe, losing its host trees, is facing an uncertain future.
In 2011, the National Trust launched a campaign – fittingly called 'Giving Mistletoe the Kiss of Life' – to preserve British mistletoe. As part of the campaign, the Trust highlighted six different insects that rely on mistletoe for food ...
... including the mistletoe marble moth ...
... and the romantically-named 'kiss-me-slow' weevil.
According to custom, a young man has the privilege of kissing a girl under hanging mistletoe, although he must then remove a berry. When all the berries have been removed, the privilege ceases. Even if berries remain, the mistletoe must either be burned on the Twelfth Night or, some believe, fed to a cow.
If a man were to kiss under the mistletoe after the Twelfth Night, it's said he won't find love in the coming year.
In December 1828, on a visit to the Mexican city of Taxco, Doctor Joel Roberts Poinsett, first US Minister to Mexico, discovered a large plant with flame-red, leaf-like bracts, growing by the side of the road. A keen botanist, Poinsett sent a cutting home to be planted in his greenhouse in Greenville, South Carolina.
Dismissed at first by fellow botanists as a weed, following successful cultivation over 65 million poinsettias are now sold each year in the US alone, one-third of annual flowering potted-plant sales.
But is it a pot plant? Left to grow wild, the poinsettia can reach a lofty four metres.
The chameleon of the plant world, in the long dark of the winter night the flame-red bracts change colour. But don't sneak in with your torch to watch – unless it gets a full 12 hours of darkness, a poinsettia will be nothing but grumpy in the morning.
Native to Mexico and Central America, the poinsettia is known locally as Flor de Nochebuena, meaning 'Christmas Eve flower'.
Story tells of a cold and wintry night, when the Wise Men of the East, on their way to Bethlehem bearing gifts for the newly born baby Jesus, came across a shepherdess by the name of Madelon. Poor Madelon, she was unable to afford – or even find – a small gift, not even a flower, to give the Holy Child! A tear began to run down her cheek. Seeing her weep, an angel swept away the snow to reveal a beautiful white flower: the Christmas rose.
Otherwise known as the Snow or Winter rose, the Christmas rose is often thought of as the true Christmas flower, blooming in the cold of winter in the mountainous Alpine regions of central Europe.
If you're looking for a name at Christmas for your newborn baby girl, perhaps you should forget Holly and go for Madelon – the Christmas rose.
Sounding not unlike a well-sprung mattress, the Schlumbergera is commonly referred to as the Christmas cactus, as – surprise, surprise – it blooms at Christmas. Well, not always: it has been known to flower as early as October, or as late as the following summer.
With a liking for the shade of trees or rocks in areas with high humidity, the Christmas cactus can be found growing wild in the coastal mountain rainforests of southeast Brazil, or in the greenhouse of your local garden centre. It's best to visit near to Christmas Eve and seek out one already in bloom; otherwise, don't hold your breath.
Legend tells, after the death of Jesus, Joseph of Arimathea travelled to Britain, bringing with him the Holy Grail. Intending to spread the message of Christianity, Joseph travelled to the West Country, to the town of Glastonbury, where, pushing his walking stick into the ground beside him, he lay down to sleep. Upon awakening, he found the stick had taken root, and begun to to flower. Joseph left his walking stick in the ground and, from that day, the Glastonbury thorn – unlike the common single-flowering hawthorn tree – magically blossomed every winter and spring.
Excerpted from The Completely Useless Guide to Christmas by Martin Pullen. Copyright © 2013 Martin Pullen. Excerpted by permission of John Blake Publishing Ltd.
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