Twas The Mystery Before Christmas

 

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‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all thro’ the house

Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;

The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,

In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there…

How can so few words conjure up so much nostalgia and capture our imagination, year in, year out? This much-loved seasonal rhyme is the basis for so much of the folklore surrounding good old Santa Claus – what he looks like, his reindeer names and how he gets down the chimney! But what is especially intriguing is that it was first published anonymously in 1823 and ever since then, the authorship has been somewhat questionable.

Who would have the generosity of spirit to write such a magical poem and never claim the kudos? ¬†Well, in 1837 the poem was attributed to the American poet, Clement Clarke Moore (they just don’t name ’em like that these days!) and in 1844 he included the poem in an anthology, claiming his authorship of the poem.¬†¬†However, a professor of English in New York by the name of Donald Foster, challenged the authorship and believes that it was written by Henry Livingston Jr., a New York poet with Dutch and Scottish roots.

Having analysed the text, he was convinced that the phraseology and the optimistic approach was much more consistent with Livingston’s style than Moore’s. ¬†But the real argument (in my opinion) is Livingston’s Dutch heritage. ¬†The references to Saint Nicholas are very closely related to the Dutch ‘Sinteklaes’ tradition, with the reindeer names originally printed as ‘Dunder and Blixem’, Dutch for thunder and lightening.christmas-1876438_1920

Despite the fact that Livingston’s children also claimed that he had read them the poem before its publication, he never claimed authorship himself. Could it be the spirit of Christmas, to gift something so wonderful to the public without seeking recognition? There was even a mock trial held as recently as 2014 in New York, which reached the surprise verdict (hold on to your hats people) that Major Henry Livingston Jr is the true author of ‚ÄėTwas the night before Christmas‚Äô.¬† Read all about it here http://christmastrial.com/

Maybe it’s just the fact that I always root for the underdog, but for whatever reason, my money is on Livingston. Unless of course it is as Virginia Woolf once said – For most of history, anonymous was a woman. Maybe we’ll never know the true author, but either way, it is the most magical Christmas poem ever written and you can enjoy it in full here.

And if you’re looking for a book to lose yourself in over the holidays, why not get a copy of The Story Collector – there is no authorship controversy and I take full responsibility for the magic that inks every page!

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Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!

christmas, with a little c

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Want to celebrate the season with a little more calm and a little less crazy?¬† Then this one’s for you.¬† We’re surrounded by it.¬† Magazines and TV shows have been telling me how to slow-roast a turkey since November and how to ‘get my sparkle on’.¬† But the funny thing is, we went through all of this last year.¬† And the one before.¬† So, you don’t have to keep reminding me what to do with your shouty adverts and giant fonts – I’ve got this!

Spoiler alert to my family – you’ve all got books this year (again).¬† And not just because I want to keep reminding you “Hey, remember that book I wrote and stuff?¬† And how I’m, like, an author now??”, but because bookshops are a sanctuary in this time of festive fever.¬† While other shops compete for your custom with the loudest Christmas hits (and misses) for two months prior to the actual day, bookshops retain a sense of dignified calm.¬† In fact, someone in the bookshop remarked that¬† Christmas shopping over-stimulates the senses, working us up into a frenzy and stressing us out.¬† And that’s how Christmas can feel sometimes – a complete sensory overload, so you miss out on the simple things.

People have all sorts of reasons for wanting a more laid back holiday season.¬† Maybe you just can’t be arsed lugging all of the decorations out of the attic, or maybe you’ve had the kind of year that makes a tinsel-tastic Christmas seem like too much.¬† Maybe you’re grieving the loss of a loved one, maybe you’ve got health issues, maybe you’re short on funds, newly single (or oldly single!) or maybe you’re just sick of the same old ding-dong.¬† For me, I think it was the commercialism that drove me to seek out alternative ways to do Christmas.¬† Also, I like easy!¬† Minimal effort with maximum effect.¬† So here are some really easy ways to do Christmas if you’re feeling a bit non-fussed, but want to tip your cap all the same.

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First off – Free Christmas Printables.¬† These are the bomb!¬† Just Google ’em and print out whatever designs you fancy.¬† Pop them in a frame and boom – Christmas is here.¬† They also double as pretty cool (and cheap) pressies.¬† I got these frames in Tesco for a fiver.¬† They’re a lovely, contemporary way to decorate your house, without feeling like you’re coming down in baubles and bows.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from watching Nigella Lawson (apart from the virtues of midnight snacking in a negligee) it’s the magic of fairy lights.¬† And not just for Christmas. Simply adding a string of white fairy lights to any surface in your home, instantly creates a festive glow, without screaming ‘PARTY SEASON’.

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The Christmas Wreath.¬† Well this one takes a bit more craftiness, but my house feels very Dickensian with my ivy wreath!¬† It’s also a great way to use up some of that rampant ivy that is slowly taking over my entire garden.¬† Just get yourself some twine, some bendy twigs that you can fashion into a circle, then tangle the ivy around it until you just can’t be bothered anymore.¬† Red ribbon to secure and you’re done!¬† Now get yourself a nice glass of port, you’ve earned it ūüôā

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Finally, you’re going to need something yummy to go along with your alcohol, but if baking isn’t your thing, why not try these¬†Mini Christmas Puddings!¬† Anyone can make these – it’s the culinary equivalent of mixing cement.¬† ¬†They’re quick, full of the flavours of Christmas and they’re healthy.

Makes 12 balls:

100g Apricots

100g Dates

80g Ground Almonds

1/2 teaspoon Cinammon

1 teaspoon Mixed spice

Zest of 1/2 Lemon & Orange

Just stick all of these ingredients in a food processor and blitz.¬† Squeeze in a little orange juice if the mixture is a bit dry, then take a teaspoon amount and roll into little balls.¬† Stick them in the fridge to firm up.¬† Meanwhile, make the topping.¬† Get some Creamed Coconut (you can buy it in blocks or packets – I used Patak’s) and melt in hot water.¬† Mix with 1 tablespoon of honey and 1 tablespoon of coconut oil (ish) and dollop a small amount on the top of each pudding.¬† It hardens pretty quickly, so don’t dilly-dally.¬† For presentation, top with… anything really.¬† Maybe redcurrants, dried cranberry, some marzipan, or like me, just use what’s to hand.¬† I chopped up some apricot and cut some mint leaves from the garden to create little clementines.¬† Et voila!¬† The cutest Christmas bites you’ll ever make and you didn’t even have to switch the oven on.¬† You’re welcome!

If all else fails, just put cinnamon in everything and light a few candles for a fuss-free December.¬† Got any tips to make Christmas easy?¬† Just pop them in the comments ūüôā

Happy Christmas Everybody

 

 

Saturnalia & The Origins of Christmas

8228571691_977d1722dc_q¬†¬†While theologians and scholars may argue over the exact birth date of Jesus, they can all concede that it probably wasn’t the 25th December. ¬†Scholars have suggested a summer or autumn birthday, using astronomy as their guide. ¬†Theologians, rather practically, suggest that if shepherds were guarding their flocks by night, it makes more sense that the birth of Jesus was in Spring, not in Winter. ¬†So why did the church choose December 25th?

Well, we can all blame the Romans!  Before the church got their hands on December (and more recently the capitalists and high street retailers), the Romans used to celebrate a very different God.  Saturn, the god of seeds and sowing, was celebrated with gusto from 17th Р25th December, incorporating the Winter Solstice for good measure.  Like most pagan rituals, it was based around nature and farming and the mid-winter festival provided some welcome entertainment between harvest and spring.

Apparently, it was a pretty wild affair, with lots of partying, eating and (as used to be the case when I was younger) everything stayed shut for about a fortnight. ¬†So the church thought it would be a good idea to sort of ride on the coat tails of Saturnalia and turn it into a more solemn affair. ¬†Not sure how that’s working out for them, but in both traditions, we do look towards the heavens at this time of year, whether it be for a star, a planet or a toy-laden sleigh to light up the dark. ¬†Regardless of your beliefs, it certainly is a magical time of year, captured here by The Henry Girls as part of their wintry music show with their song, Aurora.