Thursday, 3 November 2016

Christmas Stocking Fillers # 1


The Ronettes where playing on the radio, It was Christmas morning.
The children were rushing about like they’d had a caffeine injection; excitedly showing off their new toys while my wife was wrestling a turkey into the oven.
As I sat in my arm chair sipping my coffee my mind drifted back to the previous week.

The wipers swished rhythmically as they cleared the lightly beating sleet that was spattering the windscreen and the heater struggled to demist the inside.
All this was of no consequence as the car wasn’t actually moving.
It was the last Friday before Christmas and I was sat in a jam in the evening rush hour.
Half an hour I‘d been stuck in it and I was still only half a mile from where I worked.
I had time to take in the colourful and sometimes overly extravagant festive decoration on the houses which contrasted sharply with the meagre and tired looking display put on by the local council.
After another half an hour I reached the main road.
Nothing to see here through the wet steamy windows except the red tail lights of other frustrated drivers.
Twenty minutes after that accompanied by some over cheerful DJ on the radio I could see the roundabout.
The sleety rain was falling harder now and it was difficult to see through the murkiness.
After crawling to the roundabout I could just make out a flashing blue light which I suspected had nothing to do with Christmas.
As I got closer I could see it was attached to a police car which was blocking my exit.
Without any explanation the police had closed the road.
So I was faced with a choice, go back the way I came or take the exit off the roundabout which would take me in the opposite direction from where I lived.
I did the latter.
By the time I eventually arrived home I was in a black mood.
I shouted at the kids, moaned at my wife and tried to kick the cat.
My mood was not improved when my half cremated dinner was removed from the oven and what had once been gravy was now only a stain on the plate.
The weekend was spent doing all the pre-Christmas stuff with the family and all too soon it was over.
When I returned to work on Monday I related my tale of woe to my workmate’s and we all had a big laugh about it.
Except for Harry, who lived locally, he just looked down at the ground grave faced.
Later, when we were alone, he told me the road was closed because a young woman had been knocked down and killed.
I was dumbstruck, I had no words just a feeling of shame at my selfishness.
A week before Christmas, she had died.
While I was cursing at being inconvenienced, ranting at being stuck in a jam.
A poor young woman lay dead in the rain soaked street.
Somebody’s wife and lover, also a daughter and mother and she was mourned by two children, a sister and a brother.

The sound of church Bells ringing out brought me back to Christmas morning and my family.
But I still couldn’t help thinking of other families for whom Christmas morning would be less joyous.
With the bells still ringing out I gave thanks for being alive.
Also I vowed to be more patient, more tolerant and more understanding in the future.
But I probably won’t keep it.


If you’re a worshiper of Satan
And you suffer from Dyslexia
Take care before you commit
You may sell your soul to Santa


At mid-day in Finland, the 'peace of Christmas' is broadcast on national radio and TV from the Finnish city of Turku.


In northern and central Croatia Sveti Nikola brings gifts to children on December 6th. It has always been the main day for gift-giving. Even though under communist rule Christian holidays were frowned upon most families still celebrated in private.
On the eve of the saint's day, children polish their boots until they gleam and then place them on a windowsill to await the good Saint.
The next morning the good children's shoes are filled to over flowing with candy, fruit, and gifts.
A devil accompanies St Nicholas, leaves golden twigs for naughty children.
The naughtier the child the bigger the twig.
Actually all the children get a twig just as a warning but also each one gets sweets as well.


In Austria St. Nicholas is the special children's saint and he is honored throughout Austria because It is said that God rewarded Nicholas for his generosity by allowing him to return to earth each year to bring gifts to all the good children.


The nativity scene with the baby Jesus Christ laying in the manger surrounded by Mary, Joseph the shepherds and the wise men has long been a favorite Christmas decoration. It has been used for centuries to bring the story of Christmas alive.
It was Francis of Assisi who instituted the custom of the nativity scene after receiving permission from the pope.
Who was renowned for his love of animals, so at Christmas in 1224 he erected the first nativity scene in a cave outside the town of Greccio in Italy.
It did not resemble the type of scene you might see nowadays it was not a hand crafted nor mass-produced but a live scene.
Parishioners played the parts much as children do in the school nativity plays today.
People would gather to watch the spectacle and Francis stood in front of the manger reciting the appropriate gospel followed by a sermon.


The Christmas cactus, native to Brazil, is a popular winter-flowering houseplant which come in a wide variety of colors from red and purple to pink and cream.
The Christmas cactus has no symbolic or religious connection to Christmas as other flowers do, its only reason for being called the Christmas cactus is that it is in flower over the Christmas period.


A very common saying amongst children a hundred years ago was "Every time a bell rings, an angel gets his wings".
This was made famous in the movie "It's a Wonderful Life" starring James Stewart.


4 Large eggs
2 floz. Jamaica Rum
8 oz. Granulated Sugar
8 floz. Un skimmed Milk
8 floz. Single Cream
1 pint Whiskey

Separate the eggs and then beat the yolks and whites separately before pouring them into a bowl together.
Add other ingredients and mix well then pour into a suitable container for serving.
Keep Refrigerated until ready to serve and sprinkle with nutmeg.


In medieval England the Lord of Misrule played a major part in the Christmas festivities.
He led the many holiday activities and wielded real power even over the King.
The Lord of Misrule was appointed by the King and his nobles to reign for the Twelve Days of Christmas.
The chosen man was usually had wisdom enough not to abuse his position of power when dealing with the nobility and when instructing the mummers, a traveling band of rowdy players, whom h controlled out on the streets.
Much of the custom surrounding the Lord of Misrule and the Mummers had parallels with the Roman Saturnalia, during which masters and slaves changed places, with general rowdiness abounding.
The Mummers were a rowdy traveling band of players who roamed the streets in costume performing plays, songs and generally doing as the Lord of Misrule bad them.
While mainly being restricted to the streets they would at times burst into churches and disrupt services and generally carouse around.
They would perform classic Mummer's plays and like carolers, would often perform in exchange for Christmas goodies.
When the Puritans under Oliver Cromwell came to power, they banned the Lord of Misrule and the Mummers.
Although the monarchy restored many of the Christmas traditions outlawed by Cromwell, the Lord of Misrule and the Mummers remained outlawed and never again enjoyed the freedom and popularity they had in medieval England.


In Massachusetts in 1659, a law was passed that stating
"Whosoever shall be found observing any such day as Christmas, either by forbearing of labour, feasting, or in any other way, shall be fined 5 shillings."


It was in sixteenth century Germany, or so the legend has it, in a town called Wittenberg in Saxony-Anhalt.
That the founder of the protestant church, Martin Luther, was the first to decorate a Christmas tree with lighted candles.
Apparently when he was walking home through the forest one dark and frosty winter’s night, his attention was drawn to the myriad of bright stars that he could see sparkling and twinkling through the branches of the fir trees.
The beauty of the nights display had a great effect on him and he proceeded home very excited.
When he arrived home he relayed to his family what he had seen and what had excited him so and almost immediately he set about decorating his Christmas tree with candles and then to his families surprise he lit them.
Goodness only knows what his family thought, that he was possessed possibly.
And what of the other people in the town what did they think of him and his antics.
It probably caused more consternation than the reformation.


Babouschka was an Old Russian woman who deliberately misled the three wise men as to the whereabouts of Bethlehem so they would not find Jesus.
Later Babouschka was overcome by remorse and set off after them to put things right but she could not find them.
As a result to this day, on January 5, it is believed Babouschka visits Russian children leaving gifts at their bedsides in the hope that one of them is the baby Jesus and she will be forgiven.


The winter solstice was considered an important point of the year by the German and Celtic tribes as they held their chief festival of Yule which was to commemorate the return of what they called the burning-wheel (the sun).


January 5th or twelfth night marks the climax of the Christmas season.
The twelve days of Christmas are counted from December 25th until twelfth night.
The season of Christmas begins with the first Sunday of Advent and concludes with Epiphany.
The period between Christmas day and epiphany is referred to as Christmastide.
Epiphany usually shares the white and gold, colors of Christmas denoting celebration, newness, and hope, but epiphany has a much more significant meaning to the Christians as it marks the time when the Magi were the first gentiles to acknowledge Jesus as "king" and this act of worship by the Magi, was a message to the world that Jesus came for all people, of all nations, of all races, and of all faiths.


Gluhwein is a traditional German mulled wine served containing cloves to warm against the bitter winter days.
It is traditionally served at the many German outdoor Christmas markets to keep the customers warm and full of Christmas cheer.


Three Kings Day is celebrated on January 6th, twelve days after Christmas and is the last day of the Christmas season.
Three Kings Day or Dia de los Reyes is also known as The Epiphany, the Christian celebration commemorating the Biblical story of the three kings Melchior, Caspar and Balthazar who followed the star of Bethlehem to bring gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh to the Christ child.
Traditionally in Spanish speaking countries, Three Kings Day is the time for gift-giving, rather than Christmas day.
In some regions it is customary for children to leave their shoes out on the night of January 5 hoping the Three Kings will be generous, the children's shoes will often be filled with hay for the Kings camels.
When the Spanish children wake on January 6 they find the hay has gone and their shoes are filled with toys and gifts.


Many of the Pantomime plots we see in the popular productions today were based on traditional folk tales such as Puss in Boots, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty and Red Riding Hood.
These stories were collected and retold by the French writer Charles Perrault and they were published in 1697 in a book called 'Mother Goose's Fairy Tales'.


Christmas was celebrated on December 25th.for the first time.


Well I only got a sweater for Christmas
Not the best thing to get for a dreamer
Because I got a sweater for Christmas
When I wanted a moaner or a screamer


Here is a thought of little worth
Snowmen start their fall to earth
From Heaven above unassembled
And like a snow globe it resembled
But if a snowman were then desired
Some assembly would be required


The saint and the butcher is a popular St Nicholas tale in northern France which is told every year before St Nicholas day.
The Tale tells of three children who wandered away from their village and got lost. They continued on their way until Cold and hungry they came to an unfamiliar village.
They were discovered by a wicked butcher who lured them into his shop with the promise of food and warmth.
Once inside his shop he attacked the three children and he salted them away in a large tub.
They children would have been lost forever but for the intervention of St Nicholas who rescued the children and returned them safely to their families.
From that day forward St. Nicolas has been regarded in France as the protector of children.
The evil butcher became Père Fouettard who forever follows St Nicholas with switches in hand to threaten children and it’s the evil butcher who leaves any naughty children with a bundle of birch twigs.
On the eve of St Nicholas day the children put their shoes near the chimney and sing a song to the Saint before going to bed.
The next morning the shoes overflow with special Saint Nicolas sweets, chocolates and cookies.
Even the best of children will find by their shoes some birch twigs tied with a ribbon as every child does something naughty in the year.


Despite the general awfulness of the Christmas song there are however always exceptions to the rule and I have a short list of personal favorites.
Without exception all my choices not only include the song but the best performer of that song and so in no particular order here is my first selection.

“White Christmas” written by Irving Berlin and sung by Bing Crosby.

I'm dreaming of a White Christmas
Just like the ones I used to know
Where the treetops glisten
And children listen
To hear sleigh bells in the snow.

I'm dreaming of a white Christmas
With every Christmas card I write
May your days be merry and bright
And may all your Christmases be white.

I'm dreaming of a white Christmas
With every Christmas card I write
May your days be merry and bright
And may all your Christmases be white


268 St Dionysius ends his reign as Catholic Pope
418 St Zosimus ends his reign as Catholic Pope
795 St Leo III begins his reign as Catholic Pope
1198 French bishop Odo van Sully condemns Zottenfeest
1481 Battle at Westbroek Dutch army defeats Utrecht
1492 the 1st Spanish settlement in the New World is founded, by Columbus
1773 the Expulsion of tea ships from Philadelphia
1799 Colonel Lee says George Washington, is 1st in war, 1st in peace and 1st in the hearts of his countrymen
1805 France and Austria signs Peace of Pressburg
1862 38 Santee Sioux Indians hanged in Mankato Minnesota
1862 Battle of Dumfries, Virginia
1872 18 inches is the 4th largest snowfall in New York City’s history
1899 Baden-Powell led a failed assault to relieve Mafeking, 24 killed
1916 Joseph Joffre becomes marshal of France
1925 Turkey adopts Gregorian calendar
1926 Prince-regent Hirohito becomes emperor of Japan
1928 Johnny Weissmuller announces his retirement from amateur swimming
1932 Earthquake kills 70,000 in Gansu China
1939 Earthquake in East Anatolia Turkey
1941 Winston Churchill becomes the First British Prime Minister to address a joint meeting of Congress
1943 British sink German battle cruiser Scharnhorst
1944 Battle of Bastogne US General Patton breaks through the German lines
1946 Flamingo Hotel in Las Vegas opens
1947 Heavy snow blankets Northeast USA burying New York City under 25.8" of snow in just 16 hrs
1955 RKO is 1st to announce sale of its film library to TV
1964 Moors Murderers claim last victim
1965 Paul McCartney is interviewed on pirate radio station Radio Caroline
1966 Maulana Karenga establishes Kwanzaa the First fruits of harvest festival
1967 Dave Brubeck Quartet formally disbands
1968 Arab terrorists in Athens fire on El Al plane, killing 1
1973 5 astronauts walk in space for a record 7 hours
1973 Soyuz 13 returns to Earth
1975 the first supersonic transport service begins in the USSR with the Tupolev-144
1978 India's former Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi, is released from jail
1984 Belgian princess Astrid marries Archduke Lorenz of Austria-Este
1986 Terrorists Captured Iraqi Airways Boeing-737 in Saudi Arabia, about 60 killed
1991 Militant Sikhs kill 55 and wound 70 in India
1991 Jack Ruby's gun sells for $220,000 in an auction
1993 Antonov-26 crashes at Gyumri, Armenia, 36 killed
1994 French commandos’ terminate Air France hijacking in Marseille


No Christmas would be complete without the Dickens classic tale of redemption and a list of Christmas films without Scrooge in it would be unthinkable.
There have been many film adaptations over the years since the first made in the silent era
1910 (Marc McDermott) Silent
1913 (Seymour Hicks) Silent
1935 (Seymour Hicks)
1938 (Reginald Owen)
1951 Scrooge (Alistair Sim)
1970 Scrooge (Albert Finney) Musical
1971 (Alistair Sim) Animated
1984 (George C. Scott)
1988 Scrooged (Bill Murray) Comedy
1997 (Tim Curry) Animated
1999 (Patrick Stewart)
2004 (Kelsey Grammer) Musical
2006 Disney Animated
2009 (Jim Carey) Animated
And even more TV adaptation, variations and spoofs and I would defy anyone to say that at least one of them didn’t strike a chord on some level.
My own personal favourite is the 1984 version with George C. Scott as Ebenezer Scrooge, Frank Finlay as Marley's Ghost and David Warner as Bob Cratchit.
But special mention has to go to the very excellent Edward Woodward as the most wonderful Ghost of Christmas Present.
Now I find it very difficult to believe that there is a soul on the planet who is unfamiliar with the story but if there is one this bit is for them.
A Christmas Carol tells the story of the embittered old miser Ebenezer Scrooge, who after being visited by a succession of spirits on Christmas Eve transformed into a warm-hearted kindly philanthropist.

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