Saturday, December 25, 2010

Advent Twenty Five: Christmas Every Day

"Sometimes you can't give back. You just have to give on. Did you, ah... sign those credit chits to the clones?"

"Sort of. Actually I signed them 'Father Frost.'" Mark cleared his throat. "That's the purpose of Winterfair, I think. To teach you how to ... give on. Being Father Frost is the end-game, isn't it?"

"I think so."

"I'm getting it figured out," Mark nodded in determination.

Mirror Dance, Lois Mcmaster Bujold, 1994

I've said just about everything I have to say about Christmas. In fact I've probably said too much. Happy Christmas!

Link to all the advent posts.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Advent Twenty Four: December 25

The Pope disagrees with me[1] but the 25 December date for the birth of Sol Invictus, the Unconquered Sun, is widely believed to have inspired the date for Christmas. At the time this date was midwinter, or near as damn it, an obvious time for a solar deity to celebrate their birthday. The Christians of the Roman Empire took on the date and the meaning - that of new life, a new dawn, a new day - and sanctified it.

[1] But he hasn't deployed his infallibility on this issue

Advent Twenty Three: Dream Diary Twenty

I dreamed last night that I'd been given a huge bag of Jelly Babies for Christmas. I ate them all, as we didn't seem to be having dinner. When I woke up I could still taste them. In my mind. My mouth was fairly neutral tasting.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Advent Twenty Two: Festivus

Frank Costanza: "Many Christmases ago, I went to buy a doll for my son. I reached for the last one they had, but so did another man. As I rained blows upon him, I realized there had to be another way."

Cosmo Kramer: "What happened to the doll?"

Frank Costanza: "It was destroyed. But out of that a new holiday was born: a Festivus for the rest of us!"

Kramer: "That must have been some kind of doll."

Frank Costanza: "She was."

The Story of Festivus.

As is traditional Festivus is celebrated on 23 December. We have completed the Airing of Grievances so now we come to the Feats of Strength.

Advent Twenty One: Colours of Christmas

At movie nights we've seen White Christmas, Black Christmas (the remake), and even Pink Christmas[1]. So it's clearly time for Blue Christmas.

Blue Christmas, Martina McBride (2008) and some leather-clad hoodlum (1968).

[1] Link to what we actually watched here.

Advent Twenty: Conversation From Last Christmas

Pupil: Sir, does Santa Claus exist?
Me: What do you mean does he exist? You can go and see him at Westwood Cross this evening.
Pupil: No, do you think he's real?
Me: You can see him television. It doesn't get any more real than that!
Pupil: Oh siiiiirrrrrr.

Advent Nineteen: Christmas Trees

I harped on about pagan origins of the midwinter use of Holly and Ivy. Christmas trees are definitely Christian though.

Definitely. No Doubt.

Advent Eighteen: Holly and Ivy

The Holly and the Ivy

Holly and ivy are traditional Christmas decorations. For that matter holly was sacred to the ancient Celts, and played a part in their Winter Solstice celebrations. Meanwhile the Romans associated holly with Bacchus, the God of Wine and ivy with Saturn who oversaw Saturnalia, their midwinter/new year celebration.

The Carol above gives us the Christian symbolism of holly (less so for ivy, which gets a title role solely to be found wanting compared to the king of woods, holly[1]). But the reason for their use in Midwinter decorations is simply that they are evergreen and have coloured berries. In the dull, grey, brown and white of a pre-modern winter, these cheery colours helped remind people of the rebirth of life - Spring is on it's way!

[1] This is a holdover of earlier songs about the contest between holly and ivy, which symbolised... no I'll leave that for now.

Advent Seventeen: Solstice

The days are getting longer[1]. In previous years I've moaned about the length of the darkness during midwinter. This year I don't seem to be feeling it. There's not the iron weight on my back, the sledgehammer bruise on my head and the grey shadow over everything. Maybe it's because I'm not having to get up before dawn. Maybe it's that I don't have the people-interaction stress[2]. Maybe I'm not drinking as much. I don't know.

But anyway, even though it's a dull, grey, cold day, with showers, I went out to the market and it was brilliant. The wind, the rain, people trying to be festive. I even met one of my former students. So enough of the maudlinity maudliness melancholy of some of these posts. Let's celebrate!

[1] Unless you are in the Southern Hemisphere, or are reading this later in the wrong half of the year. Or both. In which case, sucks to be you.
[2] Especially amongst people where I have to act professional. Or at least mundane.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Advent Sixteen: Potatoes

I was reading some kind of Xmas Q&A with Heston Blumethal last year, or maybe two or three years ago, and someone asked if goosefat was the best fat for roasting potatoes in. He replied sure, if you want your potatoes to taste of goose. He then suggested the following, which I have never got the nerve up to try but may this year.

Potatoes roasted in potato oil.

Potato peelings
Flavour light oil

Take some washed and dried potato peelings and soak them in oil. Most of the flavour of potatoes[1] is in on near the skin, so if you leave this overnight this should give you potato flavoured oil. Then prepare you potatoes for roasting as usual, which in my case involves peeling[2], cutting into fairly small chunks and parboiling. Heat up the oil in a roasting tray, then introduce the parboiled and drained potatoes, toss through the oil, then roast for an hour and a half, scraping them off the bottom of the roasting pan every now and then.

As mentioned I haven't actually done this. However a recipe that uses a similar concept (flavoured oil) that I have and certainly will use over Christmas follows:

Rosemary and Garlic Potatoes

1 or 2 potatoes per person
1 clove of garlic per person, assuming that someone describing the smell as roasted garlic in garlic sauce is good thing
some rosemary
some oil
some salt and pepper

Turn the oven on to maybe 180 C. Scrub the potatoes[3] and slice quite, but not very thinly. You can soak, wash and/or dry the slices if you're organised enough to do so in advance. Crush the garlic and rosemary in a pestle and mortar. Some salt can make this easier. When crushed to your satisfaction, add some pepper, then pour some oil in, stir and leave to sit for a few minutes. Then arrange the potato slices in a roasting tin, pouring oil over them, then roast for about an hour, turning and basting whenever it seems to be needed or the fancy takes you.

[1] Also the goodness, by which I assume my Mum means the vitamins and stuff.
[2] Presumably you could wash, dry and soak these peelings in oil, thus creating an endless supply of potato flavoured oil.
[3] My personal laziness is usually in favour of scrubbing rather than peeling, which I justify by noting that most of the flavour[1] of a potato is in or near the skin.

Advent Fifteen: Christmas Future

Hopefully the future of Christmas is not Life Day, Chiron Beta Prime, or for that matter Winterfair. But if I were the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come, what would I have to offer you? We are all mortal men doomed to die. What will people say about us when we have no more to say? Scrooge doesn't have the courage of his convictions and wants others to speak well of him. Which begs the question of why he wasted[1] so many years chasing money when he wants to be popular.

So if I were the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come I'd say[2] "Guard your honour. Let your reputation fall where it will."

On the other hand that quotation may not be as apt as I remembered[3] because in full it goes:

"Guard your honour. Let your reputation fall where it will. And outlive the bastards."
Lois Mcmaster Bujold. A Civil Campaign, 1999.

[1] Or not. Because it's the money he made as a miser that allows him to be generous as a do-gooder.
[2] Or not.
[3] Also Bujold, being an American, uses the wacky colonial spelling of "Honor".

Advent Fourteen: Ring out for Christmas

Three Rings for the Elven-kings under the sky,
Seven for the Dwarf-lords in their halls of stone,
Nine for Mortal Men doomed to die,
One for the Dark Lord on his dark throne,
In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.
One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them,
One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them
In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.

J R R Tolkein

Elves of course are wise. So do we have three wise elf kings?

Anyway, we have 1 Ring, 3 for Elves, 7 for Dwarves and 9 for Men, giving us a sequence of 1, 3, 7, 9... and a total of 20.

I'm not a serious mathematician[1] but the usual methods for determining the rules for a sequence don't give us any obvious answers[2]. 1, 2, 3, 4... fine. 1, 3, 5, 7... good. 1, 2, 3, 5... I'm on board with. 1, 1, 2, 3... or 1, 1, 2, 4... and perhaps 1, 3, 9, 27... great. But 1, 3, 7, 9...? And a total of 20? There's no significance there. What is Sauron playing at?

Now Sauron, being evil, might have set up this sequence deliberately to annoy and distract the numerologists of Middle Earth[3]. But that's not the kind of evil he is; he intends to rule Middle Earth, not smash it; Lawful Evil rather than Chaotic Evil; Darth Vader rather than Cthulu. Surely there's a logical sequence. Aren't there any more rings to find?

On the Fifth day of Christmas my true love gave to me...
Found them! That makes 25, a square number. It doesn't get any more Lawful Evil than that.

(Link here)

While I'm at it, we must never forget the most important event ever to occur on 25 December; the day the Fellowship left Rivendell to find their destinies.

[1] Although I have impersonated one in a school, and been paid for it.
[2] Page of mathematical scrawlings left out.
[3] Also, not having any more of the Black Speech than is inscribed on The Ring, it's quite possible he chose the numbers to make the poem scan. Never underestimate the influence of rhyme and rhythm on the plot of songs and poems.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Advent Thirteen: Christmas Present

It has been decreed that decorations this year shall be white and not extensive. To the extent that there is a tree with white lights and baubles, a wreath on the door[1], Dad's box of treasure and cards, and so far that's it.

As might be expected this caused an argument spirited discussion about the difference between minimal and minimalist[2].

[1] That wreath looks pretty damn pagan if you ask me. And so is the tree frankly.
[2] The minimum amount of decorations is clearly none. But that's not minimalist; that requires you to ostentatiously put quite a lot of effort into creating an effect with very little stuff left at the end. At least that's my argument and I'm right.

Advent Twelve: Stan Movies

Here's what happens: I take a bunch of movies and insert Stan into the title and we see what falls out. It amused people before so here's some new ones:

Stan gets a new car. It turns into a robot! Other cars turn up and turn into robots. The robots fight! Hugo Weaving co-stars.

Prince of Persia: The Stans of Time
Dean and I missed the first ten minutes of this, but based on the vast amount of rope used, the, ahem, natural produce used by the "Hassansins" and our knowledge of Persian history, we reckon there must have been Cataphracts riding by hemp fields.

The Stantrix
Stan discovers his life is controlled by computers. Complications ensue. Hugo Weaving co-stars.

Stanzilla vs Mechastanzilla
Stan gets a dinosaur suit for Christmas. When he wakes up, he discovers he seems to have destroyed Tokyo. it turns out aliens have created a robot in a dinosaur suit that impersonates him. Complications ensue.

The Wolfstan
Classic Horror remake. Stan isn't a werewolf[1] but this does not help him when he is fitted up for lycanthropy. Complications ensue. Hugo Weaving co-stars.

S for Standetta
Stan wears a mask and takes on a fascist government. Hugo Weaving co-stars.

Clash of the Tistans
Classic fantasy remake. Staneus has to fight a variety of mytholgical CGI monsters.

Stan Pilgrim Vs The World
Stan has to fight his girlfriend's exes (ex's? exe's?). Complications ensue.

[1] For, as we all know, he is an immortal vampire king

Advent Eleven: Christmas Past

Previously on Night of the Hats at Christmas:

- I put together a funky Christmas Playlist on Youtube

- I had my traditional list of films to watch over Christmas in which elements of the title are replaced by my friend Stan. It's an unusual hobby but it fills the list of advent posts seems to amuse people.

- I spotted Christmas and complained about the overuse of Fairytale of New York. It's good to have Christmas traditions.

- In my days of putting together links to amuse people I put together a bunch of Christmas related stuff.

- I talked a lot of nonsense about Christmas and wishes.

- Also we didn't burst into song.

Those seem to be the highlights of Christmas blogging here. There's also a bunch of links, half of them broken and a mincemeat recipe. Mum has made a Cheesecake from some of it this year and it is very good.

Advent Ten: When the Snowman Brings the Snow

I can tell it's Christmas. How can I tell?

1. Mum is wearing her Christmas waistcoat[1].

2. Mum has put a wreath on the door that a. unbalances the door, so it tries to shut on you when you want it open and pushes back when you try to close it and b. blocks half the doorway and dumps snow down my collar when I push past it.

3. I'm already Sick of The Fairytale of New York.

4. I'm very far behind on my Christmas Advent countdown.

[1] Dad sometimes wears his Father Christmas hat, but he does that when he's doing things for the Christmas lights and that can be from November. So that's like the goose getting fat; an indication that you should be thinking about it and getting ready and maybe making a pudding, but not that it's here yet.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Advent Nine: Conversation of the Christmas Decorations

The Scene: JIM and NEIL are putting up Christmas Decorations in JIM'S OFFICE. JIM is up a stepladder. NEIL is significantly taller than JIM.

JIM staring at the top of NEIL's head: Is this what the world looks to you?

NEIL turns around to find himself facing JIM's groin: Is this what the world looks like to you?

Monday, December 13, 2010

Advent Eight: Saint Lucia

Saint Lucia's day is celebrated on December 13 and I've broken the fiction that my Advent posts relate to their number rather than the date I've actually got around to writing it to document it. For why? I'll tell you why: Crown of Candles.

The crown of candles seems to be a Swedish thing, but the day is celebrated, often as a festival of lights, throughout Scandinavia, and also in Malta and, unsurprisingly, on the island of Saint Lucia.

Obviously this would have been brilliant for my Hallowe'en saints costume ideas posts. Presumably one extinguishes the candles before doing anything other than stand still and sing, especially at the time of year when people hang decorations off ceilings in an attempt to strangle me.

Advent Seven: Advent Updates

I'm getting really behind on this advent thing, or I would be if I'd actually explained the plan to anyone. Nevertheless there are two updates to previous advent posts:

1. Our Netherlands correspondant has informed us that when Zwarte Piet delivers presents down the chimney, Dutch children leave out their shoes, rather than their stockings. He did not inform us if they used clogs.

2. There's a Russian game like Grow Ornament, called Planet NoName which appears to be about New Year.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Advent Six: Grow Ornament

The Grow series of games involve picking the order in which you introduce elements to the game. What makes this simple concept interesting is that each element has the opportunity to level up and the elements interact. Anyway, there's a Christmas one. It's not the best but it is relevant.

To get the maximum levels, look here.

Advent Five: Zwarte Piet

In the Netherlands, Sinterklaas (Saint Nicholas) visits children on December 5[1]. In the Anglophone world, Santa Claus has elves as helpers[2] and lives at the North Pole, or maybe Lappland. In the low countries he has Zwarte Piet (Black Peter).

Originally Zwarte Piet was a devil Saint Nicholas had triumphed over. In later stories, he became a servant from the colonies, and Sinterklaas and Zwarte Piet began to arrive on a steamboat. Zwarte Piet brings gifts and sweets to children who have been good, but if they've been bad, he stuffs them in a bag and carries them away to Spain[3] where he lives the rest of the year.

The Netherlands doesn't have a taboo against blackface, but the fact that Zwarte Piet's appearance and characterisation can be problematic has not escaped the Dutch.

[1] In Belgium he visits on December 6, giving him two days to get around both countries, which is probably plenty of time.
[2] Santa Claus is sometimes characterised as an elf, which, to those of us with a passing knowledge of folklore, clarifies why he doesn't bring the gifts you want, or need, or even deserve, but instead, whatever the hell he feels like.
[3] If they've been a little bit bad, they get no present, and rather than being carried away they get a birching. With corporal punishment falling out of favour in modern times, he instead presents them with some coal.

Monday, December 06, 2010

Advent Four: The Fourth Wise Man

The original story is here, but my distorted memory of an inaccurate paraphrase goes like this:

We all know about the three wise men, but there was a fourth one as well. On his way to meet the other wise men to pay tribute to the King of Kings he met an ill man by the road. He stopped to help him and paid for his treatment with one of the gems he'd brought.

Having missed the other Wise Men and the nativity, he carried on, searching for the Messiah. However, every time he seemed to be getting somewhere he kept meeting people in trouble and stopped to help them, often using the tributary gems to fund his efforts.

After about thirty odd years he found himself in Jerusalem and who should he meet but Jesus Christ. "Lord," he said, "I'm sorry it took so long to get you, but although I looked for you everywhere, I kept missing you. Also, I brought some gems for you but I used them for people who need help. Sorry about that."

"No biggie," says Jesus. "It turns out that, in a way, you were actually travelling with me all that time, and doing my business as well. You may have been the wisest of all the wise men."

"Great!" says the Fourth Wise Man. "That's good news. I'll be sure to spread it around."

Advent Three: Not My Christmas Cartoon

I'm too lazy to draw a Christmas Cartoon, and even if I did I don't have a scanner so you'd have to traipse over here to see it. Nevertheless, here is the script I might have drawn if I could be bothered.

Christmas Cartoon


Three guys, who we may recognise, are walking down a street, passing a highly decorated window.

GUY ONE: ... it's not the commercialism that offends me - Christmas has always been a FEAST day with all the excess and conspicuous consumption that implies - but the crassness of it.
GUY Two: Mmm.
GUY THREE: Quite. "It's Christmas so let's drink Coca Cola and eat pre-made party food - at reduced price!"


The Guys are walking past a huge and very tackily decorated Christmas tree.

GUY ONE: What kind of feast is it with piles of cardboard convenience food bought from the supermarket, shoved in the microwave five minutes before, everyone arrives to eat them in a haze of alcohol, then clears off when we're done?
GUY THREE: What about family, togetherness and celebration? Is sitting in front of some animated film, in a bloated semi-concious state any way for families to enjoy themselves?


The Guys pass a horrible looking Santa's Grotto.

GUY THREE: ...and what about pride, and craftsmanship? Homemade Pudding, roasted vegetables, gravy made from bones and roasting juices...
GUY ONE: And talking of craftsmanship and pride, how about wrapping your own goddamn presents rather than getting the shop to do it? Or maybe even make your own present? Show some love and forethought rather than just go into a shop and pick things off the shelf?


The Guys have arrived at the Carpark, with Christmas Shopping Parking extended to 9pm.

GUY TWO: Gents, I agree with every word that has dropped from your lips. But I have to leave you. See you Christmas Eve.
GUY ONE: Merry Christmas! Looking forward to the Christmas Eve pub crawl!


GUY TWO arrives home, and, still in hat, coat and scarf, turns on the TV.


Two ladies in hotpants appear on the TV. GUY TWO dances around the room, in a frenzy of Christmas delight.

TV (with notes dancing around the words to indicate a song):
Every body come together
It´s a hot hot christmas night
Make you magic last forever
Have a cheeky christmas time

I am of course referencing this silly Christmas song.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Advent Two: TV Chefs

The Good Food Channel has a series of adverts for the latest Hot Point oven on heavy rotation at the moment. Each week chef-presenter Matt Tebbut uses his ingredient of the week to create a recipe that demonstrates one or more features of the oven.

Last week it was oranges, made to create orangey mince pies. He grates some orange zest into mince meat, then makes pies. I had two thoughts:

1. That's hardly a "recipe" at all. What exactly are Hotpoint paying him for?; and

2. I'm definitely trying that.

Advent One: Family Stories

I'm late starting an advent countdown. So rather than talk about it I'll just get stuck in with a family story.

Back in 1914, when my Nan was five, her mother (my Great-Grandmother) made mincepies for all the men of the village who were serving in France at Christmas. My Nan had to help grease the patty pans, and, being five, moaned about it a lot. It seems they did this every Christmas of WWI. Some years later, about the time my Nan got married, she met a man from the village who had received some of the mincepies, and thanked her for them and the reminder of home. As she'd helped, her mother had mentioned her in the notes that had gone with them, and she hadn't known.

It may, or may not, have been this family recipe for mincemeat.