Christmas Crackers

I was looking at some Christmas crackers today (it’s Christmas), and I realised how the word cracker can be used to refer to very different things. There are Christmas crackers, but then there are also crackers you can eat with cheese, and something that you generally think is great can be described as a cracker).

Before I go any further, I’ve just thought to myself that Christmas crackers aren’t really popular in the United States (I couldn’t even find a picture of one in WordPress’ free-picture library, so I went with the cute dog instead), and as about half of you reading this are from that part of the world, I should explain what they are. They look like this: Continue reading


It’s Christmas!

Well, I’m actually writing this on the 22nd (and doing some final edits on the 23rd), so I can have a few days off, but you know what I mean. I already covered lots of Christmassy topics last year, so if you’re interested in that, have a look. Today, I want to write a little bit about a simple but mysterious Christmas plant: mistletoe.

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Mince Pies

It’s Christmas Eve, and many of you, especially in the UK and Ireland, will be enjoying some mince pies today. If you’re unfamiliar with these delicious treats, they’re little sweet pies with a filling of dried fruit, jam, and spices. But no minced meat. What’s up with the name then?

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Little Christmas

In most Christian traditions, today is the last day of Christmas. The most common name for this day is The Epiphany (meaning a moment of sudden realisation or revelation). It’s so called because it was believed to be the day that Jesus revealed his divinity, when the three magi arrived to see him.

As well as religious celebrations, the day is marked in different ways around the world. If you’re lucky enough to be Spanish or Italian, you might get extra gifts on 5th or 6th January. Despite the various traditions throughout Continental Europe though, in the UK and Ireland, we don’t do too much to celebrate the end of Christmas, unless you count taking down the tree and decorations. For most people here, the Christmas period lasts until New Year’s Day, and then life for most people goes back to normal. At least when I was a child the school holidays didn’t end until the 6th (although that changed a few years ago) and I could still enjoy the first few days of January playing with my new toys, though there was always a creeping dread as it got closer to going-back-to-school time.

In the past though, the Epiphany was quite a big deal. Continue reading

Turkey: International Bird of Mystery

Since most of us probably won’t be eating it for another 11 or 12 months, I think it’s time to give the turkey its due before we forget about it again.

The word turkey (used to refer to the bird) has a surprisingly convoluted etymology. And no, it’s not a coincidence that it’s also the name of a country… Continue reading

Boxing Day

Today is Boxing Day, traditionally a day of extreme rest for those who celebrate Christmas, due to the exhaustion caused by the previous day’s eating, drinking, and resting. Unless you’re one of those simply awful people who get up at 5am to queue for the stock that clothes shops couldn’t sell during the year, now reduced in price. Then it’s probably quite a tiring day, but that’s your fault, isn’t it? For the rest of us it’s a day for watching Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory or Raiders of the Lost Ark, and eating Quality Street and turkey & ham sandwiches. Continue reading