Why You’re Using Umbrellas Wrong

Recently a student was trying to think of the word umbrella. They knew the French word (parapluie), but that didn’t help them to remember or figure out what the English word is. And as I thought about the word umbrella, I completely understood why: it actually has nothing to do with rain at all.

Continue reading

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

The Many Names of St. Nicholas

Who’s going to be coming down your chimney tomorrow night, sack of gifts in tow? Santa Claus? Santy? St. Nick? Or perhaps Father Christmas?

The most common name for the chap is of course Santa Claus, which comes from the Dutch Sinterklaas, in turn derived from St. Nicholas. A Greek bishop working in Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey), he became famous for a secret habit of gift-giving. Also, because of the many miracles associated with him, he also became known as Nikolaos the Wonderworker, and it’s a shame that name hasn’t remained popular. Continue reading