An old man in Scotland calls his son in London the day before Christmas Eve and says, “I hate to ruin your day son but I have to tell you that your mother and I are divorcing; forty-five years of misery is enough.”
“Dad, what are you talking about?” the son screams.
“We can’t stand the sight of each other any longer” the father says. “We’re sick of each other and I’m sick of talking about this, so you call your sister in Leeds and tell her.”
Frantically, the son calls his sister, who explodes on the phone. “Like hell they’re getting divorced!” she shouts, “I’ll take care of this!”
She calls Scotland immediately, and screams at her father “You are NOT getting divorced. Don’t do a single thing until I get there. I’m calling my brother back, and we will both be up there tomorrow.
“Until then, don’t do a thing, DO YOU HEAR ME?” and hangs up.
The old man hangs up his phone and turns to his wife. “That’s Sorted! They’re coming up for Christmas tomorrow and they’re paying their own way.”
Cultures have enjoyed sharing written New Year’s greetings for centuries. The English-speaking ritual of sending holiday cards, however, dates back only to the middle of the 19th century.
Some sources say it originated with Thomas Shorrock, of Leith, Scotland, who, in the 1840s, produced cards showing a jolly face with the caption “A Gude Year to Ye.” a Guid New Year
Credit more commonly goes to Sir Henry Cole, who would later become the first director of London’s Victoria and Albert Museum.
He commissioned an artist to create 1,000 engraved holiday cards in 1843. Cole’s greeting featured a prosperous-looking family toasting the holidays, flanked on both sides by images of kindly souls engaging in acts of charity.
A caption along the bottom read, “A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to You.”
The world’s first commercially produced Christmas card, designed by John Callcott Horsley for Henry Cole in 1843
With advances in printing technology and mail service, the practice of sending commercially produced Christmas cards caught on.
By the 1880s, it was an integral part of the holiday season for many American families as well. In “The Female World of Cards and Holidays: Women, Families, and the Work of Kinship,” Yale anthropologist Micaela di Leonardo explains that the practice thrived amid postbellum industrialization and the demise of the family farm.
As relatives spread out geographically, women assumed responsibility for “the work of kinship” and became caretakers of extended family connections. Christmas cards were a convenient way for them to nurture relationships among their husbands, children, and distant relatives.
As the Christmas card habit took hold, manufacturers rushed to meet demand. Best known was German emigrant Louis Prang, who produced attractive and reasonably priced chromolithographed cards for the mass market. He is often referred to as the father of the American Christmas card.
Not all manufacturers were as concerned with quality. Many of them relied on trite and overly sentimental images to decorate their greetings.
In 1885, The Decorator and Furnisher magazine criticized the industry for its ubiquitous imaginings of “pantaletted young ones” singing in snowstorms and “angels floating in mid-air bearing a baby.
Such tiresome subjects, the article lamented, created “no agreeable sensations.” Also troublesome were the poor production values.
That same year, The Art Amateur magazine faulted a British manufacturer for offering a card that featured the image of a cherub whose head was “too intangibly connected with her body even for a disembodied spirit.”
Industry critics predicted that the American public would soon tire of Christmas cards. But then, in the early 1900s, improvements in image reproduction technology allowed the greeting-card market to surge to new heights.
In 1900, The British Medical Journal applauded a new series of Christmas cards with “platino-panel reproductions” that resembled photographic prints. The variety of subjects featured on the new cards also increased—sporting themes, landscapes, and patriotic drawings of men in regimental uniforms.
Photo: The combination of a well matured and baked dark fruit cake accompanied by slices of crumbly piquant cheese is a rare treat not to be missed.
The poor fruitcake has gotten a bad rap over the past few decades, and not just a cellophane wrap.
People misunderstand its booze-infused density and dank fruitiness, chalking up the decision to give such a gift as nothing more than a misguided antiquated ritual.
But Yorkshire natives will not be dissuaded from enjoying the holiday loaf and, furthermore, from topping the succulent slice with a thick layer of piquant cheese.
In England, a Christmas cake refers to the dried fruit–speckled, rum-soaked round that many other cultures simply call fruitcake. Ideally, the cake is made ahead of time—up to two months—allowing the ingredients to mellow and blend as they receive a regular dowsing of alcohol.
But how did cheese come to accompany the holiday treat?
According to food historian Peter Brears, the creative combo comes from the Victorian era, specifically in Wensleydale, Yorkshire.
Wensleydale is also home to an eponymous cow’s milk (formerly sheep’s milk) cheese that, at the time, was made only during the summer and reached maturity right around the Christmas season.
Folks found that the sharp and crumbly cheese—either perched atop or eaten alongside the cake—paired perfectly with the moist, rich baked good, and a tradition was born.
The Christmas custom has remained mostly a delight confined to Yorkshire, but has become very popular across the border in Scotland
Ireland has bequeathed much to Australia, from the bloodlines of legends such as Ned Kelly, Thomas Keneally and Paul Keating, to cutting those with overinflated egos down to size (aka the tall poppy syndrome), to much of your humour.
But one of the greatest aspects of Irish life – the utter adoration of Christmas – has failed to ever find serious purchase down under.
My first encounter of the great oddness of Christmas in Australia was in Perth in 1992 when I saw schoolchildren wearing synthetic red outfits singing hymns in 30 degree heat.
But at least they were trying. Most people don’t make any effort to get into the spirit of the season.
In Ireland we start celebrating Christmas as soon as Halloween is over, and it doesn’t end until 2 January.
We spend two months meeting people, socialising and properly analysing the year that’s ending and previewing the one to come.
It’s psychologically more beneficial than just going for a swim.
Halloween emerged from Samhain, a pagan Irish festival. They ate, drank and celebrated what they had because the nights were drawing in and there was no guarantee the sun would ever come back as strong as it was just weeks earlier.
People in Australia just don’t love Christmas.
Longtime Sydney mayor Clover Moore was the Christmas Scrooge in 2004 with her “seasons greetings” banners, which John Howard rightly called “political correctness from central casting”. Stung by the criticism, she has been pro-Christmas ever since, and wants Sydney to be a “Christmas destination”. It hasn’t made any discernible difference.
Australians do, generally, send Christmas cards, but they very often write Xmas, which I cannot abide.
The Christian Brothers beat that hatred into me so hard it still gives me shivers when I read it.
And when you complain about someone writing the dreaded word, the Xmas-writer will invariably get all defensive and say the X part comes from the Greek word for Christ.
So either Australia has the world’s highest number of Greek scholars or, just possibly, the highest number of people too lazy to write Christmas.
Photo: Black and white image of a line of men marching around a corner with small old buildings in the background.
What was the Darwin rebellion?
It’s a brave and foolish man who ups the price of beer on Territorians, and an even more unwise one who cuts off their shipment of Victoria Bitter, just before Christmas.
Darwinites have recognised the centenary of the 1918 Darwin rebellion.
The hiking of beer prices was a catalyst for the union uprising outside Government House, where the Administrator John Gilruth was knocked down during the protest.
The rebellion eventually lead to Dr Gilruth being removed from his position, and a shipload of Victoria Beer was finally unloaded in Darwin.
But this was typical of Territory Administrator John Gilruth and his time in office where his heinous moves triggered the Darwin Rebellion of 1918, and eventually saw him driven out of the tropical town for good.
“Gilruth raised the price of beer and put it up to one and ninepence’. Now that’s dear beer, so to speak.” said author Honeywill.
On top of this atrocity, the ever-arrogant Dr Gilruth nailed down his final undoing by refusing to allow the unloading of crates of Victoria Beer from a freighter destined for Singapore.
“And that was enough,” Mr Honeywill said.”The boys were marching, and so they marched in … 700 Darwinites mustered and gathered outside that fence over there … this is where it actually happened.”
Outside his place of residence at Government House the mob angrily demanded Dr Gilruth explain his actions and called for him to step down from his post.
They demanded fairness. Equality. And cheaper bloody beer.
Dr Gilruth was knocked down by protestors, and Government House sustained some damage in the melee.
But calm was eventually restored, and violence gave way to reason.
“Rationality, which is the way in the Territory … rationality between Gilruth [and the union] saw the whole thing dissipate at the end,” Mr Honeywill said.
But the moment marked the beginning of the end for Dr Gilruth — within two months of the rebellion he had received his marching orders from the Commonwealth, stripped of his role and sent back down south.
Christmas is coming and How to Eat is chewing over a mince pie.
But hot or cold? Brandy butter or cream? And does it matter which hand you eat it with?
Mince pies: don’t mess about with them. Photograph: Magdalena Bujak/Alamy Stock Photo
In 1733, the Gentleman’s Magazine carried a short reflection on mince pies – née Christmas pyes – that, among other observations, noted how puritanical Quakers swerved them on the basis that they are an “invention of the Scarlet Whore of Babylon, an Hodge-Podge of Superstition, Popery, the Devil and all his Works”.
Sounds exciting, right?
But, in 2018, the mince pie, lacks that transgressive edge.
We may buy a staggering 370m every Christmas but we also throw a shameful 74m away, indicative of how innocuous they now are.
Any tingle of forgive-me-father-for-I-have-wolfed-four excitement has gone.
Mince pies are mundane. We take them for granted.
Part of the problem is that most shop-bought mince pies are clumsily spiced, collapsing air-pockets of disappointment.
But this is a treat of diminishing returns for other reasons, too.
We routinely abuse the mince pie. We fail to treat it with reverence.
Which is why it is best to read on and learn how best to eat one of Britain’s favourite dishes.