The Endurance of ‘A Christmas Carol’

By Robert Douglas-Fairhurst
Illustration by John Leech. Public domain.
On 2 January, 1840, Dickens wrote to his printers, Bradbury and Evans, to thank them for their annual Christmas gift of a turkey.
Four years later, Dickens had written something that possessed still more “astonishing capabilities.” A Christmas Carol in Prose: Being a Ghost Story of Christmas was first published just before Christmas in 1843, and since then it has never been out of print.
Originally written as a tract for the times, this cautionary tale about the ongoing tussle between greed and goodness has been thought of as timely whenever it has been read.
Enjoyed by its first readers as a modern expression of the spirit of Christmas—as modern as Christmas cards, which were sent for the first time in the same year as the Carol’s publication—it has since become popular for quite different reasons: the sense of tradition it is thought to embody, a reminder of the simple pleasures that seem to have been lost sight of in the seasonal scrum of shoppers, an annual invitation to the pleasures of nostalgia.
Reproduced so often, and in so many different forms, it has become as much a part of Christmas as mince pies or turkey, with the key difference that, as Martin Heidegger argued was true of all classic works, it has never been “used up.”
There have been dozens of films, starring everyone from Laurence Olivier and Ralph Richardson to Mr. Magoo and Mickey Mouse, operas and ballets, an all-black musical (Comin’ Uptown, which opened on Broadway in 1979), Benjamin Britten’s 1947 Men of Goodwill: Variations on ‘A Christmas Carol,’ even a BBC mime version in 1973 starring Marcel Marceau.
So regular are the annual returns of the Carol to our stages and screens, in fact, that it has become something like a secular ritual, an alternative Christmas story to its more obviously religious rival, in which the three wise men are replaced by three instructive spirits, and the pilgrimage to a child in a manger is replaced by a visit to the house of Tiny Tim.
Even people who have never read the Carol know the story of Scrooge, the miserable old skinflint who repents after being visited by the Ghost of Christmas Past, the Ghost of Christmas Present, and the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come.
So widely and deeply has this story entered the popular imagination that phrases such as Bah! Humbug! have floated free of their original context and acquired the force of common proverbs, while Scrooge himself has entered the language as a piece of cultural shorthand “used allusively to designate a miserly, tight-fisted person or killjoy” (OED, “Scrooge”). 
Continue reading via Source: The Endurance of ‘A Christmas Carol’

How to eat: Mince Pies.

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.
Merry Christmas!
Now Read On via Source: How to eat: mince pies | Food | The Guardian

2020, Lockdowns & Friends.

 

Alex, Polly Waffle, Jenny, Jude and Me wish you all

A HAPPY AND SAFE CHRISTMAS 2020

What a Year 2020 has been mega bushfires, covid 19, unemployment, grinding poverty and the rich get richer.
AND two times we tried to organise an Old Guv Get Together, only to be torpedoed both times by the virus.
Let’s hope we will be on a winner in March 2021.
T’was a week before Christmas,
And all through the town,
People wore masks,
That covered their frown.
The frown had begun
When a global pandemic
Changed everything.
They called it corona,
But unlike the cigar
It didn’t bring good times,
It didn’t bring cheer.
Air flights were grounded,
Travel was banned.
Borders were closed
Across air, sea and land.
As the world entered lockdown
To flatten the curve,
The economy halted,
And folks lost their nerve.
We rode the first wave,
People stayed home,
They tried to behave.
When August emerged
The lockdown was lifted.
But away from caution,
Many folks drifted.
Now it’s December
And cases are spiking,
Wave two has arrived,
Much to our disliking.
It’s true that this year
Has had sadness a plenty,
We’ll never forget
The year 2020.
And just ‘round the corner –
The holiday season,
But why be merry?
Is there even one reason?
To decorate the house
And put up the tree,
Who will see it,
No one but me.
But outside my window
The sun gently blazes
And I think to myself,
Let’s deck the halls!
So, I gather the ribbon,
The garland and bows,
As I play those old carols,
My happiness grows.
Christmas is not cancelled
And neither is hope.
If we lean on each other,
I know we can cope,
Rob Powell❤💚

The Adoration of the Kings, 1510-15.

Photograph: National Gallery, London
The Adoration of the Kings – Jan Gossaerts (1510-15)
This colourful Christmas tree decoration of an altarpiece was painted for an abbey near Brussels and is evidently not intended to be ascetic.
The Magi who journeyed from the east to give gifts to the newborn Messiah gave wealthy people in Renaissance Europe reason to hope their riches made them virtuous.
Contrary to the early Christian message that it’s easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than a rich man to enter heaven, Gossaerts gratifies the rich by showing how they can use their treasures to adore Christ.
The superb deep blue of the sky, the reddish ruins in which Christ has been born and the green, pink, blue and gold robes of angels and mortals all add to a chromatic carol of joy and jubilation.•
National Gallery, London
Source: Kid-friendly pirates and the sublime side of Anselm Kiefer – the week in art | Art and design | The Guardian

Behold, the most immaculate Gingerbread House ever.

All images courtesy the artist
An ambitious hobbyist, turned accomplished baker, turned cookbook author steps into her crafting niche by creating a decadent holiday castle.
Christine McConnell, expert baker and architecture-savvy aesthete, completes a massive, intricate gingerbread house. Putting in nearly 270 hours of work spread over 20 days, as well as pounds and pounds of icing, McConnell forms an edible chef d’ oeuvre without a single cardboard support in sight.
Fine-tuned with impeccable detail and realistic, epochal design, the creation towers over typical gingerbread houses with its castle-sized proportions and dark, romantic feel.
All of the ingredients required for the artistic creation include “simple stuff you can find at any grocery store,” McConnell shares. “This project was a huge undertaking for me.
I usually try to limit projects to two weeks, but I got so excited about this that I ended up getting a little carried away.”
“I love architecture,” she continues, “always have. When I was ten years old, I had a dream about a weird house and when I woke up, I had to build it out of cardboard and whatever else I could find, so I guess I’ve been fiddling with this sort of thing for a while.

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”Photographs of her edible creations are frequently complimented by the artist wearing her own glamorous fashion designs and deft photo-editing. The artist’s claim to fame bridges many talents, but she’s best known for fashioning astonishing baked goods.
Take a closer look at the gingerbread castle and small accessories, like a chocolate-peppermint reindeer cake and tiny porcupine brownies, which give the composition a new degree of artistry.
McConnell recently released a book of creepy-cute treats accompanied by recipes, entitled Deceptive Desserts.
Christine McConnell shares her recipe for creating your own gingerbread castle in Food.com’s feature of her.
Source: Behold, The Most Immaculate Gingerbread House Ever | The Creators Project

Unusual Christmas decorations from America.

The early Roman celebration of Saturnalia, designed to appease agricultural gods who determined the fate of their crops, included the use of evergreen boughs to decorate homes.
The Druids, Celts and Vikings also used them during their winter solstice ceremonies to signify hope during the seasonal dead zone.So how did the practice morph from humble branches to majestic trees?
Some credit 16th Century Germany for that shift. That’s when small evergreen trees were decorated with candies, apples and berries and used in church plays.
Suddenly, the pagan ritual got a Christian makeover, and the uses of larger and grander trees during the winter season spread across Europe. By comparison, Americans got in on the practice relatively late. It’s believed that the first Christmas trees appeared in German American communities in the early 1800s.
But by and large, 19th century Americans still viewed the holidays as pagan until Britain’s Queen Victoria and her family were sketched standing near a brightly festooned Christmas arrangement in 1846.
Soon after, members of the American elite competed to earn credit for the most lavish displays of holiday splendor.

From there, it was game on for American Christmas. 
Nowadays, it’s hard to imagine getting through a December without encountering at least one form of iconic Christmas image, regardless of your geographic location.
Source: See Christmas decorations around America

Try this for Christmas, Nigel Slater’s Cherry Pie.

Use all cherries if you wish, but the tartness of the blueberries seems to amplify the flavour of the cherries.
The cornflour becomes invisible, but effectively thickens the juices. Serves 6.
For the pastry: plain flour 230g; butter 140g; icing sugar 50g; eggs 1 large yolk, plus another beaten to seal and glaze the pie.
For the filling: cherries 800g; blueberries 200g; cornflour 2 tbsp; lemon 1; caster sugar 100g (plus a little extra).
You will also need a wide-rimmed metal pie plate or tart tin measuring approximately 26cm in diameter (including rim).
Make the pastry: put the flour into the bowl of a food processor, add the butter cut into pieces and process until the ingredients resemble fine, fresh breadcrumbs.
Mix in the icing sugar and the egg yolk. Transfer the mixture to a bowl, then bring the dough together with your hands to form a smooth ball.
Wrap the dough in parchment or cling film and refrigerate for 20 minutes.
Stone the cherries, put them in a mixing bowl then add the blueberries and the cornflour. Finely grate the lemon, add it to the cherries, then cut the lemon in half and squeeze the juice. Sprinkle the juice over the fruit and add the sugar.
Tumble the fruit, cornflour, juice, zest and sugar together and set aside.
Place an empty baking sheet in the oven, then preheat to 200C/gas mark 6. Cut the pastry in half. Roll out one half to fit the base of the pie plate, then lower on to the pie plate, leaving any overhanging pastry in place.
Spoon the filling into the dish, leaving a bare rim of pastry around the edge. Brush the rim with a little beaten egg.
Roll out the remaining pastry and place it over the top of the tart, pressing firmly around the rim to seal. Trim the pastry.
Brush the surface with beaten egg, pierce a small hole in the middle to let out any steam, then sprinkle the pie lightly with caster sugar.
Bake for 25-30 minutes, on the heated baking sheet, until golden.
Source: Nigel Slater’s cherry pie and cake recipes | Life and style | The Guardian

Artworks that define Christmas.

Winter Landscape by Caspar David Friedrich (1811)
Image Credit: Photograph by Corbis

See more Artwork via The 15 artworks that define Christmas – in pictures | Art and design | The Guardian

“A Beery Christmas”.

A Beery Christmas

Photo: Don’t forget to right click to view larger format.
Those Monotype blokes loved their Christmas parties didn’t they, but where is the BEER? and Who put that sign up?
The answer is the Overseer said, “No beer to be shown in photos!” And the weak bastards copped it…
Now you can have lots of fun trying to guess who’s in this photograph apart from Paul Korff (in the front, as always) and standing next to him a grinning Kevin (Danny Kaye) McBride.
See how many you can get…
Photo courtesy of the Korff Family.

Christmas Black Cake.

If you’re someone who can’t wait to plan Christmas every year, it’s never too early to start preparing the Caribbean holiday treat known as black cake.
To make this dessert, islanders soak dried fruit in rum and cherry brandy for up to a year before baking.
After British colonists introduced plum pudding (which is more like cake than it sounds) to Caribbean islands, locals adapted the recipe with available ingredients.
Black cake may be a far cry from the original pudding or its cousin, fruitcake, but it does include a combination of cherries, raisins, prunes, currants, and dates.
Where traditional fruitcake makers leave the pieces of soaked fruit intact, black cake bakers pulverize them into a sweet paste.
The finished product is a rich, smooth cake that may be iced, but more often stands alone.
Regional flavors punctuate the uniquely Caribbean confection. A combination of extracts, called “mixed essence,” adds notes of vanilla, almond, and pear (though on Trinidad, home of Angostura, recipes may use bitters and vanilla).
A homemade burnt-sugar syrup called “browning” contributes a caramel flavor. And the rum-soaked fruit offers a bit of bittersweetness.
The New York Times describes the resulting cake as “darker, deeper and altogether more absorbing” than its fruitcake relatives.
Families across the islands and their relatives in the United States—especially in New York—reserve baking and eating black cake for Christmas.
Whoever’s making black cake bakes only a few, so giving one is a deeply affectionate gesture. Someone devoted months of preparation and more than four hours of baking to each cake, along with lots of love, liquor, and expensive fruit.
Digging in should make you feel like a slice of the sweet itself—warm and more full of rum than you appear.Need to KnowSome Caribbean and West Indian establishments sell black cakes during the holiday season.
If you’d like to try your hand at making black cake, but don’t have year-old, booze-soaked fruit at home, fret not—many recipes say three days of soaking works just fine.
Source: Black Cake – Gastro Obscura