Posts tagged with: Christmas lights

Festive Fun – English Style – Quick Five!

IMG_1839Yes, it’s ‘the most wonderful time of the year’! Only two more sleeps! (Assuming you can sleep on Christmas Eve!)

I know it’s fashionable to be all ‘bah humbug’ about Christmas (or Hannukah/Festivus/Kwanzaa etc), but I really do love this holiday season. From the twinkling lights, the decorated tree and house, the festive food, the cheesy, schmaltzy films to the presents, celebrations and traditions. Speaking of traditions, I thought it would be fun to share with you some our English Christmas traditions.

Because we don’t have Thanksgiving over here in England, the period between Christmas and New Year is extra-special for us. It’s a time when most people try to have a few days off, so they can do the rounds of the family and also chill out!

Also related to not having Thanksgiving, we don’t decorate until the 1st of December at the earliest. And we’re very strict about decorations having to be down by midnight on twelfth night (Jan 5th) – it’s believed to be unlucky. Unfortunately, as we’re away at a new year wedding, we’ll have to take them down on the 6th this year. Hopefully, if it’s still the 5th somewhere in the world, we’ll be okay!

DSC_2272We’re very traditional about our food too. Yes, some people do actually make a point of having goose or try to be different with turducken or beef, but most of us stick with turkey. It’s always served with sage and onion stuffing, bread sauce, brussel sprouts, roasted parsnips and roasted potatoes. Often, there will be added accompaniments like pigs in blankets (little sausages wrapped in bacon) or a chestnut dish and even Yorkshire Pudding. In recent years cranberry sauce has made an appearance on many tables. Most families also have their own traditional extra dish. In our family, it’s cream cheese stuffed mushrooms.

Another one of our traditions is Christmas crackers. We all pull crackers, wear the silly paper hats, share the terrible little jokes  and laugh at the usually useless prize inside. (That’s me pulling a cracker with Doc Cambridge’s dad!)

DSC_0077 - CopyAfter lunch, or as dessert if you have room, there is the flaming Christmas pudding (often with a sixpence or silver treat inside – the person who finds it is very lucky!), Christmas cake and/or mince pies with brandy butter or cream. I’m not one for Christmas pudding, but I love Christmas cake and mince pies. My favourite dessrt, though, is trifle!

In the past, everyone listened to or watched the annual Queen’s Speech. Even those Brits around the world and people in Commonwealth countries would tune in to the BBC World Service, to hear what she had to say. These days, with social media, the internet and everyone needing to have a scoop, the text is available in advance. Also in the past, because we had very few channels, and no videos or DVDs, there would be a battle between the two major stations (BBC and ITV) for the big Christmas blockbuster movie premiere – which was usually at least a year old! These days, everything gets to TV so quickly and there are so many other options available, that the Christmas line-up, while still featuring a movie premier, concentrates more on Christmas specials of favourite shows like Call the Midwife and Downton Abbey, and the evening soaps.

A Perfect CatchMany families also avoid the TV and play board or card games! I find it’s the perfect time to sit down and read a book, uninterrupted except for someone handing you a mince pie or a drink!

And then there is Boxing Day – but those of you who have been with us in the Lair, know all about that! One of my old Boxing Day posts – which includes my famous Boxing Day Soup is here.

So, without further ado, it’s time for you to share your holiday traditions in the special festive edition of Quick Five! As part of the annual 12 Bandita Days of Christmas, not one, but two lucky commenters will win a signed copy of A Perfect Catch – and receive it before it’s released on Feb 1! If you’ve also signed up for my newsletter, you can receive a bonus exclusive Anna Sugden keyring (let me know in your comment).

1. Let’s talk lights – coloured or white, twinkling or static, just on the tree or elsewhere too?

2. Christmas lunch – what do you have and what’s your family’s traditional extra?

3. Christmas dessert or sweet treats – what’s your favourite?

4. Traditional Christmas activity – watch TV, play games or something else?

5. Do you open presents on Christmas Eve, in the morning or in the afternoon? Are you a rip into them all at once, or savour each one carefully? Does everyone open all at once or do you take turns?

Lighten Up the Holidays!

by Donna MacMeans

I imagine by now the gifts are purchased and wrapped, the cookies made and the house decorated – right? Time to kick back and lighten up. Now that the winter soltice has passed, the days are getting longer – did you notice? (grin). Longer days couldn’t come a moment too soon for me. I think I’m one of those people who suffer from sunlight deprivation during the winter.

But I must admit – seeing all the outdoor Christmas lights help. I thought I might share a little history about Christmas lights (what else did you expect for an historical writer?) and some of the lighted homes around my neighborhood. Kudos go to my daughter who hung out the window with the camera as we drove around singing Christmas carols and looking at the lights.

Back in the 1600s, Christmas trees were lit by small candles secured to the branches by bits of wax. The tree didn’t go up until Christmas Eve because it was such a huge fire hazard. I had thought that the tree skirt that wraps around the base of the tree was to hide the unsightly tree stand – but it appears it’s main purpose was to protect the floor from the dripping wax of the candles.

By 1867, a candleholder with a counterweight was used on the trees – but still the threat of fire remained. It wasn’t until 1903 that GE introduced a light bulb string for Christmas trees, but they were so darned expensive, the candles prevailed. But over the years, the lights became more economical. These were what my father used to refer to as “hot lights”. Although they could be used on a tree, they were better for outdoor decorations as they heated up significantly after burning for any length of time. You can still see these on some outdoor decorations.

In 1946, the bubble light was introduced. I love bubble lights! My father always set out a minorah decoration (we’re not Jewish) and topped it with bubble lights. They were so much fun to watch – the precursors of lava lamps (grin). The cat did love to watch (and swat) those bubbles.

In 1950, miniature lights were introduced which didn’t throw off the heat so they were perfect for the tree. Disneyland decided they were perfect for outdoors as well and decorated the parks with them. What Disney does, the world imitates, so now miniature lights, also known as fairy lights, abound.

Have you noticed how many homes are decorated just in white lights? Boring, but practical, but still boring. Our house is done in all white lights – but that’s because I’m in charge of the inside decorating. If I had my druthers, the house would be a color riot – but I must admit I like this house because of the owners sense of humor. Makes me smile whenever I drive by.

The next lighting innovation came in 1998 with strings of icicle lights. I love these as well. They’re available in all colors. When first introduced, I used to see them hanging from rooflines to simulate the real thing. Now, however, they’re used on to decorate trees. Speaking of trees – check this one out. Isn’t it beautiful? I hope they don’t take down the lights for a long, long time.

Sometime in this decade, guard deer were introduced. You know – those prefabricated wire deer covered in lights? Apparently every home must have a pair placed on the front lawn – at least in my neighborhood. Here’s a pair.

This year the innovation is LED lights. These last longer and use less power and come in some pretty amazing colors – especially cobalt blue. I expect these will be more and more common and fairy lights will go the way of “hot lights.”

How about you? Do you decorate outside the house? Do you prefer elegant lighting – lots of colors – or something along the lines of Chevy Chase’s Christmas Vacation? How long do you leave them up? Have you gotten your Christmas shopping done yet? Are you ready for the big day? Don’t forget someone will receive one of my books (their choice) and rooster cookie cutters & mix. So let’s talk all things Christmas… Oh, and Anna, my daughter took this photo of penguins just for you.