From annuals to zeds: Your ultimate A-Z guide to Christmas

Is it Chris Kringle? Or Kris Kindle? Or just plain old Secret Santa?

Where did Christmas jumpers come from? How did they become so wildly popular? Is there any end to them? Who knows and no.  Photograph: iStock

Where did Christmas jumpers come from? How did they become so wildly popular? Is there any end to them? Who knows and no. Photograph: iStock

 

Are we there yet? Are we there yet? Yes, yes we are. It is time for our occasional Christmas A to Z full of random trivia and the occasional money saving tip.

Annuals: One of the most cheering sights of Christmas is the appearance of hardy annuals on book shelves, in supermarkets and under Christmas trees all over Ireland. We might live in a digital age but it is most heartening to see that our love of colourful books detailing the adventures of the stars of the Beano, the Dandy, Ana and Elsa, the lads from Fortnite and all the rest abides. But where did the notion come from? Well the world’s first annual appeared in 1823 and was called Forget Me Not – and we haven’t. It was aimed not at children but at ladies. The notion caught on almost instantly and by the end of that century, the Boys and Girls Own annuals were selling by the truckload. Comics, TV programmes and films now all come with a side order of annuals.

Boxing Day: We don’t obviously have Boxing Day in Ireland and anyone who uses the phrase is rightly eyed with deep suspicion – but on the off chance you have ever wondered why they do have it across the Irish Sea then today is your day. It is has nothing to do with boxing for starters and not much to do with boxes either. It is called Boxing Day because the day after Christmas was the day the money and gifts left in church by the rich for the poor were dispersed. The presents were left in boxes so, it should, by rights be called unboxing day.

Christ: Is December 25th really the day Mary’s boy child Jesus Christ was born? No. No it is not. The New Testament might not be as long or as dense as the Old Testament but it is still pretty long and pretty dense but at no point anywhere in the good book is the birthday of Christ mentioned. That is because he didn’t have one – or at least not one anyone knew about. In fact it was more than two hundred years after the events chronicled in the bible took place before anyone even suggested December 25th as a day of Christian significance and it wasn’t until 300 years or so after Christ died that the Day of the Nativity was declared to be in December. We were slow to the Christmas party in the part of the world and it wasn’t marked in Ireland until the eighth century. And why December? There are many schools of thought. It may have piggybacked on the Roman holiday Dies Solis Invicti Nati or the day of the Day of the Birth of the Unconquered Sun. Or maybe it was because the Spring equinox of March 21st was the day the world was created. Light was created on the fourth day – March 25th so nine months later is December 25th. What about the Winter solstice? Whatever about the reasons, we should be glad it’s happens when it happens because it breaks up a very long winter.

Deck the halls: This ancient Welsh melody was given English words by a Scottish writer in the 1860s. Little did anyone involved in its complicated birth know it would lead to us all spending the GDP of a small country on illuminations that are brighter than the sun to show the world that we really love Christmas. Oh, and speaking of decorations – and because this is still the Pricewatch page – if you are looking at your decorations this week and thinking they could do with a refresh do nothing right now. Wait until December 27th when all your festive needs for 2022 will be selling for half nothing in all your favourite hardware shops. Yes you will feel ridiculous going to the till but you’ll be the one laughing next November.

Eating: Boy do we do a lot of eating over Christmas. In fact, the average Irish adult will consume over 6,000 calories on Christmas Day alone between the fry, the selection box, the turkey, the ham, the stuffing, the goose-fat soaked potatoes, the buttery sprouts, the gravy and all the other trimmings. Then there is the biscuits and the mince pies (with cream) and the boozy plum pudding and the trifle and the cheese and the chocolates. Down a few glasses of wine, a couple of glasses of Baileys and maybe an Irish coffee and your calorie intake might top 10,000 before you are fit for the bed. That might explain why many people will put on around half a stone over the festive season. Sorry.

Fir versus fake: We all know that buying a real tree is better for the environment than the fake plastic trees that come all the way from China right? Hmm. Or is it? Well the fake plastic tree is more energy intensive to produce than a real one and is not recyclable, so once you are done with it it might languish in landfill for eternity. Real trees can come from down the road and are easily replaced. We did however come across a report from 2019 in this newspaper which said that if a household reuses a plastic tree for five years, it’s carbon footprint will be smaller than a household that buys a real tree every year. So maybe if you have an artificial tree you should keep it for as long as you can. You’ll miss the scent of the pine needles mind you.

Goose: While turkeys arrived in Ireland in the 17th Century it wasn’t until the early years of the last century that they started making a regular appearance at the Christmas dinner table. Before then it was all about the goose. And why was that? Generations past were very utilitarian and while cows, sheep and chickens all had a use year round in the form of wool, eggs and milk, the poor goose was a farm animal that had little year-round value.

Holly: The leaves stand for the crown of thorns Jesus wore while the red berries are the blood he spilled during the crucifixion. Last Christmas we suggested on this very page that it wasn’t the jolliest of symbols. We had no idea our throwaway comment would prompt a stern letter to the Editor that came all the way from Rome. “The joy of Christmas is not simply about the happy story of a baby’s birth, but is a response to God’s light and presence breaking into the most unpromising of circumstances,” Rev Bernard Healy wrote.

He noted that Christ was born “excluded from the usual comforts of home, in a land occupied by a foreign power, and into a family that has been displaced by an inhumane bureaucracy.”

His letter added that one of the “gifts of the Magi is myrrh, a precious substance used in the embalming of corpses [so] from the very beginning, the story of that child points towards the reality of the cross. That doesn’t diminish our celebration, but reminds us that the birth of Jesus is good news precisely because he enters a hostile world to transform the very nature of human suffering and despair from within. If that were not so, then why would we still commemorate his birth 20 centuries later? By capturing this dimension of the Christmas celebration, the holly deserves its privileged place among our decorations.” We won’t argue with that.

Ice: There isn’t much of that at Christmas in Ireland and there is going to be even less of it in the future thanks to climate change.

Jingle bells: Written by James Lord Pierpont, this song was originally performed in September 1857 by an unfortunately black-face minstrel in Boston under the title One Horse Open Sleigh. It was first recorded in the late 1880s and was on its merry way. Bing Crosby and the Andrews Sisters recorded a version which sold more than a million copies in the 1940s. It was the first song played in space and is the most famous Christmas song that has absolutely nothing at all to do with Christmas.

Jumpers: Where did they come from? How did they become so wildly popular? Is there any end to them? Who knows. Who knows and no.

Kris Kindle: Or is it Chris Kringle? Or Kris Kringle? Or Kris Kringel? Or even just plain old Secret Santa? It really depends on where you are in the world. In this part of the world we tend to go with Kris Kindle in Ireland. Whatever it is called, it came from an Austrian gift-giver called Christkind or Christ Child. It is a very economical way of exchanging presents and can be a lot of craic – as long as you don’t get the worst gift giver in your circle in which case it is a pain.

Love: Never mind your jumpers or your presents or your food. Ultimately Christmas is about love and sure what’s not to love about that? Sadly, it is also about money. Few Irish households will have any change out of €1,000 by the time the bells ring out for Christmas Day and many households will have spent a lot more than that.

Mistletoe: The celts reckoned it was symbol of fertility with white seeds which reminded them of semen. The ancient Greeks called it “oak sperm” while Loki – who fans of the Marvel universe might be specially familiar with – played an absolutely hilarious trick on a blind god called Hodur that saw Hodur kill his twin brother Badder with a mistletoe arrow. We’re sorry if all these thoughts cross you mind next time you are standing under the mistletoe with your beloved.

Nog: What the hell is nog – or Eggnog to give it the full name which does not fit in with our A to Z – does anyone really drink it? Well, it is not wildly popular in this part of the world as you know but the Americans seem to love it. It is made of milk, cream, sugar, whipped egg whites; and egg yolks with brandy or whiskey frequently added to it for a bit of kick – sometimes when the booze was added, it became known not entirely appetisingly, as Holiday Sludge. “A glass of holiday sludge, anyone?” Yum. 

O Holy Night: The second song ever broadcast on AM radio. It happened on Christmas Eve 1906 and it was played by a Canadian inventor called Reginald Fessenden. He unwittingly may have started a Christmas Song tradition that is with us still and led ultimately to Christmas FM, a channel we absolutely love.

Presents: There is no getting around the fact that presents are a pretty big deal when it comes to Christmas. In fact more than half of the money we spend over Christmas goes on the things. It’s nice that most of spending is on other people but why is it the case? You can blame or thank Charles Dickens. Over six weeks between October and December 1843 he wrote A Christmas Carol and changed Christmas forever. Without the book we might not say merry or happy Christmas and we might not exchange presents at all. We’d still get the presents from Santa mind you so it is not all down to Dickens.

Queueing: While some winter sales start days before Christmas and others start online on Christmas day, queues still form outside department stores across Ireland on December 26th or 27th. For its many sins, Pricewatch has been in the queues – for work purposes – so is in a position to offer some advice. First, you don’t want to be first in the queue. You don’t want to arrive outside Brown Thomas at 5am on the morning of the big day and stand around on your on for 90 minutes before the next person arrives. Take if from us. There is rarely more than 50 people in any queue when the doors open so if you arrive 10 minutes before the opening time then you should be grand. Wear layers so you can strip off a little in the shops, know what you want and where it is in the shop before Christmas and then get in and get out with all your shopping done before 10am.

Roasted chestnuts: A Christmas fantasy favourite but not one common throughout Ireland. You can find them in some supermarkets and fancy food shops but where you can not find them is in your local park. The Horse Chestnut is the type commonly found lying around there and they are inedible so don’t ever try it.

Stockings: Would you like to know why we have Christmas stockings? You would? Brilliant. Well Santa Claus comes from the North Pole but there are echoes of him in St Nicholas, a wealthy bishop in the fourth century who used to slip presents to poor people in secret. He was inspired to do this after coming across a man with three daughters and no dowries. Good old St Nick dropped a bag of gold down the man’s chimney. They fell into a stocking which had been left to dry. And that is why you hang a stocking at Christmas.

Turkey: We have Edward VII to thank for turkey. At the turn of the last century a turkey cost a week’s wages so it was considered quite the treat and fit for a royal. More than 70 per cent of Irish homes will serve turkey this Christmas even though one in four people are afraid they will cook it wrong and it will make them sick. Things to remember when it comes to turkey – don’t wash it, use a meat thermometer to make sure it is cooked and when you are buying your turkey try not to buy a small one. It might cost less but it is a false economy. The bone structure of a 6.35kg turkey and a 3.2kg turkey is pretty much the same, so all the extra weight on the bigger bird is meat. And you’re tired of eating it over Christmas, stick the rest in the freezer. You’ll be glad of it come the middle of January.

Universal: Christmas is not this. In fact there are dozens of countries where they don’t even get to hear Chris Rea driving home for Christmas even once.

Veganism: According to a recent release from safefood, 8 per cent of Irish Christmas dinners will not have any meat on them this year. While the percentage is small, it is still much higher than it would have been even a decade ago.

Wrapping: Never mind the nativity or even the man in the North Pole, the greatest mystery of Christmas is how some people are born with the capacity to beautifully wrap gifts while others – and we’re talking about ourselves here – can end up putting presents under the tree that look like they have been wrapped by a blind reindeer with only a role of masking tape and a child’s craft scissors to work with. What’s the story there? Is wrapping a skill that is taught - and if so, where are the classes? Is it genetic? What’s going on?

Xmas: A lot of people hate the abbreviation – and they are right too – but we are just delighted to have a meaningful x for a change.

Yultide: For this we can thank the god Odin and the pagan Anglo-Saxon Modranicht who gave us Yule or Yultdide.

Zeds: For many people this is what Christmas Day is all about once the stress of the presents and the dinner is done with.

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