December 31, 2002
As ‘02 becomes ’03 it is that time of year when those with resolve plan their resolutions for the coming year. My Brother-in-Law Pearse pointed out, quite correctly, that resolutions are unless quantifiable, totally useless. This may be the time of the year to own a fitness center as the customers plough through the doors in droves, yet somehow the sparkle will be deeply tarnished before Easter.
Others simply write about the roller coaster year endured, personally, professionally, economically, nationally, or internationally. I guess I fall into this grouping accurately.
Many observed 12 months ago that somehow 2001 was a short year. Anything prior to September 11 somehow seemed to be removed as unimportant or trivial to be noted in any round up of the year. Personally it did seem difficult to recall events prior to that fateful day and with the year end celebrations dulled in comparison, it seemed to be the right thing this time last year to watch the new year on television as the crystal ball dropped over Time Square the heart of New York.
’02 has been bitter-sweet across America and the UK, uncertainty, change, armed conflict and loss have more than balanced national celebrations.
It seems more than a year but is a scant eleven months since the Winter Olympics. Have you forgotten the anger over the vote rigging in the figure skating? Gold, Silver and Bronze medals were eagerly won in an Olympic meeting that for a couple of weeks diverted attention away from terror attacks, yet I recall that Peter Jennings, one of the main US network news anchors, was in Salt Lake City, just in case their was any terror related news stories to cover. Frankly I do not care for this newsman or others reporting on rival channels that place their egos and personal opinions above fact and straightforward reporting.
Close to Easter the Queen Mother passed into the spiritual world. An icon of everything that was right with Great Britain and the Monarchy at 102 years young she will be sadly missed. With the death of Princess Margaret and the Golden Jubilee celebrations the House of Windsor had a year that through loss restored to a greater degree the pride and patriotism that had waned for many years by the Queens subjects. The Golden Jubilee was a shadow of the celebrations 25 years ago, yet the British resolve shone through, in street parties, across the land and the commonwealth.
Frivolously we almost lost President George W. Bush, to a pretzel. The White House has been the center of tough decisions and a rod of iron to the American people. The mid-term elections in November riding on a high level of support for G.W. returned the house and the senate to the Republican party, while some may argue that this is bad for the country, I say that at this time, this is exactly what the country needs.
Far more seriously we loss many brave servicemen in the War on Terror. Even today, it may take some while for full facts to filter into the public domain. Yet we must not forget that on a foreign field, floating on a far away sea and flying through distant skies the allied armed forces are under attack on a daily basis.
Personally it is not been the easiest of years, but there have been plenty of high points that I wish to share with my readers.
The concept of blogging to me twelve months ago was very much an unknown quantity. My brother-in-laws through their pages encouraged me to have a go myself, and London Chimes is the result.
Over the last few months I have taken time to look at other personal blog sites to find some that are clever, intelligent, thought provoking and well written, to others that simply do not measure in any of these categories.
“London Chimes” has provided me with a soapbox to explore some very different topics that I have written in other mediums. Looking back through the archives I have surprised myself at the breath of topics that have been covered. I never had a game plan with London Chimes, it replaced my email bulletins to family and friends that typically reported on “Friend in America”, replacing Potterings from Philly and Friend Flashes.
I have had the opportunity to read more international news, perspectives not only from Great Britain and the USA, but Australia, Asia, Finland, Japan and Iraq to name but a few. We all live on this planet called Earth, with the technology available to us today, personal communication and news searches are but a fingertip away. Earth is a very small place with a growing on-line community.
London Chimes is not a year old; trolling through those archives Blogger has saved allowed me to get a flavor of those news stories that have molded this web page into what it has evolved into. There are two postings that mean a great deal to me personally were those in November relating to Thanksgiving and The 1940’s House.
Early postings related to treasure hunt stories that had a common theme of being sunken around the globe, from the North Sea to far off captivating places off the coastline of South America.
Growing up during the space race and the Apollo moon landings, while the event of a rocket or shuttle launch barely attracts much media coverage, I did note that a British Astronaut steps into Space.
This year the House of Commons argued on the proposed reduction in voting age in the UK to 16. With the majority of voters now over 40, this move if approved would go some measure to ensuring Labor continue to remain in power and breed new voters for life. I recall having very strong opinions against this proposal.
Last November I reported political arguments against Prime Minster Blair, including the lack of financial support to the Falklands Vets wanting to travel to the islands for the 20th anniversary services.
It has been few difficult months for Tony Blair, with a number of high profile industrial actions that needed government intervention. London Chimes reported on the lead up to the first of the nationwide Fireman strikes
In August marked the 39th anniversary of The Great Train Robbery, compared with crimes committed today this gang were an organized bunch of pussycats. Yet in the early 60’s they were division one villains. Without using guns they stopped and robbed a mail train. The story is almost folklore.
Trains were a common theme, the Potters Bar Rail disaster in my old hometown, hit the headlines internationally. Researching the subject further we found a history of rail disasters in the UK including the first in 1830.
Unbeknown at the time there was a threat of terror attacks on the London Underground, in the days prior to the posting the security services had arrested and detained an individual on this very charge. Subsequently plans were not advanced but it would seem there were plans.
I was appalled at the endless reports of how unprepared the UK is following a terror attack using weapons of mass destruction. Similar in the USA that prompted me to write a letter to President George W. Bush. The media are not doing anyone any favors providing intelligence to our common enemy on which targets are soft, unprepared etc. in the event of a major terror attack. The thought of our common enemy buying this intelligence for 40 pence at the newsagents frankly leaves me cold. In WW2, there was a saying “Loose Lips sink Ships”. Have Fleet Street (or wherever they are located these days not learned a thing?)
For a while in the autumn we looked over shoulders for white vans with ladder racks as The Washington Sniper Investigation as the bullets continued to fly.
Internationally I had something to say on the German elections and on the subject of Germany bad weather, the terrorist attack in Bali, the terrorist attack in the theatre in Moscow, the bomber in the shopping complex in Finland days before Bali. The Monarch Gun Rampage in Australia, the residents of Gibraltar voting on their wish to remain under the sovereignty of Great Britain, the final voyage of Calypso, Jacques Cousteau’s famous vessel and Death by stoning in Nigeria, weeks before the Miss World competition.
Time and time the War on Terror, Bin Laden postings were written on more than a couple of occasions. Topped off by more than a couple of reviews of favored television programs and film releases.
My personal highlights of the year were spending my 39th Birthday in Disneyland, Orlando. It only took some thirty years to get there, but to be there on my birthday made a very special magical day. During my visit to Florida, I had the pleasure to meet for the first time my new nephew Theo, son of my wife’s sister Tabitha and her husband, my brother in law Chris. Every year I attempt to top of the previous year with something completely new. Disneyland, as early as February was a wonderful weekend and honestly could not be topped for the remainder of the year.
A very close second would be spending the time with my parents who visited us since our move to the USA. We packed a great deal into the time they were here all of it was very special.
Third but not last would be the trips to the shore, with my wife and mom-in-law in April to find a holiday home for the summer, the trip to Long Beach Island in the summer and tonight spending new years eve at the shore.
Over the years I have celebrated New Years Eve with family, with friends, at parties including a Millennium Party that was wonderful in Potters Bar, pub-crawling around the pubs of Hampstead (when I was much younger), a Chinese restaurants dressed in a tux, but never at the shore.
Here is to the ringing in of 2003. God bless the New Year and health, wealth and prosperity to us all.
Feedback always invited, please email me.
December 28, 2002
Greetings and I hope that you have all recovered from the excess of Christmas Day and in those parts Boxing Day too.
The opportunity to unplug from the news for the best part of a week has helped me focus on that which is truly important to me, my family and my friends. Since my last posting I can happily report that my dear friend Nick and his wife Jo are the happy and proud parents of a little girl that they have named Jessica. Congratulations to them all and to Katie.
On reflection it has been a great Christmas for many reasons. Not least in these here parts it was truly white as the snow flakes fell in the late hours of Christmas Eve and two snowfalls one early and one in the mid afternoon turned the stark winter landscape into a winter wonderland.
At this time of year Battersea Dogs Home in South London frequently is visited by the media looking for the sad puppy or shaggy dog story to sign off their news reports of the day. Typically there are plenty of pet filled stories to pad out the internet news pages one here for those who wish to read.
The positive message from Battersea this year is that overall, it was a good year for the home as they took in less abandoned dogs than they have for the last four years.
This posting is short and sweet as I am currently writing a post to bring the year to a close for posting in the next day or so.
Feedback always invited, please email me.
December 23, 2002
Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, they were greatly afraid. Then the angel said unto them, “Do not be afraid, for behold I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you: you will find a babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying:
“Glory to God in the Highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men!”
Spending Christmas in the company of my wife Taney is one of the best joys of the season. We both love this holiday as much as each other. We continue to establish our traditions that start on Christmas morning with a full English Breakfast. Taney’s love and affection cannot be wrapped in paper, or tied up with a bow, but is without question the best gift she continues to give me day after day.
Christmas for the extended “Friend Family” scattered around the world will be different for a number of reasons:
My parents are moving in January from the home that has hosted all but a couple of family Christmases. My cousin Elizabeth her husband Russell and daughter Stella, have extended an invitation to them and my Nana to go join them for Christmas dinner. Around the table will be her brother Anthony, wife Caroline and daughters Jessica and Laura together with her mother, my Aunt Barbara. This is a wonderful gesture, our Gran, bless her, who for so many years gathered the family together for Christmas each year I am certain is smiling over her shoulder in the kitchen on this Christmas Day.
Since my Brother and his family moved to South Wales, this will be the first Christmas without other members of the Friend Family being with them on Christmas Day. Nevertheless, with Hannah and Dan, my niece and nephew I am certain they will have a wonderful Christmas Day.
For my Aunts family in British Columbia, this will be the first Christmas that my cousin Brent will celebrate with his new wife Farrah.
Closer to my US home, my in-law family will be celebrating some firsts this Christmas too.
My Brother-in-law, Mac, his wife Gill, their sons Glenn and Tommy will celebrate their first Christmas with their new daughter Siobhan, born earlier this year.
My Sister-in-law, Tabitha, her husband Chris and their son Theo, will celebrate their first Christmas in their new home following their move closer to the rest of us from Florida.
My Brother-in-law, Scott, his wife Nicole, will celebrate their first Christmas in their new home.
Giving thought to my friends who live overseas, at this time, one of my best friends Nick his wife Jo is full term in her pregnancy that would provide a the wonderful Christmas gift of a host of hopes and dreams for both of them and a playmate brother or sister for their daughter Katie.
I have enjoyed the build-up to Christmas this year above any other that I can recall. I look forward to spending time with the remaining family members, Pearse, Brittany, my Father-in-law, Mom-in-law and Grandmere, during Christmas Day.
This is one time of the year being an ex-pat is difficult, not being able to celebrate with all of those that you love. However wherever you are, close or far, I will quietly lift a glass on Christmas Day to all my family and friends to wish you all a very merry and bright, Happy Christmas.
London Chimes will be back after Boxing Day!
Feedback always invited, please email me.
December 22, 2002
I am breaking with the "seasonal" entries today after unearthing a nugget of sorts on the BBC from the English Tourisum Council. First, the ETC do not have any reference to this story on their own web page and therefore I am a little suspect at the true origins (even for the Beeb). Secondly, I love that millions of visitors flock to dear old Blighty every year as a vacation destination. Despite the following report, please, please keep on visiting.
Tourist information centres have dealt with a flood of quirky - and sometimes strange - questions this year.
The English Tourism Council has released a list of inquiries asked in its centres around England.
They include gems such as: "Is Dorking something English people do?"
Of course the ancient tradition of Dorking is a punishment handed down by the local judge for committing such offences in Scotland as keeping wild haggis. The punishment, the Dorking, involves being blindfolded and tied a a chair and dunked in the local village duck pond. The expression Dorking, comes from the dialect in the South West where the expression ducking, sounds very similar to dorking.
Other classics have been "Can I change my English currency into Scottish currency?"
When you arrive in Scotland ask any local to exchange your currancy for you. The bank notes issued by the Royal Bank of Scotland look similar to those used in England. But you will find the exchange rate 50 Scottish pence to the English pound a reasonable rate.
"What time does the Lake District open?"
The gates are opened at a sunrise, a horn or whistle will be sounded 15 minutes before sunset to allow you time to leave by any of the exits before the gates will be shut by the district keepers.
One visitor to the Carlisle visitor centre in Cumbria wanted staff to point out on the map "exactly where the Scottish accent stops and the English accent starts".
Hadrians Wall was built to keep the Scots from invading England centuries ago. This physical barrier, the wall is the dividing line that marks the southern plum BBC broadcasting acccent and the Scottish dialect spoken at a rapid rate. On the hour every hour at designated points along the wall an Englishman and a Scotsman will meet, shake hands and engage in a conversation for the entertainment of those present.
Another member of staff at a centre in Tamworth, Staffordshire, was asked: "Could you give me a list of garages selling petrol between Windsor (in Berkshire) and Stoke-on-Trent?"
The success of the recent introduction of the motor vehicle into the United Kingdom has outpaced the infrastructure around the country in the smaller towns and villages. When venturing more than 10 miles from Central London, (Charing Cross), you are advised to fill you fule tanks at any one of the gas stations in London. Ensure that you carry extra tanks of fuel if you plan to venture to Windsor, perhaps to see the Castle, to ensure you have enough gas for the return journey.
"What time do UFOs fly, where can we sit and watch them and would it be all right to take a picnic?"
The taking of your own food and beverage is forbidden when watching the UFO's. The UFO's are very timid and fly faster than the human eye can perceive, please keep your voice to a low murmur not to upset them.
"I understand there is a gorilla breeding establishment somewhere in the south of England. Please could you tell me where it is because I want to take my wife as a surprise?"
The south of England is a small area and if you park in Horsham town center. The gorilla's are bred within a short walking distance from the town center. There small facility is located between Portsmouth and Ramsgate and is within easy walking distance. You are suggested to take a large bag of 20p coins to cover your parking meter charge before you leave you car unattended.
"How many fish are there in the sea?"
Well that depends, are you refering to the silver ones or only those that have gills?
Other howlers that defy comment are " Where do I get the topless bus from? " and
"What day is the New Year's Day parade on?"
Warning: The answers given in this blog entry are not the truth, (sadly) not matter how much you truly want them to be.
Please keep on visiting Blighty and ask as many questions as you want!
Feedback always invited, please email me.
December 21, 2002
The advent calendar clearly indicates that we are only a few short days to Christmas.
Yet today is December 21, 2002 and there is a question to if this is the shortest day of the year, or simply the offical start of winter, or simply the commercial calendars around our house are incorrect. On a Saturday morning with little else to worry about (for a change), I decided to dig a little further.
The winter solstice is the shortest day of the year, respectively, in the sense that the length of time elapsed between sunrise and sunset on this day is a minimum for the year.
Mathematica application package Scientific Astronomer, which is accurate to within only an hour or so, and in practice gives times that differ by up to 15 minutes from those computed by the U.S. Naval Observatory (which computes December 22, 1999 at 07:44 UT instead of 07:32 UT and December 21, 2000 at 13:37 UT instead of 13:23). Places the winter solstice at 01:01 (1 hour and 1 minute) after midnight on December 22 in the Greenwich time zone.
Interesting facts and figures and graphs can be found at this link.
The Weather Channel informs me that Winter begins tonight at 8:14 p.m. EST. For those that are really interested the average time the sun rose here this morning was 7:19am, (shame I missed the event zzzzzzzz) and will set at 4:38pm.
Well in this world of checks and balances, if it is the shortest day here, then somewhere well south of here they are partying the day away celebrating the longest day. From Australia, (where else) comes this wonderful seasonal news story.
Santa cleared to fly over Australia
SANTA has been given the all-clear for Australian airspace on Christmas Eve. Transport Minister John Anderson said Santa had been fully briefed about changes in the national airspace system since his flight last Christmas. And it appears Rudolph the reindeer will lead Santa this year, in a bid to comply with aviation lighting rules. "I am pleased to confirm that Santa will be able to operate in Australian airspace as normal," Mr Anderson said in a statement. "However, the briefing was complicated by a disagreement about the navigation lights carried by the sleigh." Mr Anderson said civil aviation regulations require all aircraft to carry red, green and white navigation lights. But Santa's elves had complained the lights would distract the reindeer. "One of the reindeer, Rudolph, has a very shiny nose," he said. "The Civil Aviation Safety Authority has therefore directed that Rudolph must lead the sleigh on Christmas Eve." Mr Anderson said as there had never been a complaint about low-flying sleighs and reindeer, Santa had been cleared to operate through the Adelaide, Coolangatta and Sydney airport curfew hours.
Once again confirmation that if the government of Australia recognizes Santa, then who has the right to dispute the fact.
Continuing the theme of the Friend Family Christmas Traditions for the moment, yesterday (Friday) Taney & I attended the Bryn Athyn Church School Christmas Program. Part of the ceremony is the official hand over of the toys that have been collected within the community to the US Marine organized “Toys for Tots”.
This time last year the Christmas Program was held in the shadow of dark days following 9/11. The Marines were given a standing ovation by the adults and the older children and were saluted by the younger children with a special song they had learned that made the toughest soldiers in the world choke up and get more than a little misty-eyed, that was last year.
Yesterday the Marine representation was down to 2, both veterans of the Bryn Athyn Children’s love and affection. They graciously accepted the truckful of toys and told the assembled audience that their colleagues this year were “somewhere in south western Asia”.
Given the recent news of the material breaches from Iraq, and the talk from PM Blair to the troops today to be prepared. Uncertain times may lie ahead, yet let us not forget the brave men and women in the armed forces of the allied countries will celebrate their holiday season standing by to do what is deemed necessary.
Returning to the Christmas Program, each child from Kindergarden through to 8th Grade perform with their year to the rest of their school, parents, family and friends from Bryn Athyn. While some of the songs change each year some remain the same; Kindergarden perform the 12 days of Christmas, complete with the actions. The 3rd Grade enter by candelight singing “How far is it to Bethlehem” and the whole Primary Grades sing “Oh Tell me Gentle Shepherd”. The fourth graders grabbed my attention with a medley including “All I want for Christmas (is my two front teeth)”. Wonderful.
This performance marks the last day of school for the children before the Christmas break. The whole school is very much in the mood of the season and I for one feel privileged to be a witness to something so sweet and innocent.
This year as I have mentioned before I have been “in the mood of Christmas” since the start of the month. Yesterdays program is the top up tonic to see me through the next week, as other matters are placed on the back burner and “the season” takes front and center in the family priorities.
My Beltway Brother in Law sent the following email out to the family this week bringing to our attention the comical perspective of Dave Barry on the season and Christmas Carols, sorry Holiday Music – read on and enjoy. Link here.
I bring your attention to his 2002 Gift Guide for the man/woman/husband/wife/significant other who has everything. Link here.
To my readers I offer a question: Would you say you have received more, less or about the same number of Christmas Cards this year as previous years?
In our household, the number is very much down on 2001, and other families we know seem to have noticed the same thing. I would be very interested to hear from other readers on their opinions.
Have a wonderful weekend.
Feedback always invited, please email me.
December 18, 2002
The annual Glencairn Sing did not disappoint the packed Great Hall last night. The two hour musical feast again raised the bar in the performances that were given.
Personally the performance by the ANC chamber Choir, and their rendition of "Joy to the World", young Britta Genzlinger singing So Sweet and Clear, with the audience joining in the chorus were a delight to hear.
My favorite of the evening had to be Hannah Jin Cole on violin and her husband Ian Cole on Guitar. It is often said that the violin speaks to you. The grace of the bow and the sweet music filling the great hall it was if the notes themselves lifted off the music sheet and danced over the heads of the audience.
In particular, Romance in G Major, Opus 40 by Beethoven was totally captivating.
As for the Philadelphia horns, well what can I say, it would not be The Glencairn Christmas Sing without the horns. The audience too were in full voice last night when the carols were sung. Truly this is one of the few occassions where the audience not only sing, but are familiar with the musical parts, not simply the melody, and there combined voices drowned out the accompanying piano.
A wonderful evening.
This posting has been updated, for some reason, and apologizes to those who picked up of the typo of GLENcairn.
Feedback always invited, please email me.
December 17, 2002
Not that my seasonal spirit is waning, but if it was a real top up would be our annual trip to Glencarin.
To hear the Philadelphia horns alone are enough to make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up.
The first "Christmas Sing" concert was held at Glencairn in 1937. One attendee reported that "...during the intermission, Mr. Pitcairn spoke of the delight which it gave him and Mrs. Pitcairn to have the first use of their new home associated with the peace and happiness of Christmas time, and extended a most gracious welcome to us all." Glencairn Museum extends that same welcome in 2002, at Glencairn's 65th Christmas celebration. Soloists, audience caroling, and performances by members of the Philadelphia Orchestra horn section promise to make this, another memorable holiday experience.
Feedback always invited, please email me.
December 16, 2002
Christmas is a time for giving, a time for charity and being charitable.
When I lived in the UK, for many years Brent Cross, near Hendon in North London was my preferred shopping destination rather than heading into the West End. I have many happy memories of the ornamental fountains being switched off this time each year. To be replaced with a huge Christmas tree around the base from which would be choirs and bands would singing and playing, as shoppers would contribute to their respective charities.
Certainly a great difference from inside the malls in the US where the spirit of charity falls low of this standard.
Today I contacted Tom Nathan the Commercial Director at Brent Cross following reading reports that the tradition of charity had been replaced this year by the tradition of profit. I thank him for his prompt reply and given the readership of London Chimes wanted to share a few facts.
Sadly the press, being the press, (worse still the local press) never letting the facts get in the way of a juicy seasonal news story. To their news desk staff Brent Cross is an easy target and simply a way to fill the few pages they have each week. However the press should be careful, as their colleagues in the advertising department may be concerned from the potential whiplash effect on their revenue that the papers so much count on. Brent Cross and the companies in the center I am certain have been to this point good customers to them.
Tom Nathan has kindly unraveled the lies from the truth and the discarded lies provide a mountain of misrepresentation of the facts.
Brent Cross continues to keep up the traditions I remember. This Christmas they have hosted 15 school choirs, 7 charity choirs/orchestras and charity collections every other day. The Salvation Army Band was playing at Brent Cross yesterday December 15, and will be playing at Brent Cross again next Sunday December 22, just the thing to enhance the mood and feeling of the season. If you are like me on the quest for the perfect gift in the evening, Brent Cross is also providing live music every evening till Christmas on the center stage, at around 7p.m.
I fully support organizations like the senior managers at Brent Cross for their continued all-year-round support working with the community and the community groups that there extended family of stores and restaurants provide a service to.
Christmas would not be Christmas without a Grotto at Brent Cross. Tom Nathan’s email reports, “To put the records straight, the grotto is a loss making operation to Brent Cross, although not to the company who runs it. The management at Brent Cross continue to be happy to fund this to entertain the thousands of children and parents as part of celebrating Christmas”.
I thank Tom Nathan for his quick response to my email to him today and wish him his team and all the folks at Brent Cross a wonderful happy holidays. The final word I leave to Mr. Nathan who I am certain will leave a warm holiday feeling in anyone who has ever doubted the motive of profit and commercialism over sprit and charity within the major shopping centers and malls worldwide. In this specific case Brent Cross.
“We hope the spirit of Christmas is alive and thriving here and no not always for our profit!”
Feedback always invited, please email me.
From my occassional busines trips to the South and South West, I have a great deal of respect for the Mexican-American community. Certainly in the last couple of years I have been given an opportunity to start to understand their seasonal traditions.
Found on a web page through google, without the author offering their details, I offer the following extracts.
Christmas for Mexicans, in traditional homes and rural areas, is a religious holiday. It is a celebration of the Nativity. This means the birthday of Our Lord Jesus. In order to prepare for the day of symbolic commemoration, we have the "Posadas". These celebrations are a "Novena" or nine days before the 24, which is the "Noche Buena" or "Holy Night".
These Posadas are an enactment of looking for lodging of St. Joseph and Virgin Mary, called The Pilgrims going to Bethlehem for the Census according to the Scriptures. In Spanish we called them: "Los Peregrinos, San José y la Virgen María". Each family in a neighborhood will schedule a night for the Posada to be held at their home, starting on the 16th of December and finishing on the 24th on Noche Buena.
Every home will have a Nativity scene. The hosts of the home are the innkeepers, and the neighborhood children and adults are Los Peregrinos, who have to request lodging through singing a simple chant. All carry small lit candles in their hands and four teenagers of about the same height are chosen to carry Los Peregrinos, which are two small statues of St. Joseph leading a donkey, which Virgen Mary is riding sidesaddle. The head of the procession will have a candle inside of a paper lamp shade that looks like an accordion but open at the top and it is called a "Farolito" or little lantern.
The Peregrinos will ask for lodging in three different houses but only the third one will allow them in. That will be the house that is supposed to have the Posada for that evening. Once the innkeepers let them in, the group of guests comes into the home and kneels around the Nativity scene to pray the Rosary. The Rosary is a traditional Catholic prayer, which consists of the following prayers: 50 Hail Mary, 5 Our Father , 5 Glory and the Litany, which is a series of Praises for the Virgin Mary, plus singing traditional songs like Holy Night in Spanish of course!
After all the prayer is done, then it comes the party for the children. There will be a Piñata, (pronounce Pignata, for it has an ñ instead of an n), filled with peanuts in the shell, oranges, tangerines, sugar canes, and seldom wrapped hard candy. Of course, there will be other types of chants the children will sing while the child in turn is trying to break the Piñata with a stick while he/she will be blindfolded.
Although the Piñata was originally from Italy, it has become a Mexican tradition for celebrations where there are children involved. The Piñata was made out of a clay pot and decorated with crepe paper in different colors. Today's piñatas are made out of cardboard and paper mache techniques and decorated with crepe paper. This change was made to prevent the children from cutting their hands when going for the fruit and candy when the Piñata was broken and the clay piece would become a hazard. They have all kinds of designs besides the traditional star.
For the adults there is always "Ponche con Piquete"(sting), which is a hot beverage or "Punch" made out of seasonal fruits and cinnamon sticks, with a shot of alcoholic spirit. A good substitute here in Ohio is hot apple cider with fruits, without the "spirits".
On Noche Buena, December 24, everybody goes to Misa de Noche Buena which is at midnight. After the Mass, everyone goes to their respective homes to have dinner with family and any friend who does not have a family is always welcome to be part of a family celebration, and most important of all to place the Baby Jesus in the manger in the Nativity scene.
The presents are not received on Christmas, for Christmas is a celebration of Life of Our Savior.
The New Year's Eve, there is a Misa de Gallo, (Rooster's Mass) that takes place at midnight also. Some families go to church earliest to give thanks for all the blessings received during the year.
The children's celebration of receiving presents is not until January 6th, "el día de Reyes", the day of the Kings, or the Wise Men Day. It is the Magi who brought the presents to the Baby Jesus, thus, they bring the toys to the boys and girls who have been good. The children place their shoes by the window, so the Magi place the present in the shoe. It the present is bigger than the shoe, it will be placed next to it. Many children get a new pair of shoes for a present.
El dia de Reyes is celebrated with a "Merienda" consisting of hot chocolate and "The Rosca de Reyes". "La Merienda is the meal that takes. place any time between 5 P.M. and 7 P.M. it is not a heavy meal but the equivalent of "High Tea".
The Rosca de Reyes is a big oval wreath made out of egg bread (like an egg bagel, but huge) with dry fruit decorations and sprinkled sugar on top, but inside, there is a little ceramic doll which represents the Baby Jesus. The person who gets the piece of bread with the Baby, must be the Godparent of the Baby Jesus in the celebration of the Candelaria, on February 2nd.
"El dia de la Candelaria" is the day of the Candle or Light, known as the Day of Purification. That day, the Nativity scene is put away with a party given by the person who got the Baby Jesus in his/her piece of bread during the Rosca de Reyes celebration. He or she will be responsible for making a "Ropon" or christening gown for Baby Jesus. Generally, they have a Dinner with Tamales (Tamales are corn bread filled with meats in a sauce or raisins wrapped in corn husks).
Lately, these traditions have been modified. For example, the Posadas are now nine parties that are celebrated in differences friend’s homes before Christmas. Also, with the North American Free Treaty Agreement, known as NAFTA, Christmas is now celebrated the American style, with Santa Claus.
As I fully anticipated Tableaux's was as wonderful as ever. Personally, I would not have missed my nephews a 3 year old member of the heavenly host and a 5 year old dual roled tax collector and shepherd. Great day, great family, great company.
Feedback always invited, please email me.
December 13, 2002
Friend Family Christmas Traditions – Tableaux.
What is tableaux?
Pronunciation: 'ta-"blO, ta-'blO
Inflected Form(s): plural tab·leaux /-"blOz, -'blOz/; also tableaus
Etymology: French, from Middle French tablel, diminutive of table, from Old French Date: 1699
1 : a graphic description or representation : PICTURE
2 : a striking or artistic grouping
3 [short for tableau vivant (from F, literally, living picture)] : a depiction of a scene usually presented on a stage by silent and motionless costumed participants
This Sunday will be the annual Tableaux Party hosted by my mom-in-law. In the afternoon we will as we have for the past two years sit in the audience of the Childrens Tableaux, a series of scenes from the Christmas story presented on stage by silent and for the most part motionless costumed participants.
A minister will narrate the Christmas story. At poignant times during the narration the curtain will be pulled on the stage to depict a still image of the Christmas story. It is without question very different from the Nativity services with which I was brought up, yet there is something deeper, more meaningful and serious about the tableaux service.
The curtains will close, the audience will stand and sing a Christmas carol, while behind the scenes working as silent as the stars at night are the stagehands who prepare the next scene. The minister will continue his narration of the Christmas story as the curtains pull back to portray a different scene. Rather magical.
In all, from memory no more than five scenes are represented, yet it truly represents the spirit of Christmas.
This year Taney & I will attend two tableaux services for children as my nephews aged 5 and 3 will be participating.
Sunday evening as is the family tradition, the family will gather a tableaux party, a wonderful feast with Christmas crackers and small token gifts given to each of us by our wonderful hostess.
During next week we have a number of Christmas related activities to attend, of which this is very much the curtain opener. More on these activities during the week.
Feedback always invited, please email me.
A Christmas box for your Paper Boy, and the definitive answer to the seasonal question of
“What is Boxing Day?”
For as many years as I can remember the tradition of giving your paperboy or papergirl a “Christmas Box” has been of importance to me. Not least for two years I was a paperboy in the UK, earning the grand sum of just less than four pound and sixteen pence a week, for rolling out of bed every day of the week. I arrived at the newsagent to leave on the dot of 7am the earliest legal time a minor could start work to walk or cycle my paper round of about 40 houses that would take at best 45 minutes, longer on a Sunday because the papers were that much heavier.
Adults might say, “its character building stuff”, the paperboys and girls would say its “hard work for but a little cash”. Depends on your perspective. Yet come wind, rain or snow (sn’) I would roll out to deliver papers each morning. How the weight of the papers especially the Sundays didn’t break a shoulder or two I will never know.
I worked for Finlays at the entrance to Finchley Central, Station Approach, and had “Route 1” that took me the furthest from the newsagent, but at this time of the year had a big bonus. Of all the neighborhoods, my route had the best Christmas box tipping customers.
For two years I would deliver a small seasons greetings card at each of my customers and call on them the following Sunday afternoon for my “box”. As controversial the custom not every customer would oblige with 50pence or if you were lucky a pound. Only a couple of my customers ever gave more.
At this time of year if you have your newspaper delivered I appeal to you not to forget your paperboy or papergirl. Carrying your papers each day may be character building stuff, but it is also hard labor for small children.
What exactly is Boxing Day?
I have lost count of the number of times I have been asked this question in the US. Personally, I miss the bank holiday of December 26, than any other. The opportunity of a two-day holiday over Christmas, topped up with 3 days annual leave would always give a long break from the office until the New Year. I digress, thanks to Bob Eldrick a self professed “Cockney Jock” nothing to do with football, he has the following amusing response.
Just what is Boxing Day and why is it the day after Christmas in Britain, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and any other English-speaking country, excepting the USA that was colored pink on atlases prior to 1960? This question has been asked of me many times since I came to the US. I shall attempt to answer it for the non-anglophiles of our little group.
Does it have anything to do with burning boxes that gifts came wrapped in after Christmas Day? Does it have anything to do with buying new boxes for gifts for next Christmas? Does it have anything to do with the Chinese Boxer Rebellion of 1900 when Charlton Heston single-handedly saved all the foreign nationals besieged in Peking? The answer to all the above is NO! (An aside: Did you know Charlton Heston belongs to Clan Fraser, the Cockney Jock's clan?!)
Does it have anything to do with the fine art of pugilism, with strapping young lads duking it out in the streets of London? Partly. It does have more to do with boxes, but not in the way mentioned above. To be truthful, until I started researching, I really didn't have a clue myself. To me it was just the day after Christmas, when as a kid one got to play with all the new stuff one got at Christmas. It was also the day your folks dragged you off to visit some relative or friends of theirs, to a party or some kind of get-together. When one became older it was the day you disappeared off down the pub “wiv yer mates an all, and quaffed dahn vast quantities of ale”. Before passing out on the couch after a bloody great meal of leftover Christmas turkey, Christmas pud and custard with rum butter, mince pies, dates and all the other wonderful foods of Christmas. Then you pulled your crackers and told the silly jokes that fell out of them, you wore the paper hats that looked bloody daft on you, but after a few glasses of fine red or white wine and perhaps the odd liqueur or scotch only added to the festive feeling and made folks not wearing them look even dafter! Never knew the day had real meaning to it. Still what can one expect of such a shallow, callow youth, and I wasn't alone in my ignorance. Most of us thought it was a leftover of a Victorian custom of having boxing matches on Black Heath Common on the day after Christmas. Whether this in fact did have any bearing on the naming of the public holiday that all in the English-speaking world except the United States enjoy is up for conjecture. For many years it was what I believed.
Boxing Day, as it happens, is an old festival and dates back to Roman times. Scholarly types think that it started with the custom of giving strenae, (gifts of sacred boughs at first and later dolls and candles) during the pagan festival of Saturnalia. In the Christian calendar, December 26th is St. Stephen's Day, or the Feast of St. Stephen. St. Stephen was a deacon of the early Christian community in Jerusalem and the first martyr of the church. Anyone who knows the old carol Good King Wenceslas will recall that it's on the "Feast of Stephen" when he last looked out. (What was he looking out for? His Boxing Day box?) The early Christian Church adopted the Roman gift-giving custom by placing boxes in the churches in order to collect monies for special masses. The Christmas Mass (and therefore the Christmas box) was important because all sins were forgiven in celebration for the Christmas holiday. These boxes became known as Alms Boxes and were opened the day after the Christmas Festival, and the contents distributed to the poor.
On the same day, apprentices and servants broke open small earthenware boxes in which their masters had deposited small sums of money. In the great houses and great estates and even large households, the family of the house used Boxing Day to distribute Christmas boxes to the staff. This, as far as I know, still occurs.
It was also a time for folks who had plenty to give to those in need, a tradition still carried on today. Not only was money given, but also unused clothing, shoes and useful household items were "boxed up," sent to the local churches and distributed to the poor and needy.
On Boxing Day, tradesmen and working boys took to the streets with their Christmas boxes to collect coins door to door. In the US this tradition is informally preserved in the practice of giving larger than normal tips to doormen, receptionists, post persons, and other valued service people as a way of thanking them for their service throughout the year.
On a personal level, as a paperboy in London in the late 50’s, early 60’s, I always looked forward to getting my Christmas box. I didn't particularly like going from door to door, knocking on the door and saying, "Hello, I'm your paperboy and hope I have given good service for the past year. If you've been pleased with the service, would you like to contribute to my Christmas box?" and then hold out an old cigar box my dad had given me, hoping for a generous tip. It felt a little like begging, but I figured I'd worked for it, so I did it every year. Most folks were very generous; Christmas definitely brings out the "giving gene" in most people. However, some didn't give anything, quoting the now modern corporate phrase when it comes to paying bonuses, "You got paid didn't ya!" Needless to say, the service to those residences was less than it should have been the following year!
Child Labor still rampant in the UK.
(The more things change, the more some still stay the same. And they call this civilized).
This brings me to a story in the papers today. A paperboy who argued he should receive holiday pay and a minimum wage is to be given more than £1,000 in a settlement from his employers. With the hiring and firing rules being in favor of the employer with no rights for minors this paperboy claimed he lost his round when he could not find anyone to fill in for him while he was away. Why this was his responsibility surprises me.
The employer originally claimed the paperboy, who has not been named, was self-employed and therefore not entitled to holiday. Self employed, what a crazy argument, but one loophole that prevents the employer from all sorts of liabilities in the case of an accident or worse.
However a settlement was made out of the employment tribunal to the paperboy who earned less than £2 an hour. This was a test case as if the paperboy had won; it could have affected the wages and working conditions of thousands of other paperboys and girls.
Fact file: Today there are between 1.1 million and 1.7 million children of compulsory school age working, sadly because of the lack methods of monitoring child-employment the figure cannot be more accurate. Campaigners for children’s working rights say they are less well protected in employment law than adults, working for less money and with less job security.
Nativity: My niece Hannah in Monmouth, South Wales performed in her first nativity yesterday. She was a star, literally. We would have given anything to have seen it. The subject of Nativity and Tableaux will be reported here as we get closer to Christmas.
Feedback always invited, please email me.
December 12, 2002
Happy Birthday Gran!
In the UK the build up to the Christmas celebrations would begin today, on my Grans birthday. To have known Eleanor Ridley, would be to love her. She meant more to me than simple words could ever offer justice. As a believer in many things, at the top of her list would be her family, daughters, in-laws, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
The celebration of Grans birthday would be an opportunity for the family to gather.
Twelve days before Christmas Eve seemed appropriate period to dress the tree and hang the decorations once Grans Birthday Party was over, the decorations would remain up until the last possible date, ensuring they were taken down around the house by 12th night, just before my Grandads Birthday.
As my wife Taney and I continue to build our Christmas traditions, this is the third year we have bought the tree from the tree seller at the end of our street. A beautiful blue spruce has sat on our porch waiting to be brought into the house today on December 12th, keeping to the tradition, ready to be trimmed.
My wife loves my childhood tradition of placing small tree Christmas crackers with the branches of the tree, and makes sure the red ribbons from my first Christmas tree after I left home are carefully tied in place. From the American traditions, strings of Cranberries and Popcorn are wrapped around the body of the tree. While we have continued the Frazier Family tradition of adding at least one new ornament for the tree each year.
In previous years we have added Nutcrackers, purchased in Boston after watching the ballet performance.
From our honeymoon in the USVI, we have a snowman with a towel draped over one arm and a bottle of suntan lotion in the other.
Last year we added a whole host of decorations that represented childhood, the 12 days of Christmas and some old fashioned Tin Toys.
Each of our baubles and ornaments has its own story, down to the twinkling candle lights from Woolworths in Luton, Bedfordshire.
I count myself very lucky to have married my wife who simply loves this wonderful time of the year as much as I always have.
The inside of the house has already been decorated. Macy's Day parade at Thankgiving is our launch date for us to dig out the christmas lights and start to bring the boxes of decorations up from the basement.
But the Christmas tree, the focal point of all the decorations in the home will always wait until at the earliest December 12. Gran I am sure would have approved.
(Friend Family Traditions continue on London Chimes during the run-up to Christmas Eve).
Feedback always invited, please email me.
December 11, 2002
The greatest tradition of all has come under threat by Reverend Lee Rayfield in the UK this week. Go search this story out yourselves as I refuse to link to it here.
However Santa himself has been spurned into action and has written to the BBC, exerts from his reply follow.
You can't have failed to notice that there's been a lot of allegations about me over the years and I haven't said anything. But when I read the BBC yesterday and saw that the Reverend Lee Rayfield was effectively suggesting that I was a complete fiction, I knew the time had come to say something.
The reality of my daily life is that I'm juggling lots of balls in the air.
It's not just reading scrawled children's letters, wrapping 378 million presents and tending nine reindeer.
I have six homes to maintain - the North Pole, three towns called 'North Pole' in the US, a Lapland pied à terre and my address recognised by the Royal Mail, Santa's Grotto, Reindeerland, SAN TA1.
Then there are the helpers always threatening a winter of discontent. And long beards don't comb mince pie crumbs out of themselves, you know.
Sometimes it does seem that there just aren't enough hours in Christmas Eve, even when (thanks to shifting my sleigh through timezones) it's a day of 31 hours. But I thought it was more important for me to do my job, than to personally appear before every child and doubting vicar.
I assumed the military satellites of the North American Aerospace Defence Command (Norad) regularly tracking my Christmas Eve route would be enough proof for anyone.
In the mid 1940's there was an interesting court case questioning the existance of Santa, perhaps you have seen it. The result of this case hinged upon the United States Postal Service delivering letters to Santa. As you may know it is a federal offense to willingly misdirect mail. As the USPS recognised Santa by delivering the thousands of letters he receives each year from boys and girls across the world, and the USPS is a branch of the federal authorities of the United States. Further that the United States law system does not lie, in this famous case the ruling was that Santa truly exists.
Today, another federal agency recognises Santa, NORAD. Please visit their site on Christmas eve to check on his progress as he flies around the world.
Many of the questions you have about Santa will be answered by NORAD, and has been proven, the information from their satellites does not tell a lie.
This year the USPS offers the following advice on letters to Santa
Getting letters to Santa – quickly and safely
It wouldn’t be the holidays unless the little ones sent Santa their 'wish list.' So, Santa has asked us to share these tips with children and families.
Children should ask their parents for help addressing and putting stamps on their letters.
Like all mail, we encourage you to include a complete return address on letters to Santa.
No extra packaging material, such as string or tape is needed on a letter to Santa.
While Santa himself receives most of the letters, some are sent to "Santa's helpers" who help make a child’s holiday wishes come true. Letters to Santa are handled by local Post Offices, so policies may vary from city to city.
Send a letter to Santa his address for Children in the USA is:
123 Main Street
North Pole, NY 12946
As Santa himself mentioned he has 6 different addresses but all the letters will reach him and his helpers.
For some years, Santa has a presence in cyber-space, are you on Santa's naughty or nice list? Check out Claus.com a family friendly seasonal site.
Feedback always invited, please email me.
December 10, 2002
Sprouts and Sn’
(Sn’ personal definition, measurable snowfall less than three inches in the south east of England, since moving to the US I have discovered what “snow” truly is).
Farmers are warning the Christmas cooks this year that there is a national shortage of sprouts that could mean high prices and potential exclusion of the dish from many dinner tables on Christmas Day.
(Pause for the cheers from millions of children). Sprouts are considered in the same category as Marmite you either love or loathe them.
The wet autumn months have left waterlogged fields combined with high winds have done little to help the harvest to meet the seasonal needs. Heavy farm machinery used in the harvesting of the crop has been unable to work in quagmire fields. Farmers have resorted to traditional handpicking methods.
The BBC News have quoted Roger Welberry, president of the British Sprout Growers' Association, as saying "When people see that little old sprout on their plates this Christmas we want them to think about what we did to get it there."
With Christmas dinner looming ever closer, the British Sprout Grower's Association has tried to win over those who failed to appreciate the qualities of humble sprout. Their members are fed up with hearing that Brussels sprouts taste awful and everyone hates them. A tip is to cook them for four minutes
Personally I will eat but a couple of sprouts for tradition, but have never been a great fan of this “green” veggie. My Mum would go to great lengths to prepare and cook the sprouts that in the eyes of the BSGA would be perfect and set a standard that some chefs could only wish to aspire to.
As an alternative you might like to try cooking them this way (Sweet & Sour Brussels Sprouts)
The subject of Sn’
Will it be a white Christmas in Wales this year? Snow on Christmas Day is a rare event. On average, snow falls on only one Christmas in about nine.
Regular readers will know that my brother and his family live in South Wales so I have a vested interest in this topical weather story. It snowed in Cardiff last Christmas as a band of wintry showers moved south, although the fluffy white flakes did not settle on the ground. Bookies have odds at 4-1 of the white stuff falling out of the sky this year.
More so in the United Kingdom as a whole is the fascination of a “White Christmas”. The perfect day would be a complete covering of snow however for thousands will have “a flutter” a bet on whether it will snow on the 25th, one snowflake makes the day white.
Historically, the British white Christmas has its origins in the colder climate between 1550 to 1850, when Britain was in the grip of a "Little Ice Age". Winters were particularly persistent and severe - 1813/14 was the last winter that a 'Frost Fair' was held on the River Thames in London. With the colder weather brought more frequent White Christmases during the 18th and 19th centuries.
So do they Met office forecast a white Christmas, “too early to say”.
British Bloggers Netring
A warm as bitter beer welcome if you have found yourself here through the British Bloggers Netring.
The new look of London Chimes is not intentional and every effort is being made to restore the original display.
Feedback always invited, please email me.
December 09, 2002
Sitting on our coffee table is a fine book by Alfred L. Shoemaker titled Christmas in Pennsylvania. Mr. Shoemaker offers an interesting insight into the customs and practice of the holiday period from almost two hundred years ago.
The custom of barring out the schoolmaster caught my attention and with respect to the author of this book wish to pass on a piece that originated from the Philadelphia Democratic Press, dated December 18, 1810.
A very absurd and wicked practice has long prevailed in this country, namely, that of Scholars barring out the Schoolmasters a little before the 25th day of December, commonly called Christmas day, in order to extort permission from him to spend a number of days called the Christmas holidays in idleness or play. A scene of this kind took place last year in our school-house, and so completely fortified it, that it was impossible to reduce it except by a regular siege and the caitiffs had provided against this also by laying in large quantity of provisions. Thus was the teacher not only shut out, but all of those scholars not concerned with the plot, and who wished to occupy their time in learning, and not in idleness and riot.
Hearing of the insurrection, and having some children at the school, who were thus shut out, I went with some of my neighbors to the place, to try if we could not by reason persuade the keepers of the garrison to surrender. They were prevailed to raise one of the windows a little, I asked them why they shut up the school-house. One of them who seemed to be the commander-in-chief they wished to have ten days of Christmas play.
As the years passed, the requests increased beyond simply time.
Reverend A. R. Kremer published the following boyhood account on Christmas Eve, 1896
“There were no Christmas vacations of a whole week or more and not even on Christmas Day were the schools closed. Doesn’t it seem too bad that the children had to go to school on Christmas Day? The fact is that the scholars were almost sure not to be sick on that day so they could go to school. Because part of the day in the school-room was given up to the distribution of teachers gifts of cakes and candies – the Christmas gift that every teacher was expected to give to the scholars.
Sometimes it happened that a master refused to treat; and no wonder as he only received $15 a month for his services and had to support himself and his family on so small a salary. But the boys and girls could not see it in that light; so, what do you think? They would go early on Christmas morning to the school-house, bolt the door and not let the teacher in until he promised to give them a treat.
So the master was brought to terms, and as that was the custom in those days, he took it all in good part though it cut off a slice from his income.”
It is unlikely that students today effecting a barring out of the school staff would receive such a response. Students now have time off over the Christmas period, and the last day of school has a party atmosphere before breaking up for holidays.
The efforts in baking for Christmas is well noted in this book too, briefly here is a passage that brought a smile to my face given that my wife is currently in the midst of her annual bake-a-thon.
“A note of explanation is in order why mothers in Dutch Pennsylvania baked Christmas cookies in such profusion. The answer is plainly, they needed them and for many purposes. You needed many, many, to begin with, to appease the appetite of some 40 to 50 Belsnickles who came a-beggin Christmas Eve; some went into the basket Mother prepared for the poor old widow who lived down the road a piece; then you needed a good many to trim the tree; the Children took some of the nicest to display in the windows of the front room to serve as a Christmas greeting to passersby; and mother of course simply had to dole out two, three dozen to the lady from across the valley who lent her a couple of animals she didn’t happen to have among her own cookie-cutter flock, a deer or an exotic elephant perhaps.
Feedback always invited, please email me.
December 07, 2002
This week with the snow and all, it has been far too easy to fall into the Christmas spirit and snuggle into its warmth. For this weekends posting I wanted to turn to the subject of Christmas Traditions, stories from around the world found on numerous web sites.
Whatever your perspective on the celebrations, even if you are a pagan, it would seem that there is a seasonal site on the subject for you. Pagans aside though we should remember as one of the better web pages states, “It's not Christmas without Christ!”
Christmas Traditions do not have to be difficult or too time consuming. Some families have very simple traditions that they repeat every Christmas for their children and you can bet that these children treasure these moments far more than the gifts beneath the tree.
Link here for the full page
This week my wife and I were invited to dine with her sister and husband. A wonderful evening developed and the subject of family traditions at Christmas was brought up. This in turn got me thinking as every family has set traditions and I thought it would be interesting to find of other traditions.
No doubt over the next couple of weeks I will return to this subject and how my Anglo-American traditions have developed, But for the moment, enjoy the thoughts of other families from both sides of the Atlantic.
I found the following account of a British family tradition in the month of December; some of the details are reproduced here, for the full account please use this link.
Infant and primary schools throughout the U.K. put on a Nativity plays depicting the birth of Jesus, which are performed by the children themselves and attended by their parents. Carol services take place in schools and churches. Children write letters to Father Christmas, which are usually posted to him direct. I expect these days they send him an email! Groups of carol singers go from house to house collecting for charity.
Our houses are decorated with various forms of streamer like decorations, Christmas trees (which can be real fir/pine trees or imitation) and sometimes some "greenery". The trees are adorned with all types of baubles and fairy lights. The presents these days are usually too big to place on the tree so they are put around the bottom. Christmas cards are either placed around the room or hung on streamers.
Some families leave out a little treat for Father Christmas; this is normally something like a mince pie and a glass of sherry. A "traditional" Christmas lunch comprises roast turkey, roast potatoes, brussel sprouts, other green vegetables, gravy, cranberry and/or bread sauce. This is followed by Christmas Pudding (originally known as plum pudding) and Mince pies with cream and/or Brandy or Whisky Butter.
Plum pudding only became connected with Christmas when it was introduced to the Victorians by Prince Albert. Silver coins used to be put into the mixture and was said to bring good luck to whoever found the coin in their portion. This tradition is not so prevalent now due to the inherent danger of swallowing the coins. All members of the family make wishes whilst stirring the pudding mixture prior to cooking.
Mince pies are tarts made with pastry and filled with mincemeat. This is a mixture made of dried fruits, sugar and spices. The use of beef suet in this mixture is reminiscent of the days when meat was always included in recipes - hence its name. It was originally made to preserve meat through the winter.
Other food we often eat at Christmas include Christmas cake, which is a rich fruit cake which is then covered with marzipan and icing: yule logs (a swiss roll, which is a sponge cake rolled up with either jam or butter cream, covered in chocolate icing made to represent a log): ham, pork, and sausage rolls (sausages or sausage meat, wrapped around with pastry). Christmas crackers containing trinkets, mottos and party hats. are placed on the table and are usually "pulled" prior to the meal so that the party hats can be worn by all.
From the United States I found the following historic account of Christmas Traditions, from “Reflections from the Prairie”
This lady came from an English background and recalled her family making and eating English plum pudding. She admitted that she had carried on the tradition even though her immediate family no longer relished the old English dish, in fact, refused to eat any of it. Others in the group recalled being in foreign countries at Christmas time and sampling some of the culinary offerings, sometimes with more than a little hesitancy.
Her reference to English plum pudding struck close to home for me. I too, have English ancestry and plum pudding was a dish I learned to relish at Christmas time. Grandma always made plum pudding for the holidays. Before Thanksgiving, she would gather together the necessary ingredients such as raisins, currents, preserved cherries, citron, suet, various dried fruits and nuts. She never had a recipe that I knew of. The pudding was baked in small pans or she sometimes used coffee tins. After cooling, she would sample a small piece, proclaim it okay and then wrap the pieces in cheesecloth and store them in a large stone jar. Finally she would pour the contents of a bottle of brandy over the top and cover it with a lid. It stayed there until Christmas. For Christmas dinner, she would unwrap the small cakes and steam them in a double boiler until they were heated through. Then she would serve generous pieces with a lemon-flavored hard sauce poured over the top. It was delicious.
After my Grandma passed away, my aunt continued the plum pudding tradition. For many years she would send several cans of pudding to me as presents. Before she passed away, my eldest daughter persuaded Auntie to write down the recipe and then she assumed the plum pudding tradition. Even today, I expect to find some on her table, just for me. No one else in the family cares for it. The tradition that came to America with the family in the 18th century will probably soon die away.
Other Christmas traditions remembered were trimming the Christmas tree before the days of electric lights. At our rural school we always had a huge cedar tree. One of the parents or a member of the school board would go out into the fields and select a tree, and bring it to the two-room schoolhouse. We knew we would soon get a break from studies to spend a whole afternoon setting up the tree and decorating it. We had a few colored balls, some tinsel and stars. We spent several hours stringing red cranberries on a thread. The most fun was stringing popcorn on long strings to hang on the tree. We usually ate more popcorn that we strung. Finally we added small candles to many branches, being sure they were far out on the limb, so they wouldn't catch other limbs on fire. As I think about it now, the good Lord must have been watching over us, as we never had a fire. If one had started, the whole tree would have gone up in flames and probably the schoolhouse. I guess what we didn't know in those days didn't hurt us.
As our children were growing up, we adopted a tradition that was quite common. That was to leave a plate of cookies and milk for Santa Claus. This was a natural for us, as my good wife has been baking Christmas cookies for well over forty years. She has a long list of different kinds, and delights in spending a whole day, or more, these days, turning out these wonderful goodies. The children each have their own favorite kind. Now that the grandchildren have become addicted, they also have their favorites. I expect any day now I will come home and find the house smells like heaven should, and every inch of space in the kitchen will be covered with dozens of cookies. Without asking, I know there will be a scrap pile of cookies that failed to meet her standards, that I can munch on at will. I get to deliver plates of these carefully selected and wrapped goodies to our friends and neighbors. This is one tradition I hope goes on forever.
For a contemporary listing of USA traditions, I offer the following web page, (copyrighted) that includes tips on saving for the tree, homemade tree ornaments and decorations, cookie parties, gift suggestions in the true meaning of Christmas, a plan to avoid the 4am wake-up on Christmas morning,
In addition to the interesting link above, other traditional US thoughts and suggestions found in cyber-space include:
Being charitable; saving change in a cider jug throughout the year to use to help the less fortunate at Christmas.
During the month of December; the tree is put up about 2 weeks before Christmas and it is a family event with a special dinner. The children all get their pictures taken with the Santa at the mall each year and these pictures in special frames are displayed at Christmas time.
On Christmas Eve; attending a church service, Reading the Night Before Christmas before we go to services, because otherwise it is too late when we get home and afterwards the children hang their stockings. The family brings something and we feast and exchange gifts. Santa bread is prepared each year as well as Sugarplums. The bread is just made with oven biscuits in the shape of Santa's head complete with rosy cheeks and stocking hat! Chili is prepared for dinner with the opening of gifts from family
A popular tradition is for children to wear new jammies every Christmas Eve.
Christmas Morning: Making a big deal about going downstairs to see what Santa has brought. In our 2-story house, we were not allowed to go downstairs until Mom and Dad were awake and Dad would lead the way. The children would wake up the parents and be as antsy as can be while they got up and “finally” came to the top of the stairs to lead us down and see the huge pile of gifts!
Every Christmas morning the children come out to the tree to find that Santa has left them a note stuck to the tree itself. The note is written in Santa's special handwriting and all of the notes from all of the years are kept inside the "Night Before Christmas" book. We all get a kick out of re-reading Santa's notes every year.
Having a special breakfast on Christmas morning – suggestions include cinnamon rolls, hash, sunny-side up eggs, omelettes, another family prefers Lox and Bagels, other suggestions include streusel coffeecake hot buns.
Preparing a Birthday Cake and adding a candle in an Angel Food cake and sing Happy Birthday to Baby Jesus.
Extended family together in Christmas Day afternoon for potluck and gift exchange
Gift Opening:Prolonging the gift opening - in our family every person takes a turn opening one gift at a time while everyone else watches - it is fun to see what everyone has gotten, emphasizes the importance of giving as well as receiving, and makes the fun last that much longer!
Every families Christmas is as unique in way to the neighbours, other family members and friends. Despite how commercialised the season becomes, the true spirit of Christmas is alive and well in all of us from one degree to the full three hundred and sixty.
Christmas is more than wrapping paper and bows, it is a time for sharing, for giving, for caring, for loving and to remember what Christ means in Christmas.
Feedback always invited, please email me.
December 06, 2002
I enjoy well written Science Fiction at the cinema and on television. This week, the Sci-Fi channel has been broadcasting a marathon of Taken. Each night’s episode taking 2 hours.
I can only recall one other TV Sci-Fi program that completely had me transfixed, I refer to “V”. "Taken", uses the array of special effects available to the filmmakers to produce a TV event that is cleverly crafted and thoroughly entertaining.
I missed episode one and may as the plot develops be missing on some key clues yet within minutes of episode two this program has my full and undivided attention.
Taken web page link here.
The BBC today have reported that Taken, a TV mini-series produced by Steven Spielberg, has broken viewing records on the Sci Fi channel here in the United States. The first episode of the 20-hour, 10-day programming marathon gave the network more than six million viewers. Simply put the plot of Taken follows the stories of three families over 50 years of alien abductions. The good news for the Brits is that it will be shown on BBC Two and BBC Choice in early 2003.
Feedback always invited, please email me.
December 05, 2002
What does the title of this posting mean to you personally? Does it remind you of the film White Christmas, a childhood memory of wanting snow for Christmas, driving so slippy, slidey down the country lanes at the first opportunity of emulating the Scandinavian rally drivers, or simply the task using the shovel to clear the white stuff?
This side of the holiday season I love the stuff, especially as the house is decorated for Christmas and snow is very much the icing on the cake.
Originating from the northern suburbs of London, I can remember only a couple of significant snowfalls. Yet there were plenty of other snowfalls that could be better measured in millimeters rather than inches. A ‘dusting of snow’ would be a better description.
Today the media has described Philadelphians as “flakes and snow wimps” when dealing with 6 inches plus of predicted snowfall that is currently accumulating around my home. Historically, the need to build up a snow larder, should the house be snowed, heading off to the supermarket and 7-11 to stock up on bread and milk is today, is not the necessity as it once was.
It is all relative; the average total snowfall in “these here parts” will be 20 inches. The same in London would bring the city to its knees. But in London it is not the same kind of snow. In London where a typical winters day would be damp and cold, as the thermometer would dip below freezing results in perfect conditions for black ice on which the snow would settle. Even though the dustings can be swept away, the black ice underneath is treacherous. No brine, just salting and gritting by the local authorities, and helpful residents.
In “these here parts” the ground has been frozen for a week, without the dampness there is no ice under the settling snow. The snow itself is dry and powdery unlike the wet mess that so easily turns to slush which I remember from London.
It is all relative; Philadelphians have been accused in the Philadelphia Inquirer today of not being used to snowfall “frequent enough to engender the kind of macho resilience that kept Buffalo going through 132 inches last year. (They closed schools a mere four days.)” Seven feet fell in December 2001. Seven feet! I can hardly imagine that. Although I do remember the TV images with SUV’s being little more than bumps in the snow. The Inquirer has suggested that given enough snow in this area it will create havoc with traffic, and Philadelphians generally drive terribly in snow and simply add to the problem.
Perhaps it is because the media are based in the South East of England that even a little snow is headline news. For those living in Wales, the north east of England and Scotland, heavy snowfalls are not uncommon. The locals simply get on with it.
It is all relative; no thanks to the sensational weather reporting by the TV weather pundits along the eastern corridor from Washington to New York City the news of a snowfall is enough to scare some people into locking themselves in their homes. Yet Chicago, a big city in its own right located will accumulate three to six inches in a normal snowfall. Five inches settled earlier this week creating no difficulties to the residents and no big deal from the local weather reporters.
Historically, since 1871, there have been only five 7-inch snows in Philadelphia by early December. In each of those years, snowfall for the winter was heavier than normal. On average, they were double the norm. Given the number of holly berries on my mother in laws holly bush, I have said for a few weeks that this could be a hard winter. So my snow shovel remains on my porch ready and waiting.
For the complete story from the Philadelphia Inquirer link here.
There are heroes out in the field, preparing the roads and doing what they can in this area to keep us all moving. I have been highly impressed each winter by the efficient Penn Dot, (Pennsylvania Department of Transportation).
Nick Martino, is a maintenance manager, who has coordinated brine trucks for the last three days, to soak every state road in Philadelphia with salty mist to prevent snow from bonding to the road. His eyes and ears of the approaching storm that yesterday afternoon looked like a large hammer heading from the south, south west, into the artic cold air of the north, north east, were concentrated on the weather channel and local news broadcasts.
The hammer was heading into his terrortry and reports from North Carolina confirmed that the ice and snow was hitting hard. For the last 48 hours, the hourly forecasts predicted that Philadelphia would see the first of the snowflakes between midnight and 3am this morning. With this information the plow trains, a convoy of ploughs designed to clear wide highways would be on the road loaded with salt in preparation of the first flake.
Last night would have been a long night for the drivers and support crews who do what they can to keep us all on the move. Mr. Martino I salute you and your staff on an excellent job each winter.
As I look out of the window the image is picture postcard of a winter wonderland. Looking beyond the garden the traffic on the nearby highway is light and moving slowly. On the porch is my shovel, I think I might just go and shovel a few inches now rather than shovel 7”+ (whatever + may be) after the snow storm passes tonight.
Feedback always invited, please email me.
December 04, 2002
It is very difficult to avoid getting wrapped up in the spirit of Christmas this week. The Friend Household (Taney & I) took a late afternoon trip to Peddlars Village in search of a special gift for family in the UK. Aas we arrived and dusk settled the lights in the parkland slowly lit creating a wonderful winter wonderland with us and only a handful of other shoppers there. It was truly romantic and full of holiday joy. We picked up some Christmas Cards, which we sat that evening and wrote between us watching Miracle on 34th Street, the original black and white version.
Tonight is the annual TV show from Rockerfeller Center in New York topped with the traditional lighting for the 71st year of the tree over the ice rink. Last year I was working in the Big Apple and had an opportunity to take a walk to check out the center and the tree. I was not disappointed.
While this tree may encapsulate the holiday season in New York it is not the only tree by any means. The World Trade Center site tree is there again. Last year, a member of the carpenters union came up with the idea of placing a tree at the site as a morale booster for recovery workers. This year's tree, a 32-foot Canadian balsam fir, goes up Monday night. A tree-lighting is scheduled for next Tuesday.
The Rockefeller Center tradition was born when construction workers set up the first tree in 1931, while the office complex was still being built.
I read some place how Rockefeller Center is considered as America's Unofficial Christmas Capital. Funny thing is, I can't think of a better way to describe what this spot is during the latter part of the year!
It's here within that the great six story tree goes up as skaters glide along down below. It's within this area that ornaments the size of small automobiles are placed just outside of buildings and well, there's a spot or two where you'll catch one hanging just above the streets. Literally! It's within this part of town and elswhere that you'll see the city come alive at night with magnificent displays of yuletide greetings! 'not that the city ever slept at all.
So come hither and rejoice in what's to be found here. The tree which is usually a Spruce and guaranteed to be older than your average grandpa can be found just above Rockefeller's skating rink. As beautiful during the day time as it is at night! So bring your cameras one and all. Check out those department store decorations, gander at the corner Santas collecting money for charity and join hands in what 2002 yours truly believes will be the Christmas to end all Christmases. Okay, ok, so I'm exaggerating again! Sue me! hehe. Go forth and be merry!
Check out this link for photographs including the erection of the 2002 tree and a great pictures of the patriotic tree from last year.
Feedback always invited, please email me.
The Fox News web pages, bless them, have posted a bizarre news story that frankly deserves the attention of London Chimes.
Despite a drumbeat of news reports about the restrictions and the boost in screening intensity, in the eight months from February to September, screeners nationwide seized from passengers:
The prohibited items are given to local police, who either keep them as evidence or throw them away.
Over the recent Thanksgiving Holiday period, US Airports confiscated:
and a brick!
Robert Johnson, spokesman for the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), said many holiday travelers are inexperienced fliers and don't realize they can't take knives, scissors, fireworks or ammunition onto planes. If they try, the prohibited items will be confiscated. Passengers also could be prosecuted, a decision law enforcement officials make depending on the item and the circumstances.
Between Tuesday and Sunday of Thanksgiving week, six people who tried to carry guns onto planes were arrested: two at Hartsfield Atlanta International Airport and one each at New York's LaGuardia Airport, Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky Airport, Salt Lake City International Airport and Dulles International Airport outside Washington.
"We find the gun, we turn the passenger over to law enforcement at the checkpoint," said Johnson. "You're not allowed to have a gun at the airport without a permit."
At the 38 busiest U.S. airports over the Thanksgiving holiday, screeners confiscated 1,072 clubs or bats, along with 3,242 banned tools and 2,384 flammable items, the TSA said. Another 20,581 sharp objects such as scissors, ice picks and meat cleavers also were seized.
With Federal Screening Agents located at the Airports across the US this report is testament to their alertness during a time of peak passenger traffic. Personally, I am pleased that the caliber of training and the agents on station, could have prevented far worse havoc over the skies had these weapons been taken into the cabins of the nations carriers.
The list of prohibited items contains items that can go bang and make you bleed. Should you need these at your destination it is probably a better idea to mail them on ahead, providing the USPS will accept them, and not such a good idea to take these items in your luggage. From the reports across the US the items confiscated turn ever more bizarre:
At Chicago O’Hare International Airport, someone tried, unsuccessfully, to bring a toy cannon with live ammunition onto a plane.
At Boise Airport, Idaho, a welding gun was confiscated from a passenger.
At Ronald Regan National Airport in Washington, a man tried to carry a brick onto a plane.
The TSA hopes the public catches on before Christmas, when air travel will be complicated by new gate check procedures and increasing numbers of checked bags will be screened for explosives.
The following is content from an email sent to me today by my parents. Titled, is it really true?
I Can't Believe We Made It!
I suddenly feel very lucky and not at all envious of the under 20's! If you lived as a child in the 40's, 50's, 60's or 70's, looking back, it’s hard to believe that we have lived as long as we have. As children, we would ride in cars with no seat belts or air bags. Our cots were covered with bright colored lead-based paint.
We had no childproof lids on medicine bottles, doors, or cupboards, and when we rode our bikes we had no helmets.
We drank water from the garden hose and not from a bottle. Horrors. We would spend hours building go-carts out of scraps and then ride down the hill; only to find out we forgot the brakes. After running into the bushes a few times we learned to solve the problem. We would leave home in the morning and play all day, as long as we were back when the streetlights came on. No one was able to reach us all day. No mobile phones. Unthinkable.
We got cut and broke bones and broke teeth, and there were no lawsuits from these accidents. They were accidents. No one was to blame, but us. Remember accidents? We had fights and punched each other and got black and blue and learned to get over it. We ate patty cakes, bread and butter, and drank cordial, but we were never overweight...we were always outside playing. We shared one drink with four friends, from one bottle and no one died from this.
We did not have Playstations, Nintendo 64, X-Boxes, video games, 65 channels on pay TV, video tape movies, surround sound, personal mobile phones, Personal Computers, Internet chat rooms ... we had friends. We went outside and found them. We rode bikes or walked to a friend's home and knocked on the door, or rung the bell, or just walked in and talked to them. Imagine such a thing. Without asking a parent! By ourselves! Out there in the cold cruel world! Without a guardian - how did we do it?
We made up games with sticks and tennis balls, and ate worms, and although we were told it would happen, we did not poke out very many eyes, nor did the worms live inside us forever. Footy and netball had tryouts and not everyone made the team. Those who didn't, had to learn to deal with disappointment... Some students weren’t as smart as others so they failed a grade and were held back to repeat the same grade.
Tests were not adjusted for any reason. Our actions were our own. Consequences were expected. No one to hide behind. The idea of a parent bailing us out if we broke a law was unheard of. They actually sided with the law - imagine that!
This generation has produced some of the best risk-takers and problem solvers and inventors, ever. The past 50 years has been an explosion of innovation and new ideas. We had freedom, failure, success and responsibility, and we learned how to deal with it all.
In response to a politically correct world today.
"I explained 'belting up' to my two-year old as one of the rules that the 'whole world' keeps to. And he seemed to understand this concept. Slightly older children will enjoy the ruder connotations of telling someone to 'belt up' so you might get there with a bit of humour!
Even when parents have no impact, small children are usually influenced by authority figures outside the home, so mentioning the fact that a policeman would come and tell you off if they see you not wearing one has a useful impact. (It is in fact a breach of the law and YOU are breaking it if any passenger is without a seat belt. See Rospa's factsheet for more information)
Finally, just be serious and mean it. If you mean it - really mean it - children know. If you are not convinced that it really matters then they'll pick that up. Well, does it matter to you or doesn't it?!?
If you're old enough to remember Jimmy Saville's Clunk Click Every Trip campaign, then you'll know it does matter. Try using that old advertising campaign - the kids might just enjoy using it as a mantra with you until they have been conditioned to do it.
All together now."
Sadly, an initial search of cyber-space on this most memorable of road safety campaigns draws little less more than a blank. The police in Kidderminster are still promoting the phrase in a current police campaign but little else can be found. Yet Clunk (the car door) Click (the seat belt) ever trip, remains an integral part of growing up.
Cot Painted Lead based paint From www.leadpaint.net an Australian web page.
The danger of lead paint
Many cases of acute lead poisoning in children admitted to children’s hospitals in recent years have been attributed to home renovation activities that disturb lead paint. Lead becomes a danger when activities deal with existing lead paint or dust in the house, or create new lead dust hazards. Unsafe renovations where old lead paint is removed or prepared for painting are the most common cause of lead poisoning. Open-flame torches create dangerous fumes. Dry sanding without water creates lead dust. Fumes and dust can be breathed in, accidentally eaten, and they can contaminate the house, its contents and the surrounding area. You can do renovations safely if you take simple precautions and use the right equipment.
Finally on the subject of Childproof Medicine Containers I refer you to the Food and Drug Administration web page, since revised.
Poison-proofing your home is the key to preventing childhood poisonings. In the case of iron-containing pills or any medicine:
- Always close the container as soon as you've finished using it. Properly secure the child-resistant packaging, and put it away immediately in a place where children can't reach it.
- Keep pills in their original container.
- Keep iron-containing tablets, and all medicines, out of reach--and out of sight--of children.
- Never keep medicines on a countertop or bedside table.
- Follow medicine label directions carefully to avoid accidental overdoses or misdoses that could result in accidental poisoning.
Safety First was a slogan in the UK in the 60's. With access to more information on household and personal safety than ever before, the advice to "be careful" and "don't talk to strangers" adopted in the US as "stranger danger" is in this day and age very important to us all.
It is easy to reminence at those golden days of youth, yet our parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts and parents of our friends were looking out for us, it is simply that we were not aware of this fact.
Feedback always invited, please email me.
December 01, 2002
Today across the globe, well some of it, windows will be opened, lambs will be stuck to a nativity scene with velcro, and wooden boxes will start to decend down wooden chimneys.
What on earth am I talking about, Advent Calendars, if you have not found yours among your decorations today is the day to pull it out.
Sadly, the BBC are promoting their Newsround Advent on-line, virtual calendar.
Opening the first window I cute card over the fireplace, I am faced with "celebrity wishes" from celebs that I do not recognise. Have I really been out the UK that long?
Following the Star, is a more in keeping on-line advent calendar.
The History, thanks to asking Jeeves.
The origin of the Advent Calendar can be traced back to the 19th. Century. The first styles came from the protestant area. So religious families made a chalk line for every day in December until Christmas Eve.
The first known Advent Calendar which was made in handwork is from the year 1851.
Other early styles were the Adventclock or the Adventcandle - a candle for each of the 24 days until Christmas, like todays Advent wreath. So in religious families little pictures were hang up on the wall - one for each day in December. An other tradition was to paint chalk strokes on the door, one per day until Christmas Eve.
The first printed speciem was made by a Swabian parishioner, Gerhard Lang (1881 - 1974) from Maulbronn in Germany. When he was a child his mother made him an Advent Calendar with 24 "Wibbele" (little candies) which were sticked on a cardboard. Later Lang was a participator of the printing office Reichhold & Lang. He produced little colored pictures which could be affixed on a cardboard at every day in December.
This was the first printed Advent Calendar, although without windows to open, published in 1908. This Calendar was named "Christmas-Calendar" or "Munich Christmas-Calendar". At the beginning of the 20th Lang produced the first Advent Calendars with little doors to open.
At this time as well the Sankt Johannis Printing Company started producing religious Advent Calendars, with Bible Verses instead of pictures behind the doors.
The Advent Calendar started a triumphal way around the globe. But Lang had to close his company in the thirties. Until that time he had produced about 30 different designs. The World War II terminated the success of this German tradition. The cardboard was rationed and it was forbidden to produce Calendars with pictures. The first printed speciem after the war were printed by Richard Sellmer in 1946.
From interesting beginnings.
In the Friend household, we will this month be opening windows, applying velcro shepards and stable animals as well as the slow decent of the wooden parcel from Santa down the chimney. But this got me thinking of Advent Calenders when I was much younger. Two immediatly spring to mind, the traditional windows that open and another homemade by a friend of our then lodger who made an unusual countdown to Christmas with matchboxes. Twenty four, were stuck together in a long column with some seasonal pictures I think possibly from wrapping paper on the front. Each box would then be filled with jelly beans and other candies, not that many would fit in each box, but enough for my brother and I to have a Quality Street or Jelly Bean before school.
I remember the temptation to open the unopened boxes before their time as "sweets" were to be had. Yet my consenience I recall (badly) seemed to get the better of me. - Or did it, perhaps my Brother can answer me.
On researching this a little further it would seem that the tradition of placing "sweets" into advent calenders originates from Spain. Twenty-four windows are cut into the calendar. Behind each window is a piece of fine European chocolate. When the last door is opened on December 24th, long awaited Christmas has arrived.
For other interesting Advent facts, including the Latin connection, check out this site.
Feedback always invited, please email me.