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Stan # 93: It's that time of year again… October 2008

As Christmas approaches and to get my readers in a festive mood, below I provide some Yuletide facts:

England only had seven white Christmases in the entire twentieth century!

The definition of a white Christmas is when one snowflake falls on the roof of the London Weather Centre.

It wasn't until A.D. 440 that the church officially proclaimed December 25 as the birth of Jesus which was close to the equinox when the Egyptians and others believed that the Sun was re-born (Son - re-born). Clever bit of marketing. Some people claim that the typical Father Christmas costume of red clothes with white fur trim originated with a Coca-cola advert, but actually the Santa suit we know today was well established by the 1920s and it was not until the 1930s that Coca-cola first used the Santa Claus design but they did standardise and popularise it.

Before settling on the name of Tiny Tim for his character in ‘A Christmas Carol’ three other alliterative names were considered by Charles Dickens. They were Little Larry, Puny Pete, and Small Sam.

Christmas trees are edible. Many parts of pines, spruces, and firs can be eaten: the needles are a good source of vitamin C; pine nut oil can act as an appetite suppression and is an antioxidant.

In 1647, the English parliament passed a law that made Christmas illegal. Festivities were banned by the Puritan leader, Oliver Cromwell, who considered feasting and revelry, on what was supposed to be a holy day, to be immoral. The ban was lifted only when the Puritans lost power in 1660. Sounds like many companies' office parties have taken this line but then most office parties are probably immoral.

We sing about mangers, we kiss under mistletoe, we go wassailing, but do we really know what we are saying? Indeed do we know what we are doing when perhaps we have celebrated a little too much?

King Wenceslas - he who "looked out on the Feast of Stephen" - is the historical Saint Wenceslaus I, Duke of Bohemia (907-935).

A manger (or crib) is a trough or box of carved stone or wood used to hold food for animals.

Mistletoe is a parasitic plant that is now known to be an "ecological keystone species", that is, it is very important! Kissing under it is an English custom. It’s the only way the reserved English can engineer a snog. Myrrh is a gum used for perfume or incense, one of the gifts that the three wise men gave to Jesus. It is the dried sap of the tree Commiphora myrrha, native to Somalia and the eastern parts of Ethiopia.

St. Stephen's Day falls on December 26th, the day after Christmas. St Stephen himself was the first Christian martyr.

Swaddling clothes are blankets or similar cloth used to wrap an infant snugly so that the movement of the limbs is tightly restricted. The practice was thought to be essential for good posture but probably caused claustrophobia. Wassail comes from the Old Norse "ves heill": to be of good health. This evolved into the tradition of visiting neighbours on Christmas Eve and drinking to their health. Well, any excuse eh?

The terms "Yule" and "Christmas" are often used interchangeably. In Denmark, Norway and Sweden the term jul is the common way to refer to a celebration, including among Christians. In Finland, it is called joulu, in Estonia joulud, and in Iceland and the Faroe Islands jol.

For the first time in nearly 100 years, Easter came this year at its earliest on Sunday, March 23, 2008. The last time Easter Sunday fell on March 23 was in 1913. However, Easter can occur earlier than March 23. The earliest Easter ever recorded in the Gregorian calendar from 1753 onwards was on March 22 in both 1761 and 1818.

The next time Easter occurs on March 23 will not be until 2160, and a March 22 Easter will not happen until the year 2285. Can’t wait!

A friend of a friend asked if there is a special name for dates such as the 8 August this year (08/08/08) apart from the obvious such as ‘repetitive’ or ‘all the same’. Well, I couldn’t think of any and I didn’t spot any in the media. Anyone any ideas?

Check in again at my desk soon!

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