December 23 : Spring & Summer Christmas
A recurring theme it seems, unusually warm temperatures and signs of Spring, but significant, unfortunately. If only in the UK we could at least get to enjoy some basking in sunshine to accompany the warm climate. Alas, we still have to head considerably further South for that it seems, just like Dee and her family in Australia.
December 22 : Global world, local markets
On the one hand, notably in the realm of food & drink, the offering at Christmas markets seems to be more global and multicultural in flavour than ever – in line with the trend for street food and food vans.
On the other hand, the offering in terms of products on sale seems to bring you straight back to the reality of your location.
December 20 : Britannia still cool for festive shop windows in Paris
You can find our full and ever-expanding set of photos as sent in to our Christmas / Holidays 2015 here on flickr.
And if you have any photos, video or audio of anything seasonal, or even anti-seasonal, wherever you are or may roam, please email us via email@example.com. Thank you!
December 19 : Christmas jumpers going cheap
It hasn’t been a very successful year for Christmas jumper sales this year, not for shops in the UK anyway despite an upward trend in popularity, and trendiness, in recent years. This year it’s just been too warm to buy knitwear, even with the silly season as an excuse – and quite possibly a good thing?! Nevertheless, yesterday was ‘Christmas Jumper Day’ in the UK, a day to wear Christmas jumpers and raise money for charity, and Christmas jumpers were indeed out in force, and much money was raised.
Today, jumper prices were seen slashed to as low as 10% of RRP.
December 18 : Freaky festive Friday
Buy your tree here at your peril!
December 17 : The Scents of Christmas
We might not always stop and think about it, but Christmas is a time rich in wonderful scents, scents that are deeply entrenched in our memories, as only scent is able to do, compounding the warmth and emotions of a time that is full of nostalgia and tradition, as families and friends gather and share.
This is true for when we’re out and about, think roasting chestnuts, and even the cold and snow for some, but it’s more marked in our homes, whether it’s the mulled wine full of cinnamon and other spices we have bubbling away on the stove, the waft of ginger emanating from those precariously-constructed gingerbread houses, boozy fruit knocking us sideways from our Christmas cakes and pudding – or just the tipple on the side, clementines gushing forth their natural oils as we rip them open, the burning of logs on the fire (huh, now a distant fantasy for many of us, certainly in the UK). And so much more, including the less pleasant ones – boiled sprouts anyone (?!).
Beyond these ‘incidental’ scents, there is also a huge, and ever greater variety of products on sale to artificially add fragrance to our homes at this festive time of year. Scented candles are one that goes from strength to strength, for self and home, as well as for gifts, although this year there seems to be some very unusual diversification going on such as Pringles Candles, for anyone not contented with just eating their Pigs in Blankets, Cheesy Cheese and Texas BBQ Pringles crisps!
Of the newer products around, we were intrigued by these Scenticles, little rods that ‘add scent to your tree’ – presumably for those who prefer or who are limited to artificial trees although perhaps also to boost the scent of real trees that are mass-grown and maybe lack scent just as mass-produced food can lack flavour? Hmm, worth a sniff perhaps.
December 16 : Cute animals, the stars of 2015 Christmas decoration schemes
It may be cats who’ve become the stars of viral videos this year, but, when it comes to this year’s festive decorations and window displays, it seems that, alongside the usual furry characters, pretty much any and every animal (the more exotic, or endangered the better) might be found featured, or even modelling festive accessories this year – all helped by the expansion of ranges of festive clothing and accessories now in most animal sizes these days!
December 15 : May the Force be with and Awaken you!
December 14 : Festive family heirlooms
In today’s era of fast-living, instant gratification and disposable culture, it’s always lovely to learn about heirlooms and small ‘treasures’ passed down from generation to generation. One of the most special bits of the festive season for Karina in Moscow is getting out the decorations that came originally from her grandmother, and hanging them onto her Christmas tree.
December 13 : Naughty or Nice
Sometimes you just have to chuckle, and these festive street lights in Italy’s chic capital city Milan sent in by Andrea just had enough suggestion of being ‘open-to-(mis)interpretation’!
We also read about some festive lights that had been hung up in Tiverton, down in the South-West of England, which, unwittingly, or perhaps intentionally (?!) had turned out to look more like underpants!
Meanwhile, in a champagne bar not so far away, a nun was sitting talking to a young lady… a lot harder to misinterpret, or so it would seem. Still, it is the time of year for celebration for any and all!
December 12 : Climate change deal
On the day that an historic global climate-change deal is unveiled in Paris, which is truly wonderful news, we thought it would be fitting and celebratory to feature Alison’s photo from Scotland, in which she unveils a long-standing, and surely little-known tradition of ice cream shops – yes, up there in that chilly part of the world. “It’s one of the nice things about Scotland, that so many towns have their own ice-cream shops, many with Italian backgrounds, families who came to Scotland about a hundred years ago, complete with enthusiasm for introducing Italian favourites. One of my local places has got a full range of Christmas ice cream desserts on the go!”
Individual ice cream dumplings anyone?
December 11 : what is it about Christmas Tree skirts this year?
December 10 : Human Rights Thursday, or not?
It just seems a bit ironic on this, International Human Rights Day, that we should happen to come across these rather ‘bah humbug’ instructions, in bright, rolling lights, telling us how we should behave (this festive time).
“On Human Rights Day, let us recommit to guaranteeing the fundamental freedoms and protecting the human rights of all.” says United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. This is the heart of London in 2015, and they are telling us what to do? Where’s the freedom in that? Oh, what hope is there! Tra la la la la, la la blah blah!
December 9 : Christmas crackers going tartan this season
Christmas crackers are a common sight on the Christmas dinner table in the UK, but are also a British tradition upheld in other Commonwealth countries. This year it seems that Scottish tartan, or plaid, is something of a favourite design for crackers, from luxury (above) through to mass-market (below), in Christmas red/green colour ways.
Perhaps it’s all a nod to the nation we nearly lost last year to the independence referendum? Or perhaps just a modern twist on a design classic. Either way, we want to know what’s inside them to make such a difference in price!
December 8 : Simply Christmas and warm outside too
In the UK and the USA, we have a very set, romantic notion of enjoying a white Christmas, which is ever more a figment of our nostalgia rather than any current reality. Spending Christmas in a more tropical land can seem somehow incongruous with these images, and yet it has a different, more simple kind of charm.
Meanwhile, in Scotland, where landscapes should have long been thick with snow, the unusually high temperatures of early December have given Christmas decorations a taste of being somewhere more tropical – a kind of festive armchair travel.
December 7 : Extravagant vs Economy Lighting
Is it a reflection of economy or religion that Christmas street lightings seem to vary so considerably this year from one city/country to another?!
In Romania (eg. Bucharest, as above), and in Spain (eg. in Madrid, as below), where Christianity is still by far the dominant religion, Christmas is still a serious occasion, traditions prevail at this time and the religious overtones are unabashed. There are markets and lots of magnificent lighting on display to delight and excite kids and adults alike in the build-up to Christmas itself. In Madrid, there are even free buses to drive people around to see the lights!
Meanwhile in London, capital of a nation that, as of today has been officially deemed non-Christian, with an economy that could be doing better, it could be that the true spirit of Christmas is officially fading and/or political correctness rising. Or simply that the local councils are meaner than ever with their budgets?!
December 6 : Subdued Christmas markets in France
Christmas markets in France are legendary with their chalets-style stalls showcasing artisanal wares and local produce, and Strasbourg’s market is one of the oldest and biggest in the country. This year however, even there things have been more subdued than usual after the attacks on Paris on 13th November with the fears that this ricocheted across the whole country (and beyond of course). But, at least the show has gone on, as have the lights, unlike in Lyon where the wonderful annual Fête des Lumières has been for the most part cancelled – except for this coming Tuesday, 8th December, when the lights will be turned on with more brilliance than usual as a tribute to victims of the Paris attacks.
December 5 : Small Business Saturday
We’ve all heard (oh haven’t we just) about (dare we say it) Black Friday, and Cyber Monday. But who’s heard about Small Business Saturday ? This retail ‘event’ in the UK, featuring some 5 million businesses, encourages people to shop at small / local / independent retailers, certainly for this one Saturday before Christmas / Holidays, but ideally inspiring support for these businesses all year round.
Barcelona, Spain, with its long history of local, independent and specialist shops, experienced a spate of closures of such businesses during the ‘crisis’, but interesting boutiques with all sorts of specialisms are back with a vengeance.
December 4 : Help for the homeless
In London’s Soho Square (close to Centrepoint, a big charity for young homeless people), we came across a young choir practising for a fund-raising concert, singing carols that had been cleverly adapted to highlight the plight of the homeless which becomes all the more poignant at this time of year, and lots of people try to do something practical to help, often in the realm of food & drink.
For example, Louise Scott (UK, North) is placing a useful item, such as food, every day of Advent into a box with a view to taking her collection to a homeless shelter on Christmas Eve. And we read about a group of Michelin chefs in Spain who have created a special menu for soup kitchens for Christmas Day to be served in 6 different regions, but in the hope that it will inspire and mobilise local communities to do something similar. Brilliant stuff.
December 3 : Public transport is the way to go, and to carry.
In the week that Madrid rolls out an initiative to encourage greater use of public transport to help reduce air pollution, London continues to be a city in which traveling by public transport is anyway often favoured over cars for financial and environmental reasons, but also to avoid undue stress. At this festive time, it might seem more practical to transport Christmas tree purchases by car, and yet, with Christmas trees often sold outside underground stations, it’s not uncommon to see them riding in trains and – more conveniently – in buses. Rather than being an annoyance, the sight and company of a tree tends to put smiles on the faces of fellow passengers, and the beholders!
December 2 : Expats keeping up Christmas traditions
Tradition meets modernity with an expat flavour, as John in Cornwall, UK, stirs up his Christmas pudding whilst Skype-ing with his son William who lives in Lima, Peru with his Peruvian wife and their 2 kids who are making their wishes over the airwaves and into the pudding. It’s always been a tradition for the family to make the Christmas pudding and wishes together, with William always having been the one to stir it. These days he might not get to literally stir it, but he can do his best to make sure that his Anglo-Peruvian kids can still join in with the family traditions, whilst learning about and (hopefully) carrying on these British habits.
December 1 : #GivingTuesday
Julia and her kids used #GivingTuesday as a deadline to sort out clothes, warm footwear, books and toys to pass to a local charity, who subsequently distribute donations to local families in need.
More significantly and newsworthy (!), Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, on the announcement of their baby daughter, have set ‘a new philanthropic benchmark by committing their massive fortune to charitable causes while still in their early 30s’, by offering 99% of their Facebook shares over their lifetime, in the hope they can help to make the world a better place for their daughter (and for all our children) to grow up in. Bring it on!