Well, we’ve finally made it to the end of the Michaelmas Term, and now exams are over, and we’ve even had some snow, things are definitely feeling festive. Here in the office, we’ve taken a break from planning the 2018 Summer School - you really don’t feel like that when it’s -5 degrees outside, anyway – and have been planning the Student Christmas get-together instead: much more fun!
Ever since Charles Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol the English have been obsessed with Christmas; even with global warming we’re still convinced that we should have snow on 25 December, and even though obesity is becoming a national issue, we insist on consuming our own body-weight in frankly strange and food and drink that we wouldn’t dream of eating at any other time. For those of you who don’t generally celebrate an English Christmas, or who might be considering giving it a try this year, here are some of the traditional goodies to look out for (or avoid!):
Christmas pudding: a heavy mix of dried fruits (raisins, currants, sultanas etc) suet (which is grated beef fat – yum!) flour, sugar, brandy, eggs all mashed up, piled into a cloth, tied up and boiled for hours to produce an object which resembles a bowling ball. On the Big Day, when we’ve already eaten mountains of turkey and all the trimmings, we do the only logical thing with this delicacy – we stick a sprig of holly in the top, pour alcohol over it and set it alight. With luck we manage to do this without setting fire to the house, or Grandma……
Mince Pies: First make your mincemeat: it’s the mixture as above, put into jars (like jam), but don’t cook it. Use to fill small pastry cases (do cook!) and serve alongside Christmas Pudding. Useful if you did actually destroy the pudding when lighting it. And don’t worry, there’s been no actual meat in mincemeat since the 1850s.
Christmas cake: As above, minus suet, plus butter. Bake, don’t boil. Cover with marzipan (almond paste) and coat with Royal Icing. This rock-hard sugar coating was presumably invented by dentists…. Christmas Cake is eaten at tea-time (around 5pm) just in case you’re still feeling hungry after your meagre Christmas Dinner!
By the way, all the above should be made no later than September and stored until Christmas. The flavour should improve - and in any case, with modern antibiotics, food poisoning isn’t the issue it used to be….
Anyone still capable of movement after all this food will be expected to pull Christmas Crackers: these are small explosive devices (banned on planes, and sold only to over-18s, though used by anyone over the age of 4) containing a paper hat, a small piece of unidentifiable plastic (sorry, a gift), usually all the way from China, and most importantly…. A JOKE. Appreciating these jokes depends on a) understanding the famous British Sense of Humour and b) having imbibed enough of the Christmas Spirit. Here are a selection, starting with one especially for students of English:
Q: What do you call Santa’s Little Helpers? A: Subordinate Clauses.
Two snowmen standing in a field. One said to the other: ‘Can you smell carrots?’
Q: Why didn’t the skeleton go to the Christmas Party? A: He had no body to go with.
And if you don’t understand them, I won’t be explaining them. I’ve tried that before, at many Christmas parties, and I know from bitter experience that it just doesn’t work!
Anyway, that brings me back neatly to the ABC Student Christmas do, which was a great success and enjoyed by everyone – a lovely way to round off a very happy and successful term.
Merry Christmas to all our friends, and a very happy and peaceful New Year.