Saturday, 29 August 2009

Happy Hogswatch

Tired of celebrating the traditional Christmas? Then why not celebrate Hogswatch this year?

Hogswatch is the creation of comic fantasy author Terry Pratchett and is the fictional Discworld's version of our Christmas. An important figure for the inhabitants at this time of year is the Hogfather, who is also central to the novel Hogfather (funnily enough).

On the Discworld, Hogswatchday falls on the first of Ick, and is the winter solstice from the perspective of the city-dwellers of Ankh-Morpork.
The 32nd of December, or the day before the New Year, is known as Hogswatchnight. The name is a pun on "hogwash", Hogmanay and Watch Night, and possibly on the ancient holiday of Samhain which was traditionally associated with pig-killing, to ensure that there was enough food for the rest of the winter.

Many Hogswatch traditions are parodies of those associated with Christmas, including a decorated oak tree in a pot, strings of paper sausages, and, of course, a visit by the Hogfather. He grants children's wishes and brings them presents.

If you feel like celebrating Hogswatch this year, you can get hold of your Hogswatch cards (and Hogswatch prints that would make excellent gifts) here through Discworld artist Paul Kidby's website.

Sunday, 23 August 2009

Santa Jaws

Christmas comes early... again

There has been some furore in the press this weekend about department stores selling Christmas items four months early. This is what the Sun had to say about it (in the Sun's usual tone-down style).

The latest store to get a lambasting is Selfridges' in London. As the Sun puts it, 'Posh Selfridges on London's Oxford Street is selling trees and decorations from a basement Christmas store.'

Now, I don't know what all the fuss is about. As reported on the blog last year, Harrods has a whole Christmas department open from the start of August, and in Disneyworld in Florida there are dedicated Christmas shops open all year round.

Church leaders are apparently concerned that, 'We should not forget the true meaning of Christmas which is to celebrate the birth of Christ.'

Now, sorry to be blunt, but for many these days, Christ is not uppermost in their minds when they think about Christmas, even in December. And for others, the opportunity to buy early just helps them to be more organised when it comes to Christmas which is an incredible busy and pressured time of year. And, of course, many businesses depend on Christmas sales to make any money and stay afloat at all, such as The Christmas Shop in Lechlade, Glouscestershire, or Old Rowland's Christmas and Gift Shop in Cheddar, Somerset.

Follow the Frankincense Trail on BBC 2

This coming Thursday 27 August, BBC 2 are showing part 1 of Kate Humble's The Frankincense Trail. Here's what the Beeb has to say about the programme:

Intrepid presenter Kate Humble follows the ancient frankincense trade route of Arabia across the amazing modern world of the Middle East in this documentary series. Her journey along the 2,000-mile trail that first connected the Arab world with the West takes Kate on a quest that's steeped in history, searing with desert heat, and full of characters and adventure.

For 3,000 years before the birth of Christ frankincense was more valuable than gold. Its sweet smelling aromatic smoke was treasured by Pharaohs and Caesars, and their insatiable demand for frankincense created a trade route from the southern coast of Oman to the Holy Lands. Vast camel caravans carried thousands of tonnes of frankincense over tribal lands - known today as Oman, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt, Israel and Palestine. Following the trail across these seven nations, Kate finds modernity coexisting with ancient traditions as she discovers what it means to be a Western woman in Arabia.

Kate begins her epic journey following high in the hills of southern Oman. With her own supply of the precious resin she walks with the Al Mahri tribe - the descendants of the ancient traders - and their 300 camels along the original trail through the scorching Empty Quarter desert. Crossing into Yemen, Kate arrives at the world's first skyscraper city, where her frankincense is used at the ritual blessing of a newborn baby. From the modern frankincense trade capital of Aden to an incredible camel jumping contest, Kate journeys north and enters the mysterious Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

So why not tune in and watch this week? I know I will.

And of course you can find a potted history of frankincense in What is Myrrh Anyway?, which you can pick up here.

Saturday, 22 August 2009

Christmas comes early to Rochdale... Four months early!

Is this some kind of a record?

The magic of Christmas has arrived in Rochdale, with more than four months to go until December 25.

Despite the summer heat, festive lights have been appearing on lamp-posts in the Lancashire town. The decorations include a giant Noel sign and a Santa Claus.

The council says they have gone up early to celebrate festivals for other faiths, including the Hindu festival of Diwali in October, and local officials claim that putting them up early will also save around £10,000 of taxpayers' money.

Would you Adam and Eve it?