Advent activity #14

Now that you’ve decorated your tree, it’s time to PUT PRESENTS UNDER THE TREE. There are currently two presents under our tree, which since they came in the post I think we have to wait and open on the day. What with one thing and another quite a lot of our presents this year either aren’t physical things at all or are being posted directly to their recipients (as an extended family we are skipping the three-households-mixing relaxation because we have decided we’d rather not kill each other), but I intend to make sure we have at least a few more there before bedtime.

Most Christmas traditions can be traced back to pre-Christian rituals but I think that present-giving starts with the Magi, giving us the perfect excuse to revisit the King’s College rendition of We Three Kings, which sticks with the original arrangement whereby each king is sung by a different soloist. I like the whole carol, but the unexpectedly sad and sinister lyrics of Melchior’s “Myrrh” verse are the best bit of all, especially in this version, although they do have to compete with a dazzling final note.

Advent activity #13

Stand down, there is no activity today because the 13th is officially designated another BREAK day. And honestly, by mid-December when it’s wet outside and work hasn’t let up at all yet and you’re still post-Covid and you walked 15,000 steps yesterday and had two (two!) social engagements, one of which took place IN REAL LIFE, I think a break is well-earned. The furthest I plan to go today is to the shop for some milk, and the only activity I will be taking part in is hanging out the laundry, and I’m only doing that because in an ill-advised surge of early morning energy I decided to do the laundry in the first place, a decision I now firmly regret.

Still, at least I can listen to Christmas music while I hang out the laundry, and since its Sunday and I’ve nothing else to do I’m sharing this whole playlist made by my brother, who has carefully selected the best possible versions of all the best possible carols. It’s really a hanging-things-on-the-tree playlist, but I’m optimistic it will work just as well as a hanging-things-on-the-clothes-horse playlist.

If you don’t have time to listen to the whole thing you can just listen to my favourite, which today is the haunting Bethlehem Down as sung by the choir of Queen’s College, Oxford:

Advent activity #12

Naturally once you’ve bought your tree, the next job is to DECORATE TREE. Ours has been up for nearly a week but I’ve saved the pictures for today, in case you need some inspiration. The decorations are the usual accumulation of several years’ worth of buying, borrowing and stealing, but the fairy on the top is the work of my own fair hands exactly forty-two years ago. I think you’ll agree I showed a promising talent even then:

Since writing about “Deck the Halls” yesterday I have had it as an earworm, and since today is all about putting up decorations it seems an appropriate choice. As I know you know, the tune is from the Welsh “Nos Galan” which is a new year’s song, so in honour of its origins here is a gorgeous version by the Treorchy Male Voice Choir.

Advent activity #11

As you will know if we are social media buddies, I am a big fan of made-for-TV Christmas movies. For the last few years I have had Sony Movies Christmas on as a version of background music for most of October, November and December, and more recently Channel 5 have started showing at least two made-for-TV Christmas movies a day, which means you can watch them in – unimaginable luxury – HD. (Although it is fair to say that some made-for-TV Christmas movies look a lot better through the haze of spun sugar that is the SD viewing experience on channel 51.)

What is comforting about made-for-TV Christmas movies is that they are all exactly the same in a way that I don’t need to try to explain because it’s done so perfectly in this Tweet and its replies. And one thing that nearly always happens is a trip to a Christmas tree farm, because that is how you buy Christmas trees in smalltown America, and all made-for-TV Christmas movies are – eventually – set in smalltown America.

So today’s task, if you haven’t already done it, is BUY CHRISTMAS TREE, and to ideally while doing so either have a meet-cute with an old flame you haven’t seen in years, or a comedy accident. (The finest example of the latter is in Deck The Halls, which isn’t a made-for-TV Christmas movie but is lovingly made in their finest tradition, and if you haven’t already seen it this Christmas – I have, twice – you can watch it on Amazon Prime.)

All of which is the perfect introduction to this song, which as a song is only medium, but it’s by Taylor Swift which immediately makes it a 10/10. I think in real life you probably wouldn’t want to visit a Christmas tree farm in the snow, because it would make choosing, felling and transporting your tree much more complicated, but for the purposes of a pop video I endorse it enthusiastically.

Advent activity #10

You are almost certainly exempted from today’s very specific task, which is BIRTHDAY CALL FOR DAVID. It is David’s birthday, and certainly some of us should be giving him a birthday call, but it doesn’t necessarily translate as a universally appropriate seasonal activity. If you aren’t going to call David you could always call someone else! (Not me, I don’t like talking and my phone is on silent.)

Obviously since it is David’s birthday I let him choose the music, which is why we will all be spending the morning listening to whatever the hey this is. Inexplicably, nobody has created a video version so your David Day bonus is this non-Christmassy but perfect clip of a man who has made his own limoncello.

Advent (non-)activity #9

The official instruction for today is BREAK, which I think means we are allowed a day off from our seasonal chores, so instead I will give you a recipe which I invented by mistake earlier this week when I’d been planning to do garlic bread, then remembered the oven was kaput. If you are not interested in serendipitous culinary discoveries then skip straight down to today’s tangentially-food-related song, which is a DOOZY.

I have no quantities for you here, because I made it up as I went along, but I can’t imagine it mattering how much of anything you use. And it’s almost all staples that you probably have in the house anyway, which makes it easy as well as delicious. I think I’m going to call it HOT SPROUT SALAD.

Ingredients

  • Brussels sprouts
  • Olive oil
  • Chili flakes
  • Garlic (or garlic paste)
  • Grated parmesan
  • Crushed pistachio kernels

Method

  • Shred the sprouts – I grated them, but chopping them up finely would also work
  • Heat the oil in a frying pan with the chili flakes and lots of black pepper for 1-2 minutes
  • Add the garlic and the sprouts and cook until the sprouts have just started to char
  • Take the pan off the heat and add the parmesan
  • Stir and season to taste
  • Serve topped with the pistachio kernels as a side-dish to almost anything

START READING AGAIN HERE We’ve had the Carpenters before, and we’ve had The Christmas Song before, but we’ve never combined the two, which is a shame because this is beautiful, but it’s also good news because it means we can have it for the first time today! I love Karen’s outfit here, even though if I were to wear it I would look like an actual Brussels sprout.

Advent activity #8

I’m going to be very lenient in the overseeing of today’s job, which is “BUY DISNEY PLUS”. It’s a perfectly good plan if you live in a house where a lot of Disney is going to be watched over Christmas, and it’s an even better one if some of you are under ten and/or isolating. If those things are not true of your household then I am happy for you to interpret this activity in any way you choose, though it should probably be film-or TV-based if you definitely want to score the point.

(There is a free online screeing of Mogul Mowgli this evening for BFI members, which I have decided will count as my contribution.)

There must be a million Disney Christmas songs, mustn’t there? But I couldn’t think of any, and the ones I found when I googled were sickly sweet and/or featured children wearing make-up, so instead we will go to a Disney-adjacent IP (I mean, of course Disney own the Muppets, because they own everything, but they’re not DISNEY-Disney) for an almost-rendition of Shchedryk, or The Carol of the Bells as it’s better known in English.

(If you hate this version, here is a nicer one.)

Advent activity #7

GET STOCKINGS OUT is the job of the day for Monday, although whether that is a two-minute task or a two-hour one depends on how organised your house is. Don’t tell anyone, but I think we might skip stockings this year, because we’re trying to reduce the amount of unnecessary Stuff we have and it’s quite hard to fill a stocking with necessary Stuff. For more years of my life than I’m willing to own up to, though, I found opening the Christmas stocking the most thrilling part of the whole day, and I will still insist on chocolate coins and a satsuma before breakfast on Christmas Day, stocking or no stocking.

Also my stocking is really small, because it’s one that I think my paternal grandma made for me when I was tiny, and I don’t want anyone to think that the size of my stocking should be a limit on the size of what Santa brings me.

Luckily some people are far more selfless – for example, the little boy in this delight of a song, put out in the 1950s by US children’s record label Cricket, on vinyl that crackles like a log fire. Enjoy!

Advent activity #6

If you are my eighty-five-year-old neighbour then you have already done this twice, because you weren’t convinced by your first effort, but if not then today is the day to MAKE CAKE. I think technically this probably means Christmas cake, but I will allow any type of cake, or – in extremis – toast. I’m able to make very little since our oven went kaput last week and the people aren’t coming to fix it until Tuesday, so I will be spending my Sunday decorating the tree (that was supposed to happen yesterday, but the lights have also gone kaput; I am not having a good time, electronically) and listening to proper old-fashioned Christmas Crooner music, beginning with Doris Day’s version of Winter Wonderland. Most non-recent Christmas songs don’t come with a video, but this one does and it’s extremely Christmassy, so do take three minutes out of your day to watch as well as listen.

Advent activity #5

I’m going to let you interpret today’s instruction, GET NUTCRACKER, in whichever way you choose. Should you happen to own a decorative Christmas ornament in the shape of a toy soldier from the ballet then you will be able to hit the nail squarely on the head, but in the unlikely event that you don’t, you could:

  1. Get your actual honest-to-god nutcracker from the kitchen drawer and use it to crack some nuts
  2. Get the ballet on DVD, or stream it, or, from December 11, stream it live from the New York City Ballet
  3. Get coconut liqueur, cognac, lemon juce, triple sec, pineapple juice, some ice and a strong constitution and mix yourself this slightly terrifying-sounding drink

However you choose to celebrate Nutcracker Day, as December 5 will henceforth be known in our house, you must for sure begin by listening to Pentatonix, last seen gracing these pages two years ago with That’s Christmas To Me, perform this adorable version of the Dance Of The Sugar Plum Fairy: