Advent activity #18

Some of us may have already started on today’s job, but in case you haven’t, this is your official dispensation to EAT LOTS OF CANDY, which also means I finally get to share with you the advent calendar that my dad has made for my mum this year, using the set of drawers that for the other eleven months of the year is employed as a storage space for screws, categorised by size and type. (Everyone’s dad has or had one of those, right?)

I am not keen enough on chocolate to need or want a chocolate advent calendar, but I have been enjoying my daily piece of cheese; never more than yesterday, when I had a piece of Mexican cheese studded with jalapeño pieces that made my eyes water in a good way. I should like to update you on today’s species of cheese, but I haven’t opened it yet and Alciona the cleaner is downstairs which means I am banned from going down. Sorry.

Instead you’ll have to make do with Perry Como, who if you listen carefully is singing here about candy canes, which makes him the perfect accompaniment to today’s gastronomic-indulgence-of-your-choice.

Advent activity #17

Today is another BREAK day and coincidentally it’s also another birthday, so I got birthday girl Georgia to pick today’s song, and since as a generous and loving parent she recently spent two hours – in the evening! – at a virtual school Christmas concert I thought she would definitely enjoy this crowdsourced rendition. I miss carol concerts and school plays, don’t you? A Zoom nativity is not the same thing at all, however hard it tries, especially in a year when for the first time ever a Morgan has been given a STARRING ROLE, as Joseph.

Best bit of this: the DUM-DUM-DUM at 1:46 (which is repeated at the very end, which is how all Christmas carols and probably all songs should end), and the key change right after it.

Advent activity #16

If you didn’t get a chance to MAKE UP NICE STORIES yesterday, don’t worry because today you get to DRAW NICE PICTURES. Or, if you’re not in the mood for that, you can instead look at nice pictures from three of my favourite Twitter art accounts:

Tiggy Chadwick draws and paints to order, as well as her own fabulous stuff, and has an Etsy shop here

Patrick Onyekwere draws stunning portraits in biro

My old university mucker Ella Johnston is a magpie, creating art inspired by everything from birds to rice paper (she is the only artist whose work features three separate times on my walls), and has a whole website here which you should also visit on your afternoon coffee break.

The closest I have come today to making a nice picture is spilling some pink nail polish on my leggings, resulting in an interesting tie-dye effect, but again, if you are six or thereabouts I think you should go right ahead and make a nice picture of your own.

I can’t think of a song which is even slightly related to making pictures, but I am Christmas Zooming with my schoolfriends this evening even though we have all admitted to being slightly too tired and stressed for it. So to cheer them, me and you up, here’s Mariah.

Advent activity #15

It’s ten days till Christmas! And today’s job is to MAKE UP NICE STORIES. I have done nearly that by going out and buying two actual books at lunchtime. Does that count? I think it does. I have also been reading an actual book; My Sister The Serial Killer which is not a nice story exactly, but it’s good. My Christmas Covid brain doesn’t have the energy to make up a nice story of my own, but I think if I were six I would definitely be really good at it.

There are, of course, lots of Christmas songs which tell nice stories so picking one for today was tough, even though some of the best (Last Christmas, A Winter’s Tale, this version of Tom Waits’ Christmas Card From A Hooker In Minneapolis) were ruled out because they are too sad. I’ve plumped instead for The Waitresses with Christmas Wrapping on the basis that we can, and should, all dance to it.

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.