Friday Fun for the festive season

It’s the final Friday before Christmas and most people are celebrating the end of work before the festivities. So hopefully the following will get you through the last hours, or may be of some comfort on long journeys to far-flung families…

Firstly, an advent gem that will provide a lot of joy if you haven’t come across it as yet. Dave Walker (of Church Times and my trip to Uganda fame) has put his energy into a highly entertaining advent calendar of cartoons – so there’s still a few to go. The Christmas Newsletter was a particular favourite amongst family and friends. (I cannot wait to get my hands on the basket of missives the Clutterbuck family has received when I get to Belfast on Monday! Nor can I wait to read my parents’ screed, just in case they’ve written about me…)


They aren’t all hilarity-filled, some have a great deal of pathos and should make you stop and think – like this Foodbank themed one. It certainly feels apt as I look ahead to my shift at our Foodbank tomorrow morning, and continue to seethe at the way in which the government treated the debate on Foodbanks the other day.


In preparation for the holiday season, I’m gathering together some festive films to watch en route to Ireland (hello four hour train journey & two hour ferry crossing). The Muppet Christmas Carol is a favourite and was actually shown the last time I caught a ferry for Christmas, but how many of these 14 facts about the film did you already know? Most fascinating for me was the way in which the Ghost of Christmas Past was created, via a submerged Muppet and a green screen. Oh, and it includes the video of the scene that was excluded from the theatrical release on the basis that it was too sad for children (phooey) – a move that caused consternation on the release of the DVD version as its VHS predecessor had included it. Those of us who made the technological transition mourn its loss on every viewing. Oh, and the list is correct, It Feels Like Christmas *is* one of the best Christmas songs ever. Get that soundtrack added to your Christmas playlist asap!

The other holiday classic (though rather more controversial, as it’s essentially the Marmite of Christmas films) is the 10 year old Love, Actually. This isn’t ideal public transportation viewing on account of the naked stand-ins scenes (fellow travellers may think you’re watching something dodgy), but it does make you feel warm and fuzzy. Some bright spark at Buzzfeed has definitively ranked all the turtlenecks that feature in the movie. It’s a surprisingly high number of a fashion item that I don’t recall being particularly popular in 2003, but that makes it all the more hilarious. Number 10 is a particularly good one:

Love Actually turtle-necks

Of course, it’s important to remember the reason for the season too! At our family carol service last Sunday (in which I gave my first-ever all-age sermon, because that wasn’t a high-pressure occasion on which to do it…) we shared this beauty from St Paul’s Auckland. Since 2010, the New Zealand church (planted by my former church) has gained a reputation of producing utterly fabulous Christmas videos for their carol service – which takes place in an arena, with glow-sticks. Their 2012 offering was downright glorious and gave me an excellent theme for my sermon:

I cannot get over the joy of hearing “They won’t be expecting that!” in a Kiwi accent! The morning of our service was the evening of their carol service, at which their 2013 video debuted. It’s a little different from previous ones, but worth a watch nonetheless.

Finally, a piece of ridiculous seasonal music which manages to combine Christmas and musical theatre – Wicked, specifically. I give you Defying Gravity, as sung by Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. It’s a little niche, but it is possibly the best use I’ve seen of the Wicked Backing Tracks (I only my copy for moments when I like to prance around pretending that I am actually a West End star).

Christmas jumpers and Archbishops

Let the history books of St Mellitus Theological College record that ‘St Mellitus Christmas Jumper Day’ was begun by the 2011 cohort. In years to come, when ordinands of the future don their colourful knitwear, I hope someone at the college will remember us…

Christmas Jumpers 2011Christmas jumpers, 2011. All bar three of us are now ordained. 

This year, Christmas Jumper Day took place, as is now tradition, on the final day of the autumn term. The fact that we had an extra-special guest that day didn’t appear to deter anyone, except for possibly some of the staff. (Though it should be noted that the fabulous Jane Williams, wife of Archbishop Emeritus Rowan, did wear one.) I’m not quite sure what ++Justin thought of the throng of jumper-clad ordinands in front of him, but as he managed to quote Miss Congeniality during his session, I can’t imagine he didn’t see the funny side.

Actually, given this photo, he definitely did!

Christmas Jumpers & ++JustinThe winner of the 2013 Christmas Jumper competition: Alice and this fabulous, reason-for-the-season, jumper (available in the men’s section of ASOS). The tiny jumper on her finger was her prize! [Credit.]

The day really was entered into with gusto! Even pregnant students didn’t shy away from the challenge – especially the lovely Jeni, in this home-made number:

Jeni's snowmanThat’s a Poundland Snowman affixed to a regular jumper. Genius.

There was a well-organised group shot, containing everyone (well, everyone who was still at college at 3pm after our second guest speaker of the day). Aren’t we an attractive bunch of vicars-to-be?

StMellitusChristmas2013Thanks Finch for the photo & for co-ordinating the jumper wearing! 

And my jumper? Well, I personally think it’s a fairly low-key number. After all, there are no red noses or glittering/glowing appendages – just redness and stars. This year I felt the need to accessorise with matching nails and shoes:

Christmas Jumper & NailsChristmas jumper with Christmas nails. The ensemble was completed with my sparkly Dorothy shoes.

Serious jumpersJean-Luc insisted we did not smile – I wasn’t being grumpy. Note his brilliant Christmas additions to a non-Christmassy jumper. [Credit.]

Fractionally more Festive Friday Fun

The problem with working in a church at Christmas time is the lack of screen time it involves. (This is the first time my trusty Macbook has been touched since Tuesday night – shocking…) This lends itself neither to blogging or discovering Friday Fun, but here are few things I’ve found along the way.

Firstly, it seems obligatory for Call Me Maybe to be parodied by anyone and everyone. Inevitably, the Christmas season has barely begun and already we have a nativity version – Call Me Mary

One of the best lines would have to be “And all the Catholic boys are gonna parade me, ‘cos I’m a virgin, and I’m having God’s baby.” Got to love those Christian parodies!

The ridiculous/alternative nativity set theme has continued with aplomb this week – both online and in the real world. (I noticed on my way home last night that the local Funeral Directors now has quite an impressive nativity scene laid out in its window. Cheery.) Favourites have included:

What I like to call the Bill & Ted nativity. (Found here.)
Nativity in outer space. 
(Found here, where you can also find out how to make your own.)

Mexican NativityMy friend Amy’s Mexican ‘nativity within a Mexican man’ nativity. I’m sure there are all sorts of theological interpretations to make from this…

And, simply because I’ve told the story of this particular nativity countless times over the last couple of weeks, here’s my mother’s famous Inuit nativity:

Yes, that’s a polar bear. I think the Greek gospels may have been mis-translated somewhat and neglected to mention this particular creature’s presence at the birth of our Lord.

Finally, here’s something more dramatically amusing – as in it’s quality drama, as opposed to sheer ridiculousness. This is some people I know’s entry to the annual Nativity Factor competition and I have to say, would have featured here if I hadn’t known the person playing the Angel Gabriel…

Nothing says Christmas…

…like a few twigs in a vase.

Regular readers, friends and visitors to my home during the festive season over the last couple of years will now be familiar with my Christmas Twigs concept. Back in 2010, a throw away remark during a staff meeting at work led to me foraging in the snow for twigs and assembling them into something resembling a Christmas tree denuded of needles. Last year, having ditched a hopeless fake tree I’d had for a few years, I recreated the twigs on a smaller scale in our bijou King’s Cross apartment. This year, it was only logical that I did the same – the beauty of the twigs is that you can create something that precisely fits the space you have available. I had decided upon the perfect spot some months ago, so all I needed was the twigs – which are freely available in any of my local Bloomsbury squares.

Now in its third year, I have got the Christmas Twigs process down to a fine art. If you’re tempted to try this yourself (and I have become something of a trend setter in the process…) here are some handy tips:

  • Pick your twigs carefully. You need strong ones with plenty of offshoots on which to hang your decorations. It also helps if they’re fairly straight – or if you at least have a few of those.
  • Get rid of leaves/fragile offshoots while in the park – it saves making lots of mess on the carpet when you get home.
  • Don’t bother spray-painting them unless you really want to. It looks just as (if not more) effective without it and it saves you a lot of time, money and oxygen. 
  • As you’re arranging them, use wire to bind twigs together and make the structure more stable. Make sure you’ve finished this before you add lights, otherwise it can make the dismantling process trickier. 
  • Add the lights before you move it into your preferred location – it just gives you a bit more space to manoeuvre. 
  • Because it’s not a tree, the middle of the twig arrangement can look bare. Use paperclips as hooks for decorations and hook them over the middle of branches, rather than just on the offshoots. 
It’s caught on so much that my mother decided to do it too. It’s a Christmas at my sister’s year this year, so sensibly, my parents decided buying their own tree was pointless – instead, my mum found a jug and some twigs and made a festive arrangement on the coffee table that would usually get moved out of the way for the tree:
My initial response to seeing this image on Twitter last night was to suggest to my mother that she needed bigger jugs – luckily I decided before writing that tweet that it was probably an inappropriate comment to make towards my mum on a public forum. (So I’m doing it here instead.) I do like the use of colours, and given the size of that table, it’s probably a much bigger arrangement than I first realised. 
Oh, and in case you’re wondering about my annual tradition of telling the stories of all my new tree decorations this year, there aren’t any massively exciting/meaningful ones. Last year, a friend visited while the twigs were up, heard some of the stories and proceeded to go out and buy me a silver star that would remind me of her – which is very sweet, but strictly speaking not ‘new’ as it was on the twigs last year. Otherwise, I have something sent to me a couple of weeks ago from my mum (always meaningful, obviously) and a glittery pink star from Paperchase which is indicative of nothing more than my love of the Paperchase January sales. It has made me think though, that on our next trip to Chateau Duffy I may have to find a way of fashioning a tree ornament from things around the building site… 

Fractionally Festive Friday Fun

As it’s December, I will finally allow myself to share some of the festive fun that’s accumulated over the last few weeks. (Don’t think I take this blogging business seriously, there are rules people!! Yes, they’re entirely of my own making, but it’s always nice to have structure…)

Firstly, Advent season means that it’s absolutely ok to be listening to Mariah Carey on a regular basis. There are many interpretations of her Christmas classic, but the version below is beautiful in many, many ways:
1. She’s singing live and virtually a cappella, which is an impressive feat and just goes to show that whatever else Mariah may bring to the table, she has a pretty amazing voice.
2. There are children’s instruments providing much of the accompaniment.
3. There are children singing. (And one of them is wearing cute headgear.)

Before you accuse me of being rather secular in my Christmas fun, to counterbalance Mariah, here’s the ever-lovely Swingle Singers singing O Holy Night. Regular and truly devoted readers might recall that two years ago I posted a video of this arrangement performed by the Swingles at my old church. As carol service Sunday approaches, I am grieving the absence of the St Mary’s carol service spectacular in my life, and watching this enables me to imagine for just a few moments that I’m sat on a stage, the smell of evergreen and candles all around, and that lovely singing men in lovely jumpers are right in front of me. (Plus, the video’s filmed on Hampstead Heath which was the destination of choice for family Christmas walks when I was a child. The whole thing is Christmas in a nutshell.)

Finally on the Christmas front, it would be wrong not to point you towards the 42 worst nativity sets – particularly as countless people have sent the link my way, given the family’s obsession with nativities. I did mention it last year, but this year there are a few new ones, the most notable of which has to be the Tampon Nativity…

Tampon Nativity

Fear not! You can make one yourself – full instructions can be found on the Tampon Crafts website (tagline: “for any time of the month”, the hilarity). There, you can also learn how to create a whole lot of Christmas crafts (snowflakes, bells, lights…) plus a few less Christmassy creations, like a tampon blowgun; iTampon; and truly disturbing heart earrings. Personally, feminine hygiene products are pricey enough without buying additional ones for craft purposes, but maybe if you’ve got a stash that need using (e.g. you’ve recently entered the menopause or acquired a MoonCup), perhaps it’s worth exploring?

This leads us nicely into the realm of non-Christmassy fun (after all, there are still 3 Sundays left in Advent). This morning, I’ve discovered possibly the most British corner of the internet – a combination of the tube map, the shipping forecast and a cup of tea:

Finally, some fun that is slightly more niche than usual. Many, many months ago, I had my first experience of eating snails – in fact, it will probably be my only experience of eating snails. It was at the start of our Easter trip to Chateau Duffy and four of us had a somewhat epic night out on the cobbles of Montmartre. At around bottle of wine three or possibly four, I was persuaded to sample escargot – an achievement given that I’ve always had fussy eater tendencies (though these have diminished considerably over the last three years). A friend filmed it, and I finally got my hands on a copy of the video last night, when their presence in my flat enabled us to AirDrop the rather large file. It’s a little long, because snails are tricky creatures to release from their shells, so if you just want the image of my face while I’m chewing it, go to around the 2.50 mark…

I feel I should apologise for some of the language used by my fellow diners. It’s also worth looking out for the hot beardy French man sat at the next table…

I suspect that as we draw nearer to Christmas, Friday Fun will increase in its festiveness, but for now, I think it’s good to remember that there’s more to life than Christmas insanity.