Sunday, December 30, 2007

Let the sales begin!

Possibly the best thing about the post-Christmas period is the winter sales, which start on Boxing Day (December 26). This year the discounts are particularly generous, as pre-Christmas sales were slower than usual and retailers were anxious to get rid of their old stock. The opening of the sales was a huge success: the BBC reports that 500,000 shoppers ventured into the West End on Boxing Day, and Selfridges saw 9,000 customers through the doors in the first hour of trading alone! In addition, an estimated 3.6 million people spent part of their Christmas Day searching for deals via the internet. I can just imagine it:

Mince pies and the Queen's speech?
Not for me thanks, I'm surfing the sales instead.

I only made it to Oxford Street today (5th day of the sales). The crowds weren't too bad, and I bagged a few bargains. However, in some ways, I wish I'd gone out on Boxing Day, just to soak up the atmosphere - beautifully captured by Gkriniaris on this video:

"I shop, therefore I am" has got to be the best shopping motto ever :-D

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Oh Christmas boat, oh Christmas boat...

Remember my coffee table with all the junk on? It's been tidied up and has provided a showcase for our Christmas boat. A Christmas what?! I hear you ask.

A Christmas boat is a Greek alternative to the Christmas tree. Νο one seems to know how it came about, but it's become extremely popular in recent years. These days, it's not unusual for Greeks to decorate a boat, as well as a tree, at home, and many a city centre boast a Christmas boat alongside, or even instead of, a Christmas tree. I imagine foreigners who visit Greece over the Christmas and New Year period must be rather perplexed by all the brightly lit boats displayed next to more "traditional" Christmas decorations, such as Santas, stars and well... trees. Our friends were certainly surprised the first time they saw ours, and our neighbour's toddler was positively mesmerised by it.

They were even more surprised when they found out that the Greek Santa Claus isn't St Nicholas, but St Basil of Caesarea, who brings children their presents on January 1st. So I hope you'll forgive my Santa hat and my continued obsession with Christmas, as it's not over yet for me :-)

Friday, December 28, 2007

Oslo Julemarked

It may already be over, but I couldn't not show you some of the lovely pictures my friend Erik took at the Oslo Christmas market earlier this month.

Great photos Erik! I hear this year Norway's popular at the Essen Weihnachtsmarkt too ;-)

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Christmas pudding anyone?

An old tradition says that a true Christmas pudding must be made of exactly thirteen ingredients, to represent Christ and his twelve disciples. Later in history, a charm such as a silver sixpence, was added to make it fourteen ingredients (as 13 was considered unlucky) which is why the charm itself is good luck to whoever finds it in his or her portion of pud.

The Victorians added many more silver charms to the mixture, each with their own special meaning. Find a ring in your portion, and you'd find a sweetheart. Find an old thimble, and you'd remain an old maid!

Taken from The Truth About Christmas by Philip Ardagh.

Wordless Wednesday 5

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

London Christmas lights

I know I've promised you some pictures of the Christmas lights in London, so here they are, just in time ;-)

Carnaby Street in the afternoon:

Feeling peckish? How about a coffee and a mince pie, or maybe fish and chips?

Regent Street in the early evening:

The Regent Street lights were my favourite this year, especially at night when you can see the colours changing. Nokia has sponsored the lights as part of a campaign to advertise the imminent arrival of its flagship London store in Regent Street. The lights are interactive, designed to react to the movement of people walking beneath them via motion cameras, and changing formation depending upon the amount of pedestrians in the street. They also respond to environmental factors such as wind speed, weather and sunlight levels.

And finally, the not-so-impressive Oxford Street lights at night time:

I could post 100 photos of shop windows too, but here are two slightly different ones that caught my attention:

Wishing you all a very Merry Christmas!

Christmas prayer

God our Father,
Whose Word has come among us
In the holy child of Bethlehem;
May the light of faith glow in our hearts,
And shine in our words and deeds;
Through Him who is Christ the Lord.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

I'm dreaming of a White Christmas...

Irving Berlin, a self-taught composer and lyricist, wrote the song White Christmas in 1942, while sitting poolside at the Arizona Biltmore Resort and Spa in Phoenix, Arizona (no wonder he was dreaming of a white Christmas)!

Although he never learned to read music beyond a rudimentary level, with the help of various uncredited musical assistants or collaborators, he eventually composed over 3,000 songs, many of which (e.g. God Bless America, White Christmas, Anything You Can Do, There's No Business Like Show Business) left an indelible mark on American music and culture. He also composed 17 film scores and 21 Broadway scores.

Berlin was given an Academy Award in 1942 for White Christmas. He lived a long life of 101 years and passed away on 22 September 1989.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

More than a Christmas market

Lovely as the Christmas market was, I'd be doing Birmingham a disservice if I didn't show you some of the prettiest sights the city has to offer. Admittedly I'd never thought of Birmingham as a sightseeing destination, and was very pleasantly surprised. It's obvious that a lot of the city is less than charming (this is no Bath), but even so, there was plenty to look at (and take pictures of) in the city centre. What's more, it's all within a short walk of Birmingham New Street rail station, so very easy to get to, even if you're only there for a short time.

Here are some photos to prove the point:

If you're in London, Birmingham is just 1.5 hours by train, which makes it an ideal day trip destination. If you like a bit of retail therapy, so much the better, as it's got a fantastic selection of shops, including a large Waterstone's bookstore and a very futuristic-looking Selfridges.

Shopping-wise, you'll be spoilt for choice. The city centre's easy on the eye, too. If you find yourselves in this part of the world, Birmingham's definitely worth a pre-Christmas visit.

Christmas in Birmingham - Take 2

If a picture speaks 1,000 words, does a moving picture speak 10,000 words and then some? Well, I hope it does :-)

The quality isn't brilliant, but I hope I've captured a bit of the atmosphere.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Monday, December 17, 2007

Christmas Star

Poinsettias (Euphorbia pulcherrima) are flowers native to the Pacific coast of Mexico, some parts of central southern Mexico, and a few localities in Guatemala. They are named after Joel Roberts Poinsett, the first United States Ambassador to Mexico, who introduced the plant in the USA in 1825.

Alternative names for the poinsettia are Mexican flame leaf, Christmas Star, Winter Rose, Noche Buena, Lalupatae, Atatürk çiçeği (Atatürk's Flower) in Turkey, Αλεξανδρινό (Alexandrian) in Greece, and Pascua.

Source: Wikipedia (fountain of all knowledge on the web)

Friday, December 14, 2007

Glühwein anyone?

This week I had a day off work and decided to spend it in Birmingham, a city in the West Midlands, about 200 km NW of London. Apart from being the second largest city in the UK, and also one of the most racially diverse, Birmingham has another claim to faim: it hosts the Frankfurt Christmas market, the largest Weihnachtsmarkt outside of Germany and Austria.

I love mulled wine, German sausages and yummy cakes, and could think of nothing better than pottering around beautifully decorated stalls for a few hours to get the Christmas cheer going. It was a bitterly cold but gloriously sunny day, and I loved every minute of it - including the journey there and back. It took me over 2 hours by train-tube-train each way, which may sound a lot, but it was much closer than going all the way to Frankfurt ;-)

The market had a very authentic feel to it. If I didn't know better, I'd think I was in Germany. The gifts were gorgeous and so was the food. There was everything you could hope to find at a Christmas market and then some: sausages, crepes, potato fritters, garlic mushrooms, gingerbread hearts, sweet dumplings, more chocolate than you could shake a stick at, and of course, mulled wine which you drank in special cups. I even saw some speculaas biscuits on sale and couldn't resist taking a photo ;-)

Sending you Happy Christmas greetings from Birmingham and the Frankfurt Christmas market!