‘Some hae meat and canna eat,
And some wad eat that want it;
But we hae meat and we can eat,
Sae the Lord be thankit!’
It’s January 25th, the night that no haggis is safe! Lock up your neeps and tatties, and hide the good whisky. The hungry hordes are on the way!
In my family, Burns Night has always been an annual tradition, with my Nan hosting the festivities and always inviting a few new (and unsuspecting) guests each year. Now that she’s gone, I host my own Burns Nights, and always stick to her menu of a cullen skink starter, haggis, neeps and tatties, and cranachan for dessert. Never having been to a Burns Night outside my family, I’ve always suspected that we might do things a bit differently to everyone else, but then that’s part of the appeal: as long as you include a few essential components, every host will have their own twist on the rest of the night.
The elements that can’t be forgotten, in my book, are the piping in of the haggis – although, as nobody I know has any bagpipes, we tend to use whatever musical instrument is closest to hand, including the tin whistle, violin and, perhaps most successfully, the harmonica. The Address to a Haggis has to be delivered by the host, who will stab it as theatrically as they can when they reach the line ‘His knife see rustic labour dight / An cut you up wi ready slight,’ and ideally a spewing out of the haggis’ delicious-smelling ‘gushing entrails bright’ sees an end to any misgivings the guests had about trying their first haggis. (Little side note – if you haven’t ever had haggis before, go and buy one immediately: it’s the one thing that makes me seriously question my commitment to vegetarianism).
In my house, we then tend to relax a bit while everyone gets their teeth into the haggis, but at the arrival of the seriously creamy, very alcoholic cranachan (lots of oats, lots and lots of whisky, lots of cream, with a few raspberries interlaced), some unsuspecting guest will usually be asked to honour Rabbie Burns by reading a poem. Ideally somebody English is chosen so that the attempt to read fluent Scots has maximum effect. My favourite surprise poem to launch on guests is ‘A Man’s A Man For A’ That’, but ‘To A Mouse’ does the trick as well: by the time they get to the line ‘To thole the winter’s sleety dribble, An’ cranreuch cauld!’, all social boundaries tend to have broken down and everyone’s the best of friends.
After that, it’s just a case of more whisky, more whisky and more whisky still, until the wee hours see everyone singing and dancing arm-in-arm around (and occasionally on) the kitchen table.
Have you put up your Christmas tree yet?
Christmas trees are an iconic part of the festive season. It has become a tradition in many towns and cities to place a decorated tree in a central location for all to see, and many people also have a Christmas tree in their own homes.
The Christmas tree custom is believed to have started in Germany, with people bringing decorated Christmas trees into their homes. This became a trend across Europe with Queen Victoria decorating the first Christmas tree in Windsor Castle; with sweets, fruits and gingerbread.
In Trafalgar Square, London, receiving a Christmas tree from Norway has been a wonderful tradition since 1947. This is a gift to symbolise friendship and thanks, for Britain’s support during World War Two. The British Ambassador attends a ceremony in Norway during November, before the tree’s shipped to London for the festive season. This year @trafalgartree even has its own account on Twitter!
Another iconic Christmas tree is the one that stands at the Rockefeller Centre in New York. For those of you who love holiday films, this is the tree where the Christmas tree loving Kevin is reunited with his mum in Home Alone 2. 2015 marks the 83rd year of lighting this 10-ton Christmas tree with over 45,000 lights.
Last year Rio De Janeiro unveiled the world’s largest floating Christmas tree. It was 85 metres tall and had over 3.1 million lights! The lighting of the Christmas tree is the third largest annual event in Rio and each year carries a different theme; last year’s symbolised the importance of light in people’s lives. Unfortunately this year the tree’s metal structure was damaged and it’s had to be reduced to a mere 53 metres…
Here at EuroTalk we love to put up a Christmas tree in the office, it may not be 28 feet tall or have as many lights but it’s still fabulous 🙂
My countdown to this Christmas started on 26th December 2014; it’s my favourite time of year! I keep an app on my phone all year that counts down the number of sleeps until Christmas is back once again.
When it gets to the 1st of December, it’s traditional in the UK to use an advent calendar to count down the days up to and including Christmas Eve on the 24th. As a child, I was lucky enough to have a calendar with little pockets that my mum would place a chocolate and a little present in; these varied from pencils to hair bands.
We’ll be using my calendar at EuroTalk this year, to reveal a different Christmas word, in a different language, each day. You can countdown with us by following us on Twitter or liking us on Facebook – head on over now to find out what today’s word is, and see if you can pronounce it better than Ioana 😉
The idea of advent calendars originated from Germany, but soon spread across Europe and North America. Advent starts four Sundays before Christmas each year. People used to light a candle and allow it to burn down slightly more each day, representing how long there was until Christmas. Advent then moved onto boards with dates, and each day a different picture would be pinned onto the board. The first printed advent calendar dates back to the early 20th century, but during World War 2 production was stopped, in order to save cardboard and paper.
Advent calendars have become part of our annual Christmas celebrations. Today you can buy a standard calendar, which allows you to open little numbered doors and behind each one find either a picture or a chocolate. Alternatively you can buy ones with a gift behind each window; last year Harrods sold one shaped like a house that contained a different porcelain ornament for each day (we’re not sure how many they sold, though, as it cost £9,600…).
Do you have an advent calendar at home? What did you get for day 1?
Today is the official anniversary of William Shakespeare’s birth. (23rd April is also the day he died, but let’s not dwell on that.) For those of us who speak English every day, we often forget, or don’t realise, how many of the words and phrases we use come from the works of Shakespeare.
Of course we don’t know for sure that he invented them all himself (although apparently about a tenth of the words he used in his work were new). But it’s interesting to see how many of us, even those who claim not to be fans of his work, are regularly quoting Shakespeare.
There are so many examples of these – here are just a few.
What does it mean? Jealousy.
Which play? Othello (Act III, scene 3) – although Shakespeare had earlier used ‘green-eyed’ to describe jealousy in The Merchant of Venice (Act III, scene 2).
“IAGO: O, beware, my lord, of jealousy;
It is the green-eyed monster which doth mock
The meat it feeds on”
Cruel to be kind
What does it mean? Treating someone badly for their own good.
Which play? Hamlet (Act III, scene 4)
“HAMLET: I must be cruel only to be kind.
Thus bad begins and worse remains behind.”
It’s all Greek to me
What does it mean? Completely incomprehensible.
Which play? Julius Caesar (Act I, Scene 2)
“CASCA: those that understood him smiled at one another and shook their heads; but, for mine own part, it was Greek to me.”
Break the ice
What does it mean? To get a conversation going, often by breaking some initial tension.
Which play? The Taming of the Shrew (Act I, Scene 2)
“TRANIO: And if you break the ice and do this feat,
Achieve the elder, set the younger free”
In a pickle
What does it mean? In a tricky situation.
Which play? The Tempest (Act V, Scene 1)
“ALONSO: How camest thou in this pickle?”
Forever and a day
What does it mean? A really long time!
Which play? As You Like It (Act IV, Scene 1)
“ROSALIND: Now tell me how long you would have her after you have possessed her.
ORLANDO: Forever and a day.”
The world’s my oyster
What does it mean? To have a wealth of opportunities.
Which play? The Merry Wives of Windsor (Act II, Scene 2)
“PISTOL: Why then the world’s mine oyster, Which I with sword will open.”
One fell swoop
What does it mean? All at once.
Which play? Macbeth (Act IV, Scene 3)
“MACDUFF: What, all my pretty chickens and their dam
At one fell swoop?”
What does it mean? To be glad to see the back of someone.
Which play? Troilus and Cressida (Act 2, Scene 1)
“THERSITES: I will keep where there is
wit stirring and leave the faction of fools.
PATROCLUS: A good riddance.”
Eaten out of house and home
What does it mean? To take advantage of a host’s generosity.
Which play? Henry IV Part II
“MISTRESS QUICKLY: He hath eaten me out of house and home; he hath put all my substance into that fat belly of his”
How many of these have you used lately? And does anyone have any other favourite Shakespearean phrases?
Personally, we’re a bit disappointed that more of Shakespeare’s insults haven’t made it into modern English; you don’t hear ‘thou cream-faced loon’ often enough these days (although maybe that’s a good thing). There’s probably a whole other blog post to be had from Shakespeare’s insults – but in the meantime, here’s a random insult generator – have fun, but be careful who you say them to!
Here in the UK, this weekend is Easter weekend. Many people will be marking the occasion by attending church services on Good Friday and Easter Sunday, while a more commercial tradition is to exchange chocolate eggs as gifts. Easter is a religious holiday, marking for many people around the world the death and resurrection of Jesus, but it also represents new life, falling as it does in spring time, and is often symbolised by young animals, like lambs and chicks.
We decided to have a look at some Easter traditions around the world, to see how other countries mark this holiday. Here are just a few:
Mardi Gras (which means ‘Fat Tuesday’) takes place in Rio de Janeiro on Shrove Tuesday and marks the start of Lent. The streets are filled with large processions of people in brightly coloured, exotic costumes, marching, singing and dancing.
Another Brazilian tradition is to create straw dolls to represent Judas Iscariot, then destroy them in the street.
Church bells are silent as a sign of mourning from Maundy Thursday until Easter Sunday. Sometimes children are told the bells (known as ‘cloches volants’ or ‘flying bells’) have gone to see the Pope and will return with Easter eggs.
In parts of southwest France, a giant omelette is made on Easter Monday. The dish can feed 1,000 people.
During Lent in Ethiopia, Christians don’t eat or buy any animal products like meat, eggs, butter, milk, yogurt, cream and cheese.
The first Easter day service starts at 8 p.m. on Easter Saturday and lasts until 3 a.m. on Easter Sunday.
After the service, people will return to their homes and have a breakfast of ‘dabo’ sourdough bread to celebrate the end of Lent. Traditionally, the bread is cut by a priest or the head man in the family.
Czech Republic and Slovakia
As part of an Easter tradition, women and girls are beaten with decorated hand made whips on Easter Sunday. But despite what you might think, this is actually a good thing; the whipping is thought to make women more healthy and beautiful, and girls who don’t get whipped are often quite offended!
Chios (Greek Island)
In the village of Vrondados, the annual ‘war of rockets’ is staged between two churches, Agios Marcos and Erithiani. Residents spend all year preparing thousands of firework rockets and on the evening of Easter Saturday, the rockets are fired between the two churches for hours.
The custom goes back many years, and although there are plenty of stories, no one is quite sure how the tradition began.
Many towns and cities in Spain celebrate Semana Santa (Holy Week) with processions through the streets at night. Floats called ‘tronos’ are carried through the streets. Each float bears huge decorated figures representing part of the Easter story. It takes 40-50 people to carry each trono on their shoulders and processions can last between 4-5 hours.
In Murcia, a trono telling the story of the Last Supper has real food on the table. On Easter Sunday, the 26 men who have carried the table in the procession sit down and eat the food.
Please share your own Easter traditions in the comments. And whether you celebrate Easter or not, we hope you have a great weekend.