25 Christmas Special 2018 – The Nonagon Club!

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Ho ho whoa! 9 guests?! In a tribute to the 9 Lessons & Carols, Paul our Host of Christmas Past flies his sleigh back through festive history. There are no live guests a-guesting – instead for our penultimate show, we drop in on influential Christmassy words from:

– Astronaut TOM STAFFORD on pranking NASA 

– Private HENRY WILLIAMSON on sharing tobacco

– Writer CHARLES DICKENS on humbuggery

– Writer WASHINGTON IRVING on Christmas the English way

– Devonian clergyman RICHARD SMART on Christmas the man

– Puritan minister HEZEKIAH WOODWARD on Christmas the heresy

– King HENRY III on Christmas the dinner

– Saint HILARY of POITIERS on the first carol

– Charles M Schulz creation LINUS on the true meaning of Christmas

Phew! One more episode to go, for now. Join us in January. Merry Christmas!

Amazon Guests List – our authors’ books: www.amazon.co.uk/gp/registry/wishlist/LIDR28M9I9BY/
Donate or Patreon here, reduce our debt, keep us podding: www.heptagonclub.co.uk
Rate & review us on iTunes – even if we are ending soon, it’s still nice, cos the episodes will still be here and need your recommending words!
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24 Paul Kerensa & co – We’re Not Here Right Now…

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A stopgap podcast, to report on our temporary absence (due to a busy month), then our permanent absence (to follow early next year after a two-episode send-off). A couple more episodes will follow, then, well, the future’s bright – but it may, alas, not be heptagon-shaped.

An update is contained herein, plus snippets of guests from our fnar-fnale to come in January.

Amazon Guests List – our authors’ books: www.amazon.co.uk/gp/registry/wishlist/LIDR28M9I9BY/
Donate or Patreon here, reduce our debt, keep us podding: www.heptagonclub.co.uk
Rate & review us on iTunes – even if we are ending soon, it’s still nice, cos the episodes will stick around…

23 Noel James & co – Rhodes? Where we’re going…

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Britain’s Got Talent, Storm Troopers, beatboxing, comedy, Rhodes… Welcome to October’s pod-party. Mingle with the likes of this lot…
 
– Comedian NOEL JAMES
– Other comedian TONY VINO
– Other other comedian NATHAN RAMSDEN-LOCK
– Storm Trooper/Vicar CRIS ROGERS
– Ship of Fools founder SIMON JENKINS

– Beatboxing tutor GAV TYTE

– Songster & biscuit fiend PAUL BELL  
 
…Your ‘Bring A Bottle’ contribution is to visit their websites, so seek ’em out online, and while you’re there…
 
Amazon Guests List – our authors’ books: www.amazon.co.uk/gp/registry/wishlist/LIDR28M9I9BY/
Donate or Patreon here, reduce our debt, keep us podding: www.heptagonclub.co.uk
Rate & review us on iTunes + it helps us find people (or you could just tell strangers in the street, but rating and reviewing is less weird…)

22 Rob Parsons & co – Happy Creative New Year!

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It’s Creative New Year! Time for new projects and new products, including books, CDs, beatboxing tutorials and just good advice from these 7 wonders of the world…
 
– Care For The Family head honcho and author ROB PARSONS, OBE
– As oh-so-recently seen on This Morning, beatboxing vicar GAV TYTE

– Author and parenting guru KATHARINE HILL

– Songster & biscuit fiend PAUL BELL

– Comedian NATHAN RAMSDEN-LOCK

– Presenting expert LEE JACKSON

– Car Share writer, creator and creative genius TIM REID
 
 
Amazon Guests List – our authors’ books: www.amazon.co.uk/gp/registry/wishlist/LIDR28M9I9BY/
Donate or Patreon here, reduce our debt, keep us podding: www.heptagonclub.co.uk
Rate us on iTunes + it’s good to share…

21 Bennett Arron & co – Play the Theme Tune, Sing the Theme Tune…

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Edinburgh Festival Special time… 6 of our 7 guests are heading Fringewards with these googlable shows::
 
– BENNETT ARRON’s I’ve Never Told Anyone This & Heard the One About Identity Theft?

– JAMES COOK’s Boardgame Smackdown

– ANNA NICHOLSON: Woman of the Year
– MARK RITCHIE: Bob’s Not My Uncle & Other Devastating Truths
– PIPPA EVANS in Brexit 2 & Showstoppers

– DOMINIC FRISBY’s Financial Game Show

+
– non-Edinburghing but he’s given us our theme song so he can do what he likes, ROB HALLIGAN 
 
Hear tales of upper-class rapping duels, irritating drinks machines, and what’s behind the shows being performed by this month’s magnificent 7.
 

Amazon Guests List – our authors’ books: www.amazon.co.uk/gp/registry/wishlist/LIDR28M9I9BY/

Music by Rob Halligan: www.robhalligan.co.uk 
Donate to the podcast here, reduce our debt, keep us podding: www.heptagonclub.co.uk
Rate us on iTunes + share us around – happy summer all!

20 Pippa Evans & co – Temper Temperance

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4 comedians + 3 authors = a heatwave of guests. This magnificent 7 are:
 
– Radio 4 songstress and improvxpert PIPPA EVANS
– Jewelsh comedian BENNETT ARRON
– Nomadic funnyman TONY VINO
– Comedy magician and mag editor STEVE LEGG
– Mega-author ROB PARSONS
– Parenting guru KATHARINE HILL
– Pro speaker trainer chap LEE JACKSON
 
 
Donate to the podcast here and fund our future: www.heptagonclub.co.uk
Music by Rob Halligan: www.robhalligan.co.uk 
Rate us on iTunes + share us around – cheers you!

19 Greatest Story Ever Toured special minisode

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A sort of advertourial one-off minisode opens season 3 – because I’m plugging my own tour: The Greatest Story Ever Toured. This time all 7 guests are from the show that we’re taking around the land, skilfully unlocking, awkwardly rapping and generally tinkering with bits of Bible. Our 7 guests are:
 
– Theologian and daddy of The Bible Course, Dr ANDREW
– CATH, the Welshest person ever & glorious leader of a cappella troupe Sound of Wales
– Sound of Wales man, MATT
– Sound of Wales intern AMY
– Sound of Wales non-intern non-man MEG 
– Tour producer and all-round good egg ROB
– + Bible Society Head of Comms and person-in-charge of the tour, RACHEL
 
Tour comes (so far) to Reigate, Guildford, Chester, Hull, Tunbridge Wells, Bristol, Exeter + Wimborne. Details: https://www.biblesociety.org.uk/explore-the-bible/the-bible-course/the-bible-course-on-tour/
 
Next time, more varied guests!
 
Donate to the podcast here and fund our future: www.heptagonclub.co.uk
Music by Rob Halligan: www.robhalligan.co.uk 
Rate us on iTunes + share us around – cheers you!

18 Justin Edwards & co – Do Play The Ferryman (Not A Tree)

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One more ep before the end of season 2 – this time on acting in Paddington 2, and The Ferryman, and playing a tree. Plus the state of the comedy industry, what links baseball and Lost, the return of our Heptagon Club Question of Questions, and more on how YOU yes YOU can be involved for next season…
 
– Actor JUSTIN EDWARDS from The Death of Stalin, Paddington 2, The Man Who Invented Christmas and now The Ferryman
– Comic extraordinaire JOE LYCETT learns Italian
– Comedian MATT GREEN on Extras, adverts and the changing UK comedy circuit
– Baseball expert BRANDON ISLEIB with his equation for media popularity

– & Actors CAMERON POTTS, ANNA NICHOLSON and ANNA NEWCOME try and remember wonders of the world and dwarf names

 
 
Our Amazon Guests’ List of books is here: https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/registry/wishlist/LIDR28M9I9BY/
Donate to the podcast here and fund our future: www.heptagonclub.co.uk
Music by Rob Halligan: www.robhalligan.co.uk 
Rate us on iTunes + share us around – see you for season 3!

My final Yule blog: On the 12th Day of Christmas I Had an Epiphany

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Happy Christmas! Yes, we can still say it. Just. The 12th day is upon us.

Alright, in some parts of the world they celebrate Christmas beyond Twelfth Night (hear from James Cooper of WhyChristmas.com on this on my latest podcast, and also on my BBC Surrey & BBC Sussex show last week). But for most of us, this weekend sees the decorations come down. Trees will be dragged to join their big pile of relatives in the village hall car park.

So this seems THE time to cease this Yule blog for this year. We might pop back again in the run-up to next Christmas. Or we might consider that we’ve done enough Yule blogging (you can explore the back catalogue throughout this kneeldownstandup.wordpress.com site – anything from August 2017 – January 2018 is on the history of Christmas).

The entire blogging venture has been off the back of my new book ‘Hark! The Biography of Christmas’, which I’m delighted to say scraped the Amazon Top 100 and was a bestseller in a bunch of categories, from ‘Christianity’ to ‘Anthropology’ to ‘Crosswords’ (that last one’s not true, just checking you’re paying attention). So thanks if you bought it! If you didn’t – well there’s always next Christmas.

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Went pretty well. Thanks!

So as Christmas wraps up for another year, why do we have a Twelfth Night then?

Well. A few hundred years post-Nativity, Rome had started celebrating Christmas in some form. But the Empire was big – and in the East, they preferred January 6th as a celebration date – the day commemorating Jesus’ baptism, and the visit of the Magi. So Epiphany has been a day for thinking on those Three Wise Men for some time. Then there’s the Gregorian/Julian calendar split, which also helped shift the date of Christmas for many. So either way, Christmas then seems to span these twelve days. To this day, 6 January is Orthodox Christmas Eve.

In 567, France hosted the Council of Tours (the original “Tours de France”) to settle several key disputes of the day. These included the marital state of clergy (monks should live in dormitories not cells; women shouldn’t be allowed in monasteries – and you know I’m talking to you, Sister Florence…) and when exactly to celebrate Christmas. To satisfy both sides of the church, the twelve days between the Western church’s 25 December and the Eastern church’s 6 January were in their entirety deemed holy days – or “holidays”. So the origin of our twelve days of Christmas – telling us when to take down our decorations, or a ditty about five gold rings and a partridge – is built on compromise, to satisfy both sides of the church. Because what are Christmas holidays about, if not keeping both sides of the family happy?

For centuries, Twelfth Night customs made for almost a bigger Christmas party than Christmas itself. There was a Twelfth cake, with a bean or pea inside – and whoever took that slice was elected king or queen for the night – Lord of Misrule – directing the antics. It’s a tradition kept in my local pubs in Guildford to this day – and I’ll be along to see the Pilgrim Morris Men perform their Mummers play around Guildford pubs this January 6th, this very weekend.

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The Pilgrim Morris Men of Guildford, with their traditional Mummers play.

Twelfth Night is VERY English. One of the most English things there is. It includes a spot of carolling, passing the wassail bowl around, and blessing the pub by daubing some cider. The Theatre Royal, Drury Lane still keeps the tradition of Twelfth cake too, with the customary cake and shared wassail bowl for the cast each January 6th since 1795, the lucky blighters.

Speaking of plays, Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night is of course then a Christmas play, though for the very end of Christmas – and it has the usual tropes of an old-fashioned Christmas, with some cross-dressing and general ribaldry. It even debuted at the end of the Christmas season, on… not Twelfth Night, but Candlemas, on February 2nd, a.k.a. Groundhog Day.

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A Twelfth Cake. Some would have the Three Wise Men on top. This one favours the King and Queen, of Misrule, to be picked by pea-based lot.

On which, maybe we should return to this Yule blog for Candlemas, the very far end of the Christmas season, wherever you are…

Then again, maybe we best leave it. Christmas has ended by February, nowadays, surely. So as we approach Twelfth Night, may I be the last to wish you a very Merry Christmas. (Bring on the next one…)

Boxing Day, St Stephen’s Day, Christmas+1: What/How/When?

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It’s Boxing Day (at time of writing), which means… the last blog for a bit. Alright we might pop back for Twelfth Night. But in terms of blogging the history of Christmas (all based on my new book Hark! The Biography of Christmas – eBook on the link, if you fancy), I think we’re about done for now. Yes, the Christmas season technically continues (for the Orthodox church, till as far as February 2nd), but Western Christmas culture, secularly at least, likes it all wrapped up by Boxing Day.

So before we close the season, here are some bits and pieces of December 26ths in Christmas past.

Boxing Day is NOT the day after Christmas, but the next working day after Christmas. So if December 26th is a Saturday, that year’s Boxing Day is December 28th. One thing December 26th IS each year, is St Stephen’s Day.

St Stephen was the first Christian martyr, with his stoning recorded in the Acts of the Apostles. Given that Boxing Day was a Victorian invention, the far history of Christmas Day+1 is more to do with St Stephen’s Day.

So, the most famous St Steve’s Day carol? ‘Good King Wenceslas’. It’s not technically a Christmas Carol, but since St Stevie’s Day is just one day later, it’s been lumped in. The song is based on a real person – Václav the Good, aka Duke Wenceslaus I of Bohemia. Though only a duke, he was posthumously declared a king after his martyrdom in 935. In life he was a generous ruler who saw the Christmas season as an opportunity to bless widows and orphans with alms. He was a very deep man, and crisp, and even.

Over in Finland, St Stephen’s Day was a popular day for sleigh rides with horses, contrasting with the rather sombre Christmas Day rituals. Across the Western world, it’s been a day for big sporting events – and even on a domestic level, for centuries it’s been a day for getting outside. On December 25th you stay in and eat; on the 26th you go out and walk, ride or just generally work off that turkey.

Ireland especially had this day marked for a traditional hunt, until this died out in the nineteenth century. More recently on the wane has been the Irish custom of mumming and parading with old clothes, where it’s called Wren Day. It’s still a popular day for taking the family to see a local panto at the theatre.

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While there had essentially been a Boxing Day for years, it rose in significance in Victorian days when Twelfth Night stopped being celebrated so much, and commercialism say the Christmas season end, culturally at least, a little earlier. We only all gained an official day off in the twentieth century.

The tradition it was named after was just dying out – the giving of a Christmas box, from bosses to certain staff members. The Romans had given boxes from master to slave; through the centuries, boxes were contributed to year-round, to make a tidy sum come Christmas.

By Victoria’s day, the English custom was particularly that visiting workers might get such a box – not permanent staff so much as postmen or other regular visiting tradesfolk. Boxing Day kept the name, just as the rise of the middle classes saw off this hierarchical custom, plus the new ways we were giving to charity at Christmas, rather than just to delivery personnel. But if you tip your regular Deliveroo biker with a box of coins this Boxing Day, you’re continuing this custom – and getting some odd looks.

The Boxing Day sales don’t mean as much as they did through the 20th century thanks to internet sales, Black Friday and the rise of the ‘Boxing Week’ sales (just a pre-cursor to the January sales, and just after Black Friday week sales… man, shops are desperate). More on how the shops have shifted the Christmas season here.

Which leads me to note that this is probably a cheaper time than usual to nab my book, on which all these posts are based. After all, if it’s not Christmas, it’s no longer topical.

Which probably means I should stop talking about it.

Bye then.

(Merry Christmas)

The Queen’s Speech & The King’s Speech: 13 Top Messages of the Top Royal

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It’s Christmas Day! It’s lunchtime. Turkey sits heavy in our tums or on our plate. In Britain that means one thing – our monarch is about to speak to us and give an awkward smile.

While you wait, or realise you’ve missed it, here are some regal highlights of that very thing, since it started seventy years ago…

  • 1932… Britain’s first royal Christmas message, by George V. He wasn’t the first monarch to broadcast one – the Dutch queen beat him by one year. But he’d been pressured by the BBC’s John Reith for a decade – and only relented after being given a tour of the BBC studios, a couple of free radios, and assurances that the new global British Broadcasting Corporation would reach parts of the British Empire that the previous, national, British Broadcasting Company couldn’t reach. In his first nervous broadcast, he sat in his favourite chair at Sandringham, and fell through the seat of it.
  • 1935… George V’s fourth and final festive speech reassured a nation still suffering in the Great Depression, continuing to promote the nostalgic British Christmas.
  • 1936… was speechless, because Edward VIII abdicated just before Christmas.
  • 1937… Edward’s brother George VI had a legendary stammer, famously depicted by Colin Firth in The King’s Speech. Completing his first Christmas message only increased the warmth of the public towards him. In it, he claimed to be unable to match his father’s broadcasting skill, but his message of hope against the “shadows of enmity and of fear” was well-received in a fragile world.
  • 1939… After no speech in 1938 came a vital wartime broadcast. Princess Elizabeth suggested that her father quote from the poem “God Knows” by Minnie Louise Haskins:

    “And I said to the man who stood at the Gate of the Year,
    ‘Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.’
    And he replied,

    ‘Go out into the darkness, and put your hand into the Hand of God.
    That shall be to you better than light, and safer than a known way.’”

  • 1952… Princess became Queen, and Elizabeth II became the third British monarch on the festive airwaves, broadcasting from the same chair and desk as her father and grandfather before her.

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  • 1957… saw the first televised message: “It’s inevitable that I should seem a rather remote figure to many of you… but now at least for a few minutes, I welcome you to the peace of my own home.” Like the first radio broadcast, Elizabeth assured her audience that timeless values mattered more than new technology. There was an amusing crossed signal too; over the Queen’s words, an American police officer was heard to mutter, “Joe, I’m gonna grab a quick coffee.”
  • 1959… had the first pre-recorded message, to be shipped abroad in advance. Wherever you were in the world, you could now hear the message at an appropriate time on Christmas Day.
  • 1969… had no speech due to fears of oversaturation, a er a year of royal documentaries and ceremonies. It was reinstated in 1970; the public loved the royal broadcaster, as did the technicians, who nicknamed Her Majesty “One- Take Windsor”.
  • 1992… The sixtieth anniversary of the royal message was Elizabeth’s self-professed “annus horribilis”: two of her sons’ marriages ended, Windsor Castle suffered a fire, and tabloid interest in the royal family reached new highs (or lows). As if to prove the point, The Sun newspaper published a leaked version of the speech two days early. For the previous five years, naturalist and broadcaster David Attenborough had produced the speech; maybe he should have stayed on.
  • 1997… was the first speech broadcast online.
  • 2006… was the first royal Christmas podcast.
  • 2012… was shot in 3D – without the customary reassurance that timeless values matter more than new technology. A version in Smell-O-Vision has yet to appear.

     

    Amazon bestseller Hark! The Biography of Christmas is available now.

Christ is born! (And Christmas since, in a nutshell)

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Happy Christmas!

Today’s the day. So we won’t go on here. You’ve got things to do.

But in case you’re wondering how we got here, to this Christmas, now, here are the last 2000 Christmases in the briefest of nutshells…

1. Christ is born! Fulfilment of OT prophecy, Mary possibly might have been expecting to be expecting… or not expecting, but wondering whether it would be someone in her generation who would carry the Messiah. It was foretold that it’d be her extended family, so it’s a possible thought… Jesus is born, in a miraculous virgin birth, in a barn, in Bethlehem. Angels rejoice, send shepherds to do likewise. Herod not so happy – he thought HE was King of the Jews.

2. A hundred years later, Jesus had been and gone and been back again and been gone again. The twelve disciples became several hundred, then they died. Then the early church, meeting in homes, slowly formed the church. At first, Christianity was a secret sect, or when public, was persecuted. So any celebration of the birth of Christ was carefully managed.

3. Two hundred years later, December 25th was picked as a day of celebration for Christmas. Some say it was because you could calculate Jesus’ death date or conception date or maybe then birthdate from the gospels… Possibly… More likely, there were other Roman festivals around that time of year, and even on that day there was a pagan festival: The Birthday of the Unconquered Sun. Either way, Christmas became official. December 25th.
About the same time, a bloke called St Nicholas did some nice things… but at this point, had nothing to do with Christmas.

4. A thousand years later, St Francis of Assisi helped give Christmas back to the people again, with local language carols and a live Nativity scene.

5. Four hundred years later, Cromwell and his Puritans banned Christmas in England. When the Pilgrim Fathers left for America, they took their Bah Humbug ways too – so Christmas didn’t land in America for some time.

6. Two hundred years later, though Christmas was legal again, it wasn’t as much fun. No spark. It took a few creative writers to give it its zing again: people like Charles Dickens, Washington Irving and Clement Clarke Moore. Christmas gained charity, family and legends of St Nicholas.

7. A hundred years later, Christmas pop culture rose, largely to cheer us up during the wars. That meant the revival of the carol in the Nine Lessons & Carols service, Bing Crosby crooning away, and jolly films and TV shows.

But in amongst all this, Christians never stopped celebrating the birth of Christ. Whatever your Christmas looks like today, whether it’s Bing Crosby, St Nick or whoever else, wishing you a blessed and merry one!

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