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A holiday maze

By Georgia Mierswa


Ah, the holidays. A time of leisure to eat, drink, be merry, and read up on the meaning of mistletoe in Scandinavian mythology…

Taken from the Oxford Index’s quick reference overview pages, the descriptions of the wintry-themed words above are not nearly as simplistic as you might think — and even more intriguing are the related subjects you stumble upon through the Index’s recommended links. I’ll never look at a Christmas tree the same way again.

ICE-SKATING
In its simplest form dates back many centuries, [done] with skates made out of animal bones….

Sonja Henie (1912 – 1969)
Norwegian figure skater. In 1923 she was Norwegian champion, between 1927 and 1936 she held ten consecutive world champion titles, and between 1928 and 1936 she won three consecutive Olympic gold medals. In 1938 she began to work in Hollywood, in, among others, the film Sun Valley Serenade (1941)…

Sun Valley Serenade
… Such was the popularity of the Glenn Miller Band by 1941 that it just had to appear in a film, even if the story was as light as a feather…

YULE
…The name comes from Old English gēol(a) ‘Christmas Day’; compare with Old Norse jól, originally applied to a heathen festival lasting twelve days, later to Christmas…

Snorri Sturluson (1178 – 1241)
Icelandic historian and poet. A leading figure of medieval Icelandic literature, he wrote the Younger Edda or Prose Edda and the Heimskringla, a history of the kings of Norway from mythical times to the year 1177…

CHRISTMAS TREE
It is generally assumed that this indisputably German custom was introduced to Britain by Queen Victoria’s husband, Prince Albert, but this is only partly true. The British royal family had had regular Christmas trees since the days of Princess Charlotte of Mecklenberg Strelitz…But it was certainly due to active promotion by Victoria and Albert that the fashion for trees spread so remarkably fast, at least among the better-off…

– a nuclear missile onboard a submarine.
– a control room or cockpit’s panel of indicator lights, green (good) and red (bad).


FATHER CHRISTMAS
– …Gives news of Christ’s birth, and urges his hearers to drink: ‘Buvez bien par toute la compagnie, Make good cheer and be right merry.’
– There were Yule Ridings in York (banned in 1572 for unruliness), where a man impersonating Yule carried cakes and meat through the street.

Clement C. Moore (1779 – 1863)
…Professor of Biblical learning and author of the poem popularly known as “’Twas the Night Before Christmas,” published anonymously in the Troy Sentinel (Dec. 23, 1823), widely copied, and reprinted in the author’s Poems (1844). The poem’s proper title is “A Visit from St. Nicholas.”

WASSAIL
– A festive occasion that involves drinking.
– It derives from the Old Norse greeting ves heill, ‘be in good health’.

Christmas
… The date was probably chosen to oppose the pagan feast of the Natalis Solis Invicti by a celebration of the birth of the ‘Sun of Righteousness’…

SNOWMAN
(1978) Raymond Briggs’s wordless picturebook uses comic‐strip techniques to depict the relationship between a boy and a snowman who comes alive in the night but melts the next day….

Abominable Snowman
A popular name for the yeti, recorded from the early 1920s.

Yeti
A large hairy creature resembling a human or bear, said to live in the highest part of the Himalayas…
…comes from Tibetan yeh-teh ‘little manlike animal’.

MISTLETOE
– Traditionally used in England to decorate houses at Christmas, when it is associated with the custom of kissing under the mistletoe.
– In Scandinavian mythology, the shaft which Loki caused the blind Hod to throw at Balder, killing him, was tipped with mistletoe, which was the only plant that could harm him.
– ‘The Mistletoe Bough’ a ballad by Thomas Bayly (1839), which recounts the story of a young bride who during a game hides herself in a chest with a spring-lock and is then trapped there; many years later her skeleton is discovered.

Evergreens
A high proportion of the plants important in folk customs are evergreen — a fact which can be seen either in practical or symbolic terms. Folklorists have usually highlighted the latter, suggesting that at winter festivals they represented the unconquered life-force, and at funerals immortality.

GINGERBREAD
Cake or biscuits flavoured with ginger and treacle, often baked in the shape of an animal or person, and glazed.

Gingerbread
The gilded scroll work and carving with which the hulls of large ships, particularly men-of-war and East Indiamen of the 15th to 18th centuries, were decorated. ‘To take some of the gilt off the gingerbread’, an act which diminishes the full enjoyment of the whole.

GIFT
– …gifts have importance for tax purposes; if they are sufficiently large they may give rise to charges under inheritance tax if given within seven years prior to death (see potentially exempt transfer).
– A gift is also a disposal for capital gains tax purposes and tax is potentially payable.

– Friends, like kin, could be called upon in any emergency; they could be expected to display solidarity, lend general support, and procure co‐operation.
– Friends were therefore supposed to be alike: a friend was ideally conceived of as one’s ‘other self’.


SNOWFLAKE
The result of the growth of ice crystals in a varied array of shapes. Very low temperatures usually result in small flakes; formation at temperatures near freezing point produces numerous crystals in large flakes.

Ice crystal
Frozen water composed of crystalline structures, e.g. needles, dendrites, hexagonal columns, and platelets.

Diamond dust
Minute ice crystals that form in extremely cold air. They are so small as to be barely visible and seem to hang suspended, twinkling as they reflect sunlight.

Georgia Mierswa is a marketing assistant at Oxford University Press and reports to the Global Marketing Director for online products. She began working at OUP in September 2011.

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