You are currently browsing the monthly archive for December 2015.

A very happy New Year to my readers and subscribers! May 2016 be a year of contentment, good health and prosperity for all of you!

Circumcision of Christ stained glassUntil the second half of the 20th century January 1 was known as the Feast of the Circumcision. The infant Jesus would have been circumcised at this time, eight days after His birth, in accordance with Jewish law.

Today, January 1 is known as the Naming of Jesus, the Holy Name of Jesus or the Solemnity of Mary the Mother of God.

My past posts explain more about these feast days, past and present:

January 1 – Feast of the Circumcision of Christ

New Year’s Day: the Circumcision — and Naming — of Christ Jesus

Solemnity of Mary the Mother of God

They provide a theological and historical perspective that is often neglected today.

One of our big discoveries of 2015 was the French food show.

As I mentioned last summer, our late afternoons in Cannes were spent indoors watching Christophe Michalak’s Dans la peau d’un chef (DPDC) on France 2:

Decorating fruit tarts — the French touch

Piping whipped cream — the French touch

We were amazed at how open Michalak, a top pastry chef with his own business, was towards the contestants in revealing culinary short cuts. We were also grateful for his generosity in demystifying various techniques the professionals use. Actually, once you find out how simple they are, you start using them all the time.

When we returned home, although France 2 is closed to us because of geolocalisation, we found several episodes of DPDC on YouTube.

Qui sera le prochain grand pâtissier?

SpouseMouse searched for more French cooking shows and found the first two series of a show with French-speaking professional pastry makers, Qui sera le prochain grand pâtissier? (‘Who will be the next great pastry chef?’).

My word, how these young men and women — many of whom started their careers in their adolescence — can bake, decorate and work sugar.

The programme features a jury of four professional highly experienced pastry chefs, one of whom is Michalak. It is a gruelling competition which starts with ten contestants, who are gradually eliminated until there are two finalists.

I was surprised that France 2 airs this series during the month of July, because the viewer would have to watch three hours of episodes a week in the height of summer. It’s a serious show and is not recommended for those with heart trouble or anxiety; the tension is palpable. Hard as it may be to believe — after all, this is ‘only’ pastry — you will be on the edge of your sofa.

What we learned is that anything is possible, and we saw how to do it!

Inserts were a huge revelation: placing one or more layers of different elements — mousse, jellied coulis, meringue — in the centre of a cake. When one insert was used, it was often a round or a heart shaped element which provided a ‘surprise’ to those eating it.

The other discovery was seeing the contestants receive training in top pastry kitchens, whether in restaurants, five-star hotels or upmarket boutiques. The tasks they had to undertake were jaw-dropping. See how elaborate the results were.

The 2015 series is now on YouTube, and we have just finished watching it. The winner, Grégory Quéré, won the show’s customary prize of a tour of the world’s top pastry kitchens and a cookbook of his own recipes. Quéré’s book was published immediately after the show ended. This photo gives one an idea of the exquisite nature of his creations. Quéré continues to work for his employer, Frédéric Cassel, in research and development. He is Cassel’s right-hand man.

The runner-up, Tris­tan Rous­se­lot, has left his post at Paris’s prestigious restaurant Fouquet’s for a job with Michalak, heading the latter’s new shop in Le Marais in the Left Bank. Michalak has also hired contestants from the previous two series. They give courses in pastry making.

Le meilleur pâtissier

Illustration.The French equivalent of The Great British Bake Off (GBBO), Le meilleur pâtissier (‘The best pastry maker’), aired on M6 before Christmas and may still be available on the channel’s replay site, 6play. M6’s show is made by the same production company and the format is very similar.

GBBO, which we also watched, had just finished prior to Le The Great British Bake Off title.jpgmeilleur pâtissier. Whilst both shows feature home bakers, the difference between the two shows is striking.

Although GBBO‘s participants make bread, whereas the French do not, that is, sadly, where the British distinction ends.

We were surprised to discover how experienced, expert and versatile French home bakers are. In the first series, the runner up — Sébastien, a dustman — has long been known by family and friends as the Macaron Man, as he makes them every week! Mounir won the second series and has since opened his own pastry shop. A policeman from Bordeaux, Cyril, won the fourth series in 2015. We were amazed to see how proficient he was with multi-layered inserts and outer glazes which shone like mirrors.

After having seen Le Meilleur Pâtissier, we’ll probably never watch another series of GBBO.

French journalist Agnès Poirier is of the same opinion. She noted the difference between British and French bakers in 2013. Her article for The Guardian is enlightening. What we make in the English-speaking world — not just in the UK — looks clumsy and rudimentary by comparison. Poirier learned how to make rather a variety of desserts as a child, including madeleines, waffles, brioche, financiers, fruit tarts and chocolate mousse.

We English speakers, on the other hand, are stuck with sponges, sweet biscuits, pies and, if we’re good with yeast, cinnamon rolls. SOSDD — same old stuff, different day.

That said, most other countries are no better.

Culinary semper reformanda

In fact, the only other nation which seems to have taken pastry making seriously is Japan. In international competitions, they are France’s toughest competitors.

On December 21, a top French pastry chef, Christophe Felder, said on RMC (French radio) that he has been hired as a consultant to some of Japan’s most prestigious pastry kitchens. The Japanese have noticed that French pastry seems to evolve rather than stay put year after year. The question most on the lips of his Japanese clients is how to create and anticipate new trends without disturbing the true nature of dessert classics.

FEUILLE_AUTOMNE.jpgWith apologies to Protestant theology, France has what one might call a culinary semper reformanda. WhatFantastik Praliné, Citron visitors to Paris or Lyon saw in pâtisserie windows in the 1970s is very different to the creations one sees now. Furthermore, famous chefs are always creating new desserts. Forty years ago, Gaston Lenôtre came up with La Feuille d’Automne (‘The Autumn Leaf’), a modern classic. (Photo credit: Mercotte) Christophe Michalak has a line of his own modern cakes, the Fantastiks. (Photo credit: Christophe Michalak)

There’s a whole other world of pastry out there. That’s what I intend to explore — and try for myself — in 2016.

Until recently, SpouseMouse and I have always disagreed about grappa.

SpouseMouse saw no point to it — ‘rough discards’ — whereas I had always heard great things about it.

In 2013, we were lucky enough to be invited to a wine and spirits tasting the evening before my birthday in the run-up to Christmas.

On offer was Nardini Grappa Bianca Classic. Oh, my. Oh, my. Oh, my. What a revelation.

(Photo credit: Nardini)

The Bianca Classic has strong chocolate overtones with a suggestion of licorice. I told the Frenchman running the tasting that it was worth sousing my chocolate Yule log with a spoonful or two of it. He was horrified. He couldn’t taste the chocolate, which surprised me.

SpouseMouse kindly bought me a bottle for my birthday. I finished it, somewhat late, on my birthday this year. Even then, after having had only one glass, I could still smell and taste chocolate the next day.

There are other fine grappas, but I think I’ll stick with this one for now. Fortunately, we have another bottle for another birthday!

The Italians are right to insist on enjoying grappa with coffee and after dinner chocolate. It provides a fantastic finish.

Rome File says:

Grappa is a wonderful way to end a meal, drunk either as a shot on its own or added to an espresso (in which case it’s known in Italy as a caffè coretto, or a “corrected coffee”). The Instituto Nazionale Grappa, the body that represents most of the grappa producers in Italy, recommends serving shots in small tulip-shaped glasses with open rims, rather than balloons or narrow glasses.

Many Italian households serve grappa straight from the freezer, giving it an icy, crisp taste, while the Instituto Nazionale Grappa recommends serving young grappa at between 9 and 13 degrees Celsius, and riserva at around 17 degrees. Freezing can affect the flavour of a good grappa, but it’s a perfectly acceptable way to enjoy the drink. As Nick Hopewell-Smith says, ‘you take something away when you chill it, but if it makes it more accessible to people and people are more likely to try it and enjoy it, then why not?’

I’ve not had it frozen. To me, the Bianca Classic is perfect at room temperature.

The Italians also believe that grappa is an excellent digestif, aiding the digestion process.

A few words of advice about grappa:

1/ Serve in a small liqueur or port glass if you do not have grappa glasses. Purists still prefer shot glasses.

2/ It is perfectly acceptable to sip and savour it, rather than downing it in one.

3/ One or two glasses will do. It has a high alcohol content.

4/ Outside of Italy, it is expensive — think tax. Treat yourself and those closest to you on high days and holidays — Christmas, New Year, Easter and birthdays. Once you open a bottle, finish it within a year to enjoy grappa at its best.

5/ Be discerning about whom you serve it to. This is a special drink which should provide beautiful gustatory memories months or years later.

Above all, avoid cheap grappa!

Grappa, Italy’s aquavit, is made from pomace — the grape skins, pulp, seeds, and stems left over from wine pressing. Grappa is the product of steam-distilled pomace with no added water. It can only be made in Italy, the tiny republic of San Marino and the Italian part of Switzerland.

Bortolo Nardini began making grappa in 1779, when he bought an inn near the wooden covered bridge, Bassano, on the Brenta River. The bridge features on Nardini labels.

Nardini’s inn and his grappa became popular with Venetians, travellers and businessmen. He served it in a shot glass.

Venice was Nardini’s first principal market. Over the centuries, the company continued to expand. Today, the firm also ships to China, Australia, Japan and the United States.

It is better to save up for a bottle of good grappa rather than to waste money on an inferior, rough product. Buy the best and you’ll have no regrets.

And if you’re looking for an unusual gift, a bottle of fine grappa is ideal. Of course, there are other grappa producers equal to Nardini. You might have a favourite of your own. If so, please share in the comments below, including details about the flavour profile.

Christmas cardsAs December 28 is the last of the Christmas holidays here in the UK and a few Commonwealth countries, let’s have a final look at seasonal traditions.

The French newsweekly L’Obs (Le Nouvel Observateur) has put together a collection of some of the most bizarre Christmas cards from the Victorian period through the early 21st century.

I would encourage everyone to look at the 14 eye-openers — nearly all with English ‘greetings’.

L’Obs borrowed some of their card photos (as have I, above) from a BBC article published on December 21, 2015. You will not believe the sinister and strange images.

Most people who exchanged paper greetings chose conventional illustrations, which, as I have written before (here and here), were often of animals, none of which were terribly Christmassy. Alternatively, idealised well dressed girls and boys graced the greeting. Other images were more seasonal depicting people enjoying Christmas dinner.

Stephanie Boydell, curator of special collections at Manchester Metropolitan University, told the BBC that some of the common animal illustrations would have appeared elsewhere and the general public would have recognised them. Christmas card printers reused these pictures. Many of these printers had collections of such images which they used throughout the year for other greetings or cheap prints.

Nativity scenes did not appear until much later.

Boydell explained that this is because the Victorians, like their antecedents, did not consider Christmas to be a religious feast day but rather a secular festival:

The Victorians had a different idea to what Christmas was about – not particularly Christian, but a time of good humour.

Consequently, a number of cards were made for people who enjoyed an absurdist or a dark sense of humour. Pictures of animals or humans doing strange and criminal things were popular with this market.

One card (5/14 in the L’Obs collection) features a frog who has just stabbed another in the heart and runs off with his money. The greeting reads:

A Merry Christmas to you.

Another card (3/14) shows a dead robin with this wish:

May yours be a Joyful Christmas.

A French card depicts a mouse riding a lobster, using its antennae as reins. The mouse has a piece of paper which, translated, reads:

Peace, joy, health, happiness.

Of this image, Boydell says:

You may find a mouse riding a lobster strange – I find it funny. It’s horses for courses.

Humans in this genre are in unsettling situations. In addition to the one shown above with two women rollling the poor man into a snowball, the BBC page has a few other cards. One upper-middle class boy threatens a middle-class lad with a horsewhipping. Another shows an upset boy stuck in a teapot. A third shows a clown ready to stick a red hot poker up a policeman’s posterior, unaware that another constable is coming round the corner.

Other cards reflect a moralistic theme in an absurdist way. At L’Obs, the first image shows four frogs who disobeyed their mother’s instruction not to play on the ice. They all landed on their backs. The eighth card, ‘”X”mas RAYS’, features an unlucky boy who ate the Christmas pudding. His x-ray shows that the guilty cannot hide!

These cards are a useful introduction to the Victorian mindset, not nearly as pious as we like to think it was.

They also remind me that when a couple we know send us a Christmas greeting with a skull and crossbones, they are merely upholding a longstanding tradition. They think they are being clever. I might just send them these links.

Europe’s migration crisis — with more than 1 million newcomers arriving in 2015 — continues apace.

This is the largest migration in the world since 1907, outstripping the number of European immigrants to Ellis Island that year.

As ever, public opinion is divided. Although this article in The Guardian is from September, the thousands of readers’ comments are as fresh today as they were at the time. Some wrote about migrants who went from a safe country to safe country in the Middle East before migrating to Europe. They were unhappy with conditions in each place. Will the EU satisfy them?

As an Englishwoman from London put it, she would like a better council house. She’s living in Hounslow near Heathrow Airport. She’d much rather live in council housing in Mayfair:

maybe if I scream and shout, get the media to take photos of my plight, they’ll all agree and I’ll get a home in Mayfair …

That is what the situation looks like to many people.

In his Christmas message to the Czech Republic, President Milos Zeman told the nation that he is ‘profoundly convinced’ that the migration is ‘an organised invasion’, not a ‘spontaneous movement of refugees’.

No doubt, his words were met with approval as 70% of Czechs are opposed to their country taking in migrants and refugees. Most of the newcomers have chosen to pass through the nation on their way to western Europe.

Statelessness has also become a problem. A Guardian article says that many Syrian women giving birth cannot confer Syrian nationality on their children because it must come from the father. If the father is missing or dead, the child is stateless. This can also happen if a couple is married ‘informally’, with no official paperwork proving their status.

However, statelessness is not limited to migrants and refugees. It also affects Europeans. In Latvia, 12% of the population — mostly people born in the country to Russian parents — are stateless. They can study for a nationality test and become Latvian citizens, but many stick with the identity papers they are given which allow them to earn a living. The nationality exam is notoriously difficult.

Illegal immigration from Africa also poses a problem. An orphan from the Ivory Coast who was trafficked to Senegal as an adolescent found his way illegally to the UK as an adult. Because he has no birth certificate and never knew his parents, he cannot claim Ivorian citizenship. The British government has given him a stateless travel document that will allow him to study and work.

Meanwhile, in Sweden, The Telegraph reports that staff at Riksgransan, a ski resort in the Arctic Circle have made no end of arrangements to accommodate a group of 200 Afghan and Syrian asylum seekers. Sven Kuldkepp, chief executive of Lapland Resorts, worked with his staff to make their stay as pleasant as possible. They have organised hikes for adults and every child has his own sledge for winter fun on the smaller slopes. Celebrations of the Afghan festival of the longest night — Yalda — were also held.

Residents are encouraged to use the gym. One refugee is giving English classes to the adults. Retired teachers from a nearby town are giving lessons in the Swedish language.

However, there is one problem: darkness. The days in the Arctic Circle are very short at this time of year. In fact, seasonal darkness has allowed staff at Riksgransan to house refugees. It is closed to skiers until mid-February. The lack of light has not gone unnoticed, and the Afghans are unhappy.

Some have complained to the Swedish Migration Agency.

Does Afghan education curriculum exclude the study of geography? Surely, most people are aware of the very short days in the Arctic Circle.

The Telegraph spoke to some of the refugees at the ski resort:

“The last time we saw the sun was a month and a half ago,” complains Hakim Akbary, 31, who worked as a translator for international aid agencies before he fled Kabul.

Another objected to the cold and the food:

According to Marwan Arkawi, a 19-year-old Syrian, this is not unusual: the darkness and isolation has started to get to everyone. Even in this mild winter, the temperature is regularly 14F (-10C).

“Frankly I am imprisoned, I cannot go anywhere,” he says. “It’s like Hotel California but without a sun, and really, really bad food. We are all biologically depressed.”


The only people who go outside for fun any more are the Afghan children, he adds.

“I think they’re built of iron or something. The Afghans are adjusting much faster because they’re used to the weather.”

Mr Akbary says that the last time he went out for a walk was 20 days ago, when he took a short hike to the Norwegian border.

“We are not used to this cold weather,” he explains. “After 10 minutes outside we are shaking.”

According to Mr Arkawi, arguments now break out continually over trivial matters, such as seats in the restaurant, or people jumping queues, or over the noise some residents make late into the night, having been turned seminocturnal by the lack of daylight.

Perhaps it is time for complainers to be grateful for safety, shelter, food and gentle amusement where it can be found.

Back in the UK, The Telegraph reports that the Charity Commission has warned that some aid workers who have gone to Syria or Iraq have been recruited by terrorist groups:

There are increasing fears that extremists are infiltrating Muslim charities in Britain in order to promote violence, recruit vulnerable young people for jihad, and steal money to fund terrorism.


The number of formal legal disclosures of information between the commission and the police and other agencies over charities caught up in alleged Islamist activities more than doubled between 2014 and 2015.

Officials from the watchdog also carried out 80 inspection visits of charities which were judged to be vulnerable to terrorists and extremism, either because they operated in Syria and other high-risk areas or because of their activities in Britain, such as inviting radical speakers to events.

It will be interesting to see how this situation develops in 2016. I expect it to get worse before it gets better.

Although Christmas has come and gone for another year, perhaps home cooks have made notes for next year’s festive lunch or dinner.

I certainly have. For the first time, our household had a hassle-free Christmas Day dinner.

Here’s how we did it.

Vegetables and Chef Mike

We cooked most of our vegetables — sprouts and carrots — on Christmas Eve.

This meant that we reduced Christmas Day washing up by a third. Those pots and pans were out of the way. Reheating involved employing Chef Mike — the microwave. Others might prefer using the oven.

On Christmas Day, the only things I needed to do were to prepare parsnips and potatoes for roasting.

Roast potatoes and parsnips

As a parboiling substitute for the potatoes, I put Chef Mike to work.

After washing and drying two or three medium-sized potatoes, cut lengthwise down each potato — 1/4″ or 1/2 cm deep — to allow steam to escape in the microwave. Microwave them for five minutes then let them cool thoroughly on a chopping board before peeling.

Put a tablespoon of goose fat in a small roasting tin and let that heat for five minutes at 180°C (350°F). By this time, the roast goose should be out of the oven and resting on the carving tray.

Whilst the fat is heating, peel the potatoes. To get rough edges that crisp in the oven, break each potato in half rather than cut it.

I also had another small roasting tin with 1 tablespoon of goose fat heating at the same time for the parsnips, which I peeled shortly beforehand to prevent them from going brown.

Large parsnips can be cut lengthwise into quarters. Smaller ones can be left whole, but cut the thin ends off, because these can overcook and burn.

Potatoes and parsnips take the same amount of time to roast — approximately 20 minutes.

Easy-to-carve goose

This year, I did two things which made the goose easy to carve.

Before I put it in brine — see ‘Roast goose — reduce cooking time with brine‘ — I broke the legs and removed the wings.

Breaking the legs properly will leave them on the carcass, skin intact.

To remove the wings, I used sturdy kitchen scissors. This took five minutes per wing. When cutting through the skin, I left a flap approximately 2″ or 5 cm long that I placed over the gap where the wing was. I secured this to the carcass with a sturdy poultry lacer pin. (When it came time to roast, this worked amazingly well with no loss of meat juice.)

I then poured boiling water over the goose, dried the bird and put it in brine. Afterwards, I dried the goose and let it sit on a rack in the roasting tin overnight. Our kitchen is cool at this time of year, so I left the bird on the counter top.

Using the brine method reduced cooking time by half, once again.

Removing the wings and breaking the legs made carving very easy.

Goose wings = great stock

After removing the goose wings, I put them in the stock pot to caramelise in a tablespoon of goose fat along with the neck and the giblets.

Sear everything, add just enough water to cover, then bring them to the boil. Season the liquid with salt and pepper then simmer it for two to three hours.

I left the stock, with the wings and giblets in it, to cool overnight. This made an excellent base for Christmas Day gravy.

The same method can be used with turkey, another unwieldy bird!

Boxing Day clip artHappy Boxing Day to readers living in countries where December 26 is a public holiday.

December 26 is also the feast day of St Stephen, the first martyr.

My previous posts for this day continue the Christmas theme:

Come let us adore Him

Keeping the hope of Christmas alive

Thoughts on Christmas (Murillo’s Holy Family with dog)

Concerning today’s illustration, a clearer, black and white version of George Cruikshank’s 19th century engraving can be seen at The History Notes.

On the subject of Boxing Day, journalist Cameron Macphail wrote a fascinating and witty history of December 26 for The Telegraph. I highly recommend reading it in full.

A summary follows.

Why ‘Boxing Day’?

Boxing Day was observed in some sense — if not as a public holiday, then as a day of giving — going back at least a few centuries.

In the 17th century, Samuel Pepys recorded Boxing Day preparations in his diary.

Gift boxes were for servants and tradespeople.

Servants worked on Christmas Day for their employers. Boxing Day was their day off and the opportunity to be with their own families. Employers gave each servant a box with a gift, bonus and, sometimes, Christmas leftovers.

The first weekday after Christmas was also the time when customers gave a present or a sum of money — gratuity or account settlement — to tradespeople.

Macphail cites Pepys:

… a diary entry from December 19th 1663:

“Thence by coach to my shoemaker’s and paid all there, and gave something to the boys’ box against Christmas.”

Five years later Pepys was not feling so generous complaining in a December 28th entry from 1668:

“Called up by drums & trumpets; these things & boxes having cost me much money this Christmas.”

St Stephen

St Stephen is the patron saint of horses.

Macphail says this is why so many horse races and hunts are held on December 26.

The Irish refer to December 26 as St Stephen’s Day rather than Boxing Day.

Other amusements

On December 26, the British continue their Christmas celebrations with family activities.

These include attending the theatre or participating in charity events.

Football fixtures are played around the country. These used to take place on Christmas Day afternoon until the late 1970s, when they were thought to detract from spending the day together as family.

In more recent years, Boxing Day is the date when post-Christmas sales begin. Whilst the men in the house can watch football, women can go to the shops.

Additional Christmas holidays

If December 26 falls on a Saturday or Sunday, the following Monday is always a public holiday in the UK and Ireland. This is the case in 2015.

Boxing Day is also observed in Commonwealth countries such as Canada, South Africa, Hong Kong, Australia and New Zealand.


And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father), full of grace and truth.  John 1:14 (KJV)

Happy Christmas to all my readers!

Today’s painting is ‘The Adoration of the Shepherds’ by Anton Raphael Mengs (1728 – 1779).  He was a Protestant from Bohemia who later became a Catholic.  In 1754, he was appointed Director of the Vatican school of painting.

You can read all about it in my 2009 post, Happy Christmas, everyone! That entry also has an excellent Anglican reflection for the day — highly recommended.

John 1 is an annual Gospel reading for Christmas. You can read more about this beautiful passage in the following posts:

Christmas Day — John 1:14 (with commentary from Matthew Poole)

Happy Christmas, one and all! (John 1:1-17)

More Christmas reflections can be found here:

Compliments of the season to all my readers! (features Dr Paul Copan on the manger scene)

A Lutheran defence of Nativity scenes and crucifixes

Christmas prayer intentions

Martin Luther on the birth of Jesus

Those wishing to find out more about our favourite Christmas carols might enjoy:

Jesus’s nature as depicted in Christmas carols

Angel imagery in Christmas carols (Dr Paul Copan on how the Bible portrays them)

‘O Come, All Ye Faithful’

‘O Holy Night’

‘God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen’

‘The Holly and the Ivy’

‘Hark the Herald Angels Sing’

‘Ding Dong Merrily on High’

Wherever you are and whatever you do — have a blessed, happy and peaceful day! of the Gospel readings this year for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day services is from St Luke’s Gospel.

You can read more about Luke 2 in these posts:

The Christmas story according to St Luke

The Christmas story in Luke’s Gospel (hermeneutics)

The painting above dates from 1622.  It is called Adoration of the ShepherdsGerard (Gerrit) van Honthorst, a Dutch Golden Age painter, studied in Italy and took his influences from Caravaggio’s use of chiaroscuro, as you can see from the way the light plays on the Holy Family and the shepherds.

You can read more about Honthorst here.

This Christmas season has brought with it a number of news stories, including the British cinema ban of a 45-second Nativity advertisement, ‘Christmas starts with the power of Love’. This follows the ban of an advert featuring the Lord’s Prayer a few months ago.

The news has also given us several special prayer intentions for Christmas, especially the persecution of Christians in Africa, the Middle East and Asia. has many articles about our brothers and sisters who will experience a less than happy day.

ChristianExaminer reports that Indonesia has closed 1,000 churches since the country’s ‘religious harmony’ law was passed in 2006. Churches have been the subject of attack by Muslim extremists. In order to rebuild them or to build brand new churches, Christians must obtain a permit, which involves collecting 60 signatures from non-Christians as well as permission from local authorities. No one should be surprised to find that such permits are rarely granted. Banda Aceh has only three churches now. All 29 churches in the province of West Java have been forcibly closed.

Brunei, the country on the island of Borneo, has banned Christmas. The Telegraph reports that the Sultan of Brunei has declared that celebrating the birth of Christ is dangerous to the faith of Muslims. (Two-thirds of people living in Brunei are Muslim.) Christmas carols and decorations are forbidden. Although communities can supposedly arrange Christmas celebrations, they must notify their local authority first. The Telegraph reminds us that, last year, the Sultan introduced Sharia criminal law with all its horrors. Those who wish to show their disapproval can refuse to stay or book events at the Sultan’s Dorchester Collection of hotels, which include the Dorchester in London, Le Meurice in Paris, the Beverly Hills Hotel in Los Angeles and Il Principe in Milan.

Over the past few days, I have been reprising posts for the O Antiphons in the Octave to Christmas: December 17/18, December 19, December 20, December 21 and December 22.

The O Antiphons spell out SARCORE. These are an aide memoire, because, reversed, they spell out in Latin ero cras, which means

I shall be [with you] tomorrow.

The preceding days’ meditations were as follows:

  1. O Sapientia, quae ex ore altissimi…” (O Wisdom from on high…)
  2. O Adonai et dux domus Israel…” (O Lord and leader of the house of Israel…)
  3. “O Radix Jesse qui stas in signum populorum…” (O Root of Jesse who stood as a standard of the people…)
  4. “O Clavis David et sceptrum domus…” (O Key of David and sceptre of our home…)
  5. “O Oriens, splendor lucis aeternae…” (O Dayspring, splendor of eternal light…)
  6. “O Rex gentium et desideratus…” (O longed-for King of the nations…)

The seventh meditation is:

“O Emmanuel, rex et legifer noster…” (O Emmanuel, our king and law-giver…)

The following posts explore two different readings for the last day of the octave:

The O Antiphon for December 23 (2013)

December 23: another O Antiphon for this day (2014)

Christmas Eve vigil readings conclude the Octave.

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