Monday, 21 December 2015

Dolly's planning a Victorian Christmas

Having looked at the Caganer and not really coming to terms with the connection to the Nativity, I wondered about our British traditions. Considering Christmas, we have a lot to thank the Victorians for, especially Queen Victoria and Albert, who having nine children, were very family orientated.  Before that time Christmas was very low key, in Britain and without any real traditions. Hard to believe when you think of all the excitement and hype around it now. So where did all the sparkle come from and why have we become so caught up in a Christmas that often has very little bearing on the Nativity. Recently I spoke to someone who said I absolutely love Christmas... But not the religious thing. I can tell you that made me smile and was probably the spark that made me think about it.  Now, I'm not going to get into the religious side of things either, that's for an individual to decide, however wasn't that the whole point to celebrate Christianity? made me wonder.

The Christmas tree: I think its become common knowledge that Prince Albert was born in Germany. The evergreen tree then decorated with candles, probably real as they didn't have the fancy little fairy lights, sweets and fruits was a German tradition, it was likely that he chose to bring that celebration into his own home. In 1848 The royal family were pictured around the family Christmas tree and from then on it became fashionable among the more wealthy. I imagine the Queen was a bit of a trend setter, well we didn't have TV celebs or sports personalities to follow. If it was good enough for the Queen, then lets all have one... if you were in the position to afford one, a bit of decadence. So you might think well what about the artificial Christmas tree, surely we had something to do with that? Well, no we didn't it was the Germans who developed the idea. The first wooden tree, a pyramid shape lit by candles was developed in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania by the German Moravian Church in 1747. In the 19th century artificial trees were made, using goose feathers, they became popular and tended to be dyed green, again created by the Germans. So for whatever reason we have embraced the wide variety of artificial trees, I think we can safely say the idea was German.
I love my artificial tree, its clean, it comes out every year, is still fit for purpose and I'm saving the planet, not chopping down trees... However not sure if it would be biodegradable if I had to discard it.  Not that I'm planning to anytime soon.

As much as I love the smell and appearance  of a real tree, some of the artificial trees are stunning and have improved over the years. This is the tree that currently stands proudly in the Algarve shopping area in Guia, Portugal. 

 This is Dolly's little tree, not much to say about that, I think she was disappointed not to have lights, and you may not see this clearly but she has the strangest bauble on the top, which makes it look more like an festive alien.
This is my old tree, not much to say about that either other than the fact that it has hidden treasures and memories that go way back.

The Christmas Cracker:  In 1848 Tom Smith a British sweet maker came up with the idea of a Christmas cracker, whilst visiting Paris. He observed some sugared almonds that had been wrapped in twists of paper. He was inspired and developed a cracker filled with sweets,(sugar almonds), the paper snapped apart revealing the sweets when the ends were pulled. During the Victorian era Mr Smith's Idea was adapted and by the end of the Victorian period the Christmas cracker was much the same as the ones that we now place on our dinner table... and don't we all love those paper hats. 

Christmas cards: In 1843 an artist was asked to make a card for Henry Cole, so that he could send it out for Christmas. The card featured a  Christmas message and a family sitting around a dinner table. Many wealthy Victorian families adopted the idea and were sending out their own cards. Making cards became a popular activity. There is some evidence that the Royal Children were encouraged to make there own cards as an activity before the festive season.The first printed cards were very expensive but the price came down significantly due to improvements in colour printing and technology during the Victorian era. in 1880 over 11 million Christmas cards were posted due to the halfpenny postage rate., which was established in 1870. With the price of stamps now so many people I know are donating the money to a charity of their choice. I still think its a nice gesture to send cards to people whom we seldom see, I couldn't imagine not sending a card to my elderly aunties' who don't sign in to social media sites. To them a social would have been a good old get together.

Not a great photo but you get the point. 

Christmas food:  Many of our traditional foods are attributed to the Victorians. The first mince pies were made with meat, a recipe that dated back to Tudor times. Later in the 19th century the recipe changed and were pretty much like the ones we eat today, with minced dried fruits.
Some Victorian families would celebrate the Christmas dinner with roast goose or beef, however it was the Victorian period when the roasting of Turkey became more fashionable and is still a recognised tradition. 

Victorians have had a tremendous influence on our current Christmas traditions but I think it is necessary to say that we are talking about the wealthy Victorians, the average person was lucky to have dripping , bread and vegetables. Often the food of the less fortunate was of a poor quality, quite frequently the food would be rotten leading to poor health and difficult growth in children. No fast food. I imagine many were happy if they had a meal, let along a good meal. How fortunate most of us are,.I say most of us because we still live in a world where people are less fortunate, starving, homeless and suffering poverty. 

I don't want to get deep into my own views about excessive spending during the festive season, however it makes me wonder why we do it... are celebrating Queen Victoria or the birth of Christianity? 

What never seems to change is the importance of family and friends, a time of giving of ourselves and sharing... do we need a special day to do that, surely we should do that all year. Although having a holiday period enables the coming together of people that might otherwise be working or living away from each other. 
Dolly's had plenty of fun with friends and on the lead up to Christmas I've found her entertaining at every opportunity. As soon as my backs turned she has friends sharing her space.

At this time of year we seem to focus more on the less fortunate. An accident or death always seems so much worse, and yet the reality is life is life, when every tragedy strikes. What is it about Christmas that heightens our senses?  
However you choose to spend your Christmas and what ever your thoughts are, make it a special day and a memorable one.

A very Merry Christmas to you all and a healthy and happy New Year. 

See you in the New Year xx

Friday, 18 December 2015

Dolly's day in the garden

Looking around the garden and couldn't help thinking of my old pot plants, that I once had in the UK. Small cacti, Poinsettias at Christmas and other house plants. The same varieties now grow in my garden extremely large and profusely. You'll notice that I'll say other house plants, thats because I'm useless at remembering names of plants, or peoples' names come to think of it... It's a weakness of mine. I also have difficulty with the names of celebrities, singers and the famous... wonder if it's a condition or just a lack of concentration. Just as well Dolly has been given an easy name, she'd hate it I forgot to mention her. I've decided to give you a tour around the garden today so that you can see where Dolly lives.
The truth is we can't be out everyday in her, even if she does have a sulk. Today was one of those days when we just had to stay home and enjoy the garden. This Poinsettia once sat on our coffee table in a small ceramic pot, during the Christmas season. four years ago. It was planted out after the holiday but didn't do too well, it was moved again last year to a new location and take a look at it this year. It's really surprised us, so beautiful and probably one of my favourite plants in the garden.

 Behind the area where Dolly rests is an very old almond tree. This week it had to be cut back, some of the old branches were split and at risk of falling. It was so sad to see the grand old tree looking half its size. Sometimes we just have to do things we don't really want to and cutting the tree was one of those times.

 On a happier note look at one of my two money trees. Thats what we called them when I was young, we had one on the window sill. It's a succulent I know that much but no idea what the real name is.
 Now this one I know, it's a yucca, it's not the largest one in the garden but its the one that replaced our palm tree, which died of palm weevil. For me that was another sad event in the garden, I hate loosing trees, it looked fantastic by the pool and gave great shade. Yuccas done well and looks pretty good now.

 There are so many varieties of cacti and succulents in our garden, I'm sure they all have individual latin names. I haven't a clue and to be very honest, I've never taken the time to find out. I love the garden. I've enjoyed watching it develop over the years and I appreciate the amount of work thats involved, mostly carried out by my husband... I confess to having little input when it comes to the garden. Look at it this way, I appreciate art but I'm no artist, I enjoy listening to a piano concerto but I don't play the piano. I love the garden but I'm no gardener.

 This one is Rosemary. I know that because of the smell and of course I've used it over the years in the kitchen, it's great with lamb. That's probably why sheep keep away... Just in case.

And of course we have our orange tree, no garden would be complete in Portugal without at least one orange tree. However it doesn't seem to be giving very sweet fruit this year. 

We can't leave the garden with out giving Dolly pride of place, she's been working very hard finding out about the Victorian Christmas. I'm sure she will be posting very soon.

Bye for now xx

Wednesday, 16 December 2015

Dolly went in search of a caganer.

 I was having a chat with Dolly and explained that I had become rather fascinated with the idea of a Caganer, what the origins were and why on earth would it have become a tradition. It just all seemed a little bazaar to me. Looking on line it appears that the origins have been a little lost. As far as I can find out it all started around the 17th or 18th century, in Catalonia and then spread through Spain, Italy, France and no particular order that I could find. It appears that it was thought to be symbolic of fertilising the for good luck.  Sergi Alos, a caganer maker in Barcelona explained that Caganers are now made using the images of celebrities, foot ballers and even royalty. Apparently this is an honour and not an insult to the person. He also explained when interviewed by the BBC that he has actually been thanked. Not sure that I'd like an image of myself, squatting with my knickers down.

Nevertheless when I found out that town of Paderne had a Presepio, (model village of Bethlehem) I just had to have a look to check if they had included a caganer. It seemed unlikely as it was put together by the local scouts, but you never know.  When I arrived I was taken aback at the detail. It  was beautiful, the moss was live and kept moist by a water system, which also included a flowing river, so cleverly thought out... I have to say, far superior to the Presepio I'd seen in Ferragudo and not a Caganer in sight .

We've decided that we like the Presepio and Nativity without a caganer present. However if any of you have seen one or know more about them please feel free to share that information...It's good to share.
My friend pointed out that the baby Jesus was missing from the crib and feared it might have been stolen. As you may remember from my previous post, baby Jesus often doesn't get added until after midnight mass.

Saturday, 12 December 2015

Dolly's Christmas Traditions in Portugal

Now you may think I’m a little crazy, talking about Dolly as if she had life intelligence. However before you make judgements about her ask yourself this… Did you ever watch Herbie?... looked like a little Volkswagen Beetle or Kit, the artificial intelligent electronic computer module car; simplified, Kit was the night riders car? Not to offend in any way but Dolly has a way of knowing and what she doesn't know she will find out... Lets just say she's  knowing, caring and sharing. For now until Christmas she is just going to observe all the goings on around her, while she saves herself for the next trip scheduled for the new year.

Take yesterday she heard about the Nativity scene that I posted on Face Book, and decided to find out more about it.  Apparently many towns and villages around Portugal put up Nativity Scenes called Pricepios. Many omit the baby Jesus until after midnight mass on the eve of Christmas. The traditional cake eaten during the holiday period is called Bolo Rei or King Cake, it's like a fruit loaf, only much better, full of dried fruit and nuts...I love it. The Portuguese tend to have the reunion of family on Christmas Eve, known as Consoada, whilst they wait for a Father Christmas (Pai Natel) at midnight and after their meal.The main course for the Consoada is usually boiled Bacalhau (codfish), potatoes, greens or cabbage with olive oil, followed by a large quantity of desserts and Bolo Rei.  The towns and villages decorate the streets with beautiful lights I remember visiting Lisbon several years ago to see the tree, made me think of Trafalgar square in London, and a little home sick at the time.

Okay, so I mentioned the little Nativity scene of Bethlehem Town, but what I didn't tell you was the full story. Apparently it is a tradition in Spain, Portugal and Italy. The model village is home to Mary, Joseph, baby Jesus and a Caganer or in English "Shitter," (not my words). The Caganer is traditionally of a man with his pants around his knees, bending over defecating with a pile of feces at his heels. I wasn't looking for him whilst I enjoyed the Nativity scene but now I'm fascinated, does anyone one know what that tradition is about? I'll have to get Dolly to do a bit more searching. Meanwhile don't be shocked if you see a Caganer along side the Nativity...I'd worry if it's a drunk in your back yard.   

Keep an eye on Dolly she's everywhere this week. 

Sunday, 6 December 2015

Dolly had a sleep over

Occasionally I go fishing with Chris for the day, I sit and read or shop, whilst he terrorises the inhabitants of the sea with his fishing mates, on this trip it was Graham...his usual fishing buddy. Although it was only a local trip we decided it would be good fun to take Dolly on a sleep over, that way we continue to get to familiarise ourselves with her and we get to invite friends for breakfast...Great plan, all arranged during afternoon tea a few days earlier.
Everything planned and in place the day went great. We had a lovely evening walking through the town of Praia da  Rocha. It was such a contrast from the summer months, there was hardly anyone around, many of the restaurants and bars were closed for the winter and those that were open looked rather empty, and yet there was a magical feel to the area with all the lights glowing and twinkling...very Christmasy. Situated on an upper level, overlooking the street was a Chinnese restaurant, very inviting with all the red lights and lanterns glistening in the dark. It was a great choice, the food was good, the decor amazing and as a bonus it was empty...I love a bit of solitude from crowds.

We left Dolly parked at the campsite, she looked comfortable around other campers although a little intimidated and small next to her neighbour, a great big RV camper, all singing and dancing with it Christmas lights and wide sides. I'm sure I heard her sigh as we left her.  Goodness knows what tricks she learnt, whilst we were taking in the sites. On our return we were unable to get the gas fire going. Thankfully it wasn't too cold and we have five season sleeping bags from our camping days. We had an early start for the fishing, so the chilly atmosphere didn't trouble us too much. I think Dolly was playing up because we left her...we've made up now and she has a new battery for the ignition switch.

Plans made over afternoon tea and biscuits. Dolly loves to have company.

 Dolly was having a sleep over to make new friends...I think she missed us.

 I don't think these photos did the place justice but you can see how empty it is. As we walked further into the town the lights seemed so much brighter...Think I missed a photo opportunity.

 Cooked breakfast and they were away.

 We all managed a little time to do what we enjoy most. Of course my friend Susanne Wilson loves to sing so we had a little music on and she managed to close her eyes for a while.

 First catch of the day was to Chris but on form as usual Graham caught largest fish by a short tail.

Hope you will continue to join us for more adventures with Dolly. The next will be, what's Dolly doing the week leading up to Christmas.

Friday, 4 December 2015

Finding Dolly

We spent two weeks looking our our perfect motor home, which would enable us to see a bit more of Europe, whilst enjoying our hobbies. My Husband searched the internet, we travelled from London to Shropshire, Kent, reading and everywhere in-between. I was beginning to give up hope and then we found her, the last we looked at. It was after 4 o'clock in the afternoon, cold, windy and getting dark.

I stepped inside and Knew we had found the one. Much like myself, Dolly is older than we would have liked but still has plenty of miles left in her, is neat and tidy and not too dated. She is perfect just as she is.
Our first trip was to get her to Portugal, travelling through France and Spain. She'd had a good service, her engine was like new with only 19,000 miles on the clock, so nothing to stop us. My husband would have liked a week to get use to the gadgets, but me, I'm impatient and had already been away for 5 weeks. She arrived on the Tuesday Chris had two days, that was me compromising. We were off on Thursday night ready to catch the first Shuttle out of Folkestone to Calais.
We arrived home two days later, having had a stop over in France and one in Spain. There were a few hiccups, like how do you turn the interior lights off and how do we get hot water for the shower. The emptying of the waste was another learning curve, but we did it.  Now we have adventures to look forward to.
So far we've had afternoon tea with friends in the camper, (I'll show more about friends on my next post) and are planning an overnight fishing trip, Chris will fish I will write...after I've done a little shopping in the local town, any opportunity to shop.

 Chris with an early morning coffee. No, I didn't make it in Dolly, we nipped over to Starbucks.

 How did I decide on the name Dolly? Well the inside reminds me of a little dolls house, everything is there but just scaled down.

 I must say I never look great at 5 o'clock in the morning but I couldn't complain as it was my idea to leave and catch the first Shuttle out.

 Our letter was up, and we were on our way.

 I have no idea where we were, other than the fact that we were in Spain and I had inspiration to take the photos...I'll catch some photos in France next time.


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