How is the New Year celebrated in your culture?

In Japan, New Year's Eve itself is called oh-misoka, and is a day to spend quietly at home for most people. It is not a day for fireworks at all in Japan (fireworks are reserved for summertime). You reflect on the old year, watch some year-ending entertainment programmes on TV such as Kohaku Uta Gassen (a long-running singing contest show), and perhaps go to the local temple at midnight, while hearing the 108 rings of the bell to ring away the evils of the old year. People looking for a party on New Year's Eve are often disappointed.

The Hoff, hooked! Backstage with David Hasselhoff and the panto brigade

Booing and hissing ex-soap stars and Eighties musicians has become an integral, if confusing, part of the Christmas tradition in the UK. As a kid, I remember pulling at my mum's ski-pants to ask who Sinitta was and why everyone was so excited to see her perform next to Cannon and Ball (it was always Cannon and Ball).

There is nothing like a dame: 'Puss in Boots' at The Hackney Empire

Has the Christmas pantomime had its day?

Oh no it hasn't! Despite cross-dressing dames getting a drubbing this week, pantomime is going strong, with rap, rock'n'roll and rudeness all playing their part

A festive-season survival guide: How to deal with Christmas office-party snogs, family dramas and dodgy cooking

Q. What's the best method to extract yourself from a bore at a drinks party? I am 50 and still haven't found a way.

Yule rules: Your guide to having a middle-class Noël

The authors of ‘The Art of Being Middle Class’ present their essential guide to surviving yuletide, from what gifts really mean to which guilty pleasures are socially acceptable (...and which most certainly aren’t)

Our pick of the Christmas theatre 2012

From pantomimes to family fun, discerning theatre to slapstick silliness, we've got the pick of the shows this festive season - even for the bah humbugs among you

You scumbag, you maggot: Pogues' 'Fairytale of New York' contender for Christmas number one

Plus the ten best Christmas songs in pictures

Trainee Father Christmases try on their new uniforms at Wookey Hole, Somerset

Back to Santa school: What does it take to be a department-store Father Christmas?

It takes more than just a jolly laugh and a red suit to play Father Christmas to a queue of demanding children. Nick Harding dons hat, beard and fake belly to undergo some seasonal training.

Being Modern: Alt.Christmas

As the forces of commerce gather for the fast-approaching festivities, we would do well to guard against another stain that has, of late, indelibly marked the spirit of the season: "alternative" takes on our cherished traditions.

A feast for all the senses: Bargain ways to glam up your home

The right atmosphere creates a mood of celebration.

Pictures to get you feeling Christmassy

From Obama high-fiving an elf, to a sea lion wearing antlers, we bring you a selection of images that will get you feeling festive.

Issy, age 11

'All I want for Christmas': Letters from Santa's postbag

From requests for Lego and leg warmers to a popcorn maker and a Puffle, letters to Santa are an art form in themselves. Clare Dwyer Hogg delves into the world of children's wishlists.

Stage rage: The school nativity play has always been a mine field for parental tensions

'Tis the season to be ANGRY

News of a bloody brawl at a school nativity play comes as no surprise to John Walsh. It's all part of the new Christmas spirit, he explains: pushy, stressed out and red in tooth and claw

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