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

<p>1. Leeds Christkindelmarkt</p>
<p>Until 18 December, leeds.gov.uk</p>
<p>Leeds' Millennium Square turns into a little bit of Germany with 40 visiting German traders, and there's even an authentic bierkeller.</p>

The 10 Best Christmas markets

1. Leeds Christkindelmarkt

Until 18 December, leeds.gov.uk

Leeds' Millennium Square turns into a little bit of Germany with 40 visiting German traders, and there's even an authentic bierkeller.

Have yourself a Merry DIY Christmas!

Whether it's because of the economy or a yearning for nostalgia, more people are making their own decorations this year

Being Modern: #46 Christmas cards

What, you might ask, is remotely modern about the sending and receiving of greetings cards at Christmas? Been around since the 1840s... Queen Victoria, Sir Henry Cole, yada, yada. The practice developed, you made a list, you put a day aside to write the cards, address envelopes, lick stamps and sit back and wait for your own mantelpiece to fill.

'Tis the season: Tim Wheeler and Emmy the Great get festive

We wish you an alternative Christmas: Beyond the world of the cheesy festive album

Had enough of Teen heart-throbs, reality TV stars and cheesy crooners? Craig Mclean investigates the rise of the alternative festive album

Being Modern: #45 Christmas lights

The country is aglow again. No, it's not the return of the riots. It's the turn of the Christmas lights, turning our high streets into fantasy wonderlands. And occasionally what looks like a pretty poor advert for Ryness, such is the insouciance with which twinkling bulbs are casually strung between irregularly spaced trees.

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