Pear and frangipane tart

Serves 8

Henry Hitchings: What is myrrh anyway?

I was brought up to say "Merry Christmas" rather than "Happy Christmas". "Happy" was supposed to be kept back for birthdays and the New Year. But now, I've noticed, my mother insists on "Happy Christmas". Challenged about this apparent volte-face, she cites the tweeness of "Merry", an adjective which, as she points out, has also been tarnished by its association with drunkenness.

Tasty treats: Cook up some edible Christmas gifts

Still not done all your Christmas shopping? Then head for the kitchen.

Christmas fruit and nut cookies

Makes about 24

Skellig, Sage, Gateshead

Given that Skellig appears to be a smelly old tramp with an appetite for dead mice and decayed bluebottles, it's a relief that the new opera Skellig, commissioned by the Sage at Gateshead, doesn't go in for scratch-and-sniff technology. Even without the chance to experience that particular unattractive aspect of Skellig – a grouchy, winged creature whom young Michael finds and befriends – there is more than enough to engage listeners of all ages in this surprisingly successful children's opera.

Cherry clafoutis

Serves 6-8

Just add fresh air: Skye Gyngell's quick and easy al-fresco summer eats

This past winter has seemed the longest ever, so it is with great excitement and gratitude that we at the restaurant have welcomed in the blue sky and warmer days. We are eating outside most days now and the garden is full of tulips, peonies, early roses and dahlias. Warm-weather produce is also finally beginning to trickle in – asparagus, peas, broadbeans, the first deeply sweet, orange-fleshed melons from Italy as well as apricots and even a box of cherries. Basil has returned, one or two tomato varieties and the first peppers and aubergines.

Anchoïade

Anchoïade is a sweet, salty, pounded paste from the South of France that is best eaten simply on toast. Use a pestle and mortar if you can – it gives a much more interesting, less homogenised flavour than the purée achieved in a Magimix.

It happened one Christmas

'Tis the season to tell a cracking good yarn. We asked five of our favourite columnists to reveal their Yuletide memories from first loves, via crazy horses, to doorstepping Felicity Kendal

Lincoln Cathedral, South Rose Window, Anonymous: The Bishop's Eye (1330s)

The Independent's Great Art series
Career Services

Day In a Page

Independent Travel
Burgundy, the River Rhone & Provence – Five-star MS Swiss Corona 7 nights from £999pp
Lake Como St Moritz & the Bernina Express 7 nights from £809pp
Vietnam
Lake Maggiore, Orta & the Matterhorn 7 nights from £939pp
South Africa
Spain
Prices correct as of 19 December 2014
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'