Arts and Entertainment

A window on the real world with Danny and his diamond geezers

The ancient origins of Christmas traditions

Ever wondered where some of our Christmas traditions came from? A lot of them go back further than you think

Win a Dimplex SP9 Fire

It's quite easy to overload the house in the festive season with tinsel and baubles, but often it's the small and subtle touches that have the biggest effect on houseguests. And if you're hosting your first Christmas, the pressure is definitely on to put on not just a healthy spread, but also keep the surroundings stylish and sophisticated.

James Moore: Banks need more than a reports code

Outlook: The financial sector has been allowed to operate behind a veil of obscurity for too long

Ready to Wear: 'Don't wear sparkle – you'll upstage the Christmas tree'

Christmas Day dress codes vary, but to this particular commentator's mind, this is one occasion when it is good and proper to proudly embrace the fashion cliché. I've got Christmas Day shoes, for example. They're red patent by Repetto for Comme des Garçons, if anyone's interested. At any other time of the year, red-patent pumps are an unlikely option for me, given my resolutely monochrome wardrobe. Exception: blue jeans, tawny sweater. And that, for me, is quite radical.

Jonathan Trigell: Get that tree out of my post office

There is a Christmas tree in my local post office. You might think that the most unusual part of that, in these days of closures, is that I have a local post office. But I live in France, where religious symbols are strictly banned from state institutions and so I can't really see how they can get away with it. If you don't think that a Christmas tree is really a religious symbol, ask yourself how comfortable you would feel decorating one in Iran?

First person: 'I spend Christmas Day helping others'

Annie Cook, 58

Dogs abandoned for not matching furniture

Irresponsible pet owners have abandoned their dogs because they did not match their furniture, an animal charity said today.

This Year It Will Be Different, By Maeve Binchy

If you have never sampled Binchy, this volume of short stories is a good introduction to the easy-going charms of Ireland's most practised storyteller. Set around the Christmas holidays, these neatly plotted tales of festive fall-out offer the private miseries of jilted brides, erring husbands and demanding children.

The festering season, by Mark Simpson

For weeks we've been exhorting you to spend, spend, spend, but now that the presents have (with any luck) been bought and the preparations are complete, it's time to ponder the deeper meaning of Christmas. We asked our favourite writers to rant, reflect or reminisce on a festive theme. As Ronald Hutton explains, the last thing you should feel at this time of year is guilty, so sit down with a mince pie and enjoy

Will Self: PsychoGeography - Santa's ghetto

Here, for you, three days before Christmas, is the Teddy Jesus. See how He sits in the birdcage of martyrdom, His glued-on grin frozen in a figure-of-eight rictus, His stumpy paws thrust painfully against the bars. (The correct term for this phenomenon is "stumpmata".) Observe His black halo, the sign of transcendent pathos: is there any object more worthy of our devotion than this? The Teddy Jesus was sewn on Christmas Day 2002 in a Guangxi sweatshop then filled with foam by the careworn hands of a pieceworker who gets no holidays, ever. He was next crammed into a container with thousands of his fellow bears, and freighted halfway around the world so that He could be drooled on in the West.

Christmas cooks hit by cranberry crisis

Christmas traditionalists beware. A cranberry shortage after a poor harvest is threatening supplies of the red superberry just ahead of the peak seasonal rush.

Davydenko hit in the pocket

Nikolai Davydenko was probably expressing the views of many when he said that some of the game's top players had pulled out of this week's Sydney International tournament because they did not care about the event, which is the last major warm-up for next week's Australian Open.

Ask Alice: About black tablecloths, sundials and garden walls

Do you have an interiors dilemma? Consult our resident specialist

Chestnuts are not just for Christmas

It's chestnut season. But, while we just save them for the Christmas turkey, our French neighbours use them to create tasty salads and puddings, discovers Simon Beckett
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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
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Prices correct as of 19 December 2014
War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?
Finally, a diet that works: Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced

Finally, a diet that works

Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced
Say it with... lyrics: The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches

Say it with... lyrics

The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches
Professor Danielle George: On a mission to bring back the art of 'thinkering'

The joys of 'thinkering'

Professor Danielle George on why we have to nurture tomorrow's scientists today
Monique Roffey: The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections

Monique Roffey interview

The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections
Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Their outrageousness and originality makes the world a bit more interesting, says Ellen E Jones
DJ Taylor: Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

It has been hard to form generally accepted cultural standards since the middle of the 19th century – and the disintegration is only going to accelerate, says DJ Taylor
Olivia Jacobs & Ben Caplan: 'Ben thought the play was called 'Christian Love'. It was 'Christie in Love' - about a necrophiliac serial killer'

How we met

Olivia Jacobs and Ben Caplan
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's breakfasts will revitalise you in time for the New Year

Bill Granger's healthy breakfasts

Our chef's healthy recipes are perfect if you've overindulged during the festive season
Transfer guide: From Arsenal to West Ham - what does your club need in the January transfer window?

Who does your club need in the transfer window?

Most Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
The Last Word: From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015

Michael Calvin's Last Word

From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015