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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Burgundy, the River Rhone & Provence – MS Swiss Corona - seven nights from £999pp
Lake Maggiore, Orta and the Matterhorn – seven nights from £899pp
Sicily – seven nights from £939pp
Pompeii, Capri and the Bay of Naples - seven nights from £799pp
Istanbul Ephesus & Troy – six nights from £859pp
Mary Rose – two nights from £319pp
A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

Voted for by the British public, the artworks on Art Everywhere posters may be the only place where they can be seen
Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Blanche Marvin reveals how Tennessee Williams used her name and an off-the-cuff remark to create an iconic character
Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Websites offering your ebooks for nothing is only the latest disrespect the modern writer is subjected to, says DJ Taylor
Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

Edinburgh Fringe 2014

The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee
Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

The woman stepping down as chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund is worried