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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A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice