The Grasshopper has always struggled to see the point of Christmas trees. It seems odd that due to a power grab by the early Christian church to steamroller a random date for the nativity of the Christ child over the Roman dies solis invict nati – in turn derived from the pagan winter solstice festival – we end up celebrating the birth of a man who eventually had his life cruelly cut short by being nailed to a tree with, well, a tree.
Hopper gets the whole thing about the yule log, of course. The idea of grabbing a tree, setting light to one end of it and keeping it burning through the cold winter months in the centre of the living room seems eminently sensible, even though the thought of having to leave the door open to accommodate the non-burning end does seem to defeat the object of the exercise somewhat. In any case, the respect shown to the yule log by keeping its final embers safe until the following winter, to start the burning of the next year’s log, is indeed the stuff of tradition, superstition and even religion. Hopper sees that perfectly.
The Nordic word for Christmas - jul1 - seems much closer to the spirit of Christmas than the word ‘Christmas’ itself. With its Germanic roots in surviving the brutal northern winters, a yuletime pause in the winter grind to get warm, eat whatever is available, drink and be merry, prior to gritting the teeth to get through the next couple of months or so, seems much closer to the real thing than a donkey and the odd seraphim hovering round a baby lying in the donkey’s bento box. And just exactly where does that bloke with the white beard and red hat fit in?
Anyway, back to the Christmas tree, Hopper almost had mild discord with Lady G. recently over a rather splendid Christmas wreath, made with said lady’s fair hand, that proceeded to shed pretty much every needle it possessed onto the living room floor of Chez G. Hopper’s venerable Henry was not amused and proceeded to make noises like a vacuum cleaner being waterboarded at Guantanamo Bay. Lady G. was even less amused when she arrived to find said wreath – by this time looking quite bald – wrapped in a copy of the 17 September 19922 copy of the FT. Hopper’s patient explanation of the dubious tradition of celebrating Christmas by having a living thing slowly die in the living room helped, well, hardly at all.
In the end, of course, all became concordant again between Hopper and Lady G. – supported, as ever, by a good bottle of Côtes de Provence and a bit of abject grovelling. Which reminds Hopper of a time in the early 1990’s when he worked for a time in Denmark, that great land of øl, ål and rødgrød med fløde. At that time, a Danish brewery (not Carlberg or Tuborg, but can’t remember which) produced a jul øl (yule beer) every winter, with alcohol content matching the year. In 1992, it was 9.2%. Potent and delicious. Tuborg had Julebryg, of course, but this was something else altogether. Hopper wonders if it survived into the 21st Century and, if so, what this year’s ABV stands at. 12.1%? A beer stronger than many wines? Hopper wouldn’t put it past the Danes. Back to 2.1%? Nej, the Danes would never tolerate that!
The Grasshopper wishes glædelig jul to all his readers.
The word is the same in Danish, Swedish and Norwegian. In Iceland it’s jólin. For a change, even the Finns have a similar word to rest of Scandinavia – joulu.
The day after Black Wednesday