Xmas Stories for Kids

For this month’s theme of ‘Red’ I have been inspired by two classic Children’s stories that both have a strong association with Christmas.

The Grinch Who Stole Christmas

Full of cheerful Red decoration and colouring, How the Grinch Stole Christmas!: Yellow Back Book (Dr Seuss – Yellow Back Book) is a classic tale by Dr Seuss. It is about a mean grouchy green monster who hates Christmas and wants everybody in the small town below his dark cave to stop all the joy and happiness of Christmas and be just like him! So one night he plots to steal all the presents and decorations but one little girl helps him to be kinder and to  find the Christmas spirit and eventually to enjoy Christmas! I love this Festive classic because it’s about how joy and happiness can always defeat meanness and darkness!

A Christmas Carol

The Grinch also reminds me of the famous story, A Christmas Carol (Puffin Classics) by Charles Dickens, about a spiteful man who doesn’t care for others or Christmas, but on night he is visited by three spirits of the past, present and future and they change his thoughts on Christmas and charity. I also loved The Muppet Christmas Carol [DVD] version of this story and would recommend you watch it too!

If you haven’t heard of either of these classic books and films you should totally check them out! So cuddle up with a glass of hot chocolate and read or watch these Christmas classics! Happy Christmas to everyone from me also! I hope that you have a fun time!

Red Rimmed Eyes

I decided to give my film post for our theme of ‘Red’ a bit more of an ominous title this month, as I thought red rimmed eyes was a nice visual description of someone who’s been watching lots of films! Red is a colour that not only has particular associations with this Festive time of year but also a colour that brings to mind emotions such as passion, danger, murder, lust and anger. For this theme I am looking at two different films that I feel represent Red in all its glory.

The English Patient

The English Patient [DVD] is one of my favourite films and one that is most suited to the colour red. Adapted from the book by Michael Ondaatje, the desert cinematography by John Seale is breathtaking as the camera sweeps across vast swathes of ochre sands and lingers across the paintings in the Cave of Swimmers. The English Patient is a film of many themes, set before and during WWII, it largely concerns the love affair of Katharine Clifton and Count Laszlo Almasy (a real person) whilst they are part of an expedition mapping the North African Desert. The films is set in flashbacks of the past (the affair) and in the present end of WWII where the wounded Almasy is being looked after by French Canadian nurse Hana in a disused Italian Monastery. The only possession that Almasy has is his copy of Herodotus that he has used as a scrapbook and we find out has much significance. This film is full of passion, war and betrayal and is definitely worth watching if you have not already done so!

Enter the Dragon

Another film that fits our theme of ‘Red’ this month is Enter The Dragon (Uncut) [DVD] [1973]Again, this is also one of my favourite films as I studied a martial art as a teenager so got quite interested in Bruce Lee films. Enter the Dragon is Bruce Lee’s most widely known film although others such as Big Boss, The (2-Disc Platinum Edition) [1971] [DVD] and Way of the Dragon (Special Collector’s Edition) [DVD] are now also highly regarded. Bruce plays Lee a character (not unlike himself) who is an excellent martial artist sent by the British Secret Service to uncover the sinister going’s on on Han’s island. Han was also (like Lee) a Shaolin student but he has turned to the dark side using the cover of a martial arts tournament to recruit and help fund his criminal international drugs trafficking and prostitution ring. Lee has to find evidence of this and get the Secret Services involved. Lee also finds himself involved in a vendetta once he learns that Han’s bodyguard O’Hara was responsible for the death of his beloved sister. This time it’s personal. Not only was this move ground-breaking as it was the first martial arts films financed by Hollywood but it also helped to establish martial arts as a sport for everyone as we see men of different ethnicities (John Saxon as Roper and Jim Kelly as Williams)  being excellent martial artists and women too (Angela Mao as Su Lin). One of my all time favourite scenes in the film is when Jim Kelly uses his ace martial arts skills against a couple of racist cops then takes their car and puts the siren on!

This is a film full of fire and energy. It is also set in parts of China and red is traditionally seen as a ‘lucky’ colour in China. Red is also the colour of blood and who can forget the classic image of a shirtless Bruce Lee streaked with claw marks of blood after fighting with Han in the infamous Hall of Mirrors scene at the end of the film.

These are two excellent films that I would highly recommend that you watch this Festive season if you are want something different than the usual Xmas fare! I also want to wish you all a very Happy Christmas and enjoyable New Year!

‘Red’ in Gardening

This season is a very quiet month in the gardening calendar. However, when it comes to the colour Red we see it in abundance at this time of year. From tinsel to Christmas crackers and even Christmas lights! Of course one of the Christmas staples is the red Holly berry which adorns the Christmas wreathes hung on doors up and down the country. There are also some other reds in gardening at this time of year.

CotoneasterIMG_3075The Cotoneaster is filled with an abundant, bountiful crop of berries at this time of year. It provides a good source of food for the garden birds. It  is very striking set against a winter sky. Interestingly it is from the rose family.

Holly

Holly, (Ilex aquifolium) is one of the most quintessential symbols of Christmas. It has gorgeous ruby berries which contrast nicely with the sharp, spikey leaves that complements the more benign silvery leaf of the Ivy, which are often coupled together.

Surprisingly the Holly (Ilex Aquifolium), is the only surviving species of the Ilex family as the rest have become extinct, there are of course numerous cultivars and varieties of this species but only one living species left in the genus.

Poinsettia

The Poinsettia is quite a vivid plant with amazing deep crimson leaves that really leave a lasting impression. The plant has quite a rich history of cultivation, and was originally used by the Aztec people as a medicinal plant. The widespread cultivation of the plant we know today, and its association with christmas was brought about in the early 20th Century by Paul Ecke, Jr.

Finally

The bold red leaves of the Japanese Maple (Acer Palmatum) make a glorious show in any garden around this time of year and make for a magnificent autumn display when large.

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I Wish all our readers a happy holiday and good fortune in the new year, and may the springtime bring again another good gardening season.

Red, the spirit of Christmas – a very brief history

The colour red may be obvious to all at this time of year. There is a great association of red with Christmastime. Whether that be from red holly berries, red ribbon tied around a present or indeed the clothes of Father Christmas himself! However, what might not be as apparent is that the association of the colour red with this time of year has its basis from hundreds of years in the past.

Christmas may nowadays be celebrated by many, and is no longer considered just a Christian festival, but as a universal time of holiday and reflection. However, the colour red used at Christmas, does have a religious foundation.

The colour red has symbolism originating from Germany in the middle ages. On the 24th of December each year, a play, known as the “paradise play” would be held. The basic plot would tell the story of Adam and Eve, and mention of a savior (Jesus) who would arrive in the future to atone for their sins. The play would feature a “paradise tree” which would have red fruit on it. Indeed, the Christmas tree originates from this time as well.

Lucas_Cranach_(I)_-_Adam_and_Eve-Paradise_-_Kunsthistorisches_Museum_-_Detail_Tree_of_Knowledge
Painting of “Paradise Tree” by Lucas Cranash entitled The Fall of Man

Also, the colour red comes from the colour of the Bishops robes who would conduct the services around Christmas. Red can also be seen to be associated with the Holy Spirit, which, in Christian tradition is part of the holy trinity, which includes Jesus.

 All in all, the colour red is one that has a long history linked with Christmas. We hope you have enjoyed this article and the other ones Cultural Life Connections have written over the year. Have a nice holiday!

Red December Reads

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For this month, fittingly as Christmas grows ever nearer, ‘Red’ is our themed colour. Of course there are obvious choices with red in the title but once again the slant on this is going to be a little esoteric! Red is a colour along with Green that is most associated with Christmas, though I am not going to be looking at Christmas themed books so these choices might be a good bet for people who want something different and are feeling a bit overwhelmed with all the Christmas bonanza of items which is foisted upon us at this time of year!

The Vegetarian by Han Kang

The colour ‘red’ brings to mind several issues and items one of them being meat and The Vegetarian: A Novel sensitively explores this theme.This novel by South Korean novelist Han Kang (beautifully translated by Deborah Smith) concerns the story of a woman called Yeong-Hye who has a psychological breakdown and stops eating meat and fewer and fewer meals until she is severely anorexic. She then believes that she is a plant and only sips water. The story though is told in linear narrative form, from the point of view of people around her in three sections. The first section consists of her husband’s point of view when she first changes her behaviour and says she will not eat meat, which culminates in an excellent dinner scene at the end of the section. The next section is told from the point of view of her sister’s husband a video artist who becomes obsessed with her. The final section is told from the point of view of Kim In-Hye, Yong-Hye’s sister. This novel is very powerful as it is making a huge statement about the difficulties of the restricted norms of behaviour within South Korean society. It is saying that in some ways individuals need these societal norms as guidance, for without them they are lost however, by denying individual thought and behaviour you have a less freely diverse society in terms of acceptance around difference. Therefore, when people lose their way they can behave in very extreme ways. It seems to be a society on the edge, a society of extremes which can fuel high levels of suicide and mental illness. Also the theme of ‘shame’ must be very powerful indeed as Yeong-Hye has brought shame on her family and her husband by refusing to eat meat.

Kang also makes a feminist statement as we learn more about Yeong Hye’s father than her mother and Yeong-Hye is exploited by men and loses her sanity. Kim In-Hye is seen as the most reliable, responsible and resourceful woman. She is the breadwinner who holds everyone together and is the epitome of the dutiful daughter but by doing so she is betrayed by her husband.

This is a world where women are expected to be loyal, dutiful, quiet, obedient and respectful. They should conform at all times and put their husband’s children and family elders before themselves. They will then have very little time to or for themselves.

The book that this most resembles to my mind is The Yellow Wallpaper which I looked at here as we are also examining a woman’s descent into madness the main difference apart from the time and location being that we are looking at it from the point of view of the other people in her life and not through her own eyes. Overall, The Vegetarian is an interesting read and one worth pursuing over December.

The Expats by Chris Pavone

When you think of ‘red’ the theme of danger also comes to mind and  it is with this associated theme in mine that I have to include The Expats
This is an excellent read and I have to congratulate author Chris Pavone for creating such realistic and strong female characters. The Expats tells the story of Kate Moore, an ex-CIA agent who moves to Luxembourg with her husband and two sons. Her husband has taken a lucrative new position as a security consultant for a bank. She however, cannot let her old career fade it seems as new people arrive in Luxembourg she is very suspicious and realises that her new life is not at all what it seems. There are some beautifully constructed scenes in this novel one in particular for me stands out and that is the scene in the art gallery in Berlin with her ex-handler Hayden where a mysterious man in a fedora and raincoat is following them. The scene is very filmic as is the whole book and can be easily envisioned (it would make a great film or TV adaptation). Pavone explores the issues that women face when they have to choose between their career and being a stay at home mother, Kate feels unfulfilled as a mother and longs for the excitement that her old career gave her however, she realises that it was so easy when she had no family ties and that more is at stake now. Kate is also laden down with guilt from a past incident which caused her to resign from active field work in the CIA. Although Kate is clever she does come to realise that she can wrongly predict situations and faces a comeuppance in the final scene when the jigsaw is completed and she realises just how much she has underestimated certain characters.

Night Film by Marisha Pessl

Night Film is Marisha Pessl’s second book and the one that I have found most enjoyable. It has an association with the colour red in that it contains a mystery about a death and heart stopping scenes of threat. The story set up is very strange, in essence it could be said to be a detective novel with investigative journalist Scott McGrath on the trail of the recently deceased Ashley Cordova who is the daughter of a reclusive eccentric horror film director Stanislas Cordova. Stanislas is a mysterious man who retired from public life more than thirty years ago and has a following of  dedicated but disturbed fans.This novel is also very filmic, certain scenes are reminiscent of a Murakami novel as you follow this man who meets strange characters along the way. The final scenes of the book set in the mansion of the film director and on his original film sets are in particular very tense and you realise that there is a lot at stake. The ending was quite different from what I expected and you wonder if there is more to be continued? Pessl creatively uses epistolatory effects in the novel, such as print outs of fan sites from the dark web. You want to find out what has happened to this director and indeed his daughter but the more the story evolves the more complicated it gets and further issues arise to try and sway McGrath and the readers off course. I studied film as part of my first degree and was intrigued by the idea of this situation as it echoed for me elements of fandom, and how certain director auteurs are lionised and held in great esteem by some, whereas other people cannot stand them!

These are our rather eclectic book choices for our theme of ‘Red’ this December, let us know if you agree or not and a we wish very Merry Christmas to you all!