Tuesday, 14 December 2010

History of the Christmas cracker!

Christmas crackers are a fun Christmas tradition in the UK and other Commonwealth countries.

A cracker consists of a cardboard tube wrapped in a brightly decorated twist of paper, making it resemble an oversized sweet-wrapper. The cracker is pulled by two people, makint it split unevenly. The split is accompanied by a small bang produced by the effect of friction on a chemically impregnated card strip.

In one version of the tradition the person with the larger portion of cracker empties the contents from the tube and keeps them. In another each person will have their own cracker and will keep its contents regardless of whose end they were in. Typically these contents are a coloured paper hat or crown; a small toy or other trinket and a motto, a joke or piece of trivia on a small strip of paper. Crackers are often pulled before or after Christmas dinners or at parties.

We now know what they are, but, what's their origin?

Tom Smith, a baker of wedding cakes from Clerkenwell, London, invented the Christmas cracker in 1847. The events that led to these wonderful creations were quite a story. In 1940, Smith went to Paris and came across 'Bon bon', an almond sweet wrapped in paper that was twisted. He liked the taste
so much that he began selling the 'new' sweets in London and they became very popular. Tom, who was always on a lookout for new promotion opportunities, noticed that his sweet had become popular gifts for loved ones and sweethearts of young men. Chinese fortune cookies inspired him to introduce small slips of paper inside the wrapping that had love mottos on them.

By 1846, he had become a successful businessman. One day, while he was enjoying the warmth of his fireplace, the crackle of a log gave him a new idea. He started experimenting to try to reproduce it in his sweets. In his pursuit, there were many failures and on certain occasions even his furniture and hands were burnt. Finally, he got it right. He took two strips of thin card and pasted small strips of salt petre on them. When these cards were pulled away, they produced a crack and a spark. Within a year, Tom's latest inventions had become a fashion. The sweets were first called 'Cosaques' after the cracking of the Cossack's whips. It was only after a decade that they came to be known as Christmas crackers.

Christmas crackers became so popular that many competitors sprung up in the market. The designer and colorful wrappers were used as promotional techniques and they were sold by half-a-dozen and one dozen packs in matching boxes. Thus, Tom Smith was virtually forced to get his designs patented and his company came to be known as the Tom Smith Crackers. By 1880s, Smith's company had already produced over hundred cracker designs. By 1900, Smith had sold more than 13 million crackers that were not only used at Christmas but also at other festivities, fairs and coronations. Tom later added small toys to his crackers. In 1933, printed foil wrappers were introduced and then as the designs evolved glass pendants, brooches, bracelets and other jewellery were included in the collections.

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

History of tartan

In our last post we told you about the history of the kilt, so now we have decided to do the same with tartan itself.

Tartan has without doubt become one of the most important symbols of Scotland and Scottish Heritage and with the Scots National identity probably greater than at any time in recent centuries, the potency of Tartan as a symbol cannot be understated. However, it has also created a great deal of romantic fabrication, controversy and speculation into its origins, name, history and usage as a Clan or Family form of identification.

Tartan is a woven material, generally of wool, having stripes of different colours and varying in breadth. The arrangement of colours is alike in warp and weft and when woven, has the appearance of being a number of squares intersected by stripes which cross each other.

The Celts for many thousands of years are known to have woven chequered or striped cloth and a few of these ancient samples have been found across Europe and Scandinavia. It is believed that the introduction of this form of weaving came to the West of Northern Britain with the Iron age Celtic Scoti (Scots) from Ireland in the 5 – 6th c. BC.

The word Tartan we use today has also caused speculation and confusion as one camp says it comes from the Irish word - tarsna - crosswise and/or the Scottish Gaelic tarsuinn – across. The Gaelic word for Tartan has always been – breachdan - the most accepted probability for the name comes from the French tiretaine which was a wool/linen mixture. In the 1600s it referred to a kind of cloth rather than the pattern in which the cloth was woven.

Until the middle of the nineteenth century, the highland tartans were associated with regions or districts, rather than by any specific clan. This was due to the fact that tartan designs were produced by local weavers for local tastes and would tend to make use of the natural dyes available in that area.it was not until this period that specific tartans became associated with Scottish clans or Scottish families, or simply institutions who are (or wish to be seen as) associated in some way with a Scottish heritage.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

History of the kilt

The kilt is a knee-length garment with pleats at the rear, originating in the traditional dress of men and boys in the Scottish Highlands of the 16th century. Since the 19th century it has become associated with the wider culture of Scotland in general, or with Celtic (and more specifically Gaelic) heritage even more broadly. It is most often made of woollen cloth in a tartan pattern.

Although the kilt is most often worn on formal occasions and at Highland games and sports events, it has also been adapted as an item of fashionable informal male clothing in recent years, returning to its roots as an everyday garment.

The Scottish kilt displays uniqueness of design, construction, and convention which differentiate it from other garments fitting the general description. It is a tailored garment that is wrapped around the wearer's body at the natural waist (between the lowest rib and the hip) starting from one side (usually the wearer's left), around the front and back and across the front again to the opposite side. The fastenings consist of straps and buckles on both ends, the strap on the inside end usually passing through a slit in the waistband to be buckled on the outside; alternatively it may remain inside the waistband and be buckled inside.

A kilt covers the body from the waist down to the centre of the knees. The overlapping layers in front are called "aprons" and are flat; the single layer of fabric around the sides and back is pleated. A kilt pin is fastened to the front apron on the free corner (but is not passed through the layer below, as its function is to add weight). Underwear may or may not be worn, as the wearer prefers, although tradition has it that a "true Scotsman" should wear nothing under his kilt.[2] The Scottish Tartans Authority, however, has described the practice as childish and unhygienic.

Today most Scotsmen regard kilts as formal dress or national dress. Although there are still a few people who wear a kilt daily, it is generally owned or hired to be worn at weddings or other formal occasions.

Contemporary kilts have also appeared in the clothing marketplace, n a range of fabrics, including leather, denim, corduroy, and cotton. They may be designed for formal or casual dress, for use in sports or outdoor recreation, or as white or blue collar workwear. Some are closely modelled on traditional Scottish kilts, but others are similar only in being knee-length skirt-like garments for men. They may have box pleats, symmetrical knife pleats, or no pleats at all, and be fastened by studs or velcro instead of buckles. Many are designed to be worn without a sporran, and may have pockets or tool belts attached.

Friday, 8 October 2010

It's autumn!

Why those gloomy faces? We know, we know, summer is gone, but, c'mon, autumn is equally awesome!!

Autumn is one of the four temperate seasons. Autumn marks the transition from summer into winter usually in March (Southern Hemisphere) or September (Northern Hemisphere,when the arrival of night becomes noticeably earlier.

The word autumn comes from the old French word autompne (automne in modern French), and was later normalised to the original Latin word autumnus. There are rare examples of its use as early as the 12th century, but it only became common by the 16th century.

Before the 16th century, harvest was the term usually used to refer to the season. However, as more people gradually moved from working the land to living in towns (especially those who could read and write, the only people whose use of language we now know), the word harvest lost its reference to the time of year and came to refer only to the actual activity of reaping, and autumn began to replace it as a reference to the season.

In poetry, autumn has often been associated with melancholy. The possibilities of summer are gone, and the chill of winter is on the horizon. Skies turn grey, and people turn inward, both physically and mentally.

Yes, yes, all that's true, but what about the magnificent colours of the landscape? and who hasn't enjoyed kicking and shuffling through the fallen leaves? and, of course, Hallowe'en!!

Monday, 5 July 2010


The Edinburgh International Magic Festival is a not-for-profit organisation designed to produce an annual international performance event which will start in July 2010 and will be different to anything present in the UK and Europe today.

The fascinating world of mystery and illusion has always been attractive to a wide audience of all ages as it captures people's imagination and challenges them to believe the unbelievable. The MagicFest is designed to bring back to the stage the amazing magic live shows which are rarely available for general public these days and let the audience rediscover the seldom experienced states of awe and wonderment!

Edinburgh International Magic Festival aims to engage the widest possible audience in the fascinating world of magic, providing adults and children with regular access to a diverse range of high quality magic shows coming from all over the UK and abroad, that will entertain, enrich, challenge and inspire them.

This professionals usuall perform only in front of celebs and Royalty, and most have never performed publically in Scotland before and may never again. So do come and be amazed at the first ever Edinburgh International Magic Festival, from 7 to 11 July.

No stooges. No camera tricks. Just like that.

Thursday, 24 June 2010

Gormley statues in the Water of Leith!!

6 Times is a multi-part work by Antony Gormley which positions six life-size figures between the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art and the sea at Edinburgh’s Leith Docks.

Gormley is an internationally acclaimed British artist renowned for testing the body in space often using his own body as a particular example of the human condition that he can work on ‘from the inside’. Gormley has worked extensively across the world, from Stavanger in Norway to the western Australian desert. In the UK he is best known for the impressive Angel of the North at Gateshead, and for the 100 figures he has installed across Crosby Beach, near Liverpool.

6 Times is the first work from the National Galleries of Scotland’s collection to be physically shared with the city. The positioning of the figures across Edinburgh places contemporary art near to communities who may have had little opportunity to experience such work directly.

The first is buried chest-deep in the ground. The next four have been lowered into the Water of Leith as it winds its way through the city to the sea, and the final statue is at the end of an abandoned pier.

The figures in the river are so realistic, that police have already had calls from worried passers-by!!

The artist said the high-pressure density of modern urban life made it "vital to take the time and space to open up our minds to the elements". According to him, "We are all aware that we are coming to the point where there will be 10 billion human beings on this planet. The big question that I'm asking with all of these works is, where does the human project fit, in the scheme of things?".

The work has been commissioned by the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, with funds from the Gulbenkian Museum of the Year award 2004 and support from the Art Fund, The Patrons of the National Galleries of Scotland, Claire Enders and The Henry Moore Foundation.

Thursday, 20 May 2010

Taste Festival

Taste Festivals are back for 2010 in London, Edinburgh and Birmingham. You can once more sample specially prepared delicacies from some of the very best restaurants in your city of choice. There will also be sommeliers on hand to help you pick out the perfect bottle of bubbly or whatever tipple takes your fancy. The producers' market will be bursting with fine fayre, and there will be a whole host of classes, demonstrations, music and merriment.

So, Taste of Edinburgh is Scotland’s sell-out food and drink event of the year. Hosted in Edinburgh’s stunning Inverleith Park, the event brings together the leading names from the capital’s eateries alongside an array of celebrity chefs, to offer the finest range of food and drink from across the country.

But not everything is designed for adults. There are even special activities for the wee ones. We are calling on all yummy mummies and delicious daddies to come along to Tiny Taste on Friday 28 May between 12–4 pm for some bite sized fun for little ones.

For the first time we will be cooking up some fun filled activities for little ones with the launch of ‘Tiny Taste’ at this year’s festival, and to celebrate the first 300 tots to pay a visit will get a special goodie bag too.

Designed to keep the whole family happy, Tiny Taste combines a mix of interactive cooking demos, quizzes, storytelling and tasty treats, all centred around miniature play kitchens – just right for budding gastronomists!

Come and enjoy!

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

inlingua Congress 2010

inlingua Edinburgh is delighted to host this year's annual inlingua international congress from 12-15 May.

inlingua colleagues from all over the world meet every year to strengthen their network and discuss new material, current situations and future opportunities during this 4 day event.

Past host cities included Istanbul, Vancouver and Lausanne, and this year's is Edinburgh's turn.

Highlights of the congress include excursions to a whisky distillery, a private stately home, an evening reception at inlingua Edinburgh for about 120+ participants and the final Gala Evening with a Scottish touch, be it traditional Scottish fayre with a modern twist, a bagpiper, the famous Address to the Haggis, iconic kilts and a fabulous Ceilidh band.

We hope our colleagues will have an unforgettable 43rd annual congress in Edinburgh!!

Haste ye back!

Thursday, 1 April 2010

Rolling of the eggs

The pre-Christian Saxons had a spring goddess called Eostre, whose feast was held on the Vernal Equinox, around 21 March. Her animal was the spring hare and the rebirth of the land in spring was symbolised by the egg.

Pope Gregory the Great ordered his missionaries to use old religious sites and festivals and absorb them into Christian rituals where possible. The Christian celebration of the Resurrection of Christ was ideally suited to be merged with the Pagan feast of Eostre and many of the traditions were adopted into the Christian festivities. In Great Britain, Germany and other countries children traditionally rolled eggs down hillsides at Easter and it is thought that this may have become symbolic of the rolling away of the rock from Jesus Christ’s tomb before his resurrection.

In the UK, the tradition of rolling decorated eggs down grassy hills goes back hundreds of years and is known as "pace-egging", from the Old English Pasch meaning Passover. There is even an old Lancashire legend that says the broken eggshells should be carefully crushed afterwards or they will be stolen and used as boats by witches.

Arthur's Seat, in Edinburgh, is one of the traditional egg rolling sites, alongside the castle moat at Penrith and Bunkers Hill in Derby. Beacon Hill near Newbury, Berkshire is also an ideal spot. The eggs were traditionally wrapped in onion skins and boiled to give them a mottled gold appearance (although today they are usually painted) and the children competed to see who could roll their egg the furthest.

The eggs were eaten on Easter Sunday or given out to pace-eggers – fantastically dressed characters that processed through the streets singing traditional pace-egging songs and collecting money as a tribute before performing traditional mumming plays.

Monday, 1 March 2010

Snowdrop Festival 2010

If you think there's only music and theatre festivals in Scotland, you'd better think twice. Today, we are taking you to a very spacial festival organised around one truly beautiful feature of our landscape: the snowdrop.

The large specialist collection of these delicate flowers will be on display at the Scottish Snowdrop Festival between 1 February and 15 March.

Enjoy beautiful gardens, magnificent castles, stately homes and local exhibitions or simply step into nature and wander through the woodland. You should tread carefully and keep your eyes peeled for snowdrops, little winter gems that surface towards the end of the season when hopes of spring are in the air. Find sites to explore in both city and rural locations. These flowers are delicate yet hardy, and are able to thrive in this cold climate.

Just get in out in the snow-dusted landscapes and treat yourself afterwards to a hot drink and a traditional shortbread buiscuit or cake in one of our lovely tearooms. Quite simply a perfect winter day out.

Monday, 8 February 2010

Saint Valentine's Day

Every February, across the country, candy, flowers, and gifts are exchanged between loved ones, all in the name of St. Valentine. But who is this mysterious saint and why do we celebrate this holiday? The history of Valentine's Day — and its patron saint — is shrouded in mystery. But we do know that February has long been a month of romance. St. Valentine's Day, as we know it today, contains vestiges of both Christian and ancient Roman tradition. So, who was Saint Valentine and how did he become associated with this ancient rite? Today, the Catholic Church recognizes at least three different saints named Valentine or Valentinus, all of whom were martyred.

One legend contends that Valentine was a priest who served during the third century in Rome. When Emperor Claudius II decided that single men made better soldiers than those with wives and families, he outlawed marriage for young men — his crop of potential soldiers. Valentine, realizing the injustice of the decree, defied Claudius and continued to perform marriages for young lovers in secret. When Valentine's actions were discovered, Claudius ordered that he be put to death.

Other stories suggest that Valentine may have been killed for attempting to help Christians escape harsh Roman prisons where they were often beaten and tortured.

According to one legend, Valentine actually sent the first 'valentine' greeting himself. While in prison, it is believed that Valentine fell in love with a young girl — who may have been his jailor's daughter — who visited him during his confinement. Before his death, it is alleged that he wrote her a letter, which he signed 'From your Valentine,' an expression that is still in use today. Although the truth behind the Valentine legends is murky, the stories certainly emphasize his appeal as a sympathetic, heroic, and, most importantly, romantic figure. It's no surprise that by the Middle Ages, Valentine was one of the most popular saints in England and France.

During that time period, lovers sang or spoke their sentiments. Paper and written Valentines became popular at the end of the 15th Century. The oldest Valentine that exists today was made during this era and is on display in the British Museum.

In early years Valentine cards were handmade. However, during the 1800’s Valentines began to be manufactured in factories. In the beginning they were handpainted by the workers and came only in black and white, similar to silhouettes. Fancy Valentines of the day were made of ribbon and lace. Paper lace was not introduced until the mid 1800’s. By the end of the 19th Century, Valentines were made by machine and handmade cards became very rare.

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Burns Supper

Robert Burns, the national poet of Scotland, was born in Ayrshire, in 1759. Scotland's best loved bard is famous for his political views, revolutionary behaviour, his love for the lassies and of course his world famous songs and poems including Auld Lang Syne, which is generally sung as a folk song at Hogmanay and other New Year celebrations around the world.

Although Burns lived a short life, dying at the age of 37, it was fulfilling and eventful. Starting out as a farmer then moving on to become a writer, Burns travelled throughout Scotland where he gathered inspiration for much of his work. The stunning Ayrshire scenery and the romantic setting of Dumfries helped provide the insight for compiling much of his romantic material.

The first suppers were held in Ayrshire at the end of the 18th century by his friends on the anniversary of his death, 21 July, and they have been a regular occurrence ever since. The first Burns club, known as The Mother Club, was founded in Greenock in 1801 by merchants born in Ayrshire, some of whom had known Burns. They held the first Burns Supper on what they thought was his birthday on 29 January 1802, but in 1803 discovered from the Ayr parish records that the correct date was 25 January 1759, and since then suppers have been held to 25 January, Burns' birthday.

Suppers may be formal or informal but they should always be entertaining. When the cook brings in the haggis, everyone stands, while a piper plays bagpipes and leads the way to the host's table, where the haggis is laid down. The host, or perhaps one of the guests, then recites the Address To a Haggis.

At the end of the poem, a whisky toast will be proposed to the haggis. Then the company will sit and enjoy the meal. The main course is traditionally served with mashed potatoes (tatties) and mashed neeps (known in England as swede but in Scotland as turnip, or in North America as rutabaga and turnip). A dessert course, cheese courses, coffee, etc. may also be part of the meal.