Sunday, December 27, 2015

Fun with the Swiss

Craig Ferguson is a Scottish-born American television host, stand-up comedian, writer, actor, director, producer and voice artist. He was the host of The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson, that aired on CBS from 2005 to 2014.

The format (talk show with lots of background laughing) is rather American but the sense of humour is definitely British. Not to be taken too seriously, this video is a wee bit wacky but might make you smile and allow for a humorous five minutes over the holidays.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

24 hours in Zürich

Nothing beats going home for Christmas. Having been given the opportunity to spend 24 hours in my home town of Zürich I grabbed the occasion to walk down memory lane, admire the Christmas decorations and catch up with a few "old" friends. As the saying goes: "It takes a long time to grow an old friend."

The true macaron: Luxemburgerli

Oh dear. Not sure I like this budding fashion?!?

Now THIS reminds me of my childhood.

Every day at 4 pm Kurz Watches and Jewellery shop rings out a Carillon of traditional Swiss music, as hand-carved figures dance, wave and ring cow bells. The figures, sporting costumes from different regions in Switzerland, were made by a ​​wood carver from Brienz, Switzerland. At this time of year, the songs are themed for Christmas. 

Gotta love the Globus department store. They always come up with wacky ideas. This year it's Gina Lollobrigida Christmas tree decorations.

A touch of Paris?

Can't resist a glass of mulled wine

Jemoli, another Zurich institution.

A great Christmas gift for homesick Swiss: Caran d'Ache.

A look down Bahnhofstrasse at dusk.

A glimpse up the Rennweg.

Can you smell the "haissi Maroni"?

Turicum by night

Some things never change!

The Café Schober's window display seems like a dream.

Zimtstärnli, es wiähnachtelet!

I still use this little old witch on our homemade gingerbread house every year!

Feeling homesick for Zürich

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Merry Christmas

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Lily and the Snowman

It's not always easy to hang on to the Christmas spirit in between last-minute shopping and hosting holiday parties.

But "Lily and the Snowman" is here to bring you back down to Earth.

Every winter, a magical snowman puts on a show for a little girl. But over time, life pulls them apart. Will she remember to take the time for what she loved?

Lily and the Snowman is an adorable animation short film. A very cute and touching little story to celebrate the imagination, childhood and the magic of winter! It is very similar to "The Snowman," a 1982 animated film that was adapted from Raymond Briggs' book of the same name. Do you remember that book?

Monday, December 21, 2015

The Origins of Father Christmas

The origin of Father Christmas begins in the 4th century with Saint Nicholas, Bishop of Myra, an area in present day Turkey. By all accounts St. Nicholas was a generous man, particularly devoted to children. After his death around 340 A.D. he was buried in Myra, but in 1087 Italian sailors purportedly stole his remains and removed them to Bari, Italy, greatly increasing St. Nicholas’ popularity throughout Europe.

His kindness and reputation for generosity gave rise to claims he that he could perform miracles and devotion to him increased. St. Nicholas became the patron saint of Russia, where he was known by his red cape, flowing white beard, and bishop’s mitre.

In Greece, he is the patron saint of sailors, in France he was the patron of lawyers, and in Belgium the patron of children and travellers. Thousands of churches across Europe were dedicated to him and some time around the 12th century an official church holiday was created in his honor. The Feast of St. Nicholas was celebrated December 6 and the day was marked by gift-giving and charity.

After the Reformation, European followers of St. Nicholas dwindled, but the legend was kept alive in Holland where the Dutch spelling of his name Sint Nikolaas was eventually transformed to Sinterklaas. Dutch children would leave their wooden shoes by the fireplace, and Sinterklaas would reward good children by placing treats in their shoes. Dutch colonists brought brought this tradition with them to America in the 17th century and here the Anglican name of Santa Claus emerged.

In 1822 Clement C. Moore composed the poem "A Visit From Saint Nicholas", published as "The Night Before Christmas" as a gift for his children. In it, he portrays Father Christmas:

He had a broad face and a little round belly,
That shook when he laughed, like a bowl full of jelly,
He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself;
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread.

Other countries feature different gift-bearers for the Christmas or Advent season: La Befana in Italy ~ The Three Kings in Spain, Puerto Rico, and Mexico ~ Christkindl or the Christ Child in Switzerland and Austria ~ Father Christmas in England ~ and Pere Noël, Father Christmas or the Christ Child in France. Still, the figure of Father Christmas as a jolly, benevolent, plump man in a red suit described in Moore’s poem remains with us today and is recognized by children and adults alike around the world.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Zimtstärnli & Brunsli, my favourite Swiss Christmas biscuits

Having shared my all-time favourite groovy Christmas albums with you, I would like to let you in on my absolute favourite Christmas biscuits of all times.

Switzerland has a very strong tradition of making Christmas biscuits and there is a vast varitey of them. Today’s Christmas cookies can trace their history to recipes from Medieval Europe biscuits, which when many modern ingredients such as cinnamon, ginger, black pepper, almonds and dried fruit were introduced into the west. By the 16th century Christmas biscuits had become popular across Europe.

It is a treat and a great deal of fun to prepare these every year with my children. Of course, they think the best part is licking the kitchen utensils and bowls once the biscuits are in the oven. Ideally you would invite a friend and her kids to bake along with you....the more, the merrier!!!!

Zimtstärnli/ Cinnamon stars
3 egg whites
1 pinch of salt
250gr powder sugar
1,5 tbsp cinnamon
350 gr ground almonds
0.5 tbsp Kirsch (Swiss cherry schnapps)
1.) Beat the egg whites with the salt until stiff.
2.) Mix in the powder sugar.
3.) Put aside and cover about 1dl of the above mixture for icing later.
4.) Mix cinnamon and ground almonds, add Kirsch and combine with the remaining egg whites/sugar mixture until you obtain a dough-like texture.
5.) Roll out the dough on a plastic bag or on a sugar-covered base. The thickness of the dough should be about 1cm.
6. ) Cut out the stars carefully with a cookie cutter which you dip into sugar before every use.
7. ) Lay out the cookies on an oven tray covered with baking paper.
8.) Glazing / drying:  Dip a little glaze onto the middle of each star, pull the icing towards the star tips with a wooden toothpick.
9.) Let the cookies dry at room temperature for about 6 hours or overnight.
10) Bake approx. 5 min. in the middle of a preheated oven at 250°C. Take out and let cool on a cookie rack.

Brunsli/Christmas brownies
150 g sugar
1 pinch of salt
250 g ground almonds
¼ tea spoon cinnamon
1 pinch of clove powder
2 tablespoons of cocoa powder
2 tablespoons of flour
2 fresh egg whites 
100 g bitter chocolate
2 tea spoons of kirsch
1.) Mix sugar, salt, almonds, cinnamon, clove powder, cocoa powder and flour in a bowl.
2.) Add egg whites and stir until ingredients are evenly distributed.
3.) Cut chocolate in real small pieces, pour hot water over the chocolate, let rest for about 5 minutes, then pour off all water except about half a tablespoon, stir until even. Now immediately proceed with the next step.
4.) Add melted chocolate from the previous step and the kirsch, knead to a soft dough.
5.) Roll out dough on a flat surface (sprickle surface slightly with sugar so the dough does not stick to it), approximately 10 mm thick. Cut out different shapes with cookie cutter and put them on a baking sheet covered with baking paper.
6.) Let them rest for about 5 to 6 hours or over night in a dry place.
7.) Bake for about 4 to 6 minutes in the center of the pre-heated oven at 250 °C. Let cool completely before serving.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

My Top 10 groovy Christmas albums

Christmas just wouldn't be the same without them: I am talking about Christmas Carols. We do sing the classic versions at home but I have always had a penchant for the more groovy sounds of Christmas. Here is my top 10 list of Christmas albums.

Elvis' Christmas Album
Here, the original Elvis' Christmas Album. Part rock, part blues and part distinctively Elvis, some say this is the only album from which fans can still get a glimpse into his early artistic inspiration. Fan favorites: "Blue Christmas", "Santa Bring My Baby Back (To Me)," and "Santa Claus is Back in Town."

Beach Boys, Christmas with the Beach Boys
Sleigh bells are the background instrument of choice in most of the fun-in-the-sun Beach Boys hits—so really, we should have known they'd create a memorable Christmas album, clearly longing for some winter in their world. The most famously broadcast hits from this CD each Christmas are the 1967 single "Little Saint Nick" and "Merry Christmas, Baby."

The Carpenters, Christmas Collection
Although some say the double-disc is exactly what's to be expected from Karen's sweet voice and Richard's "famously light, inoffensive arrangements," it's also noted that these recordings caught the singer's vocals in their prime. Best known hit: "What Are You Doing New Year's Eve."

The Christmas Collection: The Best of Jackson 5
When we think J5, we think joy and novelty, a tornado of energy and little-boy brilliance. The boy-band quintet (young MJ and brothers Jermaine, Jackie, Tito and Marlon) lives up to standards on their Christmas album, too. Get up and groove (with '70s-style moves) to "Up on the Housetop."

Ray Charles, The Spirit of Christmas
Mmmm—soulful and gravelly, just the sound we expect. Ray's only recorded Christmas album, released in 1985, gives you the holiday fuzzies. You can hear him smiling during "Winter Wonderland," a fan favorite, but you'll be smiling during his famous, 1961 duet with Betty Carter, "Baby, It's Cold Outside."

The Christmas Collection: The Best of Stevie Wonder
Stevie's voice bellows young and sweet from these lullaby-like carols originally recorded in 1967. The new collection adds two tracks, but the fan favorites are the same: Swoon over "Someday at Christmas" and "Ave Maria."

Nat King Cole, The Christmas song
To this Christmas album Nat brings a fun and bubbly side best known from non-holiday hit, "It's only a Paper Moon" but also casts a captivating spell, such as he did in "Mona Lisa". Holiday Classic: "The Christmas Song" written by Mel Tormé.

Bing Crosby, White Christmas
Bing's voice is rich and unforgettable. The recordings, most originally completed in the '40s, some in the '30s, are crackly—the arrangements, outdated. But the scratchy changes in pitch are specifically what carries the charm and appeal for Christmas-music lovers now. Best known recording: "White Christmas."

Frank Sinatra, A Jolly Christmas from Frank Sinatra
Frank, unlike other artists, leaves untouched the classic Christmas carols he chose for this 1957 release, but does add his characteristically sly touch to two songs: "The Christmas Waltz" and "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear."

The Temptations, Give Love at Christmas
Recognized mostly for soulful R&B hits "My Girl" and "Ain't Too Proud to Beg," The Temptations similarly shine in Christmas hits "Everything for Christmas," "The Christmas Song" and "Silent Night." Let one of the most inspired bands from the 60s, 70 and 80s ignite happy holiday memories.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Switzerland's confidence in the national government

Here is an interesting piece of info that I came across today. If you look at Public Governance as a matter of trust, guess which nation comes out on top? Not only is Switzerland No.1, from 2007 to 2014 confidence in our national government increased by 12%. Might that be because we live in a direct democracy? As the father of a very dear Swiss friend of mine once said: "You are lucky to live in a country which guarantees you a right to vote. Use it!"

Monday, December 14, 2015

The story of Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer

Reindeer posts are very popular judging by my readers' post visits, I therefore decided to dig up the history of Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer to share with you. Listen up because it IS a story worth telling!

The Chicago-based Montgomery Ward company, department store operators, had been purchasing and distributing children’s coloring books as Christmas gifts for their customers for several years. In 1939, Montgomery Ward tapped one of their own employees to create a book for them, thus saving money. 34-year old copywriter Robert L. May wrote the story of Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer in 1939, and 2.4 million copies were handed out that year. Despite the wartime paper shortage, over 6 million copies had been distributed by 1946.

May drew in part on the story “The Ugly Duckling” and in part from his own experiences as an often taunted, small, frail youth to create the story of the misfit reindeer. Though Rollo and Reginald were considered, May settled on Rudolph as his reindeer’s name.

Writing in verse as a series of rhyming couplets, May tested the story as he went along on his 4-year old daughter Barbara, who loved the story

Sadly, Robert Mays wife died around the time he was creating Rudolph, leaving Mays deeply in debt due to medical bills. However, he was able to persuade Sewell Avery, Montgomery Ward’s corporate president, to turn the copyright over to him in January 1947, thus ensuring May’s financial security.

May’s story “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” was printed commercially in 1947 and in 1948 a nine-minute cartoon of the story was shown in theaters. When May’s brother-in-law, songwriter Johnny Marks, wrote the lyrics and melody for the song “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”, the Rudolph phenomenon was born. Turned down by many musical artists afraid to contend with the legend of Santa Claus, the song was recorded by Gene Autry in 1949 at the urging of Autry’s wife.

The song sold two million copies that year, going on to become one of the best-selling songs of all time, second only to Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas”. The 1964 television special about Rudolph, narrated by Burl Ives, remains a holiday favorite to this day and Rudolph himself has become a much-loved Christmas icon.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Natale a Lugano 2015

Are you ready for a change of scenery in down town Lugano? This month the city has changed its dress with the installation of Christmas lights, colours, sounds and music. The year's most exciting holiday is celebrated with the opening of the traditional markets, an artificial ski slope, a skating rink, and a kiddies' village. Concerts, entertainment, a great New Year's Eve open-party and many other events will lead up to January 6th, culminating in the the magic Epiphany in the city centre.

The Christmas Village at Parco Ciani
From Saturday, November 28th to Sunday, January 10th, Parco Ciani becomes a magical Christmas village dedicated to all children. An enchanted place in which to hang out and experience the unbelievable magic of the celebration most loved by all children.  You'll also be able to skate on the artificial ice rink and have tea with Santa Claus.

Lugano Snowland
The Swiss Snowsports School of Lugano is celebrating its 80th anniversary, and in collaboration with the City of Lugano, it is proud to bring snow in the middle of la pizza. Every child between 3 and 12 years old will have an exceptional opportunity to get a mini-lesson with a ski or snowboard instructor right in the heart of the city. The equipment is included in the price and available on site. Along with the snow-covered ramp, visitors will find a lively village offering a number of other activities and amusements for people of all ages.

The Christmas Market in the town centre's main streets
The traditional Christmas market offers gift ideas, art-products, crafts, decorations, as well as many traditional local gastronomic specialties. From November 28th to December 11th the Christmas market will be hosted in via Nassa and Piazza Riforma. From December 12th to December 24th the market will stretch over the entire city centre. Don't miss it!

Light of peace 2015
On the third Sunday of Advent (13.12.), the Light of Peace will come together in Lugano, Zurich, Basel and Freiburg. At 16:30, the Scouts bearing the symbolic torch leave Piazza della Riforma making their way through the city’s historical centre, to reach Piazza San Carlo at 17:00 where it will remain until December 24th. The ceremony will be accompanied by a children's choir.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Sending a letter to Santa in Switzerland

Ever thought of writing a letter to Father Christmas? My kids are teenagers but I still tell them: " If you don't believe in Father Christmas, he won't be able to bring you any presents! You choose!"

In Switzerland, whoever writes a letter to the Christ Child (who - in the German part of Switzerland - brings the presents at Christmas) will get an answer. The same applies to St. Nicholas and Babbo Natale. A special team at the Swiss Post answers every request on their behalf.

In Switzerland each year approximately 16,000 letters are addressed to Santa. Addresses range from the local woods to the North Pole. And the post office delivers them all. Not to the forest, not into heaven, not to the North Pole either, but to Chiasso, where a special team answers the letters on behalf of the addressee.

The only prerequisite is that the sender is identifiable. And even if the sender only marks "Sébastien, 5" or "Anna Lena, Trueb," the post will move heaven and earth to determine the complete address. For example, by checking the postmark. Thus, only four hundred letters remain unanswered.

Three quarters of the letters are from the French part of Switzerland and Ticino - an interesting cultural detail. To the Christ Child, the St. Nicholas and Babbo Natale, origins don't matter, they reply eloquent in all four national languages as well as in English.

And what does Santa's team deliver? It could be a Christmas story, a flip book or a box of crayons. Something that will make the children's faces light up and is sure to make them smile.

Ho Ho Ho!

Number of letters to Father Christmas the Swiss Post received over the past seven years

Friday, December 4, 2015

Bazar dell'Avvento in Minusio

This weekend you might want to undertake a little trip to Minusio. It will be worth seeing your children's faces light up when they discover the beautiful theater, for the young AND old.

At this Advent bazaar you'll have the opportunity to create scented candles out of natural beeswax. A buffet awaits you in the restaurant with yummy specialities, while at the bright cafeteria, you'll find an endless variety of cakes and biscuits to be enjoyed with good music performed by the various groups that will add to the festive cheer.

You will find interesting ideas and thoughts for Christmas gifts, such as home-made creations made with warm and colourful materials and by skilled hands. Some stalls offer books, stationery products and natural beauty creams. Not to be missed is the flea market with clothing, toys and miscellaneous items which are fit for a second life.

Venue: Bazar dell'Avvento
Where: Scuola Rudolf Steiner, Via dei Paoli 36, 6648 Minusio
Date: Saturday, Dec 5th & Sunday, Dec 6th, 2015
Time: 10:00 - 21:00
Click here for the programme: Bazar dell'Avvento

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