Wednesday 7 December 2016


Book review: A Christmas Cornucopia by Mark Forsyth

One of the books from my Bookish Gift Guide for the Holidays I was particularly keen to dive into, purely from an aesthetic point of view, was A Christmas Cornucopia. The cover design is beautiful, and printed in hardback this makes for a very lovely stocking filler. Not only that, but when I actually started reading it I was instantly hooked on the words hidden within this pretty little festive tome too, which were insightful and hilarious in equal manner. 

A Christmas Cornucopia delves into the origins and meanings behind many of the seasonal traditions and stories we've come to see as normal during the holidays. Do you know why we bring a dead tree into the house, for instance? Where the term Boxing Day comes from (spoiler alert: it has nothing to do with clearing away boxes)? Why we're counting down the days to Christmas with Advent? Or, heck, even why we celebrate the day on December 25th?

Many people would assume that these traditions are modern variations of Pagan ones, but that myth is actually refuted pretty early on by author Mark Forsyth. There might be a very tiny chance that one or two date back to those times, but the majority of festive traditions are a little more recent than that and kind of came about by accident or miscommunication. And if you think about it, really think about it, they are actually rather bizarre. I mean, reindeer flying a sleigh? An obese Turkish man who breaks into houses every year? And then there is the shrub that once a year invites sexual assault.

As Forsyth says at the start of his book: "If one were to try to explain to an outsider – let's say a reasonably bright alien – what was going on, they probably would be baffled and then, blow the planet up, to be on the safe side."

Seeing the strange traditions through the witty eyes of Forsyth was a sheer delight. Yes, this is a very festive book and one that is jam-packed with interesting facts that will make you look at Christmas in a different way, but the way he describes all these fascinating facts was so incredibly funny that I was frequently laughing out loud while reading this book. And I don't think that I've ever done so with a non-fiction read before. He has a brilliant way with words, making a book that could perhaps be quite dry (facts and figures, yes there is maths involved with Christmas too), a fun and very engrossing page-turner.

This isn't only a beautiful little book that because of its contents and title is perfect to read or gift during the holidays, but it's also a super interesting one making the reader think about all the traditions we've come to know and love throughout the years by describing their origins in an incredible funny way. From Santa Claus to the more obscure background of the British word 'knickers' (which, yes, in name is related to the festive season), you'll find fascinating insights about both of these and much more right here – all laced with the wit and humour of Forsyth.

Whether you're a Christmas obsessive or you're more of a Grinch about the season of merriness, you'll find plenty to enjoy within the pages of A Christmas Cornucopia, as it enlightens you in a hilarious way on the peculiar customs so many of us make the bane of our lives each December.

A Christmas Cornucopia is published by Penguin Books and you can get your copy from Foyles or your own preferred retailer.

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Twitter: @Inkyfool

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