Santa’s Blog – 5

Arsenic and Old Lace has a plot that these days would be considered politically incorrect, since it shows depends upon the foibles of several people who are not mentally stable (“eccentrics”) for its dénouement. Cary Grant’s shouts “Can you hear me? I’m not really a Brewster. I’m a son of a sea cook!” and the taxi driver counters this with “I’m not a cab driver. I’m a coffee pot.”

At one point, Cary Grant, as Mortimer Brewster the drama critic is sitting by a tombstone that bears the name Archie Leach. Film aficionados would know that Grant’s real name was Archibald Alexander Leach. Just for the record, the final scene in the script of the play had Mortimer’s two maiden aunts pour some of their infamous elderberry wine for Mr. Witherspoon, the Manager of Happydale Sanatorium. This was eliminated from the film version.

Right now, the only names I can remember are rabanadas (fried toast); lebkuchen
(chewy, honey-flavoured cookies with candied fruits and nuts); kourabiethes (shortbread with almonds & cinnamon); and bibingka (coconut and rice flour pudding)… The Missus tired them all today and of course I had to sample them. I also ate a handful of surströmming (fermented Baltic herring) and some salmiakki (salty liquorice) and I’m feeling a mite queasy.

For many people, it is a mater of pride that they can name names – not in the usual sense of the expression, but in that they remember the names of characters in obscure indie films and poems, and the lesser-known characters in Shakespeare’s plays (Aemilius, Boyet, Egeon…) as well as Biblical personalities (Nehemiah, Jadon, Josiah…).

It is easy to remember that Rudolph’s girlfriend is called Clarice. But many stumble when they are asked to name Santa’s team. Nerdology requires that not only does one remember them in sequence, but that one never forgets Olive. As in Olive, The Other Reindeer immortalised in Vivian Walsh’s book that had a Jack Russell Terrier as Olive. The Robert L. May story that later became a song by Johnny Marks gave us Rudolph – who was had very nearly been called Rollo or Reginald instead.

The poem ’Twas the Night Before Christmas names eight reindeer; Dasher (or Dascher); Dancer; Prancer; Vixen; Comet; Cupid; Donner (or Dunder or Donder); and Blitzen (or Blixem). Dunder en Blixem literally means “thunder and lightning” in Dutch – but the phrase is also idiomatic for “get a move on!”

This explains why some people say that the sled was pulled by six reindeer, and what followed their names was an order to hurry up. As for “Vixen” being the given name of a male reindeer… well, that is another story altogether. Female reindeer retain their antlers till after they give birth in the spring. So it might have been that there was at least one female reindeer in the team (many of the names appear to fit either gender, too).

The Missus takes it for granted that some of the reindeer are female; she says that otherwise, since males never ask for directions, the presents would never get delivered on time. Well, I’ll show her; it’s high time I broke in my new hovercraft snow-car anyway; much better than you know whose eight-reindeer-powered sleigh.


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