Anne Hailes: Whenever you take your Christmas tree down, don't forget to make singing and laughing part of your 2021

Anne Hailes

Anne Hailes

Anne is Northern Ireland's first lady of journalism, having worked in the media since she joined Ulster Television when she was 17. Her columns have been entertaining and informing Irish News readers for 25 years.

Dame Kiri Te Kanawa will take part in Cappella Caeciliana's Prestige Winter Series
Dame Kiri Te Kanawa will take part in Cappella Caeciliana's Prestige Winter Series

SO, FOUR days into the New Year and the Christmas tree is still all lit up, although not for long. But when?

People argue that there is a specific date and that it's unlucky if you take it down too soon, but it's also a nuisance to keep it longer than necessary as the needles fall and spearhead into the carpet. And as for the fashion to hang a tree upside down, then just shake it and the decorations will all fall off – along with a shower of needles!

But when should this be? It was the 'twelfth night' when I was growing up, twelve days from Christmas day, therefore midnight on January 5. But others cling to the belief that tree, decorations and nativity should not be packed away until Epiphany on January 6, an important date in the Christian calendar as it was the day the Three Wise Men arrived at the stable with their gifts for baby Jesus.

Epiphany comes from the Greek meaning 'to reveal' and so the day Jesus was revealed to the world; in some countries it's as important as Christmas Day and is celebrated with presents and festivities and no doubt there will be news stories of parades and firework displays to mark the occasion in other parts of the world, especially in Spain and Mexico.

The subject of Shakespeare's romantic comedy Twelfth Night has nothing to do with Epiphany it was written purely as an entertainment for the close of the Christmas season. However, before the actor Robert Baddeley joined the Theatre Royal Drury Lane in 1762, he acted at the Smock Alley Theatre in Dublin. He was a generous man who bequeathed £3 per annum to provide wine and cake in the green room of the London theatre on Twelfth Night. Sadly, it's doubtful this long term tradition of sharing 'Baddeley Cake' will be celebrated this year.

:: Over And Out

I GUESS most of us will be well over Christmas by now, some back to work, some in lockdown, all the wrapping paper away with the bin lorry and turkey soup a thing of the past, thank goodness. So, as the old saying goes "you pays your money and you takes your chance", January 5 or 6 doesn't really matter.

And what to do with your tree? I keep ours and put it in the garden where I can watch it change from forest green through golden days and eventually that lovely rusty colour over the next 12 months. I will certainly get my money's worth! Incidentally, if you can't find a spot in the garden, according to the City Hall cleansing department, the bin service won't accept Christmas trees – but re-cycling centres will.

:: A Joyful Noise Unto The Lord

WHAT a sad world it would be without a song to sing and the ability to sing it. We might belt it out at a pub sing-song or we might favour karaoke, but best of all is to sing in a choir. It has long been recognised that group singing helps in reducing stress, improving memory, breathing, posture and muscle tension and promotes friendships.

It can also take you round the world and back, as in the case of Cappella Ceciliana, a local choir of 18 voices with a reputation second-to-none – a choir, like many others that is made up of amateur singers, teachers, doctors, engineers and musicians. They have sung all over the UK, Ireland and Europe as well as the United States and, although their voices have been silenced since lockdown, their recordings are much in demand.

David Macartney is chairman: "This has been a challenging year for the arts sector and this New Year we are absolutely delighted that some of the worlds leading artists have agreed to collaborate with Cappella during January and February for the Cappella Caeciliana Prestige Winter Series, possible through the loyal support of Kathryn Harries, who is a vocal coach for NI Opera and our choir members."

In this latest incarnation, the choir will be celebrating their 25th anniversary this year by hosting a number of Zoom workshops with a top-drawer cast list: Dame Felicity Lott; Sir Tom Allen; Welsh baritone Wynne Evans, AKA the Go Compare character Gio Campario, who lost five stone and now needs a padded body suit for his television recordings; Sir Simon Keenlyside and Brindley Sherratt and, for the first workshop on January 10, Dame Kiri Te Kanawa.

Although these workshops are aimed at serious musicians, the hope is they will be recorded and made available to the public, especially in support of aspiring young musicians, to enjoy later in the year – something of a coup to have such an elite cast who, together with host Noel Thompson, will talk of their experiences and pass on their vocal advice.

"We were prepared to record these workshops so the artists would have some control over the end product, but they all insisted in going 'live' – which is something of an honour," reveals David Macartney.

:: Have a giggle

HAVING a laugh can also be a very positive thing, getting those tummy muscles working and ironing out the wrinkles. I hope the following selection of 'alternative definitions' works for you. Thanks to Philipp, who claims that the Irish Medical Dictionary from which these have been sourced proves the we have the lowest stress rate because we don't take medical terminology seriously. That's stretching it a bit these days, Philipp, but I like your style.

Artery – the study of paintings

Bacteria – back door to cafeteria

Barium – what doctors do when a patient dies

Benign – what you be after your are eight

Cauterize – made eye contact with her

Coma – a punctuation mark

Dilate – to live long

Enema – not a friend

Fester – quicker than someone else

Fibula – a small lie

Impotent – distinguished and well known

Labour pain – getting hurt at work.

Morbid – a higher offer

Nitrates – rates of pay for working at night, normally more money than days

Node – I knew it

Post-operative – a letter carrier

Recovery room – a place to do upholstery

And finally, Urine – opposite of 'you're out'!