David Bouchier

One Christmas tradition that was not invented by Charles Dickens is also one of the strangest. Like so many traditions it has now crossed the Atlantic, and next weekend millions of Americans will enjoy, or be puzzled or infuriated by those gaudy little cylinders of paper called Christmas crackers.

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Starting at 1 p.m.

Traditional: God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen / Robert Shaw; Shaw Chamber Singers Telarc 80377 CD

Traditional: My Dancing Day / Robert Shaw; Shaw Chamber Singers Telarc 80377 CD

Traditional: Good Christian Men Rejoice / Robert Shaw; Shaw Chamber Singers Telarc 80377 CD

Traditional: The Wassail Song Here we come a-Wassailing / Robert Shaw; Shaw Chamber Singers Telarc 80377 CD

As the great Holiday gift machine jumps into high gear, the same question is heard all around the land, in various tones of exasperation and despair: What on earth do you buy for a man? Men have always been a problem, of course, and in many different ways. But this particular problem is one of the most frustrating. Sigmund Freud famously asked: What does a woman want? But at this time of year the really difficult question is: What does a man want?

The Irish poet and playwright Oscar Wilde once defined a cynic as “A man who knows the price of everything, and the value of nothing.” We all know people like this, the most boring of all boring conversationalists, who talk obsessively about prices, values and bargains as if salvation lay in making the best deal.

Now that the election is over, we can return to more traditional and less frightening forms of entertainment. When the evenings draw in and the temperature falls with the leaves, there’s nothing as comforting as a nice murder. Tonight, millions of respectable, non-violent Americans will double lock their doors and settle down to an evening of mayhem and homicide on the small screen. The murder rate in America has been going down for a long time but on television it has gone the opposite way. By the age of eighteen, according to Mr. Google, the average citizen has watched 40,000 murders.