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from John Lloyd:

‘My people throughout the world’

This week Queen Elizabeth the Second, now 87, will give her customary Christmas broadcast. Every year she tells most Britons what they want to hear: that they are still great. And she is given much love for that.

That love is said to have been hard won. A few of the books written about Queen Elizabeth’s reign detail a marriage that went sour, at least for some years, because of her husband Prince Philip’s adultery. Nearly all books point to a disciplined life of unremitting travel, briefings, lengthy state occasions and unfailing courtesy. They also mention the constant explosions of sexual waywardness of nearly all of her four children and her (temporary) drop in popularity when, after Princess Diana’s death in 1987, she appeared to insufficiently grieve.

The British like to sneer at the claim of American exceptionalism -- the “necessary nation,” as former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright put it in a TV interview in 1998. Britain has its own exceptionalism in the form of the Queen’s Christmas broadcast. In this sense, the Queen is a master propagandist.

The royal Christmas broadcast was the brainchild of Sir John Reith, the creator of the BBC, to be a mixture of the romantic and the puritan. It was conceived in 1932 as an address not just to the people of the UK, but to the British Empire at a time when it was being transformed.

from Edward Hadas:

A Christmas message for lenders

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For many shoppers, Christmas is a time to rack up debts in the expression of seasonal goodwill. For policymakers, it should be the holiday of debt forgiveness.

The inspiration for that religious-sounding thought comes from the atheist philosopher Hannah Arendt. She argued that forgiveness has a central role in human affairs, and the secular world should be grateful to Christianity for the discovery. Arendt was of course talking about forgiveness in the common understanding of the term – a pardon for a wrong, the cancellation of “you owe me one”. But her understanding of this as enabling people to “begin something new” works just as well when thinking about the financial equivalent: a willing erasure of material obligations.

from Photographers' Blog:

A Klingon Christmas Carol

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By Jim Young

"ram nI' tay"

Which in the Klingon language means “Festival of the long night”, because fictional alien cultures obviously don’t observe Christmas.

SLIDESHOW: A Klingon Christmas Carol

Having seen Christmas decorations up since before Thanksgiving Day and hearing the cringing sound of carols in shopping malls everywhere, I was looking for a different way to ring in the holiday cheer and what better way than to cover a take on the Charles Dickens classic “A Christmas Carol” as performed by Klingons.

from Photographers' Blog:

Christmas in Afghanistan

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Baghlan, Afghanistan

By Fabrizio Bensch

There are thousands of miles that separate the German soldiers in Afghanistan from home.  For up to one year, they may be stationed in Afghanistan, but for most of them no more than four to five months.

The lead up to Christmas in Germany has a very long tradition and the arriving season is dominated by beautifully decorated shop windows in department stores and the smell of gingerbread and cinnamon. Christmas trees are festively illuminated in the streets with Christmas decoration and Christmas markets and Santa Claus are in every city.

from Photographers' Blog:

The people behind your mail

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Chicago, Illinois

By John Gress

Every afternoon I walk through the front door and step over my mail. When I pick it up, I never think about where its been or how its made it to my home - God only knows, I guess, well sort of...

After spending most of Thursday with United States Postal Service employees, I know a lot more about how it made its way to my door than ever before.

from Photographers' Blog:

Where your Christmas tree comes from

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West Jefferson, North Carolina

By Chris Keane

Having lived in North Carolina my entire life we have always bought a real Christmas tree every December. Growing Christmas trees in North Carolina is serious business with over 1,600 active growers working 25,000 acres.

The last few years I have wanted to make the trip up to the mountains to photograph a Christmas tree farm. This year I did some research and found out that the White House Christmas tree was coming from North Carolina. Since the White House Christmas tree program began in 1966 North Carolina has led the states, with trees being chosen 12 times from here. This year Peak Farms won the honor of having a tree selected for the White House.

from Photographers' Blog:

Christmas comes early to China

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By Carlos Barria

He Heping, who runs a factory that makes plastic Christmas trees in Yiwu, talks with one of his employees as they finish up a massive order destined for the Netherlands.

He started this business more than ten years ago after an uncle encouraged him to produce plastic Christmas trees. His company had been making knives, but the uncle had visited Serbia at the end of the Balkan War, and came home convinced that a product related to seasonal good cheer represented a better business prospect.

from Left field:

NFL Week 16 Christmas Lineman picks

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By Steve Keating

Well, after two weeks of 4-2 the Lineman is still searching for that perfect Christmas gift and hopes he has found it with this six-pack of holiday picks.

Keeping in the spirit of the holiday season, the Lineman offers you all the best and may all your picks be winners HO HO HO.

from Left field:

Post-Christmas cheer in Oslo for out-of-contract players

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By Philip O'Connor, Scandinavia sports correspondent

For many football fans, the post-Christmas blues will be banished by the prospect of their club buying big when the transfer window opens in January.

But the out-of-contract players taking part in the FIFPro Winter Tournament in Oslo are hoping to get their futures sorted out before the window opens again.

from John Lloyd:

Finding a new role for churches

The opinions expressed are his own.

There is a poem, written in 1955, by the English poet Philip Larkin, called Church Going. It tells of the poet’s solitary penchant for cycling about villages, visiting country churches, empty, sometimes ruined, each with a “tense, musty, unignorable silence.” In deft touches, he writes of taking off his bicycle clips in lieu of doffing a non-existent cap; of experiencing an inexplicable pleasure in standing in these “frowsty barns”; yet finishing his visit feeling “much at a loss.”

He ends with a reflection: that the church is “a serious house on serious earth,” and that

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