QI. Image shows from L to R: Alan Davies, Sandi Toksvig. Copyright: TalkbackThames


  • TV panel show
  • BBC Two / BBC One / BBC Four
  • 2003 - 2024
  • 312 episodes (21 series)

Panel game that contains lots of difficult questions and a large amount of quite interesting facts. Stars Sandi Toksvig, Stephen Fry and Alan Davies.

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Series O - O Christmas

QI. Image shows from L to R: Alan Davies, Romesh Ranganathan, Sandi Toksvig, Jason Manford, Holly Walsh. Copyright: TalkbackThames
Sandi Toksvig hosts the QI Christmas Special. Learn the best way to wrap an awkwardly-shaped present and get the wine stains out of your carpet, amongst other things. With Holly Walsh, Jason Manford and Romesh Ranganathan (and his mother Shanthi).


- The place where Christmas celebrations always end up in a fist fight is Santo Tomas, Peru, a town which is 12,000 above sea level and located in the Andes. The town has a tradition called Takanakuy, where every year on Christmas Day the people dress up and they fight each other in order to settle the differences that have occurred between themselves over the course of the year. The issue can be either serious or trivial, but whoever wins the fight also wins the argument legally. (Forfeit: My house)

- Tangent: Sandi claims the Danish don't fight at Christmas; they have silent resentment instead. Romesh and his brother are both married to white women, and at Christmas they all visit each other and Romesh's mother Shanthi makes two Christmas dinners: one roast and one curry, which he claims looks like it encourages racial segregation. Sandi finds out more by talking to Shanthi, who is in the audience. She claims there is fighting at Christmas, but Romesh claims that Shanthi has encouraged both him and his brother to both have very low self-esteem.

- Tangent: Jason asks that if the Takanakuy fist fights happen on Christmas Day, what happens on Boxing Day?

- Tangent: The reason fights happen at Christmas is because of "hyper co-presence", which occurs when people are forced to spend long periods of time with people they don't like. Freud referred to this as: "the narcissism of small differences". Alan likes his Christmases now as it is just his wife and children, whereas Sandi claims that she thought her children would leave her at Christmas, when actually they bring around people she doesn't know. When Holly married, she was worried about what her husband would think of about her family's Christmas traditions. One of these is playing songs with bells. Romesh has a similar thing in his family, when his father would invite Sri Lankan friends to the house on Christmas and they would turn bins upside-down bins and play them like drums when drunk. However, one Christmas they accidentally played on a budgie cage and the budgies had been killed by the drumming. Shanthi confirms this to be true.

- XL Tangent: Alan is tired of people eating turkey at Christmas, because he hasn't eaten it since about 1985 when he became vegetarian. Every year he had to justify why he didn't want to eat it, and there would be a space on his plate where the turkey would be. Alan asks if 11 million turkeys get eaten at Christmas, why do you never see any of them alive?

- The panel are given Christmas trees and a selection of items, and are asked which items belong on a very traditional Christmas tree. Christmas trees themselves come from Germany, originating from the "Tree of Paradise" a medieval morality play based on the story of Adam and Eve that was performed on Christmas Eve. Thus a traditional item on a Christmas tree would be apples and snakes. Baubles are thus fake apples. Another traditional item is the Union Flag, which topped trees in the British Empire. This was replaced by the angel, which represents Gabriel, by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert because they were Germans. Yet another traditional item was candles, which had the obvious problem of burning the tree down resulting numerous deaths. The idea of candles on trees is reportedly created by Martin Luther, after he saw starts shining through the leaves of trees. However, in 1440 the Brotherhood of the Blackheads, who were unmarried merchants from Estonia, also put candles on trees. Wafers, as in communion wavers, tinsel and paper flowers are also traditional.

- XL Tangent: Baubles come from 18th century Germany. They were invented in Lauscha, where they also invented the glass eye. They were imported into the USA by F. W. Woolworth.

- Tangent: Romesh gives some chocolate to Shanthi. Sandi asks her if she likes Romesh's beard, as he has dyed it white to make it more festive. She says he looks like Romesh's father, and that she hated his father's beard.

- XL Tangent: Christmas trees in the 15th century were also decorated with paper flowers. An image of a Christmas tree is shown to the panel that seems to have a sausage hanging from it, but Sandi points out it is a pinecone. Alan however claims it is Santa coming through the tree.

- XL Tangent: Some American Christmas trees have a pickle as decoration. No-one knows for certain where it comes from, but one of the theories is that it comes from Camp Sumter, an infamous Confederate POW camp, where 13,000 out the 45,000 Union soldiers held there died. One Bavarian-born prisoner, Private John C. Lower, was so hungry that he asked a guard for something to eat, and he was given a pickle, which he credited for saving his life. When Lower returned to his family he began a tradition of having a pickle on the tree, which then spread.

- The king that appeared on the first British Christmas stamp was Good King Wenceslas. The first Christmas stamps were released in 1963, when Tony Benn was Postmaster General. He launched a competition in conjunction with Blue Peter and the Post Office to design Britain's first Christmas stamps. Six-year-old Tasveer Shemza was one of the winners, with her drawing of Wenceslas was used on the 3d stamp. Tasveer is in the audience, and tells them that the drawing as actually based on her father. The stamp was first issued in 1966, which means that Daleks, which were introduced in 1963, are an older Christmas tradition than Christmas stamps. (Forfeit: George V)

- Tangent: The Daleks are illustrated with a photo of some toy Daleks with William Hartnell, the first actor to play the Doctor. Given his age when he got the part, Holly says that Romesh could play the role with his grey beard, but Romesh claims: "I don't think the beard cancels out the skin."

- XL Tangent: Alan claims he would not fancy playing the Doctor because it takes up so much of your life, but within a moment he says that if he was asked, he would probably do it. Sandi did a "Doctor Who" audiobook where she played the villain: a lesbian who ate the world.

- Tangent: There is no real difference between first or second class stamps when sending out Christmas cards. The Post Office promises first class posts arrives in one working day 93% of the time, but over Christmas this guarantee is formally suspended, and next day delivery drops to 50%. Alan once had a girlfriend who thought that if you put more stamps on a letter it would arrive quicker, so she would put five first class stamps on a letter thinking it the letter would arrive extremely quickly. Shanthi works for Royal Mail, but refuses to comment on lack of guarantee. Romesh also jokingly claims Shanthi thinks her job is rubbish.

- The panel have a race to beautifully wrap up some awkwardly shaped items. Romesh has a game of Kerplunk, Jason an anglepoise lamp, Holly a statue of a shoe on a stick, Alan a football and Sandi an American football. Alan is the fastest, and then Sandi shows a trick to wrap up an object of any shape. You take your wrapping paper and fold two ends together so they over lap. You tape these ends together. You then fold one end of the bottom of the paper upwards, so the bottom of the paper form a trapezium shape with a white rectangle going down the middle. You then fold in the two trapeziums you have made and tape them up. You have now made the gusset of a paper bag. Then you open the bag up from the top hole, stick your items in, fold the top over so it forms a handle and tape it up.

- XL Tangent: If you have a small present and not much money, who can recycle an empty crisp packet by turning it inside out and transforming it into a silver parcel.

- XL: The most miserable Christmas dinner of all time was held by Frank Hurley, who was Shackleton's photographer. In an earlier expedition, the Australasian Antarctic expedition of 1912, as they came back from the South Pole they decided to have a festive meal. They made Christmas pudding out of three biscuits which were grated with a saw, mixed with sugar, snow and seven raisins, and added meths for flavour. This was boiled up in his old sock on their Primus stove. They also made a drink called Tanglefoot, which was created by boiling five raisins in meths, and then drinking the meths. The hors d'oeuvre was Angels On Gliders, which was a raisin on top of a chocolate bar that had been previously fried.

- XL Tangent: Jason says that the worst Christmas dinner must be sprout-based. Holly however loves them, so Jason asks her how she cooks them. She says she boils them and has them with chestnuts, to which Jason objects saying that what Holly likes is chestnuts, not sprouts. Sandi thinks the only way to make them nice is cut them in half, drizzle them with olive oil, stick them in a roasting tray and cook them in the oven for 40 minutes. Alan however says you should steam them first, then put them in a pan with curry powder. Jason says he also gets annoyed when parsnips pretend to be potatoes.

- The panel play a game of charades as it was originally defined by the Brothers Mayhew. The original rules were you had a word with two syllables, and you acted out the first syllable, then the second, then the whole thing, and then only after all this has been done can the other players now guess the word. Often the words used rude-sounding syllables for added humour. The words are:

- Alan: Bag-pipe

- Romesh: Muf-fin

- Jason: Bum-bling

- Holly: Foot-ball

- XL Tangent: Other old parlour games include the Georgian game "Hot Cockles", where the player puts their head in another person's lap and is then kicked up the arse. The player has to guess who kicked them. There is also the Regency game "Bullet Pudding", where you put a bullet on top of a pile of flour that is on a plate. You would then remove some of the flour with a knife until the bullet fell, and the one who made the bullet fall had to get the bullet out of the flour with their teeth. Holly claims she played a similar game but using pennies instead. Between the 16th-19th centuries another parlour game was "Snapdragon", where brandy was poured into a wide, shallow bowl. You put raisins in brandy, set the brandy on fire, and you had to retrieve and eat the raisins while avoiding getting yourself burnt.

General Ignorance

- XL: The Christmas tradition that is, "the first downward step for fallen women and inmates of prisons and lunatic asylums" is carols. Carols were originally songs sung in pubs during the summer. Thus in the 1870s carol singing was frowned upon and was performed by the working classes. The remark in the question refers to a letter in the Derby Mercury in 1872 which asked how many people ended up like this due to carol singing.

- The thing robins originally represented on Christmas cards was actual robins. Correcting a previous QI fact, robins did not represent postmen, because robins on cards are an older tradition than Victorian postmen and their red outfits. There is a traditional Christmas song called The Robin's Peel, so robins have been associated with Christmas partly for that reason. In the 1860s robins on Christmas cards were depicted as comic, in the 1870s the drawings become rather sentimental, but by the 1880s the robins are depicted as being dead. (Forfeit: Postmen)

- XL Tangent: Robins on Christmas cards may also have a connection to 19th century poverty. Destitute children were often referred to as "poor robins", and many churches held "robins' dinners" on Christmas Day for local poor children. So the robins on cards may represent poor children.

- If you spill red wine on your table cloth, the best thing to use to get rid of the stain is ordinary tap water. You should blot the stain with kitchen paper first and then use tap water. You should not use sparkling water as it is expensive. White wine will dilute the stain, but it also contains complex sugars that may discolour the cloth. Salt absorbs the wine initially, but it is also a fixative, so unless you get all the salt you might make the stain permanent. Vinegar is no better than water, is expensive, and as it is acidic it may also discolour the cloth. (Forfeit: Put white wine on it; Put salt on it)

- XL Tangent: When Alan was a student he had paper decorations in his student flat. Then he and other flatmates had brandy on some Christmas cake, set the brandy on fire, but they accidentally set the paper decorations on fire too. Thus burning decorations fell to the floor which they tried to put out using more brandy, which just made things worse. In response to the fire, one of Alan's mates put on "Burning Down The House" by Talking Heads.

- Tangent: Shanthi claims she would use washing-up liquid to remove a red wine stain. Romesh jokingly claims that when someone spilt some red wine they took one of the dead budgies and made it look like a murder scene. Shanthi then claims that the budgies died not because they were drummed to death, but because someone drunkenly fell on the cage.

- XL Tangent: When Jason was child they had two blue budgies in the house called Manchester and City. However, the door of the bird cage was open and one of the birds flew out, breaking its leg on the carpet. Jason's father thus made a split for the budgie using two matchsticks. One afternoon, his mother came in from work, and found that the budgie had toppled into its water bowl and drowned.


- As it is Christmas, everyone has the same scores so everyone is a winner. (Alan's 31st victory)

And Finally...

- Sandi has one last Christmas present. She asks if anyone in the audience is part of a choir, and whole middle block of the studio audience stands up. They are the QI audience choir, conducted by Neville Creed, who sing We Wish You a Merry Christmas.

Broadcast details

Tuesday 26th December 2017
30 minutes
  • Monday 15th May 2017, 19:00 at The London Studios


Show past repeats

Date Time Channel
Friday 29th December 2017 10:45pm
45 minute version
Wednesday 19th December 2018 8:00pm
60 minute version
Thursday 20th December 2018 2:00am
60 minute version
Wednesday 26th December 2018 12:00am
60 minute version
Monday 31st December 2018 10:00pm
45 minute version
Wednesday 1st May 2019 8:00pm
60 minute version
Tuesday 13th August 2019 1:40am
55 minute version
Tuesday 13th August 2019 9:00pm
60 minute version
Thursday 17th October 2019 7:00pm
60 minute version
Friday 18th October 2019 1:40am
50 minute version
Thursday 5th December 2019 10:00pm BBC2
Sunday 22nd December 2019 8:00pm
60 minute version
Monday 23rd December 2019 1:00am
75 minute version
Wednesday 9th December 2020 10:00pm
45 minute version
Sunday 21st February 2021 11:40pm Dave
Monday 22nd February 2021 9:20pm Dave
Monday 30th August 2021 8:20pm Dave
Tuesday 31st August 2021 2:15am Dave
Friday 26th November 2021 2:15am Dave
Friday 26th November 2021 9:20pm Dave
Saturday 25th December 2021 10:00pm
60 minute version
Sunday 26th December 2021 9:00pm
60 minute version
Monday 9th May 2022 8:20pm Dave
Wednesday 17th August 2022 1:20am
70 minute version
Wednesday 17th August 2022 9:00pm
60 minute version
Saturday 1st October 2022 12:35am Dave
Monday 7th November 2022 1:55am
60 minute version
Monday 7th November 2022 9:00pm
60 minute version
Thursday 22nd December 2022 9:00pm
60 minute version
Wednesday 28th December 2022 9:40pm Dave
Wednesday 15th February 2023 9:00pm
60 minute version
Thursday 16th February 2023 5:00pm
60 minute version
Thursday 16th February 2023 9:00pm
60 minute version
Sunday 14th May 2023 8:00pm
60 minute version
Tuesday 20th February 2024 9:00pm
60 minute version

Cast & crew

Sandi Toksvig Host / Presenter
Alan Davies Regular Panellist
Guest cast
Jason Manford Guest
Romesh Ranganathan Guest
Holly Walsh Guest
Shanthi Ranganathan Self
Tasveer Shemza Self
Writing team
James Harkin Script Editor
Mat Coward Researcher
James Harkin Researcher
Justin Pollard Question Writer
Will Bowen Researcher
Anne Miller Researcher
Anna Ptaszynski Researcher
Alex Bell Researcher
Stevyn Colgan Researcher
Ben Dupré Researcher
Andrew Hunter Murray Researcher
Ed Brooke-Hitching Researcher
Alice Campbell Davis Researcher
Production team
Ian Lorimer Director
John Lloyd (as John Lloyd CBE) Series Producer
Piers Fletcher Producer
Kalpna Patel-Knight Executive Producer
Nick King Editor
Jonathan Paul Green Production Designer
Nick Collier Lighting Designer
Howard Goodall Composer
Neville Creed Conductor


Preview - QI: O Christmas

Sandi Toksvig and Alan Davies celebrate Christmas with some interesting festive facts.

Ian Wolf, On The Box, 26th December 2017

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