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 U - All I Want For Christmas Is U

QI. Image shows left to right: Alan Davies, Jo Brand, Sandi Toksvig, Eshaan Akbar, Jimmy Carr
Sandi Toksvig is joined by Eshaan Akbar, Jo Brand, Jimmy Carr, and Alan Davies for a festive special. They'll uncover Santa Claus' whereabouts, why horses make excellent party guests, and why there always seems to be room for Christmas pudding - plus Sandi showcases her super-cool, cutting-edge hidden talent.


- You can find Santa Claus in numerous countries around the world. The original St. Nicholas was a fourth century Roman bishop from Myra, modern Turkey. Originally a priest, when the town needed a new bishop they decided to take the first priest to come through the church door, and Nicholas was the first. His tomb was raided in 1087, as a result of which most of his bones were moved to a basilica in Bari, Italy. However, there are fragments in many countries. A number of pelvic fragments were taken a decade or so later to Venice. However, a sailor called Matteo stepped on the bones while they were drying. There are around 500 relics claiming to be parts of St. Nicholas around the globe, although one anatomy professor at the University of Bari believes the Bari and Venetian collections are complementary and make up a whole skeleton. There is a pelvis piece in the USA which is apparently exactly the right age for St. Nicholas, which was bought in France by a Father Dennis O'Neill and is kept in a Chicago church. He believes it was sold by a group of nuns called the Poor Clares.

- Tangent: Five years ago, Eshaan's girlfriend at the time wanted him to dress up as Santa for some roleplay sex, so he went to sex shop, but they had no Santa outfits. He instead went to a normal costume shop, but the outfit he got was too small. Sandi's 92-year-old mother once accidentally went into a sex shop in New York. Sandi asked her what it was like and she said: "I had a very interesting conversation about knitting your own chainmail."

- Tangent: Alan suggests Lapland for an answer, which is wrong, but Jimmy suggests that "Lapland" is a strip club he once accidentally when into. One strip club name Jimmy came across for real was "The Booby Trap" in Florida. Jo had a friend who was in Amsterdam, but ran out of money. He came across an ad outside a club saying: "Live sex shows", looking for staff to perform. He applied, but was told that he needed to bring a partner.

- XL Tangent: Another piece of bone is in Aberdeen, and reportedly his bones ooze myrrh, in an act known as "Nicholas's miraculous seepage". In 1925, some of the myrrh was tested and it was found to be water.

- XL Tangent: One story about St. Nicholas is that he resurrected three children who had been pickled in brine and were about to be eaten as pork during a famine.

- The thing that is sandy and 35ft tall at Christmas is a sandcastle Christmas tree in West Palm Beach, Florida. It is made out of 700 tonnes of sand. Elsewhere, the North Yorkshire fishing town of Filey has a Christmas tree made out of 140 lobster pots; a dentist in Northville, Michigan put up a 16ft tall tree in 2021 made out of 1,111 foot-long fake teeth; and Chandler, Arizona has erected a tree made out of tumbleweed every year since 1957. There are also singing Christmas trees made out of people stacked on top of each other in a triangle shape. They can be up to 15 rows high with about 300 singers.

- Tangent: You might decorate your Christmas tree with urine to stop it being stolen. The University of Nebraska-Lincoln had a problem with people stealing fir trees which were used to decorate their campus, but the problem was solved by putting urine on them. Outside the smell is unnoticeable, but if someone stole the tree and took it indoors it would stink. They did also place warning signs telling people about this. Similarly, Washington State University uses skunk scent to protect their trees.

- Osborne went cold turkey at Christmas because it had a small kitchen. Osborne House, Queen Victoria's estate on the Isle of Wight, had a very small kitchen. In 1894, she had 18 items on her Christmas menu, but all of the dishes were cooked at Windsor Castle, which were then transported via train to the coast, then onto the Royal Yacht to the Isle of Wight. The trip took over three hours. Items on the menu included foie gras encased in a giant pork pie, pheasant in macaroni cheese and tomato sauce, and calf's head soup.

- Tangent: Regarding all the food, Jimmy asks when they invented Gaviscon. Even in Sandi's time, the cure for heartburn and stomach acid would have been kaolin and morphine. Back when Jo was a nurse, she worked on the drug unit, and people would wait for the morphine to rise to the top of the kaolin-morphine mixture, just drink the morphine and would not need to buy it. Drug units stopped making the mixture because of this. The trick to the mixture is to let it settle.

- XL Tangent: In Japan, people eat KFC at Christmas. It is so common that you cannot order KFC on Christmas Day itself, you have to order in advance. Christmas is not an official holiday in Japan, with the country only being about 1% Christian, but in the 1970s the manager of the country's first KFC, Takeshi Okawara, thought it would be nice for people to have KFC as a celebratory dinner. By 2020, an estimated 3.6 million households in Japan had KFC for Christmas. A friend of Jo's went to Japan at Christmas time many years ago, and came across a huge inflatable Santa on the front of a department store, but unfortunately Santa was being crucified on a cross.

- XL Tangent: When Sandi grew up in New York she had many Jewish friends, and they often had Chinese food at Christmas. This was partly because Chinese restaurants were the only ones that were open, but also when the two cultures first met in the 19th century, they moved into the same neighbourhoods because it was what they could avoid, and the Chinese were not anti-Semitic. Also, for a lot of Jewish people it was easier to keep kosher as generally the Chinese did not mix meat and dairy.

- The most unbelievable thing ever broadcast on Christmas Eve was a mass to the patron saint of television. St. Clare of Assisi was born to very wealthy parents in 1194, and hero-worshipped St. Francis of Assisi. She founded the Order of Poor Ladies, i.e. the Poor Clares (see earlier). The Pope at the time told her that she did not have to be poor the whole time, but she really wanted to be, so the Pope granted her Privilegium Paupertatis, which meant the no-one could force her to have anything. As St. Clare got older, her health declined, but it is said that one Christmas Eve she was too unwell to attend Midnight Mass. Thus, the Holy Spirit appeared and projected the entire mass live, on the wall of her convent bedroom. Because of this miracle, St. Clare of Assisi is the patron saint of television. (Forfeit: QI)

- Tangent: St. Francis of Assisi was also keen on being poor, living in a little hut, and asking for people not to make a fuss when he died. When he did die, people kept the hut, but they also build an enormous cathedral around it.

- XL: Shepherds do not need a watch at Christmas because it is the time sundials are most accurate. While a day is always 24 hours long, the time we measure with sundials differs depending on where the sun is because of the Earth's tilt and the Earth's orbit is not a perfect ellipse. Thus an ordinary clock day and a day that the sun measures are slightly different lengths. There are only four times of the year when both times are exactly 24 hours: 15th April, 30th June, 1st September and 25th December. However, the only one that is useful for a sundial is 25th December because the others occur during British Summer Time.

- XL Tangent: Before time was standardised, different towns and cities across the country had their own local time, based on when the sun was highest in the sky for them. When railways arrived, time then needed to be standardised. However, you can find remnants in some places. For example, the great Tom bell at Christchurch in Oxford rings exactly five minutes and two seconds after GMT has struck nine o'clock. Meanwhile, the Balmoral Hotel in Edinburgh has a large clock on it which always runs three minutes ahead so that travellers don't miss their trains at nearby Waverley Station. They however broke this tradition in 2020, writing on Facebook: "For the first time in history, our iconic clock will remain on Balmoral Standard Time on New Year's Eve, as we would gladly have three minutes less of 2020 and be the first to bring in 2021."

- XL Tangent: The time of year when shepherds watch their flocks by night is during lambing season. Because of this, people argue that Jesus must have been born in the spring, but actually in first century Palestine lambing season really was in December. Alan once went to Israel and saw a goat herder who used stones to stop goats wandering. If one did wander, the herder threw a stone on the goat's backside and it would return to the herd. This in turn relates to the story of David and Goliath, because while people think Goliath had the advantage in being so big, David had the much more accurate weapon.[/colour

- You would like to have a horse at the Christmas party because you want to raise awareness of how hard they worked. In the 1910s / 1920s, Americans held Christmas parties specifically for horses, held by animal charities, to encourage people to pay attention to the effort horses did in their work. People gave the horses carrots and apples. One woman, Emma Robinson, ran a horse Christmas dinner in Kansas City from 1910 to her death in 1934. She left in her will $10,000 to pay for future parties, while all of her nieces and nephews only got $13,000 between them.

- Tangent: Horses also make for very good party guests because they cannot vomit. They have a muscle that closes the sphincter to stop them from vomiting. Alan was once unwell at a party, so went to an outside toilet to be sick, but when he came back everyone was playing Monopoly. Alan had been gone for two hours.

- Tangent: In 1881, a US sharpshooter called William Carver used to open his show by getting his horse to go diving. He got the idea from an incident in Nebraska where he was riding over a bridge, which collapsed, with him and his horse thrown into the water. His show became so popular that other people copied him. A woman named Eunice Winkless in Colorado did the trick, and there was a permanent horse diving platform in Atlantic City from about the 1920s until the 1970s, which worked by having a trap door which dropped the horse and rider into the water, so the horse was more falling than diving. People tried to open this platform again 2012, but people objected. Jimmy was once about two miles off the coast of Barbados, and a man riding a horse rode past, in the water, to cool off the horse in the seawater.

[colour=#000080]- XL: You always have room for unlimited Christmas pudding because you have a separate pudding stomach. People have five different appetites: protein, carbs, fat, sodium and calcium. Scientists at Oxford University in the 1990s fed 200 locusts meals which contained different proportions of protein and carbohydrates. They found that they ate until they had got all the protein that they needed, regardless of what else was in their meal. Thus when they had a low-protein, high-carb meal, they ate lots of it and got fat. When eating a low-carb, high-protein meal, they ate less and lost weight. It is the same with humans.

- XL Tangent: The reason we set Christmas pudding on fire is symbolic. According to Christian tradition, there are 13 ingredients in a traditional pudding, representing Jesus and the apostles. The holly on the top represents the crown of thorns, and the fire represents the passion of Christ. Brandy was invented in France in the early 1300s, but was originally a form of medicine.

- XL Tangent: When Alan was a student, he had a fire at Christmas. His flat had paper decorations and candles, one of the decorations caught fire and it quickly spread. Someone mistakenly tried to put the fire out by pouring brandy on it. Then one of his friends put on "Burning down the House" by Talking Heads.

General Ignorance

- XL: The traditional Dickensian Christmas was invented by Washington Irvine. Irving was one of Charles Dickens' favourite writers, and he wrote a story a quarter of a century before A Christmas Carol which featured all of the elements we now consider to be a Dickensian Christmas. The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon (1819-20) features a Christmas at the fictional Bracebridge Hall, which includes mistletoe, carols, ghost stories, Christmas dinner with pheasant pie and plum pudding, and a character very similar to Scrooge. The story even helped to popularise the more lovable version of today's St. Nicholas. Dickens was such a big fan of Irvine that he reportedly said: "I do not go to bed two nights out of seven without taking Washington Irvine under my arm upstairs with me." (Forfeit: Charles Dickens)

- XL Tangent: When Dickens toured the USA, he wrote letters home saying that he hoped his ink pot was still one inch from the right-hand side of the desk. He made sure that he faced north when sleeping, laying straight in the middle of the bed with his arms out, hands equidistant from the edges. Dickens also suffered from insomnia.

- The panel are shown a photo of potatoes, carrots and other similar foodstuffs and are asked what they would call them. Botanically speaking, there is no such thing a vegetable. "Vegetable" is a culinary term for the edible parts of a plant. Botanists would say that carrots are roots, potatoes are tubers, asparagus are stems, onions are bulbs and broccolis are inflorescences. Things get even more complicated if you ask a lawyer, because under US law tomatoes are both fruit and veg. In 1893, a case called "Nix vs. Hedden" led to the Supreme Court ruling that tomatoes are vegetables for tax purposes but fruit for botanical ones. Meanwhile, carrots are listed as fruit when made into jam by the EU because carrot jam is popular in Portugal. (Forfeit: Vegetables)

- Tangent: Lachanophobia is the fear of vegetables.

- After Christmas dinner, the best way to save water when doing the dishes is to use the dishwasher. The best dishwashers use almost ten time less water than if you were to wash them by hand. (Forfeit: Wash them by hand)

- Tangent: Alan once had a washing-up job at Wimbledon during the tennis championship. It was generally a good job because he could sneak out and watch some of the tennis, but if it rained, everyone would come back to the tents and food hall. Then thousands of plates and cups would come, waiting to be cleaned. The washing water would just turn black with bits of salad floating in it, and he would just be dipping plates in and out of this filth constantly.

- You should not rinse your dishes before putting them in the dishwasher, because dishwasher tablets have enzymes in them which need some food to latch onto otherwise they just get washed away. Leftovers should be scrapped away, but do not rinse. (Forfeit: Yes)

- The Olympic event won by a 10ft tall woman was sculpture. Whenever there is an Olympics there is also a Cultural Olympiad, and at the 2010 event in Vancouver the sculpture competition was won with an ice carving of a 10ft tall woman leaping over a starburst. They start with ten blocks of ice weight about 300lbs each, make the basic shape with a chainsaw, then use chisels and sandpaper to add details. The whole thing can take about 17 hours to complete.

- Tangent: Film is shown of Sandi making a chainsaw ice sculpture in the shape of the QI logo.


- No scores given.


The XL version of the episode debuted first.

Broadcast details

Monday 18th December 2023
45 minutes


Show past repeats

Date Time Channel
Monday 25th December 2023 12:15am
45 minute version

Cast & crew

Sandi Toksvig Host / Presenter
Alan Davies Regular Panellist
Guest cast
Jo Brand Guest
Jimmy Carr Guest
Eshaan Akbar Guest
Writing team
James Harkin Script Editor
Anna Ptaszynski Script Editor
Sandi Toksvig Script Editor
Will Bowen Researcher
Andrew Hunter Murray Researcher
Alex Bell Question Writer
Mike Turner Researcher
Jack Chambers Researcher
Emily Jupitus Researcher
James Rawson Researcher
Lydia Mizon Researcher
Miranda Brennan Researcher
Tara Dorrell Researcher
Henry Eliot Researcher
Leying Lee Researcher
Manu Henriot Researcher
Joe Mayo Researcher
Production team
Diccon Ramsay Director
Piers Fletcher Series Producer
John Lloyd Executive Producer
Jonno Richards Executive Producer
Nick King Editor
Jonathan Paul Green Production Designer
Gemma O'Sullivan Lighting Designer
Howard Goodall Composer
Aran Kharpal Graphics
Helen Ringer Graphics
Sarah Clay Commissioning Editor


Where can you find Santa Claus?

This conversation went off the rails quickly...

Featuring: Eshaan Akbar, Jo Brand, Jimmy Carr, Sandi Toksvig & Alan Davies.

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