Freaky Christmas Traditions
Christmas in the United States is pretty predictable, for the most part. There are lights, wreaths and other typical decorations. Retailers start piping in holiday music in November, hoping a store filled with music will soon result in a store full of holiday shoppers. And eventually it does as people search high and low for the perfect gifts, all the while spending obscene amounts of money on a holiday that grows more commercial with every passing year.
Thank goodness the true spirit of Christmas is always there or things would be completely unbearable, at least around here.
Fortunately, the Christmas spirit transcends America and people all over the world find interesting, unique and even freaky ways to celebrate it—freaky by American standards, that is. Traditions abound and this Christmas, I want to recognize some of our more creative brothers and sisters in the world. Here is what Christmas means to some of them.
In early December, our Austrian friends make sure all the children who misbehaved during the year learn the error of their ways on Krampus Night. Men dress up as the scariest demons imaginable and run through the towns smacking people with switches and sticks. And judging from some of the masks they wear, I’m sure these guys make quite an impression, and not only on the children.
Spain, Portugal and Italy
Nativity scenes of Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus in the manger are traditional Christmas decorations in every Christian nation. But in the holiday traditions of Italy, Spain and Portugal, another figurine is placed among the Wise Men: a Caganer, better known as a “Shitter” in English. That’s right. Somewhere in that Nativity scene is a statue of a well-known person crouching down and crapping. And part of the fun is trying to find him, kind of like a pooped-out version of “Where’s Waldo.” The Caganer is supposed to symbolize hope, prosperity and fertilization, but to me it just screams freaky!
If you’re like me, then you can probably stomach almost any holiday delicacy, with the exception of maybe fruitcake. I haven’t found anyone who actually likes eating that. Of course, I would welcome a dense chunk of the green maraschino cherry laced dessert if it meant missing out on Kiviak, a Christmas dish in Greenland.
Kiviak is made from roughly 200 local birds with their feathers, beaks and all. Basically, the birds are stuffed and sewn into a seal skin, covered with grease, buried under a rock and left to sit for months. During the holidays, the skin is opened to reveal fermented birds that apparently smell like cheese and taste pretty good. I’ll never know because I would never eat the disgusting creatures. Yuck!
If you think Americans are too reliant on fast food, consider the role of Kentucky Fried Chicken in the Christmas celebrations of Japan. Given the lack of turkeys and other “traditional” Christmas fare, KFC used marketing magic to position itself as the main dish of the holiday. Instead of cutting into a juicy ham, many Japanese order a bucket of KFC chicken, sometimes even weeks in advance given its popularity. Kudos to KFC for making fast food so festive!
The Spanish are so strange and interesting that I simply could not resist including another of their freaky Christmas traditions. Caga Tio is a pooping log that is propped up on legs and covered with a blanket to keep him warm. Every night beginning on December 8, the log is “fed” and then put to sleep. Then on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, Caga Tio is put into the fireplace. The children sing songs, beat the log with sticks and order it to poop. When it does, out pours candy and nuts for all the kids to enjoy, followed at the end by a head of garlic, onion or even a salt herring. Bizarre…
The Dutch have taken some heat for their traditional holiday character Zwarte Piet, better known as Black Peter, who presents the dark side of Christmas in more ways than one. As Santa’s slave, Black Peter is responsible for abducting children who were naughty or misbehaved and taking them to Spain, where he and Santa kick back during the off-season. The controversy of Black Peter revolves around his appearance, which involves full black face and a rather large afro—in other words, he looks like a black slave and lots of people find him to be a racist symbol. It doesn’t seem like that big a deal to me, though.
Christmas Eve in Norway means hiding your brooms so witches and evil spirits cannot use them to travel the skies and spread mischief. Seems a little dark, but to each his or her own.
In the deep south—South America—Venezuelans celebrate from December 16-24 by closing off the streets every morning and attending morning mass on roller skates! I think roller blades are acceptable, too.
There’s a folk tale in the Ukraine about a family too poor to decorate their tree that awaken on Christmas morning to find it adorned with colorful spider webs. In honor of their eight-legged friends, they now place spiders and webs on their trees. I’m not a big fan of spiders, mind you, but this does seem like a nice gesture in a season known for giving and generosity.
In the five or six months since I started this blog, I have been fortunate enough to interact with readers from all over the world. At last count, my work has been viewed by people in more than 200 different countries… some of which I have never even heard of! I’m not bragging, mind you, but I am constantly amazed by how connected we all are. The lines between “local” and “global” certainly have faded.
So this Christmas, I want to extend my warmest holiday wishes to all of you regardless of your location, religion, race, socioeconomic status, sexual preference or freaky Christmas traditions. In the spirit of my idol Bob Marley, remember that we are “one people” and that all that really matters in this world is the “one love” we share with each other. I hope you all have a wonderful Christmas and wish you nothing but good tidings in the coming year.
Ho, ho, ho!