All families have their own Christmas traditions. Most everyone decorates the tree while Dad cusses over lights that don’t work; young siblings eat the ornaments; and Mom complains about the needles all over the carpet. The needles are really not that big a deal when you consider the Polish, who for some reason think it’s cool to spread hay around their kitchens and under their tablecloths to create a “manger” effect.
Some people attend a public lighting of trees or gather with family members to bake Christmas goodies, drink egg nog, and such. But people in many countries have far, far, far different traditions.
Many of you may want to celebrate in Greenland next year when you learn that Christmas lunch there consists of an Auk (some sort of bird) that they wrap in seal skin and then bury for six months. Better yet, in a stroke of genius, KFC somehow convinced the Japanese that fried chicken is an essential holiday staple such that you have to reserve your bucket months in advance. (I suspect that turkeys may have been involved in starting this tradition.)
In Slovakia, the head of the family fills a spoon with pudding and then flings it up at the ceiling hoping for a good harvest the following year. (I’m guessing alcohol had something to do with the onset of this tradition.)
In Italy, instead of a fat guy with a white beard dressed in red, they have old witches handing out gifts. (Huh?) In what used to be Yugoslavia, they tie their mother to the chair until she gives them presents and then do the same with their father the following week. (Now this is a tradition I wish I had known about earlier in life.)
The people of Catalonia take a different approach to the whole gifting thing. There the children take a log and cover it up so it doesn’t get cold (I never realized that logs get cold) and then feed it (I have no idea what logs eat. Maybe Auk?) Then on Christmas Eve, they beat the log in hopes that it will poop out their presents. (Really? Who came up with this one?)
For the past 50 years, the folks in the Swedish town of Gävle build an enormous goat out of straw and then groups of vandals try to burn it down, succeeding about 80% of the time. What better way to get the holiday spirit?
Of course, in Greece, the subterranean Kallikantzaroi goblins take a break from sawing away at the World Tree (whatever that is) in hopes that it will collapse and take the Earth along with it. They come to the surface just before Christmas to terrorize humanity. And in Bavaria, a select group of citizens dress up as straw devils and run around the city scaring the crap out of everyone.
But the prize for really bizarre Yuletide traditions goes to Alpine countries such as Switzerland, Liechtenstein, and Austria, who have the annual scaring-the-living-hell-out-of-the-kids ceremony. Evidently, they felt that our whole thing about bad kids getting coal or switches was a little wimpy. So to inspire their youngsters to be good they came up with Krampus and Perchta.
As you probably already know, Krampus is the demonic figure that puts bad kids in a sack and drags them off to hell. Perchta, on the other hand, rips open their abdomens, pulls out their guts, and then stuffs the empty cavity full of straw! Two things: First of all, I want to know whose idea this was, and secondly, I’m glad I didn’t grow up celebrating Christmas in an Alpine country! What’s with scaring kids at Christmas? I thought that’s what Halloween was for.
Our family’s traditions are slightly less dramatic, even mundane by comparison. We build a gingerbread house. This tradition began when we discovered that the local arts and crafts store sells kits that include everything you need to make an inedible gingerbread house. (Trust me, you don’t want to eat these babies.)
Several years ago, Christmas was two days away when I decided it was high time to begin my gift shopping. So at 2 a.m., I interrupted my innocent daughter’s peaceful slumber for the first of our many “Annual Christmas Midnight Shopping Trips.” Of course, it was actually past midnight, but I think you’ll agree that an “Annual Christmas Two hours After Midnight Shopping Trip” just doesn’t have the same zing.
She was too young to say, “Have you lost your freakin’ mind?” so she dutifully climbed out of bed to get dressed in her midnight shopping attire. The two of us, along with her trusty dog, Skippy, loaded up in the car. He was never really much of a shopper; he mainly prefered to sniff at and pee on everything. But we brought him along to prevent him from waking DeeDee, who would have been far more likely to say, “Have you lost your freakin’ mind?” only in less Christmasy words.
Skippy was a 12-inch-high Pomeranian, now gone to doggy heaven, who barked every single time we left the house. You would think that after twelve years he would have figured out that barking really didn’t accomplish much, but evidently he never did.
Brittany was still dreaming of sugarplums by the time we reached Walmart. I vividly recall it was a little foggy, and the aura produced by the store sign combined with that of the parking lot lights made it look like those pictures where the wise men, guided by the Star of Bethlehem, are journeying through the night bearing gifts. Okay, maybe not exactly, but it was… inspiring.
The first thing I discovered was that it’s not too hard to get a decent front parking spot at 2 a.m. The second thing I discovered was that most everyone shopping at that time of day is pretty weird (present company excluded, of course). The third thing I discovered is about half of the people in the store at that hour of the morning actually work for Walmart, moving enormous pallets of tinsel, gingerbread house kits, and truckloads of high-priced electronics to restock the shelves.
We began shopping for everyone on our list, and in no time, we had Grandpa’s pickled pigs’ feet, Mom’s Biscoff cookies (like the ones you get in the little packs on airplanes – these days only when they’re feeling particularly generous), and a dozen or so packs of chittlins as gifts for our neighbors.
On our street it’s a tradition to exchange small gifts a day or so before Christmas, and I always try to pick something I’m pretty sure the neighbors won’t otherwise be getting. The previous year, I had gone for my dad’s beloved pigs’ feet for everyone, and sure enough, they all confirmed they had not already received any. Booyah!!
By the time we were ready to check out (actually by the time I finally gave in to Britt’s pleading, “For the love of God, take me to IHOP for breakfast,”) I was ready for a little levity. This led to the following exchange with the Walmart checkout clerk:
“You don’t think it’s too early to start Christmas shopping, do you?” Given that it was December 23rd, she glanced up at me to make sure I didn’t have any sharp objects and then nodded before quickly looking away. I continued.
“I find that waiting makes it easier to shop because there’s not as much of a selection. The problem is one year we had to give my daughter garlic.” The clerk looked back up at me appearing slightly surprised. “But the worst year was when we could only find celery.”
This time the clerk stopped and looked me in the eye. “You gave your daughter celery for Christmas?” she asked, incredulous.
“Yeah, but I mean we also gave her some squeeze cheese and peanut butter and stuff to put on it.” The clerk double checked me for sharp objects and then quickly finished ringing us up.
So this year, don’t fight the crowds. Instead, meet me on Christmas Eve around midnight at Walmart. They always have plenty of celery.
To prove I am not making the bizarre stuff up (at least that in which I was not personally involved) here a link where you can confirm:
Disclaimer: Frank Wilem is an author, speaker, and all around funny and entertaining guy. On this blog, his stories are based on his real life experiences, often with a satirical twist.
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