Okay, boys and girls, it’s time for the big question: have you been good this year? Of course, to answer that adequately, one would have to define “good.” For some, it means saying your prayers and taking your bath every night before bed. It means not back-talking Mommy and Daddy when they tell you to brush your teeth. It means not slugging little Jimmy in the head when he starts hording in on your best girl.
For others “good” might mean calling a taxicab in a rare moment of good judgment to avoid your fifth DUI for the year. It could mean only attending brothels in Reno, where that sort of thing is legal. It could also mean taking change out of the Salvation Army collection when the bell ringer isn’t looking and leaving the whole bills for those who really need it.
However one defines the word, there is an equal amount of diversity when it comes to actually celebrating Christmas. We here at Star Costumes have decided to take a look at this diversity as well as shed some light on the reasons why we do the things we do. So let the sleigh bells ring, the reindeer fly, and the eggnog flow, it’s time for “15 Bizarre Christmas Facts and Traditions.”
1. Having an Epiphany
Most Americans will be shocked to discover that not everyone copies every little thing that we do with regard to the holidays. The retail gods would have you believe that the Christmas season here starts sometime in September and ends when people are sick of buying crap or too tapped out financially to do anymore. In Italy, Christmas traditions are more Christ-based with a focal point on the Nativity scene. Christmas trees and lights only recently started to pick up steam over the traditional wooden pyramid decorated with fruit. The country really gets in to the holiday, with the celebration season beginning on Christmas Eve and ending on January 6 (the Epiphany).
2. A Carhop Christmas
Who are those people on the roller skates doing the best they can not to crack a pelvis? Well, here we call them carhops, but in the Venezuelan capital city of Caracas, they’re just average people rolling their way to Christmas Mass. While it seems crazy to us to risk life and limb on Christmas Day for an activity mostly associated with childhood, we suppose that it would be better to break one’s neck in service of the Almighty than delivering a large order of chili cheese tots to some random stranger. The city really gets behind the experience, too, blocking off access to the area for motor vehicles.
3. Along Came a Spider
The Ukraine has a curious tradition that involves the arachnid. Apparently, the people there consider web-and-spider an essential decoration to their Christmas festivities. There, finding a spider web on Christmas morning brings good luck. For those freaked out by the furry eight-legged creatures, it simply necessitates a change of britches.
4. Stir Around the Clock
Leave it to the British to over-complicate the mixing of Christmas pudding. According to Christmas lore, you must stir the pudding in a clockwise direction if you want your Christmas wish to come true. We’re not sure about this one. It seems like if Santa and Jesus are that legalistic, then the whole point of the holiday is little more than a legal accounting ledger with a balance sheet where you’ll never come out ahead.
5. Most Horrifying Time of the Year
We hear a lot of adults and politicians squalling and bawling about how the country is failing its children. Kids have no discipline. Kids have no respect. It’s all the teachers’ fault. How do we get these little suckers back in line? Austria has it figured out. Introducing the Krampus! Hmmm…krampus, cramps, PMS, one look at this thing, and there’s got to be a correlation. Anyhow, the Krampus is an uneasy and unlikely sidekick of St. Nick. While the Jolly Fat Man is busy giving all of us good people presents, the Krampus’s job is to hunt down the bad children, fly them away in his basket, and drop them cowering into the pits of Hell, presumably after he’s chewed their faces off.
Photo by Anita Martinz.
6. Everything Goes Better with Mustard
Ah, those crazy Brits are at it again! Never mind that the boar is a beast loaded with succulent portions of meat that can feed an army. Nothing says Christmas like a severed boar head, apple in mouth, smeared with mustard. We have to interject at this point that while the boar’s head may be a Christmas tradition, if we were to eat any creature, human or otherwise, it seems like there would be more productive pieces of meat we could chow down on. Somehow the Boar’s Head came to represent the Christ Child’s victory over sin. Christian traditions—making beautiful things terrifying for 2,000 years!
Photo by qejecit.
7. Ooo-oooh, Witchy Woman!
In Norway, there is a tradition where on Christmas Eve all the brooms in the house are hidden from view. The practice began to prevent witches and other mischievous spirits from breaking in at night and stealing all the brooms for a crazy nighttime joyride. Apparently, these entities are brilliant enough to make a stick with bristles on the end fly, but they’re too stupid to look under the couch cushions.
8. Holy Crapping Yule Log, Batman!
This Catalan Christmas custom is perhaps one of the best. Meet Caga Tio, a yule log with a happy face and a red hat. Prior to the holiday, he is “fed” a variety of foods like nuts, berries, Twix, Kit Kats, we’re thinking nothing is off-limits. After two weeks of ceremonial feeding and being kept warm under the comfort of a nice blanket or quilt, it’s time for Caga Tio to give back. But he’s not going to do it without a fight. On Christmas Eve night, the children get together and start smacking the poor bastard with sticks while crooning a disturbingly happy melody. As the beating continues—think piñata, but only with far more disturbing symbolism—Caga Tio starts to let loose with one of the most backed up BMs the world has ever known. He continues getting whacked until he finally passes a salt herring, onion, or some other food that kids hate. Ah, memories of grandpa…
Photo by Wikipedia.
9. Because Once Isn’t Enough…
Okay, we admit it. Poop is just funny, especially when integrated so expertly into the season of giving. After all, what better gift is there than a box of burning crap on your neighbor’s doorstep? (The standards never get old.) Catalonia has one tradition that combines the best of poop with the Holy Nativity scene. Thought to symbolize fertilization of the earth, the incredible pooping man—also known as a caganer—is usually hidden among a traditional Nativity display, squatted down for his unholy contribution. Sort of a “Where’s Waldo?” type deal. With poop. In the old days, he was just some guy in traditional garb. These days he can take the form of a celebrity, athlete or public figure. Now please, tell me: why hasn’t this gained more popularity in the States?
10. And Not a Bush in Sight…
If you’re American, then you’ve probably never associated shoe-throwing with anything but a Presidential press conference. However, in Czechoslovakia single women look to their shoes to determine whether the coming year will bring holy matrimony or another 12 months of one night stands, who never intend to call them again. What the woman does is this: she takes off her shoe, stands with her back to the door, and tosses it over her shoulder. If the shoe lands with the toe facing toward the door, then she can start picking out bridesmaids. If the shoe lands with its heel toward the door, then she’ll have to stock up on birth control and wait another year. If she’s standing too close to the door and the shoe bounces back and hits her in the skull, then it’s about eight stitches.
11. Black Peter Starring Al Jolson
Dutch Santa Claus (also known as Sinterklaas) has apparently never seen Roots or heard of the Emancipation Proclamation. He travels with a slave assistant known as Zwarte Piet (or Black Peter). Sinterklaas gets all the glory, giving out presents to good children while making an ominous threat to the others: if you’re bad, Black Peter will take you away from your parents and move you back to Spain. Zwarte Piet usually appears in blackface makeup, just like Al Jolson used to do when he’d sing “Mammy.” Instead of ditching the tradition altogether, his role has been moved in recent years to that of “chimney sweep.”
Photo by Looi.
12. Christmas, Now With 44% More Rotting Guts
Greenland gets very creative with their contribution to holiday unpleasantness. If you have never heard of the kiviak, then you really should get out more. What is a kiviak? Well, it’s an auk, silly? What is an auk? What am I going to do with you people? It’s a bird! And an auk dressed in seal skin and buried under a rock during the first frost makes for mighty good eatin’ come Christmastime. This delicacy requires you to dig it up out of the dirt during the holiday season and squeeze hard until its guts fall out like in Dawn of the Dead. After that, you eat it and savor the flavor of Stilton Cheese in the morning. We’re getting hungry already.
Okay, the Greeks don’t get a lot of points here for originality—or maybe they do, who knows which one came first—but we welcome any opportunity to incorporate crazy red-eyed monkeys into our holiday offering. The Kallakantzaroi, aside from having one of those names you’ve got to read ten times in order to type it correctly, are considered evil spirits that come break into your home on Christmas Eve just like the Norwegian broom flyers. If you want to keep these nasty spirits out of your home, then the logical thing to do is hang a pig’s jaw inside your chimney. Sleep tight, mates.
14. Will Wear Horse Head for Money
Wales is the origin point of this proud tradition. If you’ve got a spare horse head lying around, then it’s time to put that bad boy to good use. Shove it onto a pike and take to the streets begging for money while wearing horse hair—if you’ve got a spare horse head lying around then you’ve probably got some of this, too. In both cases, we are scared of you, so please stay away from our homes on Christmas Eve. We’ve got enough to worry about with the broom-stealing witches, the crazy-ass monkeys, and the cramps, er, Krampus lurking about.
15. Let’s Play Hide the Pickle
The Christmas Pickle Tradition is often mistakenly associated with Germany. It’s far more likely that the tradition started here in the States as the traditional dates given for the first stories do not match with German lore. The two most common origin points occur in the U.S. One comes from a Bavarian man, who was also a veteran in the Civil War and a prisoner at the time. Weak and near the point of death, he begged the prison guard to give him a pickle before he died. With compassion in his heart, the guard complied and the pickle given out of goodwill possessed healing powers that cured the man of his ailments.
The more probably origin, however, is Berrien Springs, Mich. How do we know this? Well, we don’t. All we do know is they took the Vlasic and ran with it. Each year Berrien Springs has a pickle festival to commemorate a probable fictitious story that two Spanish boys traveling home for the holidays were taken captive by an evil inn-keeper on their journey. Placed in a pickle barrel, they faced certain doom until Jolly Old St. Nick showed up and freed them from the evil tyrant. Not sure what happened to the inn-keeper after that, but we’re thinking Santa probably shot him in the face.
Photo by Wikimedia Commons.
How many other weird Christmas traditions are out there that we missed? Share them with us below. In the meantime we want to wish you all a Merry Christmas. May your holidays be warm, bright, and as weird as you want them to be!