Christmas traditions you probably don’t observe

Country Roads

With Thanksgiving now behind us, Christmas, less than a month away, looms larger on the horizon.

Soon, if not already, kitchens will be filled with the aroma of cookies in the oven, living rooms will be filled with the fragrance of pine and closets will be filling up with wrapped boxes. Christmas is a season of traditions.

While each family’s traditions vary most of us will find some commonality with our friends and neighbors. Do not, however, begin to think that everyone celebrates Christmas the way you do.

In Japan, for instance, Christmas Eve may mean Kentucky Fried Chicken for your family. The first KFC in Japan opened in 1970 and there are now more than 15,000 KFC restaurants in that nation.

In 1974 KFC initiated a “Kurisumasu ni wa kentakkii!” (Kentucky for Christmas!) marketing campaign and now Christmas Eve is their busiest day of the year. People submit their orders months in advance in anticipation of the busy holiday and lines at the restaurants can last for hours.

During the Christmas season when I was a youngster my father amused his offspring with a Low German poem about Sinterklaas, the Low German and Dutch name for Santa Claus. I regret not memorizing Dad’s poem but I do recall the first verse: “Sinterklaas, du gah, du blot, stick mi stueckje zuckergoed. Nich to veil un nich to minn…” Loosely translated that means, “Santa Claus, you go out; only you. Give me some pieces of sugar cookies. Not too many and not too few….” That’s all I remember.

In the Netherlands, Sinterklass arrives on the eve of St. Nicholas Day (in early December) in a steamship with his slave, Zwarte Piet (Black Peter.) Children who don’t behave during the year are told that Black Peter might take them back to Spain, where Sinterklaas lives. That’s worse than a lump of coal!

The modern day problem with this old tradition is that Zwarte Piet is usually played by a white man in black face, often with exaggerated features. The tradition has been modernized with Piet supposedly a chimney sweep instead of a slave and with chimney soot on his face instead of black face paint.

I have always enjoyed the tradition of a jolly Santa Claus so I’m avoiding Central and Eastern Europe where people “make merry” with Krampus, a ghoulish creature who is the evil accomplice of St. Nicholas.

Krampus is a horned, part human/part animal figure described as “half-goat, half-demon” who punishes children who have misbehaved during the Christmas season.

During the month of December you may see terrifying masked figures out and about scaring kids and adults alike with fearsome pranks. In fact there is an annual Krampus parade in Vienna.

If you are squeamish please move on to the want ads…

On the northeast corner of the Iberian peninsula sits Catalonia, an autonomous region of Spain. Catalonians’ celebration of Christmas includes Tió de Nadal, the Christmas log.

Tió de Nadal is made from a hollow log, with stick legs, a smile and a red hat. Every evening between December 8th and Christmas Eve, the children feed the log small treats and leave him under a blanket to keep him warm.

On Christmas Eve children beat the log with sticks while they sing traditional songs and this is where it gets really bizarre. The lyrics of these songs include, “Poop log; poop nougats, hazelnuts and mato cheese. If you don’t poop well, I’ll hit you with a stick. Poop log!”

Having been beaten and serenaded, the log wonderfully poops out candy and presents and then is thrown in the fireplace. Weird, huh?

In comparison, Argentina’s pink panty tradition seems much nicer. Argentinian mothers and grandmothers give other women in the family pink underwear as a Christmas gift. Their hope is that the younger women will wear their new undies on New Year’s Eve and attract love.

Meanwhile, I am compelled to remind you that Christmas is a holy day when we celebrate the birth of Jesus.

You’re welcome.


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