While bushwhacking through the thorny scrub that is the War on Christmas – you know, that newfangled celebration that now occurs in the weeks leading up to Christmas wherein some “Christians” froth at the mouth insisting that the sun revolves around the Earth and everyone respect their traditions, while refusing to respect anyone else’s – I got to thinking about Christmas traditions. Mainly, no matter how you look at them – even the most widely practiced – they’re pretty bizarre.
The comedian Jim Gaffigan points out how our most cherished Christmas traditions are a tad strange – cutting down trees and bringing them inside, while taking lights from inside and putting them outside: “It kinda sounds like the behavior of a drunk man, really: [slurring] ‘We’re going to decorate (the tree) … for Jesus. And then I’m going to hang my socks over the fireplace, fill them with candy. Maybe I’ll tie some leaves to the ceiling, see if I can get some action.’”
Far from celebrating the birth of Christ, it appears that Christmas is a holiday across the globe invented solely to coerce children into behaving or otherwise doing what they’re told. In the U.S., the jolly, toy-schlepping Santa Claus rewards well-behaved (or “nice” children) with toys, while genially ignoring those deemed naughty (or mockingly leaving them BBQ briquettes). American kids should be thankful they didn’t grow up in Austria or various eastern European nations. There, they have Krampus: a hairy, behooved and horned figure that is half goat, half demon and friend of St. Nicholas (O, the company Santa keeps) who punishes misbehaving children. In Iceland, there’s the Yule cat that eats children who haven’t worked hard enough all year. How does the cat know who’s been slacking? They’re wearing old clothes. Because all the hard-working children get new clothes for Christmas. Makes sense to me.
Iceland, it seems, has the market on odd Christmas traditions. There’s the Christmas Book Flood, wherein the days leading up to Christmas, the country buys and exchanges books en masse – everyone must have at least one to take to bed on Christmas Eve. I mean, books! Who does that?! Iceland is also home to the Yule Lads, 13 different troll-like figures who come one at a time in the days leading up to Christmas. More malfeasant in the past, the Lads these days these are fairly docile, leaving gifts in the shoes of well-behaved children, but otherwise are simply cheeky and mischievous, mainly stealing things like various cookware, leftovers, assorted meats and candles. One licks spoons, one is a peeping Tom, and one harasses sheep. Misdemeanors at worst.
In Japan, even though Christmas isn’t even a thing, 3.6 million eat buckets of KFC, all because of a successful ad campaign by the country’s first franchise in the early ’70s.
While American kids leave milk and cookies for the understandably-beleaguered Santa, the Australians do the same with cookies but supply a beverage the clearly-boozing “I ain’t no” St. Nick might prefer: beer. A more thoughtful nation, the Aussies also leave carrots for the reindeer, which are certainly hungry after getting the shaft in the U.S.
Meanwhile, back in America, the new holiday tradition of Merry Christmas is in full throttle, thanks to Electoral College-confirmed panderer-in-chief Donald Trump, who promised, “If I become president, we’re all going to be saying Merry Christmas again, that I can tell you.” For the holiday of Merry Christmas, everyone will dress as thinned-skinned church-goers and go around town demanding everyone, regardless of faith or tradition, utter the words “Merry Christmas.” If anyone refuses, Trump will crash-repel through the ceiling and make you wear a tacky red baseball cap until Dec. 26.
Nothing abnormal there.