Tuesday, December 08, 2009

A Lot Like Christmas

Ah, Christmas. We celebrate it on the same day with the same trappings. We deck our halls, done our gay apparel, roast our chestnuts on an open fire. Yet, we all celebrate it differently.

That's because of traditions.

Maybe your family plays a spirited game of touch football using Aunt Mary's fruit cake.

Maybe you make book on how much Christmas cheer Cousin Charlie will consume before he falls into the tree.

Maybe its a keepsake, like that ornament from the Kern County Fair.

Or that recipe for Eggnog casserole.

My mother used to cook up a batch of sweet potatues covered with marshmellows every Christmas becase "it's one of dad's favorites." Years later, dad admitted to me he hated the dish but ate if to keep peace in the family.

My kids tried to start a tradition one year by awakening at 3 a.m., about five minutes after I had collapsed into bed exhausted from an evening of Greco-Roman wrestling with a mass of "some assembly required" toys. It was the
shortest tradition ever.

We do watch a scratchy old video tape of "A Christmas Carol" starring GeorgeC. Scott every year simply because he is the best Scrooge of all time.

There's a fire in the fireplace Christmas morning even if it's 80 degrees outside. There's always a birthday cake
because the Old Man of the House had the misfortune of being born on Christmas Day.

One family I read about buys the ugliest, tackiest outdoor decorations they can find. They try to sneak them onto their friend's lawns or houses during the season. The rules of the game state that if you get the tacky decor up without getting caught, the victim has to keep it in their yard until Christmas. If you get caught putting
them there, you have to put them on your lawn.

Pretty funny unless you live next door to the loser.

Leave the cozy confines of the U.S. of A. and you find Christmas traditions that are, well, different:

On Christmas morning, people in Portugal have a traditional feast called "consoda" with a twist; not only does the
family get together to eat but also dead people are invited. Extra places are set and food is offered to the deceased. Which is a great idea because since the deceased rarely show up, meaning more food for everybody.

In parts of Austria, Bavaria and Switzerland, the last month of the year is a time, especially for naughty kids, to be frightened. It seems young men dress up as the Krampus, a devil-demon creature equipped with cow bells and rods, usually accompanied by the Nikolaus (a sort of Santa Claus) and roam the streets to scare hell out of the
children as well as adults. This is called a Krampuslauf.

Leave it to those Germanic types to celebrate as only they know how.

In Greenland, so I'm told, kiviak is a gastronomical Christmas treat made from the raw flesh of an auk which has been buried under a stone in sealskin for several months until it's achieved an advanced stage of decomposition. Apparently, it smells like old blue cheese and tastes very pungent.

I could not find no other country that has adopted this tradition.

In some rural areas of south Wales, the Mari Llwyd is a person hiding under a horsehair sheet while
carrying a horse's skull on a pike . The Mari Llwyd wanders the streets at Christmas with a band of mummers and anyone "given the bite" by the horse's jaws must pay a cash fine.

Which is the basis for our IRS.

Little known facts about some other Christmas traditions:

--- Santa's reindeers are all females since male reindeer reindeer drop their antlers at the beginning of winter, usually late November to mid December.Female reindeer retain their antlers till after they give birth in the spring.

That makes sense because only female reindeer would stop and ask for directions.

--- Truth be told , the 19th-century author who bequeathed us the image of a fat, jolly, white-bearded St. Nicholas ("His eyes how they twinkled! his dimples how merry!") was himself a dour, straitlaced academician. As a professor of classics at the General Theological Seminary in New York City, Clement C. Moore's most notable work prior
to "A Visit from St. Nicholas" was a two-volume tome entitled "A Compendious Lexicon of the Hebrew Language."

Fortunately for us, the man had children.

--- Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer began life as an advertising campaign for a department store. In 1939, Montgomery Ward asked one of their copywriters, 34-year-old Robert L. May, to come up with a Christmas story coloring book they could give away to shoppers as a promotional gimmick.

As a child, May was rather sickly, shy and introverted. So, he based the story on his childhood feelings of alienation from his peers. As to the name, May considered and rejected Rollo (too cheerful) and Reginald (too British) before deciding on Rudolph.

According to one published account, May's boss was worried that a story featuring a red nose - an image associated with drinking and drunkards - wasn't suitable for a Christmas tale. May responded by taking Denver Gillen, a friend from Montgomery Ward's art department, to the Lincoln Park Zoo to sketch some deer. Gillen's illustrations of a
red-nosed reindeer overcame the hesitancy of May's bosses, and the Rudolph story was approved.

And to end on a happy note: Data from the National Center for Health Statistics show that suicides aren't more prevalent during the holdiays. In fact, there's a rise during the spring and summer months.

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