Sunday, December 06, 2015

It's Traditional

It’s Christmas.

Get ready to deck the halls, don your gay apparel and roast your chestnuts on an open fire. 

We celebrate collectively but also individually because many of us have our own holiday traditions.

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

Maybe you make bets on how much Christmas cheer Grandpa will consume before he falls into the tree.

Maybe it’s that Christmas ornament from the Gilroy Garlic Festival. Or the old family recipe for Eggnog casserole.

My mother used to cook up a batch of sweet potatoes covered with marshmallows every Christmas because "it's one of Dad's favorites." Years later, Dad admitted to me he hated the dish but ate it to make Mom happy.

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 George C. 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. I celebrate with mortals like Sir Isaac Newton, Clara Barton, Conrad Hilton, Humphry Bogart, Cab Calloway, Rod Serling, Jimmy Buffet and Sissy Spacek who also call Dec. 25 their birthday.

In other corners of the word, celebrations are decidedly 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 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 where we got the model for our IRS.

In Oaxaca, Mexico boys and girls don’t have visions of sugar plumbs dancing in their heads. Instead they dream of radishes.

Started in 1987, the Night of the Radishes is a festival consisting of parades, parties, and dances all to celebrate the radish. Radish aficionados and experts sculpt and paint the vegetable for the holiday season.

“I was absolutely blown away by the popularity of this festival,” blogger Becky Kirts told the BBC. “Young and old waiting in line for hours on end to look at carved radishes. By 4 p.m., the lines were literally miles long.”

In Galve, Sweden, a 45-foot high goat made of straw is erected each Christmas. And almost each year, it is trashed.

Out of the 46 times the goat has been set up in the town square, it has burned down 28 times, and torn down, run over, or thrown in the river an additional 7 times giving it a survival rate below 25%.

Yet, the tradition continues. Hard headed, those Swedes.

Christmas doesn’t end after Dec. 25 in Germany. The town of Weidenthal holds its annual Christmas Tree Throwing World Championships. The competition takes in distance throwing, height throwing and flinging of trees, with the winner decided by the overall distance.  It is unclear if the winner receives a wreath.

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 Japan, families mark Christmas by heading out to the local Kentucky Fried Chicken store for a bucket of “Christmas Chicken.”

There are a number of theories about this seemingly odd obsession. When a group of foreigners couldn’t find turkey on Christmas day in 1979 and opted for fried chicken instead, the company saw this as a prime commercial opportunity and launched its first Christmas meal. Chicken and wine went for 2,920 yen ($10). Today the Christmas chicken dinner (which now boasts cake and champagne) goes for about 3,336 yen ($40).

The “Americaness” and simplicity of the message rather than any religious associations with the holiday is what makes it appealing, according to the Financial Times which notes Japan is well known for taking foreign products and ideas and adapting them to suit domestic taste.

So whether you like your Christmas extra crispy or plain and simple, this column wishes you a very merry one.

Robert Rector is a veteran of 50 years in print journalism. He has worked at the San Francisco Examiner, Los Angeles Herald Examiner, Valley News, Los Angeles Times and Pasadena Star-News. His columns can be found at Robert-Rector@Blogspot.Com. Follow him on Twitter at @robertrector 1.

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