Now, you know that I generally stick to Western topics. But when it came time to pick a topic for a holiday blog post, even my beloved West didn’t seem quite big enough. I mean, I’ve never heard of a group of carolers singing, “Joy to the West!” Nope. A holiday blog post means it’s time to go global.
It used to be that children would tune in to the news on Christmas Eve in order to see the Doppler radar graphic of Santa as he makes his rounds. Now, of course, there’s an app for that and you can keep tabs on Santa by using Google Earth. Whatever the methodology, one thing is certain: For a rotund man traveling by flying reindeer, he makes excellent time. This year, I thought it would be fun to explore what is happening in some of the countries around the world as Santa is whizzing past. And I have to say that what I found was pretty curious . . . witches, goat heads, pudding flung onto the ceiling, spider webs, fried chicken and roller-skating to Mass!
So, please stow your carry-on luggage underneath the seat in front of you or in an overhead bin. Fasten your seatbelt and make sure your seat back and folding trays are in their full upright position. Today, we’re going do a little e-maginary traveling. I will be your tour guide as we learn about some of the holiday traditions that bring joy to the world!
Gledelig Jul, or, Merry Christmas, and welcome to Norway! Norwegians of yesteryear believed witches came out on Christmas Eve. They may have been superstitious, but that didn’t impede their critical thinking skills. What do witches ride? Brooms, of course! How can you prevent a witch from hijacking your broom and taking it on a joyride? Um, you hide it! I feel it fair to warn you that if you happen to be a compulsive cleaner, you will want to complete all of your sweeping before Christmas Eve. Norwegians still have a tradition of hiding all of their household brooms on December 24, thereby leaving the witches longing for an O’Cedar to make their lives easier.
The Halloween/Christmas crossover will continue between Christmas and New Year’s Day with the tradition of Julebukking. Julebukking is similar to trick-or-treating, with a splash of Christmas caroling thrown in for good measure. Julebukking gets its name from the Julebukk, or the Yule Goat. It’s a carryover from the pagan worship of Thor, the god whose chariot was drawn by two goats. During the Yule holiday, people would dress in a goatskin and carry the head of a goat. Goat ornaments still hang on many Christmas trees throughout Scandinavia.
Buon Natale! Babbo Natale (Santa Claus) delivers his gifts on Christmas Eve, but Italian children can look forward to yet another magical gift giver. While the people of Norway are trying to keep the witches at bay, the citizens of Italy are very eager to welcome one witch-like character. La Befana is a tattered old woman who flies around the world on a broomstick and delivers candy and presents to good boys and girls on Epiphany Eve. Just like the man in the red suit, she goes down chimneys. Also, like Santa, she is known to leave lumps of coal to kids whose behavior didn’t quite hit the mark.
Legend tells that La Befana was asked by the Three Wise Men to take them to the stable to see the Christ child. She refused the invitation because she had too much housecleaning to do. She soon regretted her decision. She gathered up some gifts and set off to find the babe in a manger. Even though she followed the star, she never did find the stable. That is why she continues to travel the world on Epiphany Eve, searching every house for Baby Jesus.
Vesele Vianoce! In Slovakia, the family patriarch flings a spoonful of loksa (a type of pudding) at the ceiling. The more that sticks, the better his next harvest will be. I hope that the next tradition involves the patriarch getting a ladder and wet rag to clean the pudding from the ceiling, but I’m skeptical!
Meri Kurisumasu! The Japanese don’t let a little thing like having a scant number of Christians prevent them from getting in on some of the Christmas fun. Christmas is not a national holiday in Japan, but there is still plenty of celebrating. Japanese Christmas Eve more closely resembles Valentine’s Day in America . . . couples exchange gifts, look at Christmas lights and go out for a romantic meal.
On Christmas Day, the traditional food may surprise you. It’s fried chicken! It’s the busiest day of the year for the KFC restaurants in Japan. How did this tradition come about? I would love to say that it has to do with Colonel Sanders’ resemblance to Santa Claus. But, the truth is that KFC had a 1974 ad campaign in Japan, encouraging people get some finger licking good food on Christmas.
Feliz Navidad, and welcome to Venezuela! In this country, San Nicolás (St. Nicholas) will have some help bringing the presents from Niño Jesús (Baby Jesus). Venezuelans typically attend early morning mass on the nine days preceding Christmas. There’s nothing weird about that. But, the capital city of Caracas brings a kitschy twist to that sacred tradition. On Christmas morning, it is traditional for residents to roller skate to mass! The streets are so crowded with this “all skate” that they are closed to traffic.
Z Rizdvom Khrystovym! Don’t worry you have plenty of time to learn how to pronounce that because Ukrainians don’t celebrate a “Merry Christmas,” until January 7th. In case you happen to suffer from arachnophobia, I feel it fair to warn you that Ukrainian Christmas trees are decorated with silver and gold spider webs. While that might sound a little wacky, the tradition comes from a story about a peasant woman who had no money to decorate for Christmas. The philanthropic spiders came to her rescue by spinning webs of pure gold and silver to decorate her tree. Not only did she have a beautiful Christmas tree, she also had wealth for the future.
Cleared to Land
Ladies and gentlemen, we are beginning our descent. I hope you have enjoyed your trip. We know you have many options for virtual travel and we thank you for choosing The Campfire Chronicle. And however you choose to celebrate, we hope you have the happiest of holiday seasons!
Happy Holidays, all y’all!