Christmas Around The World: They Think We’re Odd


 
SLIGHTLY OFF THE MARK

            Ojenyunyat Sungwiyadeson honungradon nagwutut. Ojenyunyat osrasay!

            No, I didn’t position my fingers wrong on the keyboard. It doesn’t quite have the flow of “Merry Christmas”, but I’m told that’s the way the Iroquois say it. Turns out most Native American tribes don’t have a term for “Happy Thanksgiving”.

            Just as they have different ways of saying it, people around the world have different ways of celebrating the holiday season. Just to give you an idea, I looked up some of the ways Christmas is celebrated around the world.

For instance, South Africans often have an open-air lunch for Christmas. It’s summer down there, after all.

            Try an open-air meal here in the Midwest for Christmas and you’ll spend the rest of the holidays getting thawed out.

            And yet South Africans don’t hang bikinis from their nonexistent fireplaces; just like up here, children hang stockings, probably from the air conditioner.

            In Ghana, Christmas season coincides with the cocoa harvest, so for them it’s a time of profit while they also make the rest of the world very happy.

            Like here they have a big meal, with includes such items as okra soup and a yam paste, called fufu. Fruitcake doesn’t sound so silly now, does it?

            On the subject of food, Alaskan holiday treats involve maple-frosted doughnuts and – yum! – piruk, also known as fish pie. After eating the pie some adventurous young Alaskans indulge in the dangerous sport of breathing on polar bears.

            In Australia, Santa often arrives on a surfboard or a boat. I mean along the coast, of course. Australians have a Christmas Bush, a native plant with little red flowered leaves, which knowing that place is probably poisonous. They have a Christmas pudding with a treat baked into it, and if you find it you get good luck. Back during the gold rushes Down Under, those treats often consisted of gold nuggets. Break your teeth on those and … you don’t mind.

            In Austria, the beginning of Christmas is marked by the feast of St. Nicholas. Nick would go around asking children for a list of their good and bad deeds … while accompanied by the devil. I can’t help thinking the kids took that pretty seriously.

            Not to be outdone, Belgium has two Santa Claus ... Claus’s … Clauses … Santas. One is St. Niklaas, the other Pere Noel. They often get into WWF style cage fights to determine which gets to drive the sleigh.

            No, actually Pere Noel goes to those who speak the Walloon language, which is kind of like the Balloon language only not so inflated. He goes first on December 4th, on what amounts to a welfare visit, then returns on December 6th to bring presents to good kids, and twigs to bad one. What happens to bad kids who want twigs, I don’t know.

            St. Niklaas goes to the part of the country called “Flemish”, where they speak Dutch instead of French. It’s kind of like the difference between speakers in Massachusetts and South Carolina, in that they live in the same country but can’t understand each other. But St. Nicholas isn’t there to celebrate Jesus’ birth – he delivers presents on December 6th, his own birthday. I guess Christmas itself must be pretty anticlimactic.

            On the other side of that, in Egypt and Ethiopia Christmas is celebrated on January 7th. I’d imagine they’re pretty darned sick of Christmas songs by then.

            In Brazil, they believe Papai Noel comes from Greenland, which as we all know is white. But when he comes down to South America he wears silk clothing – remember, summer down there. The surfer shorts and Hawaiian shirts are a bit jarring, and more than once he’s come close to getting his sandal-clad feet smashed by reindeer hooves.

            Bulgarians make Christmas wishes around the fire while eating blood sausage. You heard that right.

            Canadian celebrations are more or less similar to those in the US, except Canadians traditionally sit around practicing their politeness and comparing frostbite scars.

            However, in Nova Scotia there are wandering hoards of masked mummers (also a movie starring Brendon Fraser), who go around making noise and daring people to guess who they are. On the other side of the continent, Eskimos (who are no longer called that) have a big winter festival called Sinck tuck, in which they dance around a fire made of sleighs, Santa outfits, and pretty much anything else that will burn.

            In Costa Rica, models of the stable where Jesus was born are so big they fill an entire room. They would then have room for the animals, which I’m sure would make it more realistic but also a nightmare for the cleanup crew.

            The Czech Republic is where the good King Wenceslas, famed in song and story (well, one song), comes from. His Christian beliefs and overall goodness infuriated his mother, who apparently thought he wasn’t bloodthirsty enough (maybe she should have fed him blood sausages?) so her other son murdered him on the church steps. You won’t find this in modern day Christmas TV specials.

            On Christmas Eve in Denmark, parents secretly decorate the tree with homemade wood and straw baubles, which you can now order with free delivery from Amazon.com.

            For Christmas in England, it traditionally rains.

            In France kids leave their wooden shoes, called sabots, in the hearth to be filled. Sometimes they’re left too close to the flames and catch fire. This leaves Pere Noel scorched and believing it was done on purpose, an act that to this day is called sabotage.

            And finally, Christmas in the Bethlehem is … kind of traditional.

            However you celebrate Christmas, make it a fun one and, as they say in the Philippines: Maligayang Pasko at Manigong Bagong Taon!

            I’ll bet their holiday banners are bigger than ours.

11 comments:

  1. The more hideous the frostbite scar, the better in Canada!

    Merry Christmas, Mark!

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    1. I thought that might be the case -- Merry Christmas to you!

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  2. I had no idea about any of this. Talk about parochial.

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    1. Well, I didn't know most of it until I started researching it -- and I don't know how true it all is!

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  3. No faulting you on the errors about Belgium, with a population less than Manhattan thay often are mistaken for...a city.

    The Walloons are French who want a monarchy, the Flemish are the "real" Belgians, and they insist they have a language called "Flemish", rather than just a dialect of Dutch. Over here, it's like the difference between Brooklyn and the Bronx.

    And the Christmas Bush in Australia IS poisonous.

    ;~)

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    1. Oh, fault me all you want -- my research was pretty limited! But the Australian bush thing being poisonous was pretty much a given. :-)

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  4. Overall, I'm satisfied with our Christmas customs...but I'd really like to give the Australian take on it a try....

    No snow...no snow...no snow....

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    1. No snow isn't a tradition -- it's heaven!

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  5. balloon language? but not quite so inflated? I'm still laughing at that one. Excellent post. I learned a lot but I'll keep my traditions anyway.

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