Strange Christmas Traditions Explained

Ah, Christmas. Such a magical, wondrous, contradictory season. When it comes to poorly explained, nonsensical, and confusing traditions, no other holiday comes close to competing with the juggernaut of Strange that is Christmas. Think about it. Take your time. Let’s face it, you’ve got plenty, since bidding just closed on that must-have cat sweater on Ebay, and your chafed genitals need a break before your next bout of furious masturbation to internet porn. You might as well use thirty-six seconds to actually contemplate the absurdities of the Christmas season, and then hopefully completely re-evaluate your life’s choices.

So what is Christmas, exactly? According to American’s, Christmas is the celebration of the birth of Republican Jesus, who, on December 25th, 1976, burst from an oil well in Texas and defeated the Mexican Super-Devil in a fiddling contest. This makes sense, since Christmas has its roots in the Spanish Christ Mas, which of course translates to Christ More, as in, on this day Christ was More powerful than the Super-Devil. To celebrate this holy triumph of good over evil, the American public is ordered to spend the entire month of December at the mall, in a vain attempt to resuscitate their dead retail economy, so that its zombified corpse can stagger on for one more year of bad debts and child labor exploitation.

Americans, of course, are known to get things wrong sometimes, so let’s break Christmas, and our popular Christmas traditions down into small, easily digestible chunks.

Tradition 1: Celebrating Christmas day on December 25. Most Christians I know believe that Christmas day is the anniversary of Jesus Christ’s birth. This is not so. While the holiday, ostensibly, is a celebration of Christ’s birth, the date is arbitrary. It was actually chosen by Roman Catholics in order to compete with what were, at the time, more popular pagan solstice celebrations. For all we know, the messiah was actually born on November 2nd. Or in June. But totally, get up for midnight mass on Christmas eve, the day really has special significance to god.

Tradition 2: Recreating the nativity scene. These are the crappy plastic or porcelain statues you usually see half buried in snow outside of churches and old Italian women’s houses, with the baby Jesus lying in a three sided shack, surrounded by his parents, barnyard creatures, and the three wise men, who have, wisely, provided the drooling son of god with presents of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Now, I’m not knocking the gift of gold, as its practical uses are manifold, but do you know what Frankincense and Myrrh are? They’re tree sap. Back in the year zero, people smelled like congealed ass cheese, so they would waft themselves with strong smelling smokes, such as the smoke you get from burning Frankincense or Myrrh, to hide their shameful lack of hygiene. Fantastic Wise Men, you gave the baby who may or not have been your god deodorant.

Tradition 3: Santa Claus. He, supposedly, is a supernatural diabetic who resides in the North Pole, and with the assistance of unionized elf labor, creates toys for all the good boys and girls, which he magically delivers on Christmas Eve. I’ll give the fat man one thing. At least he’s nominally Christian, which is surprisingly rare for the traditions we retain on the holiday named after Christ. Most of our beloved Christmas traditions don’t have a single connection to Christianity. The Santa Clause mythos however, originated in the 4th century with Saint Nicholas, the bishop of Myra, who was evidently a totally cool dude and was exceedingly generous and loved children in a hopefully platonic manner (but I wouldn’t count on it, he was a Christian clergyman after all). After his death around 340AD he was buried in Myra (Turkey), until his bones were exhumed and stolen by Italian sailors, who brought them back to Italy as a souvenir, naturally increasing his popularity throughout Europe. Thanks to the silly Dutch, the Saint Nicholas myth was kept alive through the centuries, where it morphed from the Danish Sint Nikolaas to Sinterklaas to our modern American Santa Claus. The real Saint Nick’s generosity explains the current Santa’s penchant for gift giving, but why he lives at the North fucking pole surrounded by midgets, I have no idea. Funny side note, St. Nick and Santa Claus are obviously the same person, but old Chris Kringle, is not. Chris Kringle is actually Christkindl, or the Christ Child, so man were we way off on that one.

Tradition 4: Krampus, the Yule Lord. Krampus, in the awesome versions of Christmas, is St. Nick’s horn-headed hairy demon side-kick, who punishes the bad boys and girls while Santa rewards the good boys and girls. His, I think, is the most fascinating tradition, firstly because my little Grinch heart is warmed by the idea of punishing bad boys and girls, and secondly, because his is the oldest tradition. Krampus, as a modern avatar of the horned-god of the witches, is so pre-Christian that Neanderthal children used to tell Krampus stories around their cave fires when dinosaurs still roamed the earth.

Lord Krampus punishes a naughty girl by pulling her hair.

Lord Krampus punishes a naughty girl by pulling her hair.

Tradition 5: The Christmas Tree. A far better man than I, Jim Gaffigan, said it best when he described the Christmas Tree phenomenon as the behavior of a drunk guy. What you do is, you go out into the forest, you find the most beautiful, healthy, vibrant young fir tree, which has just passed from tree-childhood into tree-adolescence, and is beginning to notice how beautiful all the young lady trees of the forest are, and you murder it in cold blood, and then drag its frozen corpse into your living room, where you put it on display and decorate it like some sort of grisly war trophy. Brutal? Fir-sure. The Christmas tree may have some pre-Christ Christian connotations, since the Christmas trees were once decorated with hanging apples, perhaps to symbolize the paradise tree in the garden of Eden. Then again, they may have been decorated with apples and popcorn because electric light strings hadn’t been invented by Ben Franklin yet. The well lit, tinselly Christmas tree as we know it was really popularized by Queen Victoria’s husband, the German Prince Albert, who clearly just liked attaching shiny shit to things, since he also popularized shiny metal wiener piercings.

Tradition 6: Mistletoe. These colorful little plants were used by Druidic priests 200 years before Mary’s first missed period, and they have nothing to do with Christianity. The Druids liked them because they stayed green in winter. It has associations with Frigga, the Scandinavian goddess of love, which explains why you can get away with kissing people other than your spouses while standing under this little magic plant.

Tradition 7: Holly and Ivy. Similar to Mistletoe, these plants were revered because they stayed green and pretty in winter when the whole world was grey and bleak. Also if you hung them over your door, their magic protected you from Kharoulke the Wind-walker, or winter vampires or something.

Tradition 8: Candy Canes. Used by clever parents to keep their bratty kids quiet during long boring-ass church services, Candy Canes have been popular since the 17th century, but they really took off in the 1950’s when a machine was invented to mass produce them.

Tradition 9: Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer. The Montgomery-Ward Company, department store operators, used to purchase and distribute children’s stories as gifts to their customers during the Christmas season. In an effort to save money, they commissioned one of their own employees, Robert May, to write his own story, so they could just distribute that for free instead. In 1939, he wrote Rudolph, which he based on his own experiences as a weak nerdy little outcast growing up, and that year more than 2 million copies were distributed. By 1947, May was able to recover the copyright for the story, which he then produced commercially for the first time, making him a rich man and making Rudolph an enduring hit amongst misfit youth.

Tradition 10: Horrible Claymation Christmas specials from the 1960s and 70s on TV. I…have no ideas why these are still aired. They’re terrible. Same with horrible public domain Christmas music, which is endlessly covered and redone by whatever talent-less hack can blow their way into an open recording studio, and then constantly shoved into our earholes by heartless corporations starting in mid November every. single. year.  even though I clearly explained to them that if I have to hear one more Katy Perry cover of Jingle Bells, the whole world is going to burn.

Tradition 11: Christmas Caroling. At some point there must have been a well-meaning but idiotic church choirmaster somewhere who created Christmas Caroling as a thing, and may he burn in hell for all eternity. I have fucking Pandora and iTunes, I don’t need that shit. If I want to hear live music, i’ll buy concert tickets. The only thing worse than hearing professional singers grunt out another wretched Christmas tune on the radio is having a herd of untrained, tone deaf, unprofessional singers do it. Live. At your house. Uninvited. Do you know who I want showing up at my house uninvited? Nobody. Ever. And it’s not like they’re trick or treating, you can’t even bribe them with candy to go away. Nooooo, they’re going to insist on standing on your front stoop and singing every fucking song in their Christmas music song book, including the second and third verses that nobody really knows, not even them, but they’ll still try to gargle through it like a Japanese chick at a Bukkake factory while you stand awkwardly in your dressing robe nodding your head like you appreciate their butchered rendition of the little drummer boy as visions of mass murder dance in your head.

Tradition 12: The Gallon Milk Challenge. This one isn’t terribly widespread yet, but I would like it to be. In this tradition, my cousins and I, after gorging ourselves on Christmas dinner, and stuffing our face with Santa’s cookies, and eating hot peppers to give ourselves some incentive, drink as much milk as possible, as quickly as possible, until we vomit everywhere. The last one to vomit, or the first one to finish their milk, wins. This Christmas tradition was tolerated by our parents and aunts and uncles and grandma when we were children, since it just meant we would surely be visited by Krampus and beaten with tube socks full of batteries in the night, but now that we’re almost thirty I fear our beloved tradition is less than popular amongst whoever happens to be hosting our Christmas gathering that year.

These are all the pre-eminent universal Christmas traditions I could think of. If you think of any more, please let me know about them, so that we may wallow in the world’s crapulence together.

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About Max T Kramer

Max has been better than you at writing since the third grade. He currently lives in Connecticut, but will someday return to the desert.
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