The Holidays are here. Seems to happen every year about this time, like the winter flu – predictable, notable, and unavoidable.
Last Christmas was great; three little girls, a beautiful, sparkly tree, wonderful food and fun with friends. Pixie and I stayed up late on Christmas Eve, wrapping presents and reminiscing. We talked, among thousands of other things, about some holidays past. I always love to hear the details of people’s holiday traditions; there are so many similarities, but each family develops their own spin.
One of the most memorable Christmases I ever had was with my then-boyfriend and his parents in Rancho Mirage. They are Jewish, and knowing I was not, they provided their version of the holiday: I woke to a Santa Claus placemat upon which were some excellent bagels and lox. And who can forget the infamous Tex Marx party in NYC on a certain 80’s New Year’s Eve? (Yeah, not Tex Mex. We had Russian vodka and Texan chili. Posters of Karl Marx and John Wayne and… never mind.)
Another family that I spent several Midwestern winters amongst had Scandinavian origins. During a couple frigid holidays on a frozen lake, far north in Wisconsin, we made these little anise-flavored cookies that were a mandatory tradition. Making those cookies was as arduous as mixing cement and they baked up hard as a petrified dinosaur turd. “Dip them in coffee,” I was told. Neighbors, I swear you could soak that cookie for months and it would still break a tooth. I can only surmise that the Swedes are an inhospitable lot – what a rascally trick to play on your guests. If you are ever amongst the northern Europeans, especially if they sound anything like Sarah Palin or the lady cop in Fargo, and you are offered a small licorice smelling cookie, RUN AWAY. However, the same family also made chili rellenos for Christmas dinner (among about 20 other dishes)… those chilis were transcendent…
All this reminiscing made me wonder how other cultures celebrate our revered Trifecta of holidays: Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s. I did a little research online*, and what I found was fascinating.
In Russia, because of the privations of war and revolution and communism, many Russian families cannot afford turkeys or hams for their celebrations. Instead, in a tradition passed down since Tzar Ringo the Great, they lovingly craft the likeness of a roast bird or swine from mashed beets and turnips, which is glazed with vodka and baked at 350 for seven hours.
In Jamaica, the people eat charbroiled breadfruit and drink homemade beer brewed from seaweed, which makes them forget that breadfruit has the exact taste and texture of pizza boxes… at least they have Reggae.
In France, during the holidays guests are served many rich sauces and smelly cheeses, most of which are fed to the poodles on the sly, because the French are not allowed to gain weight. Anything over a 6 pound gain is punished by having to spend the next holiday exiled to Russia. It’s the law! Next door, in Spain, everyone feasts grandly then takes a siesta until March. In Switzerland the annual winter chocolate carving contest dates back to 2400 B.C. And in England, they dress for dinner, eat roast beef in pie crust and then don kilts, dance around, and tell Scottish jokes.
In Canada, they put gravy on everything, and wish it were Monday so they can go to the doctor for free. In Mexico, there are holiday donkey races where each burro is named for a saint. The owner of the winning donkey gets his prayers answered; the donkey gets tattooed like a zebra. In Iceland, on the New Year, the locals eat seal blubber shish-ka-bobs, jump naked into the hot springs, and try not to kill themselves because the days are 3 hours long.
The Greeks play music on lutes and accordians, have the least attractive persons in the village dance together, and feast on octopus, barbequed goat, and a seasonal salad gleaned from the dead sticks of the olive trees. They make a super strong drink (made from fermented fennel juice, olive pits and clams) to choke that mess down! Meanwhile, in South Africa, things get really wild. They have giant raves at the soccer field, and they enjoy not just shrimp on the barbie, but kangaroo, giant squid, monitor lizard, blowfish, python, dwarf Rhodesian monkey burgers and deep fried hibiscus flowers! Wow, not a breadfruit in sight for this bunch.
In Saudia Arabia and Kuwait, the men groom their camels in preparation for the winter’s solstice, while the women play bridge and shop on QVC. Later the entire family – which can number into the hundreds with all the wives, offspring and assorted in laws – gets together in the family vault and counts their gold bars. The annual tally is toasted with the milk of peacocks. Chinese holidays are celebrated by lots of tremendous fireworks. Whosoever gets his hand blown off is considered lucky. They get a complete government pension, free health care and all the noodles he can eat, for life.
In Japan, the racing with the dolphins is a winter tradition. The most fit young men and women water ski with the “People of the Sea” for days as the migrating dolphins pass the islands. Then they recite poetry, eat sushi and drink hot chocolate. Farther into the Pacific, on the remote island of Tuhunga, the natives have pizza delivered on Christmas Eve, and open every single present. Before Christmas Day! They don’t even save the stockings. They eat huge, extra large pizzas, with tons of extra cheese and toppings, then gorge on candy and oranges from their stockings, then open every gift, eat every cheese ball and drink every single bottle of Smart Water. Then they play Scrabble until dawn. The next morning they attend church, which luckily, is open to the sea breezes.
It certainly was fascinating researching the world’s holiday traditions. But I think I like the best of our American traditions the best. Like giving the gifts of time, listening, service, doing, caring. I also dig good Christmas cookies. As long as they don’t smell like licorice.
The Mountain Mouth
“The Mountain Mouth” copyright 2011 by Kate MacDonald
The content of this column and the opinions herein are the sole issue of the author and intended as entertainment only.The countries, nations, and governments and peoples listed above; the author, her relatives, friends, photographers and contributors; and all other humans no matter who they are will not be responsible for any use or misuse of any of the information or opinions contained herein. Always consult a doctor before adopting any new diet or exercise program.