Thursday, December 15, 2011

Weird Christmas Holiday Traditions: Part Deux

‘Tis the season, yet again and this year I decided to revisit my list from Christmas 2009 - Weird Christmas Holiday Traditions.  

When I wrote that list I’d thought I’d hit some of the weirdest Christmas traditions that I’d ever heard of, but as it turns out there’s all sorts of kooky stuff going on out there in the world!

5. KFC Christmas Dinner (Japan)

You read that right.  Nothing completes a Christmas dinner in Japan like a big ol’ bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken.

The mid-70s in Japan were a great jumping on point for many American businesses in the land of the rising sun.  Japan was soaking in American culture at a breakneck pace, and that meant one of its greatest exports: fast food.

KFC was trying itself in Japan’s markets and would craft an unusual and incredibly beneficial foothold with Japanese fast food patrons.  Rumour has it that a Christian missionary ordered a bucket one Christmas because they couldn’t find a proper turkey to have for dinner.  Seeing an opportunity, KFC jumped on this and marketed their buckets as the perfect Christmas dinner.

Japan is not known for their Christian demographic - which is around 0.5 to 1% of the population.  They do, however, love just about any American and commercial event they can be part of, so Christmas is actually incredibly popular there.  It’s a day when the whole family can have a meal, and has been marketed as a night when the woman of the house (this is Japan, remember) doesn’t have to prepare a meal.  They can simply order KFC!

It’s so popular as Christmas dinner that you have to order your buckets a month in advance.  Yes, a month minimum.  It is completely commonplace to call in early November to order your chicken, and line-ups leaving KFCs on December 23rd, 24th and 25th snake throughout shopping districts in Japan.

In one night more than a half a months worth of chicken will be sold in KFC’s nationwide in Japan, and as much as 7000 pieces of the Colonel’s original recipe will be sold in specific locations around major cities, like Tokyo.

Colonel Sanders would be so proud.

4. Sticky Loksa (Slovakia)

This has to be one of the messiest traditions I’ve ever heard of.

In areas of Eastern Europe there is a tradition meant to bring good fortune and richer harvests in the following year.  Said tradition is to throw their dinner all over the house.

Loksa is a traditional Christmas dish served in areas of Slovakia and the Ukraine.  Made of sweetened poppy seeds, bread and water the loksa are prepared and served with the Holy Supper of Christmas, known as Stedry Vercer.  Before the meal begins, however, the man of the house (you never hear this stuff in North America anymore!) will throw loksa at the ceiling and hope for it to stick.  The more loksa that stick, the better the harvest will be in the new year, or so the story goes.  Other bread/potato-like dishes that are often thrown at the ceiling include bobalki and kutia.

Why?  Poppyseeds are considered lucky in these European countries, which goes back to Pagan beliefs that spreading poppyseeds in front of one’s door would keep evil spirits at bay, as they are so pre-occupied with picking up and counting each seed they won’t be able to enter your home at night.

That’s not all the food throwing that goes on, though.  Walnuts are commonly thrown into each corner of the room before dinner, as a blessing on the house.  Another practice is to break open the walnuts and use them to divine the next year’s fortunes.  Each quarter of the walnut represents the four seasons of the year, so if one portion is particularly big that means good fortune, but conversely if one section is blackened or shriveled it could mean bad luck in the following year.

I’m not sure why they throw the walnuts into the corners of the home as a blessing, nor why poppyseed-infused foods sticking to the ceiling are a good thing, but I do know one thing: the five-second rule better be in full effect!

3. Goat Burning (Sweden)

To begin explaining this one, we need some back story on the Yule Goat.  In Scandinavia, a goat is often connected to their Christmas traditions and is one of their major symbols for the holiday.  There are stories in Finland of an ugly goat creature that would scare children at Christmas (or Yule) demanding gifts, or of an invisible goat that would make sure that the preparations for Yule were carried out correctly.

This all stems from old Norse traditions where goats, meant to represent Odin’s goats Tanngrisnir and Tanngnjostr, were sacrificed to Odin for fortune in the new year.  The story went that Odin would slaughter his two goats, which pulled his chariot, to feed guests during the winter feasts, and would resurrect them the next day.

At the turn of the century a Father Christmas character was introduced into the Scandinavian culture, but the Yule Goat still plays a prominent role in their Christmas traditions.  In fact, Father Christmas rides a goat in most Swedish stories and a common prank carried out around Christmas is for a small goat figure to be hidden in a friend or family’s home.  When or if they find the Yule Goat, they have to attempt the same thing in another friend or family member’s home and so on and so forth.

Now comes the story of the Gävle Goat.  In 1966, a consultant, Stig Gavlen, decided to erect a massive Yule Goat made entirely from straw and wood in the Swedish city of Gävle.  The first of these massive tributes to the Yule Goat would reach as high as 43 ft and were created by Gavlen from 1966 to 1970 and then from 1986 to 2002.

Why the 16 year break?  It was due to the frustration caused by a brand new tradition of destroying the Yule Goat.

At the stroke of midnight, New Year’s 1967, the 3-tonne Yule Goat was set ablaze and burned to the ground.  As a result, those involved with the building of the goat stepped up security the next year, and the goat was kept out of harm’s way.  The very next year, however, mischievous Swedes found a way to burn that goat to the ground as well.

After another year of successfully protecting the goat, Gavlen gave up trying and for several years the Nature Science Club of Gävle created a Yule Goat, that was even bigger than the earlier iterations.  These did not fair any better, however, as almost every year after 1969 the Gävle Goat has been destroyed by any means necessary.

The goat has not only been burned to the ground on many occasions, but because of increased security there have been different methods employed.  These include: being kicked to pieces, as the goat was fireproofed, shot with flaming arrows from afar, destroyed by natural events like blizzards and on one occasion a daring Swede even rammed into the goat with their car.

There was even one famous attack that involved hackers.  Several live webcams were aimed at the goat to keep it under constant surveillance.  A group of hackers took over the webcams placing text across them that read “burn the damn goat”.  A security force was then placed on the goat, but because of incredibly cold temperatures, the security guards ducked into a nearby restaurant to warm up, which is when a hidden vandal force attacked burning the goat to the ground.

Countless volunteers have attempted to protect the goat, and on several occasions they’ve succeeded, but conversely there have been times when multiple goats were erected only to be destroyed several times in one year.

On November 27th, 2011 a new Yule Goat was placed in the city square of Gävle.  It was sprayed down with water, which created a thick layer of ice around the goat, in hopes it would be more difficult to burn.  On December 2nd, however, the goat was once again burned to the ground.  

If you want some more information about the Gävle Goat, it has a blog and a Twitter account.  Have fun.

2. Krampus (Austria)

The Krampus is a mythical creature that appears in the Christmas stories of many Alpine countries, like Austria, Bavaria and Tyrol.

The Krampus is a cloven, horned beast that plays foil to St. Nicholas.  The story goes that when St. Nick would be out bringing good little children toys and goodies, that the Krampus would be trolling about for bad children.  When he came across one, he’d stuff them into his sack and then take them back to his lair to eat for Christmas dinner.

Krampus goes by many names, including Knecht Ruprecht, Certa, Perchten, Black Peter, Schmutzli, Pelznickel, and Klaubauf.  He is almost always depicted as a Hellbound, devil-like creature, but some times is depicted as a man in a black suit or a creature attempting to hide as a man.  

One can easily see where the Krampus comes from, as St. Nicholas is often depicted as an old man with a long, white beard, much like many depictions of God, and the Krampus itself very much depicts the Devil.  The history of Krampusnacht (Krampus Night) itself, however, holds ties in mummering, which I explained in my last Weird Christmas Holiday Traditions list.  

On Krampusnacht, celebrated on the eve of St. Nicholas Day (December 5th), revellers will dress as the Krampus or witches and parade through the city, scaring children with chains and their grisly attire.  This practice is not only popular in Austria, but is slowly being adopted into areas like Northern Italy and even the United States.

There was a time when Santa Claus was not only a giver of gifts to the good, but a punisher of wrong-doers.  In this day and age when children are allowed to have gifts at Christmas, even when they’ve been naughty, there are many adopting Krampus traditions in a way to bring the fear back to Christmas.

No.  I’m dead serious.

1. Rotten Auk Feast (Greenland)

Think of Christmas dinner in your home.  The turkey with all the fixings, mashed potatoes, stuffing, gravy; the works.

Now go to Greenland for Christmas.  You’ll get to experience a whole new Christmas bird: the auk.  The auk is a small, penguin-like bird that lives on the open sea surrounding Greenland. There a very popular Christmas dish is made from the auk known as kiviak.  It’s not baked to a delicious brown in your oven, though.  No.  The entire dead bird is wrapped in seal skin and left under a rock for a few months.  It’s then removed at Christmas time, the rotten organs and innerds removed and then the skin is eaten as a delicious Christmas treat.

I kid you not.

Around 500 of the birds are placed in a single seal skin.  The process was developed by the Inuit culture in the Greenlandic area, and it caries forward as a tradition to this day.  Much like turkey dinner, it isn’t only enjoyed at Christmas, but also as a feast during weddings and birthdays, but is the common Christmas treat in the area.

Many fish dishes are fermented in similar fashions throughout Asia, and several liquors are created from the process.  The guts removed from the auk in making the kiviak is, however, incredibly toxic and is often simply pushed out through the removed head of the bird, once the seal skin is dug up.

It is described as smelling and tasting like a strong cheese called Stilton and is considered a delicacy in the area.

I can’t imagine when I would think it was a good idea to bury a dead bird under a stone for several months and then risk toxic poison to enjoy the fermented skin, however, to each their own.

Merry Christmas!


cole d'arc said...

ive heard of all these except the number one, actually. Oh, Greenland.

i love how absolutely TERRIFYING Krampus is. i guess they figured that if you're going to make a foil for Santa, do it right. good god.

The slovakian way has somehow found its way into some of the Ukranian/Polish Christmas traditions i was exposed to on my father's side of the family. i know i've had it before.

The KFC Christmas dinner is my favourite - i just love everything those wacky Japanese get up to. i hope to one day celebrate a Christmas over there and join in the fun.

excellent research once again. bravo.

Shane said...

I have to say, I'm enjoying these holiday tradition lists which are becoming their own holiday tradition here at Five-O-Rama. Excellent stuff.

The KFC/Japan phenomenon is quite hilarious. Is it common for the oldest male of the household to take responsibility for carving the double down?

I love the Krampus. If my Evil Santa list wasn't indication enough, I love the idea of mixing dark themes with the cheer of Christmas, so I wholeheartedly think we should adopt these Krampus traditions. I want a crazy demon parade in December, goddamn it!

Did anyone else think of the movie "Donnie Darko" when they saw the picture of the Krampus? Just me? Okay.

#1 marks the first time I wanted to puke while reading an entry, so bravo to you, sir.

cole d'arc said...

oh, and congratulations on writing your thirtieth list. here's to many more.

Ryan said...

Thanks, guys! I really enjoyed writing this one. It's fun digging around for this obscure stuff.

When I researched the Loksa traditions, it actually mentioned the Ukraine, but I could find the most information on Slovakia's traditions, so that's what I went with.

I would love to have Krampus parade every year. I don't know if there's a Nova Scotia chapter, I might have to start one!

I didn't even realize it was my 30th list. Go me!