I’m not a big fan of Elf on a Shelf. Even though it originated in Marietta, Ga., and I should be proud a local woman created a new Christmas tradition with her mom, I just think it’s creepy.
If you are unfamiliar with the concept, their website describes the Elf on the Shelf as “a special scout elf sent from the North Pole to help Santa Claus manage his naughty and nice lists.”
Basically you buy the doll, give it a name, and he “flies” to the North Pole every night to tell Santa what you did. And there are rules. The elf can’t be touched and an elf cannot speak or move while anyone in the house is awake. His job, to watch and listen. Sounds like he works for the NSA.
But this certainly isn’t the oddest Christmas tradition out there. All over the world there are customs that we as Americans would think bizarre, and one has even been influenced by an American company.
Since poultry is rare in Japan, there’s a new custom in the Asian nation of ordering chicken from the fast food chain KFC. That’s right, Kentucky Fried Chicken. KFC began advertising its chicken as an important part of the Japanese holiday season several decades ago and now that country has embraced the fried delicacy at Christmas. Customers reserve their buckets months in advance, and those who put off buying their’s until Christmas Eve have to wait in lines that can last for blocks outside the restaurant.
An offensive one in the Netherlands is Zwarte Piet, or Black Peter. He is Santa’s slave who abducts children that misbehave, taking them back to Spain. Apparently that it where Santa and Peter spend their off-season. Who knew? The Dutch even dress up as Black Peter, along with black face and Afro wigs, to accompany Santa. After being criticized for being racially insensitive Peter’s backstory has changed, saying his blackface is merely the result of chimney soot. That still doesn’t explain the Afro.
There’s an old midwinter custom in Wales called Mari Lwyd, which means “gray mare,” and is currently made of a horse’s skull attached to a pole. The tradition involves the arrival of the horse and its party at a pub, where they sing several introductory verses. Then people inside and the party outside exchange challenges and insults in rhyme. At the end of the “battle,” the outside party enters with another song. A festive kind of bar fight.
In Sweden residents build a gigantic Yule goat in the town square of Gävle, but it doesn’t last long. Every year arsonists burn the 42 foot hay structure to the ground. This year officials are hopeful the giant goat will last until Christmas, since they soaked the animal in anti-flammable liquid. At press time, the goat was still there.
The children of Barcelona are taught an odd song, that they sing to painted logs. The kids take care of, and then beat, a Tio de Nadal log while asking it to poop them presents. These joyful innocent young ones sing this song to the chunks of wood: “S**t log, s**t nougats, hazelnuts and cottage cheese, if you don’t s**t well, I’ll hit you with a stick, s**t log!” I can’t make this stuff up.
But by far the scariest tradition comes out of Austria. The Christmas season starts there on December 5th with Krampusnacht Krampus, St. Nick’s demonic polar opposite. This goat-horned devil shakes rusty chains and sticks at passing children. According to the legend, naughty kids are snatched by Krampus and dragged to his mountain lair.
I guess that irritating elf doesn’t sound so bad after all. I think I’ll just stick with the traditions I grew up with. Because there’s nothing odd about erecting a live tree in my living room, or having a fat man, thousands of miles from his home, coming down my chimney to bring gifts, and all he wants from me in the middle of the night is a cookie or two. Duh.