It is less than a week until the most anticlimactic day of the year: December 26th. I’m reminded of how my Father often joked that the day after Christmas is the day the world goes from “jingle bells” to “juggle bills.”
I always associate Christmas with my family, and can accurately predict their reactions as next December 26th approaches, because every year at the end of the day every member of my family always sighs and says “This was the best Christmas ever.” Rather than nod in agreement, this year I plan to remind them that honor probably goes to the very first one (and the fact that our family has a severe shortage of wise men and virgins).
I’ve always found holiday traditions a little strange. The word “holiday” originates from “holy day.” But I have trouble associating our customs with the event we are celebrating.
On Easter, Jesus rose from the dead – so I’ll decorate chicken embryos and chew the ears off chocolate bunnies?
On February 14th in the year 237 A.D., Saint Valentine was clubbed and beheaded by an angry mob – so I’ll give my girlfriend red panties?
On March 17th Saint Patrick chased the snakes out of Ireland – so I’ll drink green beer till I puke?
On December 25th Jesus was born – so a fat man comes down my chimney?
Ah, the fat man, the most famous of holiday figures. If you live in Turkey, you know that St. Nicholas was born in Patara, and went on to become a famous Turkish Archbishop known for his kindness to children. Of course if you live in Persia, you’ve never even heard of Santa and you don’t get gifts from him (which totally sucks for little Persian dudes). And if you grew up in Belgium, you had two Santa figures; St. Nicholas for kids who speak the Waloon language, and another for children who speak French called “Pere Noel.” I think the two-Santa concept should be used at stores in America, one for regular kids, and one for kids who want ten items or less.
While some little boys grew up wanting to be policemen, or firemen, or rock stars, I grew up wanting to be Santa. After all, he “knows when you are sleeping,” how cool is that? I longed for the ability to enter homes with locked doors with ease (almost as much as I longed for that list of which girls are naughty).
The main drawback to being Santa would be living at the North Pole, since I find cold weather very disagreeable. In Brazil they believe “Father Noel” lives in Greenland, which is just a tiny bit warmer. And in Holland they believe St. Nick lives in sunny Spain, which has a wonderful climate. Kids in Czechoslovakia believe “Suaty Mikalas” resides in Almost Heaven (presumably the one that is not West Virginia) climbing down to Earth each year on a golden rope. In Sweden, “Tomte” lives underneath the floorboards in your house, and rides a straw goat, (thus I would never want to be Santa in Sweden because I couldn’t handle straw burns on my thighs).
Since December 22nd is the first day of summer in the southern hemisphere, Santa is known to arrive on Australian beaches riding a surfboard. Cool! The Aussies are not the only ones with a seagoing Santa. In Greece, St. Nicholas is also the Patron Saint of Sailors, so his beard drips seawater. No Greek ship ever leaves port without a St. Nicholas icon on board. In Spain, the traditional Christmas figure, “Balthazar,” rides a donkey, so kids leave their shoes in windowsills filled with straw, carrots, and barley in hopes the donkey stops there. Like Spain, in Venezuela they also look forward to a visit from “Balthazar, King of Ethiopians.” And since most Ethiopians are black, children wake Christmas morning and race to the mirror looking for a black smudge on their cheek indicating “Balthazar” has kissed them in their sleep. (How ridiculous, if a kiss from a black person left a black smudge, then Thomas Jefferson would look like Al Jolson.)
The Netherlands also has some very politically incorrect Christmas traditions. They believe that instead of elves, Santa hangs out with “Black Petes,” mean men with black skin and afros who carry switches and put naughty children in bags to ship them away. St. Nick is not the kind jolly man Americans have come to love, but a strict disciplinarian who carries a Birch rod to beat little ones. Parents use him to threaten their offspring, as in “You better clean your room or St. Nicholas will beat you and the Black Petes will ship you away.” This is the closest the Dutch get to racial profiling.
The Netherlands is certainly not the only place Santa has questionable associates. In Austria he is accompanied by the Devil himself, who demands children give him a list of their deeds over the past year. In Hungary, Santa not only travels with the Devil, the Devil has a switch. And in the Czech Republic, St. Nick hangs with a Devil that carries a whip! That certainly makes our American elves look better, even the one that wants to be a dentist.
In some cultures there is no Santa at all. In Japan they believe in a priest named “Hoteiosha” who has eyes in the back of his head. In Italy and Sicily the Christmas presents are delivered by a female, “Bafana,” an ugly witch who was told by the wise men that Jesus was born, but she was busy cleaning her house (another politically incorrect concept). She later lost the Star and has been flying around on her broomstick ever since, leaving gifts at houses with children, just in case Baby Jesus is there. In the part of the world formerly known as Russia, they share a similar belief, except their “Babushika” refused to travel with the wise men because the weather was cold. Duh?! It’s December. It’s Russia. You don’t have to be Al Roker to know it will be cold?
With all these witches and devils flying around, Christmas can be scary. In Scotland they are afraid of the elves. It’s considered bad luck to let your fire go out on Christmas Eve because a bad elf might fly down your chimney. (But after seeing the dental work in Scotland, or lack thereof, I can understand how they might fear that elf that wanted to be a dentist.)
In Denmark an elf does all the work, his name is “Nisse.” In Norway an elf is also the central Christmas figure, “Julebukk,” which translates into “Christmas Buck.” (I’m sure many American merchants share the Norwegians anticipation of the annual visit of the “Christmas Buck.”) With both “Nisse” and “Julebukk” children are taught that if they don’t leave a bowl of food out, the elf will play a mean trick on them. This reminds me of the American tradition of Halloween, where we teach our children extortion. In the part of the world formerly known as Yugoslavia, the Christmas tradition involves children creeping into the room and tying their mother to a chair, then shouting “Mother’s Day, Mother’s Day, what will you pay to get away?” She must trade gifts for her freedom. The following week the little gangsters lean on their father. I think the message here is “kidnapping pays.”
I’ll close with one of my favorite Christmas stories. My friend, Evelyn, had a grandfather that was getting senile and the more things he forgot the more irritated his wife would get. While Evelyn was driving them to their family Christmas party, her forgetful grandfather asked, “Whose birthday party are we going to?” Her grandmother snapped and shouted, “I think his name is Jesus!”
So, no matter where you are, or how you do it, I wish you all very “Happy Birthday Jesus.”
“The Laff Guru” has taken his message of LAUGHTER=NIRVANA to all 50 states and 23 countries. His awards include: “Comic of the Year,” “Campus Performer of the Year,” and a “Cable Ace Award.” His credits include over fifty TV appearances, including: Showtime and The Late Show. He is represented by GP Entertainment. To find out more about his award-winning comedy act please visit: laffguru.com