by Joey Green
I've always been fascinated by Christmas. On December 25, millions of people around the world celebrate Jesus' birthday—even though no one really knows on which day Jesus was actually born. But we do know that December 25 marks the birth of Sir Isaac Newton, Humphrey Bogart, and Jimmy Buffet. Christmas also marks the day George Washington crossed the Delaware, and Christopher Columbus' ship, the Maria, sank off the coast of what is now the Dominican Republic. Comedian W.C. Fields, who said he hated Christmas, died on Christmas day. So did Charlie Chaplin. And every year Santa Claus skips millions of Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, and Jewish homes. Yet no on has filed a class-action discrimination lawsuit against him.
For my book, Weird and Wonderful Christmas: Curious and Crazy Customs and Coincidences from Around the World [Black Dog and Leventhal, $12.95], I searched high and low for the weirdest, wackiest, and wildest Christmas traditions ever. I discovered that in Australia, instead of milk, children leave out beer for Santa Claus. I learned that the Chicago Tribune holds an annual "Scared of Santa" contest for the best photo of a kid shrieking on Santa's lap. And I found out that Santa Claus does not live at the North Pole at all, according to the Finns, but in Lapland inside Korvatunturi Mountain.
Here are twelve of my favorite weird Christmas traditions—just in time for the twelve days of Christmas. (There are hundreds more in the book, which makes a great stocking stuffer by the way—hint, hint, hint.)
O, Come All Ye Hungry
On Christmas day, southern Africans celebrate by eating plump, fuzzy caterpillars of the emperor moth (Gonimbrasia belina), fried in oil.
On Christmas Eve, Santa Claus may ride a sleigh pulled by eight reindeer over North America, but during the night he frequently switches modes of transportation. Santa rides a kangaroo in Australia, he paddles a canoe in Hawaii, he rides a horse in the Netherlands, he travels by a donkey in Switzerland, and he is dropped from heaven on a golden cord into the Czech Republic.
Don't Mess with Santa
The Scottsdale Gun Club in Arizona hosts "Santa and Machine Guns," an annual event giving families the opportunity to have their holiday photo taken with Santa Claus and AK-47s, grenade launchers, and machine guns—the ultimate "Peace on Earth" message.
Here Comes Santa Claus
The largest gathering of people dressed like Santa Claus took place on December 10, 2010, when more than 18,000 people dressed as Santa Claus marched through the streets of the Portuguese city of Porto.
Deck the Garbage
Every year, workers at the Rumpke Sanitary Landfill near Cincinnati, Ohio string 30,000 Christmas lights across the garbage mound, which stretches over 234 acres and rises 279 feet high. The display includes 25-foot-tall candy canes. No, there's nothing quite like garbage decorated with lights to instill the holiday spirit.
In 1902, as an avid conservationist and ardent opponent of deforestation, President Theodore Roosevelt banned putting up a Christmas tree in the White House. Roosevelt's son Archie snuck his own Christmas tree into the White House, rigging it up in a large closet. Today, Americans celebrate Christmas by chopping down 27 million fir trees.
The Christmas Spider
Ukranians decorate Christmas trees with an artificial spider and web. Ukrainian legend holds that tinsel originated when a spider wove cobwebs all over a Christmas tree at night and the rising sun turned it into silver. Finding a real spider on Christmas morning is considered good luck.
During the Santa Claus World Championships, held in Samnaun, Switzerland, teams of Santa Clauses from around the world compete against one another in chimney climbing, snowball fighting, sledge racing, donkey trekking, and Santa skiing—in the hope of capturing the title "Santa Claus World Champion."
On Christmas Eve, the streets of Caracas, Venezuela are blocked off so people can roller-skate to church.
Eight of the top ten Christmas songs of all time were written by Jews, including the most popular Christmas song ever—"(I'm Dreaming of a) White Christmas," by Irving Berlin. Other beloved Christmas songs written by Jews include "Santa Claus is Coming to Town," "The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting by an Open Fire)," "We Need a Little Christmas," "Holly Jolly Christmas," "Silver Bells," "Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow," and "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer."
Why So Jolly?
In 2005, Santa Claus topped a list of the world's richest fictional people compiled by Forbes magazine, which estimated his net worth at infinity—followed by Daddy Warbucks (with $27.3 billion), Richie Rich (with $17 billion), and Lex Luther (with $10 billion).
Yes, Virginia, You Can Clean a Toilet with a Christmas Tree
In the nineteenth century, London entrepreneurs made the first artificial Christmas trees from green raffia, the twin used to make grass hula skirts. The Germans followed suit by fashioning fake tabletop trees from goose feathers dyed green. Ultimately, in the 1930s, the Addis Brush Company used its toilet brush weaving machinery to create pine-like branches for its popular version of the artificial Christmas tree.
Copyright Ⓒ 2012 by Joey Green. All rights reserved. Reprinted from The Huffington Post.