Is Christmas Only About Traditions?

My older brothers had a favorite Christmas tradition. They used to save up the cardboard tubes from those rolls of wrapping paper and whap me with them until my mother made them stop. Through the years, our Christmas traditions became less violent. They involved sleeping under the Christmas tree, watching Star Wars, making Norwegian Lefsa, and cramming our house with relatives on Christmas Eve to eat too much and retell stories of Christmas past. Here are some unusual traditions from around the world.

In Caracas, Venezuela, it is customary for the entire city to roller-skate to early morning Christmas Mass. In Slovakia, the eldest man in the house takes a spoonful of loksa pudding and throws it at the ceiling – the more that sticks, the better. In Bavaria, a noisy Christmas tradition has taken hold. Wearing the traditional costume of lederhosen, Bavarian highlanders fire mortars into the air. South Africans celebrate by eating plump, fuzzy caterpillars of the emperor moth, fried in oil. Yum. Greenlanders eat Mattak, a raw whale skin served with blubber, and Kiviak, a seal skin stuffed with dead auk birds, then buried and left to ferment for three months. I think a Scotsman tried to introduce Haggis to them, but couldn’t remember the recipe.

On Christmas Eve, North American kids are told that Santa rides a sleigh pulled by eight reindeer, but he switches over to a kangaroo in Australia, paddles a canoe in Hawaii, gallops on a horse through the Netherlands, clumps by donkey in Switzerland, and is dropped from heaven on a golden cord into the Czech Republic.

Well, I suppose traditions give us a sense of comfort, of belonging, and they bring back memories. For many, that’s all Christmas is. A tradition. A jolly old elf, some reindeer, and overdosing on presents. Christmas hymns stir warm memories, but the lyrics are largely ignored. The Child in a manger makes a nice ornament, but we live as if He never lived. But He did – and He’s alive today. When Jesus was born in that manger, a light shone on our dark world that will never be extinguished. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him will not perish but have everlasting life.”

Wherever you are and whatever you eat, a very merry Christmas. Now I’d better run. My brother is coming over and I’ve been collecting those little cardboard wrapping paper tubes. Let the whapping begin.

Phil Callaway

Phil Callaway, the host of Laugh Again, is an award-winning author and speaker, known worldwide for his humorous yet perceptive look at life.

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