Up Front 12/17

Christmas might be a time of good will, but it also has its fair share of strange tradition and quite wacky customs. One that always draws a smile is a custom in Caracas, Venezuela. On going to bed on Christmas Eve, young children would tie a piece of string to one of their toes and hang the other end out of the window. In the morning, people roller skating to Christmas services would tug on the strings that hung out of the windows. Another tradition, practised in Catalonia, involves a character called Caga Tió or Tió de Nadal. A small hollowed out log is given little stick legs and a face is painted on one end. The log sits on a table and is fed with fruit, nuts and sweets from December 8th. Then, on Christmas Eve, the poor log is beaten until the goodies pop out. To give little Tió encouragement to release its bounty of fruit and nuts, a song about ‘pooping’ is sung during the process. ‘If you don’t poop well, I’ll hit you with a stick—poop log’, is one translation. Decorating a Christmas tree is a traditional activity for many of us here in the UK, but how many people hide a pickle in the tree? Although it is also said to be a tradition in Germany, many US households will adorn their Christmas trees with pickles after a custom they claim began in the American Civil War. A private, taken prisoner over the Christmas period, begged his guard for some food. The guard gave him a pickle, which the prisoner later claimed saved him from dying of starvation. Afterwards, he always hid a pickle in his Christmas tree, thus starting a new tradition. Another wacky Christmas tradition is from a little closer to home. In Wales there is a ritual known as Mari Lwyd. A villager parades around the streets hidden inside a white sheet carrying a horse’s skull on a pole that sticks out of the top. Along with friends, he stops at houses and local pubs to engage in song and banter with other locals. Often the skull’s jaw is engineered to allow it to snap at those around it. The Czech Republic has a useful system for unmarried women to help them plan for the year ahead. They have to stand at the door and throw a shoe over their shoulder. If the toe lands pointing toward the door, they will be married in the coming year. It is said that the London Underground warning ‘Stand clear of the doors’ was originally announced by a Czech gentleman with a stiletto lodged in his forehead… Sorry, couldn’t resist that. Merry Christmas.