Christmas has always been a unique and interesting holiday for me. Being the Jewish adopted son of a Pentecostal preacher, Christmukkah – as I call it – is a time to try out new traditions, at least for me it is.
Here’s a couple new ones I want to try out during this year’s celebrations.
The Poop Log. This is when I drop that little phrase off followed by a nice long pause so as to let “The Poop Log” settle in during a time when we’re supposed to be thinking of peace on Earth and goodwill toward men. This tradition comes from Catalonia and I’m really looking forward to springing this on my nieces and nephews this year.
Described as a yule branch with a scatological spin, the “Tio de Nadal” is a hollow log that has stick legs, a smiley face and a floppy red hat. On Dec. 8, families bring out the very happy log. Each night, the kids have a holiday chore of feeding the log. They give him (or her, we believe in equal opportunity here at Connecting Vets) nuts, dried fruit and water. Also every night, Poopsie (that’s the name I’m give him) gets covered up with a blanket so he stays nice and warm too. One never wants a cold poop log I guess.
Then on Christmas Eve, the kids gather around Poopsie and beat him with sticks while singing the traditional song. Now, I’m going to edit this slightly to keep this PG rated, but the song goes like this, “Poop log, poop nougats, hazelnuts and mato cheese, if you don’t poop well, I’ll hit you with a stick, Poop Log!” (If you’re wondering, poop is the word I’ve changed, the original word rhymes with stick.”
And then the true miracle of Christmas happens: the kids look under the blanket and find that Poopsie has pooped out a pile of candy and presents. You know he’s done when a stinky herring is present – which leads to so many comments, none of which I can write down here. Once you get the herring, the family burns Poopsie for warmth.
The poop log isn’t the only holiday tradition of defecation in Catalonia. Look at any nativity scene and you’ll find a very special man named Caganer. He’s copping a squat in front of Mary, Joseph, the camels and shepherds. This isn’t sacrilegious; by fertilizing the holy ground he’s claiming a prosperous harvest for the New Year. And people give my people grief for playing with dreidels?
In South Africa, Christmas hits during the summer. Even with a temperature difference, it’s a festive time of the year. Schools are closed for a month and families plan trips to the beach, river or mountains. Houses are decorated with pine branches, and inside, a big Christmas tree gets surrounded by presents.
Many of the country’s traditions would seem very familiar to us. Carolers wander through the streets singing songs on each corner. A big difference is how they eat dinner, it being summer and all. The summer midday heat forces everyone outside for lunch instead of a Christmas dinner. On Christmas Eve, kids hang their stockings for Father Christmas to fill – just like us. And the children leave cookies out for the man in red, again, just like us, but here’s where things take a decidedly different turn.
Many years ago, there was a boy named Danny. From what I can dig up, Danny was a bit of a brat. He would eat all the cookies that were left out for Father Christmas. This made Danny’s grandmother mad and in a fit of cookie-rage, she killed her grandson. To this day, Danny haunts homes during Christmas, going after the children who eat Father Christmas’ cookies.
I can’t wait to tell that story to my nephews while we’re decorating cookies this year.
The last unique holiday tradition is one that I’ve been very fortunate to experience. And I would highly recommend giving it a try, with one pretty big caveat.
It happens in one of my most favorite places in the world, Puerto Rico. I lived there for three years, and at Christmastime, no one gets much sleep. Once the sun goes down, groups of people pile into flatbed trucks with instruments, food and plenty of booze to celebrate. One night, there was a knock at my door and it was my landlady’s brother, inviting me out for the night. I grabbed a bottle of rum and happily jumped in back of the truck.
We spent the night driving around, stopping from time to time to make an impromptu street party. Neighborhoods would block streets and open their doors to everyone. The food and drink would flow at each stop. As the night progressed, more and more people would join us and the truck turned into a traveling concert hall.
One of the last things I remember from the night was being taught the Forbidden Dance by an eighty something year old woman. I was the only white person around, lambada-ing to the oldies, in the mountains of Puerto Rico. It was heaven-on-a-stick. The love and warmth from everyone was incredible. It wasn’t until the next day when I found out that my landlady’s brother was a member of the terrorist organization “Los Macheteros.”
She had told him to act nice and be “Christmassy” with me. All in all, I highly recommend doing something like that, this year during the holidays. But maybe without a terrorist sitting next to you. But then again, with the whole peace on Earth, goodwill toward men thing… maybe it wouldn’t hurt to find a terrorist to party with this year.
Whatever your traditions are, I hope you have a most wonderful end to 2017.