Thursday, December 20, 2012

Happy Christmas and Other Holiday Traditions

Christmas is absolutely my favorite time of year. I listen to Christmas music 24/7 during the Christmas season and all of the holiday spirit puts me in a perpetual mood of happiness. And so, it has been absolutely amazing to be able to experience my favorite holiday in my new favorite city--Oxford!

Happy Christmas. I have to say, I'm a little bit bummed at the lack of Happy Christmases being thrown about here in England. I just love the idea of saying Happy Christmas and I was excited to hear people say it. And people do, but not exclusively which kinda bummed me out. They still say Merry Christmas quite often and it is the primary greeting emblazoned on posters and shop windows. And all I wanted was Christmas cards that say Happy Christmas, but they all say Merry Christmas! What's up with that?

Christmas Crackers. A really exciting Christmas tradition that we've been able to partake in is Christmas Crackers. They are a cardboard tube wrapped in colorful wrapping that, using some sort of friction strip which causes it to make a cracking noise when you and a friend each pull on one end of the cracker. Inside each Christmas Cracker there is always a Christmas hat, which is a film or paper crown and some sort of prize. Really expensive Christmas Crackers could have something as big as dominos inside, but the ones we purchased were 8 for a pound, so ours just had stickers and a joke. But it was still a lot of fun. I wish we were allowed to take them on the plane, because I'd like to take some home to my family, but because some are made with a chemical used in gunpowder, they are a risk and aren't allowed.

 Book Your Party Now! The second day I was here (in September, mind you!) I saw a flier in a pub advertising the pub's Christmas party. Every pub in town has signs that say "Book your Christmas party today!" and it started months before Christmas. I wasn't even thinking about Christmas yet, and that's saying something. Having your office Christmas party or just a gathering of friends at the local pub seems to be a big thing here in England, which isn't all that prevalent in the US. And it seems as though it is much more of a thing to go out for Christmas dinner in the UK.

It's Never Too Early to Start the Christmas Festivities. With no pesky Thanksgiving standing in their way of kicking off the Christmas season, they start real early here. Seriously, I'm pretty sure there were Christmas lights hanging up in Oxford by the first weekend in November. They weren't all turned on yet, but they'd been hung up. Book Your Christmas Party Now had even more prominent spots on the pub counters. And as expected as soon as Halloween had passed every store had Christmas stock and decorations as that was the next logical holiday and Christmas music began being played everywhere. As someone who doesn't subscribe to the No Christmas Before Thanksgiving rule, I was pretty pleased.

Christmas Markets. Though not as common as in Germany, Christmas Markets are a really big deal in Europe. Nearly every major city will have at least a few Christmas Markets (there were 4 when we were in Paris at the beginning of December and there are some in London as well) as do smaller cities as well such as Birmingham and Winchester. These are filled with delicious food, Christmas music and trinkets and nick-nacks. I'm not all that fond of them, but perhaps because I haven't gone to the right ones.

A Catalan Christmas. Please excuse the profanity in this section. It's necessary to explain the strange Catalan traditions as they were explained to me. When we were in Barcelona, which is in the Catalonia section of Spain, we learned about a few of their... stranger Christmas traditions. This adorable little guy is called Tio de Nadal, but is more affectionately and popularly called Cagatio.This, in Catalan, means Shitting Log or Uncle Shit. I really wish I was kidding. Now, why would they call this adorable little guy Shitting Log? Easy, because he poops out your presents on Christmas day. I really really wish I was kidding. Let me explain, although the explanation won't really make anything clearer, I'm afraid. The Cagatio tradition begins on December 8th at the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. Everyday, children feed Cagatio orange peels and other snacks and cover with him a blanket so he won't get cold. At the month progresses, the parents replace him with larger and larger logs in order to give the impression that he is  growing. These children are feeding him and he's growing and they don't want him to get cold. Sweet right? Wrong. On Christmas Day (or Christmas Eve) the children really want their presents (as children do) so traditions goes that you must beat him with a stick in order to get him to poop your presents. Let me say that again. They beat him to get presents. I really really really wish I was kidding. When we were in Barcelona we say a giant Cagatio and there were droves of parents and children standing in line to beat Cagatio with a stick. Who wants to sit on Santa's lap and tell him what you want for Christmas when you can beat it out of an adorable little log you've been taking care of for the past few weeks.
To illustrate this further, here is an adorable little song they sing while beating the log:

"Caga tió,
caga torró,
avellanes i mató,
si no cagues bé
et daré un cop de bastó.
caga tió!"
 which translates to:
Shit log,
shit nougats (turrón),
hazelnuts and cottage cheese,
if you don't shit well,
I'll hit you with a stick,
shit log!

That's a great lesson to teach our children. If at first you don't get what you want, just beat it a little more and it'll all work out. After the Cagatio is finished delivering their Christmas presents, it apparently poops a salted herring or it urinates a little. Do not even ask how that is accomplished.  All in all, this is not a tradition I'll be adopting. This picture sums up my thought of the Cagatio tradition perfectly.

And I wish this was the end of their strange Christmas traditions. It's not. There's also the Caganer. Did you recognize the first root word in that noun. Yep, its caga. A caganer is also called a "shitter" and it goes in the Nativity scene. Yep, you heard that right. It's traditionally hidden somewhere in the back of the Nativity scene and is a bit of a game for children to find. This is just one example of a caganer. You can find them of basically any person or character: footballers, celebrities, Spongebob, the Queen, Barack Obama, the possibilities are virtually endless. I've been  told that sometimes they have the wise men as Caganers, but never the Virgin Mary, because that'd be blasphemous. As if the entire tradition isn't? But I might be a little biased considering how much I hate potty humor. 

Something tells me that as much as I love Barcelona, it would probably not be the place for me to celebrate Christmas.

I'll Be Home for Christmas. I am quite excited to go home for Christmas and to see all of my family. As interesting as all of these traditions are, I really can't wait to go home and enjoy our Christmas tree, go to evening church with my parents and have a family dinner. 

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