Some Christmas truths you (probably) didn’t know about

by Heike O’Sullivan

We’re heading towards Christmas with big, Santa Boot-sized steps and as this is mid-December, there is truly no escaping the hullabaloo made in shops, the media and pretty much everywhere else about it. Perhaps you have been hearing on the radio or reading in a magazine about some of the ‘Christmas Trivia’ that is being warmed up by writers (such as myself – oops!) year after year and are getting a bit tired of it. This year though, I’ve come across some weird and wonderful Christmas related facts that I had not previously heard of and I would like to share some of them with you here. I hope you’ll enjoy!
There are 13 Santas in Iceland who come down from the mountain one by one, starting on 12th December, and have names like Spoon Licker, Door Slammer, Sausage Swiper and Meat Hook. Charming. And don’t even get me started on their super-scary Christmas Cat! Anyway, looking into this, I found that these alleged Santas come from the ancient Icelandic folklore of Yuletide-Lads and evolved over the centuries from wicked trolls with a healthy appetite for misbehaving children, to harassing, thieving pranksters, to their current version of rather benign Santa-type visitors who each leave a gift in the well-polished shoes good children place on their window sill before bedtime. Or, if you were naughty, a smelly, rotten potato. You can probably wave that shoe good-bye then…
Staying with culinary delicacies, before turkey and ham, the traditional Christmas meal in medieval England was boar’s or pig’s head and mustard. Yum. As in so many households today, meat dishes were the centrepieces of Christmas feasts in olden times. Brawn headed the list for centuries and in 1573, for instance, a boar’s or pig’s head boiled in a vinegar broth, the meat then shredded (pulled pork, anyone?), pressed into a mould and served with mustard would have been a total hit with your guests. Joking aside, the dish can’t be all that bad because even nowadays pig’s head terrine or pâté is served in British pubs and restaurants, and if you want to give it a try yourself, there are plenty of recipes online.
Even though I’m not religious, I often wondered if people who are offended by the word ‘Christmas’ being shortened to ‘Xmas’ are right when they say that this is disrespectful to Christians and the occasion as a whole. So, is it one of those new-fangled word concoctions, devised by our increasingly commercialised and secular society, or even blasphemy? You can stand down because the ‘X’ hails from the ancient Greek letter ‘chi’ and is a completely respectable abbreviation for the Greek word for ‘Christ’. Even the Oxford English Dictionary has been using the ‘X-’ for ‘Christ-’ from as early as 1485. So whilst lazy it might be, contemptuous it is not.
During World War II, a US playing card company manufactured decks of cards that, when the cards were soaked, they would reveal an escape route for Prisoners of War. Having been approached by British and American intelligence agencies, the company hid maps of top secret escape routes between the two paper layers that make up a playing card. When soaked in water, the layers would separate to reveal the hidden sections of a map which, when assembled in the right order, gave the full escape map layout. Reportedly, these cards helped 32 allied POWs escape and prompted over 300 escape attempts. And the best bit? It was the Nazis themselves who distributed the card decks in their POW camps as part of the Red Cross’ Christmas parcel campaign. Ingenious, or what?
On the subject of armed conflict, in 2010, the Colombian military decorated jungle trees with Christmas lights, resulting in 331 FARC rebels demobilising and returning home. Focussing on the emotional festive season, the Colombian government launched ‘Operation Christmas’ and nine 75-foot high trees were selected along supply paths the guerrillas were known to use. Using Blackhawk helicopters, soldiers decorated these trees with sparkling blue lights and a motion sensor that activated them when someone walked nearby. A banner next to them read, “If Christmas can come to the jungle, you too can come home.” More than 300 rebels laid down their weapons and re-entered society, giving their families the best Christmas present ever.
In a different part of South America is a province in Peru, where people settle their grudges before year-end, with a traditional fist fighting festival on Christmas Day. In each town or village, communities get together with music, dancing, eating and drinking – and on 25th December, people of all ages pair up to give each other a good old walloping. There are rules and referees (equipped with whips!), and – to be fair – the logic behind it all is, to settle grievances built up over the year, once and for all. The New Year can then be started off on a clean slate. Not a bad idea perhaps, given that the remote province is basically not touched by the state’s legal system, the nearest court house being a twelve hour drive away. I’m sure Conor McGregor would love it.
And lastly, returning to the subject of food, given the very tasty, millennia old Japanese cuisine, I was gobsmacked to learn that many Japanese people traditionally eat at Kentucky Fried Chicken for Christmas dinner. Apparently, some forty-odd years ago, the Christmas holiday was not widely celebrated in Japan. “Duh”, say you, “probably because they’re Buddhist or Shinto”, and you would be absolutely right. Not that this would deter any self-respecting American entrepreneur. So, KFC started a major marketing campaign in Japanese cities and today, a company spokesperson says, “In Japan, Christmas equals KFC.” The first KFC Christmas Meal was launched in 1974 and today, customers must book their Christmas orders at least two months in advance. Go figure!
A very happy Christmas to all our readers from all of us at the Kenmare News!