Christmas is the time of year when the news media is desperate for some new take on the holiday and innumerable pressure groups are quick to appropriate the season to advance their cause. PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) is among the cleverest of these organizations when it comes to crafting click-worthy advertisements.
One of their toughest challenges has been to make the Christmas turkey, one of the ugliest and stupidest species of fowl, into an object of love and pity. Santa is always an attention-grabber but nothing says “look at me” like a naked woman.
PETA, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, is an advocacy group known for its attempts to outrage the sensibilities of the non-vegan majority. In 1996 they convinced the National Park Service to remove the reindeer from the annual Mall Christmas pageant and in 2003 members dressed as Santa and an elf confronted fast food company executives at home and coming out of a Christmas Eve church service. Those tasteful folks who gave us “Beef: It’s What’s Rotting in Your Colon” and “Your Mommy Kills Animals!” also ran a campaign in 2003 entitled “Santa Isn’t Coming This Christmas” in which they claimed that the glass of milk children leave out for the gift-bringer could give him more than he bargained for:
“Hey, kids! Is the milk that you’re leaving out for Santa sending his “North Pole” south? It could be that “Jolly Old Saint Nick” can’t get his jollies because milk is bringing him down. The fact is, milk can cause impotence by clogging the arteries and slowing down the blood flow to all organs, and hardening of the arteries can make it a blue, blue Christmas for the 30 million North American men who suffer from erectile dysfunction.”
A rather shriveled Santa Claus was portrayed peering down the front of his trousers and the kiddies were urged to turn to soy “milk” as a yummy alternative.
Oaxaca, Mexico is famous for its “Night of the Radishes”. On every December 23, the Noché del Rábano, local giant radishes are carved into elaborate shapes depicting characters in the Nativity story, Aztec gods or animals; prizes are awarded for the most creative while dances, firework displays and a huge Christmas fair take place.
This hipster crèche features a Joseph with a man-bun taking a selfie. The Magi drive on Segways bearing gifts from Amazon. The stable is solar-powered and the cow eats only gluten-free feed. 11
In the city of Mérida, Venezuela, a fascinating local custom is the La Paradura del Niño, or The Standing Up of the Christ Child. Here the Nativity scenes in homes are particularly cherished; some are table-top size, some are room-size with all of Bethlehem portrayed in the Venezuelan context — the landscape is mountainous and divided by rivers. The figures often look like local people. On Christmas Eve the Holy Family is placed in the scene with the Wise Men nearby and moving closer daily. On New Year’s Day the tradition dictates that the baby Jesus must be moved to an upright position and stay there until Candelaria (February 2). If a friend or neighbour sees this is not done, the baby may be kidnapped and the family who neglected their duty must hold a parandura party for the kidnappers and friends.
This consists of choosing godparents for the Niño— they will not only bring home the baby in a basket or handkerchief but arrange for the musicians, candles, fireworks and refreshments. The procession consists of first of fireworks boys, followed by the musicians who will be mute until the baby is found, a pair of teens as Mary and Joseph, children as shepherds singing a carol about searching for the baby and, lastly, the godparents. When the candle-lit procession get to the house where the baby is stored, it is handed over to the kerchief and its god-parents and the joyous music breaks out. All march home joyfully where the party awaits after the baby is replaced standing up. Little kids may offer a poem of welcome, women will say the rosary and then all eat, dance and drink until dawn.
What would Christmas be without leprechauns as Wise Men, bringing gifts of gold, shamrocks, and Guinness?
A Kastenkrippe is a small Austrian nativity scene made inside a box, with characters often made of baked clay.
In 1782 Emperor Joseph II, influenced by Enlightenment anti-Catholic attitudes, banned the display of large nativity scenes, especially in churches. HIs Christmas-loving subjects responded by building their own elaborate nativity scenes in hand-made wooden boxes, and displaying them in their homes during the sacred season. The Kastenkrippe) was usually set up in the “Lord’s nook” (Herrgottswinkel), a corner of the main room with a crucifix and a small altar. This also led to the blossoming of nativity scene construction in the village of Thaur near Hall in Tirol.
Here are three ornaments that I consider inappropriate. The first two come from American evangelicals who sometimes find it hard to concentrate on the details and importance of the Incarnation of Christ and the celebration of the Nativity. The third is laughably out of place for a different reason.
The Parable of the Wicked Tenants
Nothing Says Christmas Like Nuclear Annihilation
Literally “grandfather” or “forefather spirit”, the didukh is a sheaf of grain brought into Ukrainian houses at Christmas Eve to symbolize the unity of the family: the dead, the living and those to come. It is a remnant of pagan beliefs that the spirits of the ancestors guarded the fields in the summer and entered the house in the winter when the didukh was brought in. Made of the best grain of the harvest the sheaf was often decorated with flowers or ribbons or tied around the middle with an embroidered cloth called a rushnyk. Once inside, the didukh (perhaps about 4’ in height) was given a place of honour near the icons. It remained in the home until the eve of Epiphany when it was taken out and burnt and its ashes scattered over the fields or orchard to induce fertility in the coming year and free the spirits within.
Using this Romanian icon in yesterday’s post, we pointed out two figures who do not usually appear in Western portrayals of the Nativity: Salome and the midwife. Elsewhere in the illustration we can see those characters who are more familiar to us: the Magi journeying to Bethlehem, an angel announcing the birth to the shepherds, Mary, the baby Jesus wrapped in swaddling clothes, and the ox and the ass. In the lower left is Joseph — but who is the mysterious dude talking to him? That would be the Devil.
What is the Evil One doing in a picture of the birth of Jesus? He is there to tempt Joseph to doubt the story of Mary’s virgin delivery. Joseph, we know, was initially troubled by his betrothed’s news of her pregnancy but was reassured in a vision. Here, again, he has to overcome his suspicions and live a life of faith.