Weird Christmas Traditions
We all have certain things we do during the holidays. Shopping, decorating, baking, and other standard traditions are shared between pretty much everyone. But most of us have other, more obscure traditions unique to our own little weird slice of the universe we call our families.
Here are a few of mine.
Putting The Star On The Tree
Sure, most everyone puts some kind of topper on the Christmas tree, whether it’s a star or an angel, or R2-D2 in a Santa hat; a Christmas tree just isn’t a Christmas tree without its magical finishing touch.
The weird thing my family did growing up wasn’t that we put a star of wonder on our tree, but how we put the star on our tree: I would always get on my dad’s shoulders.
By itself, this probably doesn’t sound too strange. I was a kid most of the time I was growing up, because that’s how growing up works. I couldn’t reach the top of the tree, so I had to summit Mt. Dad before I could stretch my little arms out and stick the twinkling star of night atop the dying evergreen in our living room. Makes sense.
I do it with my own kid these days, although I'm pretty tall and he doesn't like heights, which is probably why he keeps picking out smaller and smaller trees each year.
Where it gets odd is how I continued climbing onto my dad’s shoulders even after I was finally tall enough to crown our tree with a festive star of royal beauty bright. I kept scampering up that poor man’s shoulders all the way through high school because, at some point, tradition took over our common sense.
My dad was tall. I was tall. We both had to duck to keep from scraping my head across the ceiling, which put enormous strain on his back and more than a few scrapes on my delicate teenaged scalp.
Plus, it was really funny. For me, anyway. I’m surprised I never put my dad into traction for Christmas, though.
Most people bake holiday cookies. Everyone bakes different kinds, from chocolate chip and sugar cookies, to gingerbread and whatever Russian Tea Cakes are. (Or maybe those are another of my family’s weird traditions. I don’t know. I never liked the disgusting little balls of doughy disappointment enough to ask.)
Where it gets weird for my family involves the cookie cutters we use each year. When I was a kid, I always insisted upon using a birthday cake cookie cutter for Christmas, so I could decorate it with icing that spelled out "Happy Birthday, Jesus". A little quirky maybe, but kind of sweet and not too weird.
However, as time went on and we accumulated increasingly random cookie cutters, things got stranger. We would make little windmill cookies, for some reason. One cutter, which my mom always called a little Dutch boy, was an odd little man with a ridiculous hairstyle that made him look like a human coconut. He was always in the mix because I don't know why.
We also had a Rudolph cutter, which I admit doesn’t seem odd at first, but this particular cutter was notoriously awful because it was impossible to ever extract a fully intact cookie from it. Its little legs and hooves were so tiny, he’d always come out as at least a partial amputee.
Most of the time, trying to get a full Rudolph was an annual contest around the cookie cutting table, but it eventually turned into a macabre celebration of my weirdness, once I discovered that I could add some creative use of red icing to the mix and transform the red-nosed reindeer into an undead monster limping toward his unwary victims on his bloody little stump legs.
These days, our grim joy has taken root in our extended family, with my brother-in-law accidentally creating his own jolly little horror show last year when he thought it'd be a fun idea to use red sugar sprinkles for a snowman's boots and mittens. The result was the stuff of nightmares.
Somehow, the traditional Christmas dinner basically evolved into a repeat of Thanksgiving for most families. It never really caught on with mine, though.
A lot of people love eating Chinese food on Christmas and talking about how fun and quirky they are, but really, that’s just down to copycatting A Christmas Story more than it is developing your own oddball traditions, so it doesn’t count.
For my family, the key ingredient of Christmas dinner was always my mom’s macaroni and cheese, which I’ve refined over the years to the point that it bakes in a large roasting pan and involves a blonde roux, sixteen ounces of butter, nearly a gallon of milk, and at least four pounds of cheese.
We also make the world’s best chocolate pie, which my grandmother invented by accident (you can snag the recipe here), along with things like grilled cheese, chicken nuggets, pancakes, and whatever else is about to go bad in the fridge.
It’s basically Manager’s Choice up in our place on Christmas.
We had a strange tradition growing up of taking our Christmas stockings down in the living room on Christmas Eve, then placing them at the foot of our beds for Santa to fill during the night. But we never actually did any of that.
What we did do was pretend to do that, by reaching our hands up to take down our stockings, then freezing in place while my mom instructed my dad to take approximately fifty thousand pictures. Then, he'd bust out the massive 1980s video camera (the kind that plugged into an actual VCR you carried around, slung over your shoulder) and videotape us taking them down, then heading off to our rooms.
Then, he'd stop recording and my mom would shout at us to come back into the living room and hang our stocking back up. Because it was all a faked photo shoot.
Santa still filled out stockings and left them either at the foot of our beds or on the floor outside our bedroom doors, but we always left them hanging up when we went to bed. To this day, I'm not entirely sure what the point of the whole fake photo shoot was, but we did it. Every. Single. Year.
Wrapping Wrapping Paper
No, that’s not a typo. It’s actually one of the stranger things my dad and I did (and still do) every single Christmas, which is also something I now do with my own kid: we wrap wrapping paper.
Okay, so we don’t specifically wrap wrapping paper itself, but we do wrap the tubes wrapping paper comes with. As a kid, I always had more fun grabbing the empty cardboard tube and smacking things with it like some kind of trailer park Jedi than I did with any actual toys I got on Christmas morning, so my dad eventually started giving them to me as presents. Economical, really.
Things really got fun as I got older and started decorating my room with various posters. Every year, I’d think I was getting a fresh batch of movie, game, or girl posters under the tree…and every year, I would be disappointed to find that each and every one was just an old cardboard tube my dad had wrapped.
I would then smack him with it. Repeatedly.
Elf on the Shelf
We never did the whole Elf on the Shelf thing when I was growing up, which is probably only due to the fact that it didn’t exist until 2005 or so. We did have the little elves, though. They were ornaments for our tree, but still just as creepy. Maybe creepier, really. The way the twinkling lights of the tree would reflect in their dead, homicidal eyes still haunts me to this day.
By the time I grew up and had my own kid, Elf on the Shelf mania was in full swing. Every year, Facebook is awash in clever pictures of mischievous elves playing ridiculous pranks on their families, all while reporting children’s activities back to Santa, like some kind of festive NSA alternative.
I’ve never liked the elves. They’re creepy, and all the bad stuff they get up to each year sets a terrible example for kids. If a child took a magic marker to their parents’ faces while they were sleeping one night, it’d be a one-way ticket aboard the express train to Santa’s naughty list, but when the elves do it, it’s just because they’re fun little pranksters.
Nonsense. They’re judgmental hypocrites, and I’ll have nothing to do with them.
Which is why we were happy when a dwarf showed up one night in my kid’s sock drawer. Trey named him Darwin, and he’s officially known as a Dwarf in a Drawer.
Darwin is pretty much the exact opposite of those sycophantic elves. He won't tattle on you, doesn't make ridiculous displays for Facebook posts, and basically just chills. He's sarcastic, likes to watch TV, read books, and browse the internet. He encourages kids to believe in themselves, and believes that the most important thing in life is spending time with family and friends.
He fits right in with us.
Check out Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale. It’s a bizarre twist on Christmas from Finland, and watching it is a recent addition to my Christmas traditions. I wouldn’t watch it with the kids, though.
What are some of your weird holiday traditions? Let us know in the comments.