How are you planning to celebrate the holidays? Traditionally, with the tree in your living room, maniac lights on your porch, and gift-wrapped “please continue to not kill me” bribes to your dear ones and a Jesus feast? Or, with Fallout 4, a bottle of Scotch, and a total indifference to whatever madcap cultist antics the people around you are up to? Regardless of your answer, friend, I’m sorry to tell you: It’s wrong. The real answer is: inadequately.
This time of year has a lot of history, and a lot of old, old customs that enable people who have heard about them to celebrate it much better than you do. As you’ll be panicking through the last of your Christmas shopping, Bavarian highlanders will be gleefully firing handheld mortars at the sky to show it who’s the boss, because fuck you, it’s tradition.
So, why not apply a little tradition mix-and-match to your holidays this year to make them as cool as humanly possible? After all, there are people out there eschewing the old, boring all-American Christmas in favor of niche, yet awesome, things like …
Every year, millions of people decorate their houses for the holidays with lights, creepy yard ornaments, and a healthy amount of competitive attitude. A good chunk of this is about that last part. Who among the decoration-prone hasn’t known that tinge of schadenfreude when their asshole neighbor burns a fuse and is forced to settle on a couple of tinkling tinsel wreaths, or felt their heart sink in primal envy when the guy on the other side rolls out his neon-lit, 15-foot Santanator 5000?
Or, does this.
But, what if all that energy could be harnessed in a communal effort? What if all the eager holiday decorators in the neighborhood would join forces and build a huge-ass Christmas float with all the lights and frills their nearest Home Depot has in stock? And what if they would then unleash their natural competitiveness by taking that float against the ones made in other areas?
Such is the deal with central Cuba’s Parrandas, a vaguely carnival-like holiday tradition where competing districts parade their elaborately constructed floats in what inevitably evolves into a friendly, joyful street party with fireworks and shit. They’ve been doing this since 18th century, and, over time, the inevitable competitive nature of the event has blown the floats from simple sticks-and-stones affairs to, well, this:
That picture is from freaking 1940, by the way. Here’s what the floats look like these days:
Holy shit, look at that thing! That’s what we should be doing with all this Christmas decoration bullshit. It’s a competitive sport no matter what we do, so we might as well channel that energy in a positive way. Just turn it into an actual competition by joining forces with our neighbors — yep, even that asshole Steve, you know he has the good orbital sander — in a friendly joint effort to design-whoop the butts of those jerkoffs in the next borough, all followed up by a great party. Isn’t that what Christmas is all about, really?
#4. The Louisiana Levee Bonfires
As the police departments of many major cities are all too keen to point out, I’m a big proponent of fire as part of any and all holiday celebrations. Who isn’t? Especially during the cold months, there’s no one out there who doesn’t enjoy a great big fire built specifically to celebrate the season, as well as handily mask your usual drunken hobo antics by rendering your unruly stature into a cool silhouette against its brightness. Everyone enjoys a bonfire. Unless you’re a witch, I suppose. Are you a witch? And if you are, why are you celebrating Christmas in the first place? Is it like some hipster thing among witches? A hipster witch? That’s awful. Get out.
“I mean, I know these things killed a bunch of my ancestors, but I enjoy them ironically.”
Louisiana, on the other hand, doesn’t mess around when it comes to Christmas and fire. As befits the state most likely to be haunted by Nicolas Cage’s vengeful ghost, they approach the whole bonfire thing with an admirable amount of ridiculous overkill: On Christmas Eve, they light a whole damn river bank on fire. The bonfires on the levee are huge, 30-plus-foot pyramid log structures that the locals build all along the Great River Road between New Orleans and Baton Rouge, only to burn them all down simultaneously in a glorious mess of flaming Mississippi madness.
Yes, of course, there are fireworks.
The tradition goes back for generations and may have originally had something to do with honoring harvests. These days, this fire road is built to act as a guiding light to Pere Noel, the Cajun Santa who must be a pretty hardcore entity for flying toward the man-made hell in order to throw presents at people. Some of the more ambitious builders embrace their pyromaniac tendencies by building their giant bonfires in the shape of houses and even river ships.
Or, optimistic allusions that the Saints could ever be on fire.
Oh, and did I mention there are more than 100 of these things?
So, yeah. This year, as you’re panic-wrapping your improvised last-minute gifts, remember that a bunch of Cajuns spend the night gleefully roaring fire at the sky with triple-digit amounts of insanely huge log fires. After witnessing that, the actual Christmas must seem like a bland afterthought.
“Tomorrow will burn. The world will burn.“
#3. Mari Lwyd
Have you ever been so fed up with Christmas that you just wanted to revert back to Halloween mode, grab a large skull, and start running amok from door to door? You have? That’s … an oddly specific coincidence. Well, that, or you’re familiar with the little-known Welsh wassailing custom known as Mari Lwyd. Like all good British traditions, Mari Lwyd is a complex one, and its origins are lost in history — some say the name refers to Holy Mary, and others maintain it just means “grey mare.” However, its basic ingredients are simple:
1. Take a horse (or occasionally, cow) skull. If for some reason you don’t have one handy, you can fashion it out of papier-mache.
2. Build a goofy monster costume around said skull, and wear it.
3. Walk around the neighborhood harassing people until they give you booze.
So, basically, Halloween for adults.
If you want to go with just those basics, I guess you could just make the costume and spend your holidays running about town like the Grim Reaper of horses, neighing threats at anyone who doesn’t buy you a shot. However, be warned that this particular approach carries far more risk of someone using a Taser on your dick. Or, uh, so my friend tells me.
With that in mind, there’s one final part to the tradition that can make things even more awesome: Instead of making the alcohol-acquiring part of the equation just “give me whiskey or, so help me, I’ll headbutt you,” Mari Lwyd and its entourage are usually required to negotiate their liquor with a back-and-forth song ritual known as pwngco. The Skull Horse Posse turns up at someone’s door by sing-requesting admittance, and then the owner of the house counters with several excuse songs. These are all countered one by one by the Mari Lwyd until no songs are left. Basically, this means some Welsh regions celebrate Christmas with a freestyle battle between a large horse-monster and a bemused guy whose larder and drinks cabinet is about to be empty. But, I guess your Christmas tree and “Jingle Bells” are pretty all right, too.
#2. Santa Endurance Tests (For Your Liver)
So, people are running Christmas marathons in Santa costumes.
It’s pretty common, too. The header image of this entry is from London, and the picture above is from Liverpool. Proving there are crazy folks all around the globe, this one’s from Seoul:
“To be fair, we just do this to pass the time between StarCraft tournaments.”
What’s that? You don’t want to run a marathon during the holidays, especially in a cheap-ass Santa costume that smells like old farts? Of course you don’t, and, in fact, that’s not the point. This, friend, is strictly a spectator sport. Grab a couple of friends and/or family members, some folding chairs, and watch as a flock of insane people flails through the winter wonderland as you sip from your flask and reflect on life, the universe, and how lucky you are not to be stupid enough to run a fucking Santa marathon. And if you want to ramp up your participation? We can absolutely do that. In fact, there’s a very specific version of this holiday event, custom-made for our particular level of athleticism:
The Santa pub crawl.
What, did you think I would expect anyone to do something like this sober? Hahahahaha! What do you think I am, some kind of person with common sense? No, we’ll go about this the most awesome way available to someone stumbling about in a Santa horde, which is “with all the booze available to us.” People realized pretty early on that running about, dressed like Santa, is a fool’s errand at best and decided to make things a little more festive (and give themselves an excuse to stumble about in a red carnival costume) by getting roaring drunk in the process. As is the case with Santa marathons, there are quite a few of these things around the globe, usually attached to some sort of charity. Arguably the most famous of these events comes from Australia, which unsurprisingly adds an extra element to the experience. This is a country that celebrates Christmas during its absolute hottest season, meaning that they voluntarily add stumbling around blinding drunk while wearing an unwieldy red winterlord costume to their normal holiday-time antics of dodging poisonous fauna in unforgiving, convict-cracking heat.
#1. The Months-Long Christmas of Philippines
The Philippines is one of the few largely Christian countries in Asia, and, boy, are its people prepared to scream that fact at the rest of the continent. Nowhere is this more evident than with their Christmas celebrations, which are easily the longest in the world. As is the case with us, you’re likely to hear the first Christmas carols in freaking September. And when the actual celebrations kick in at early December, they just. Will. Not. Stop.
And through it all, their homes look like this.
During this period — and even without counting all the traditions of different ethnic groups and assorted private Christmas parties, gatherings, and antics — there are nine important holidays on a Thanksgiving/Christmas Day level, all with their own particular delicacies, feasts, and celebrations. Christmas Day itself is a fairly pious family affair that involves presents of cash money (while on Ninos Inocentes, it’s historically OK to Punk’d people to borrow money and never pay it back). Then, there are various feasts, festivals, and light shows that occupy the majority of the calendar until well into January, or even early February.
They’re also big on huge-ass lanterns.
Does this sound like your very own personal hell so far? Of course it does. No one wants literally months of Christmas, especially as the time frame would eat into much more fun holidays such as Halloween. But, I’m not suggesting we should adapt everything from the Philippines’ Christmas ways. Just the time frame (and maybe the money-for-gifts thing, because I hate, hate, hate Christmas shopping). We already have everything else we need.
Think about it: As I’ve listed now and before, almost every Christmas tradition that has somehow managed to elude Western mainstream culture is far closer to a really neat way to blend Halloween and New Year’s Eve together with creepy and badass traditions than the plastic, tinsel-y commercial Christmas we know and begrudgingly indulge in. Forget caroling and having to fight 350-pound housewives for the last piece of garbage hit toy your niece can’t live without in the store. Let’s bring on the fire, the pub crawls, the parties, the Krampus and Nuuttipukki antics, the vodka-fueled Russian Christmas, and that giant Swedish straw goat they keep burning down. Let’s spread that shit all over the Philippines-style Christmas calendar and have a holiday to remember.
As a downside, the world could probably only take two or three of these months-long super-Christmases before everything would devolve into Mad Max-style anarchy. But, really, isn’t that the aftermath of pretty much every holiday time?
This Wednesday, Cracked editors will discuss post-apocalyptic movie worlds with scientists and special guests during a LIVE PODCAST. The best part? You’re all invited! The show is at UCB on Dec. 9 at 7 p.m., and tickets are on sale now!
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