Traditions can get started in unexpected ways.
When I was a lad, there was a year when Christmas had nearly arrived and our family did not yet have a Christmas tree.
One day after school, my eldest brother realized that if he didn’t take it upon himself to get a tree, we weren’t going to have one that year. He tried to persuade our two middle brothers to help him, but they were determined to stay home to watch The Early Movie, a daily feature on one of the four television channels we got in those days.
I would’ve preferred to stay home too, but I was young enough to be conscripted. I suppose my eldest brother must have been about 15 and I would have been about 5 at the time.
We ventured out into the cold and trudged through the snow in the fading light to the nearest tree lot. My brother selected a tree and we dragged it home.
When we got there, our mother had found the old red and green metal tree stand. We set the tree up in the living room, but before we decorated it, we watched the remainder of the movie with our other brothers while the aroma of the Scotch pine filled the room.
The movie that afternoon was the 1954 classic, “The Creature from the Black Lagoon.”
Some people may not immediately associate this cinematic gem with Christmas, but for me, it will always be linked to the holiday.
Years later, when technology evolved and I bought a VCR, I purchased a VHS copy of the movie and watched it every year while I decorated my Christmas tree.
Some critics might consider this an unconventional holiday tradition, but it’s not nearly as bizarre as some traditions from other parts of the world.
One of my favorites is the legend of the Yule Cat.
Apparently, the Yule Cat (Icelandic: Jólakötturinn or Jólaköttur) is a monster from Icelandic folklore. He is a huge and vicious cat said to lurk about the snowy countryside at Christmastime and eat people who have not received any new clothes to wear before Christmas Eve.
It seems the Yule Cat has become associated with other figures from Icelandic folklore as the house pet of the giantess Grla and her sons, the Yule Lads. They sound like a fun family.
Like many folk tales, the legend was designed to control people’s behavior.
The threat of being eaten by the Yule Cat was used by farmers as an incentive for their workers to finish processing the autumn wool before Christmas. Only those who took part in the work would be rewarded with new clothes. Those who didn’t would be doubly penalized. They’d get no new clothes, and they’d get eaten by the terrifying Yule Cat.
That’s enough to give the kiddies nightmares, and it makes my holiday tradition look pretty tame in comparison. A lovestruck gill man is less disturbing than a cat monster.
Another strange tradition involves the Yule goat.
The Yule goat’s origins go back to ancient Pagan festivals. Some people think the goat comes from the worship of the Norse god Thor, who rode the sky in a chariot drawn by two goats. Others have different interpretations.
Yule celebrations, sometimes called Yule goat (Julbocken), featured a god represented by a white goat. Festivals featured a person dressed as a goat, often demanding offerings in the form of presents.
That makes a change from a benevolent Father Christmas cruising around in a sleigh delivering gifts.
In Scandinavia, a popular Christmas prank involved placing a Yule goat (made out of straw or wood) in a neighbor’s house without them noticing. The family that was successfully pranked had to get rid of the goat in the same way.
We must remember the winters are long in the north country, and people had to invent ways to entertain themselves.
The function of the Yule goat has changed over time.
In some cases, young men in costumes walked around singing songs and performing pranks, kind of like homecoming week on a college campus. The group of Christmas characters would often include the Yule goat, a scary creature demanding gifts.
These old traditions support the notion that it is better to give than to receive.
Another frightening creature is the Krampus. He is a sort of half-goat, half-demon that punishes kids, threatens them with rusty chains, and kidnaps them if they’ve been naughty.
In Germany, Austria, Croatia, and surrounding countries, a guy dressed as Krampus roams the streets at Christmastime terrorizing children.
There are some scary Santas out there, but they aren’t nearly as terrifying as some of the alternatives.
I still prefer my unofficial Christmas ambassador, the Creature from the Black Lagoon. He wasn’t evil he just wanted a girlfriend and let’s face it, we can’t blame a guy for not wanting to be alone for the holidays, even if he has gills and looks like a missing link.