“Krampus is essentially an Austrian antithesis to Santa. Whereas Santa visits the good kids and gives them gifts, Krampus is said to visit the bad ones and give them coal or take them away. What’s really interesting about this is that many Austrian parents will dress up as Krampus on Christmas, and then actually snatch up their own children or the children of neighbors at night to scare them into being good. It’s kind of terrifying from our perspective, but it’s apparently completely normal in Austria.”
This was collected from my friend here at USC, and although she isn’t Austrian herself, her best friend throughout her childhood was fully Austrian. She spent a lot of time with the girl’s Austrian family, especially around holidays, so she is actually pretty familiar with their customs. To her, Krampus isn’t exactly scary, and she kind of has a soft spot in her heart for him, just because it reminds her of her friend’s family. I kind of like the idea of Krampus, just because it’s something so different than what we are used to in America; I don’t think running around pretending to kidnap kids at night would ever fly in the U.S.
The informant, K, is 19 years old. She was born in Long Beach, California but was raised in Los Angeles. Her dad is from Guadalajara, Mexico (Southern Mexico) but moved to the United States when he was 2. Her mom was born in Obregon, Sonora (Northern Mexico) but grew in Mexicali (a US-Mexico border town), and she moved to the United States when she was 18. She is majoring in Applied Mathematics with a Computer Science Minor. She considers herself Mexican-American (or Chicana).
K- “For Christmas every year my family makes tamales and posole. My mom’s side makes tamales and my dad’s side usually makes posole. We celebrate it Christmas Eve and Christmas day. Depending on the family since we interchange every year. One day we have posole and the other we have tamales. When it comes to opening the gifts, we always wait until 12 midnight. We basically start on Christmas Eve and end at midnight. If we have little kids, we let them open their presents up at 10. And that’s it, only the little kids. Everybody else has to wait until 12.”
What is a tamale and posole?
K-“Ok a tamale is like maza (corn dough) with meat inside, or it can be cheese and chile, or sweet with pineapple or strawberry. Posole is like a soup with grano (white hominy) and we make ours red because there is usually red, white, and green. We always do ours red. You can put cabbage and onions and chile if you want, lemon, or radish.
How long, that you are aware of, has this tradition been going?
K-“Since I was born. Before I was born. “
Analysis- This Christmas tradition gives some background into the way the informant’s culture functions. They are a culture centered around family that likes to maintain its traditions. They like to include everyone by switching families every year. Even though the family is no longer in Mexico, they continue to have the traditions that they grew up, which will be later adopted by their children. They also belong to a culture that likes to celebrate and enjoy every moment together. It is very good that everyone is part of the tradition, even the small children.
Main Piece: “The day after Christmas is Boxing Day. And…uh…it used to be that the people who had more would, on this day, give some of the food that was left over from Christmas to the poor, so some of the food would be boxed up and taken to places where poor people either lived or went for food. The original purpose of this day was not fulfilled when I was a child. It was probably that way 100 years before I was born. It was a holiday in England where people would get together and have another lunch with other relatives or friends. So usually on Christmas day, one would have…um…lunch with your immediate family and you’d open presents. On Boxing Day, you’d usually go to another relative’s or the relatives would come to you. So two big meals- one on Christmas Day and one on Boxing Day.”
Background: The informant believes that because Boxing Day became a national holiday, people forgot about it’s original purpose. Instead, people like to celebrate because no one has to work on Boxing Day. He says it became insulting to take food to the poor on Boxing Day and there were no longer places to take the food, anyways. The informant’s family would celebrate Boxing Day with relatives and friends. The informant enjoyed “the company, another nice meal, and the spirit of Christmas because the decorations stayed up.” Boxing Day was celebrated with a late lunch of the Christmas Day leftovers and afterwards, he was able to play with the presents he’d received on Christmas.
Performance Context: We spoke over the phone.
My Thoughts: Perhaps since England has become a much wealthier country, its holidays have become financial sources of marketed celebrations. Instead of the original charitable intention of Boxing Day, it is now a reason to use Christmas leftovers for another celebration. I find it interesting that it is actually taboo now to share leftovers with a less fortunate community. Similar to the ways Appurdai explains an Indian interpretation of leftovers as forbidden, England has adopted a culture of impoliteness surrounding leftovers. I remember my own interpretation of Boxing Day as another gift box(!) as it was celebrated in my home. Boxing Day traditions remain as a continued celebration with family and friends, engaging in shared meals and gift exchanges.
Main Piece: “At the end of the Christmas term in December in school…um…everyone would have to sing in the choir. So a big choir was assembled and everyone had to sing in it in a carol service…so we’d sing a lot of carols. And then afterwards, we would have a nice dinner which was probably the only nice dinner we’d have that term. And then we would each be given a Christmas pudding to take home to our families.”
Background: The informant says the tradition went on about 100 years before he attended boarding school (in England) and continued until the school no longer existed. He says he enjoyed singing the carols because this was the time everyone began to feel Christmas had arrived, even though it was still a week before Christmas. The informant says, “everyone loved the frivolity and the presents they’d get on Christmas.” He remembers that the dinner was infinitely better than the typical dinner, but would fall short of a nice Christmas dinner today. The meal included meat, potatoes, and vegetables. The dinner was noteworthy to the informant because it was the best dinner all term and he enjoyed everyone’s company before they left for winter break.
Performance Context: We spoke over the phone.
My Thoughts: Because the informant was not fond of the typical boarding school dinner, the Christmas dinner was especially exceptional. The tradition was rooted in routine: singing in the choir followed by a dinner that remained the same meat, potatoes, and vegetables, and sending each boy home with a Christmas pudding. It is remarkable that this tradition persisted as long as it did. The informant recalls his anticipation of this annual dinner as it was much more luxurious than what he was used to. The dinner (singing carols, eating a nice meal, enjoying company) brings to mind a classic retail image of Christmas.
“So we have this little tradition in Norway where we eat lye fish. Do you know lye? Do you know what lye is? So lye is a liquid obtained by leeching ashes or strong alkali. So you literally put a fish in ash and you let it rot. Then you leave it in the ash or lye until it becomes so fermented that all that’s left is the part of the fish that doesn’t serve any function, the jello that’s only there to make sure that the rest of the body stays where it should be. And that’s what you eat. Once a year. For Christmas, primarily. And you eat it with so many things on the side that you disguise the taste of the fish. So like, the whole point is you use as many small dishes as you can. You can’t just eat the fish because the fish tastes horrible. And we all agree that it tastes terrible, but we all keep eating it because it’s tradition. It comes from Lofoten. It comes from way up north. It comes from a way of preservation. So it was back in the day when we didn’t have refrigerators or anything like that. They could put the fish on lye. And then that would… You know, it rots, but you can still eat it. It’s like, yeah, it works. It’s called lutefisk.”
Lutefisk sounds like an absolutely awful dish. It seems the source felt that way about it anyway. He recalls eating it every Christmas ever since he was little. No one enjoys it, his family merely does it out of tradition. The tradition, like he said, stems from old times when fish couldn’t be preserved in refrigerators and whatnot. So instead, people would preserve fish by keeping it in ash.
It sounds like this dish wasn’t invented intentionally. Ash was probably used to preserve other things, and they had no idea the effect it would have on fish. They probably preserved the fish in ash or lye for a couple of days, came back, and seen a whole different product than they were expecting. I’m surprised it’s still around though, considering the method of making it and what it actually is. Must be a very strong tradition for people to still be eating it today.
People probably hated it back then, too, but like the source said, with enough side dishes, the fish could be forgotten. It probably allowed ancient Norwegian peoples to still take in some kind of protein during the heavy winter months, along with whatever nutrients they got from the harvest.
For more on this recipe:
Legwold, Gary. The Last Word on Lutefisk: True Tales of Cod and Tradition. Minneapolis: Conrad Henry, 1996. Print.
The informant spent the early years of her life in Venezuela, but her family moved to the United States when she was 9 years old. She only remembers some of her life in Venezuela.
The informant shared this story while having a lunch break during a leadership retreat. People were discussing when and how they discovered that Santa Claus wasn’t real and she laughed and explained that at the age we were finding out that Santa wasn’t real, she was just learning that the idea of Santa even existed.
[I was unable to get a direct transcription of what was said]
The informant said that she had never heard of Santa Claus until she got older when talking to other American children. Instead, on Christmas, her parents told her that her presents were given to her by the Baby Jesus himself (Niño Jesús). She would have to place her shoes in front of the nativity scene, and the next morning her presents would be on top of them.
The informant talked about this tradition as if it was humorous because of how different it is from American tradition, but in a way that celebrated that difference rather than making fun of it. It seemed like she is able to use her Venezuelan Christmas traditions as a way differentiate herself from her purely American peers and connect herself with her Venezuelan upbringing, even though she seems very much American now, having spent over half of her life in the U.S.
“From the 15th of December to Christmas Eve, we have posadas. We re-enact the journey of Joseph and Mary to find a place to stay.”
The source says that his local church would hold the posadas every year. The re-enactments would take place twice a day, one performance in the morning and one in the evening. It sounds similar to the Stations of the Cross and the re-enactment of the Nativity scene. It’s all about getting into the “true spirit of Christmas,” which for the source and other church-goers was always about accepting Jesus into one’s life and being more like Jesus. It’s strange, though, because the posadas don’t feature Jesus. So maybe this tradition is more about family in general and how everyone journeys to one home on Christmas Eve to come together and celebrate the birth of Jesus.
The fact that it ends on Christmas Eve is also significant. While the most obvious reason is because Joseph and Mary “found lodging” by December 24th, the less clear reason is because of the value Latin Americans place in Christmas Eve. For other cultures, Christmas Day is the most important day. That’s when everyone gathers with their family for food and games and whatnot. But Latin Americans host what’s called Noche Buena or “The Good Night” which takes place on Christmas Eve. What most other cultures do on Christmas Day, Latin Americans do on Christmas Eve. Why? Who knows! I asked the source what he thought about this, and he said it’s because Christmas Day is for you to spend only with your immediate family rather than every cousin and great aunt and uncle.
Original Text: “En el día de los Reyes Magos, se pone un bebé en la Rosca de Reyes. El que corta el pedazo con el bebé tiene que hacer una fiesta con tamales el día de la Candelaria el 2 de febrero.”
Transliteration: “On the day of the Kings Magicians, you put a baby in the Thread of Kings. He who cuts the piece with the baby has to make a party with tamales the day of the Candelaria on 2nd of February.”
Translation: “On the day of the Three Kings, you put a baby in the Thread of Kings. The person who cuts the piece with the baby has to host a party with tamales on the day of the Candelaria on February 2nd.”
This is a Mexican tradition, similar to that of New Orleans’ King Cake. You bake a baby doll (not an actual baby, of course) into a cake known as the Rosca de Reyes or “Thread of Kings” as it translates into English. The person who gets that piece is then in charge of hosting the celebration for the Feast of Candelaria. The Feast of Candelaria celebrates the appearance of the Virgin Mary in Tenerife, Canary Islands. The source fondly remembers celebrating both Three Kings Day and the Feast of Candelaria when he was younger. Much like Christmas, it brought the family together.
Both of the holidays involved in this tradition speak to Mexico’s roots in Christianity. The Feast of Candelaria, however, is made uniquely Mexican in this tradition because of the making and sharing of tamales, a food native to the country. While other Latin American countries do make tamales, none of them celebrate the Feast of Candelaria like Mexicans do. I also find that this speaks to Mexicans’ fondness of celebrations. This tradition guarantees that someone else is going to throw a party in the next few weeks. That’s three big celebrations in a row: Christmas, Three Kings Day, and the Feast of Candelaria.
The informant is my mother, who was born and raised in North Vancouver, Canada. She has two older brothers, and both of her parents immigrated from the United Kingdom when they were adults. She worked in accounting until she retired at the age of 50. She is widowed and has two children: myself and my brother, who has Cerebral Palsy.
This relates to a Christmas tradition where everyone in the family is given a pair of pyjamas on Christmas Eve, while the rest of the gifts are opened on Christmas Day.
“The pyjamas came from Kerry [informant’s sister-in-law]. That was started by Kerry, Kerry had that as a tradition in her family and she, uh, told me about that one and now we include it as a tradition with our family, um for you guys so we all got up on Christmas Day and we all had nice little new jammies to be worn for getting our photos taken in.”
So, what exactly happens with the Christmas pyjamas? Could you explain it as if to someone who had never heard of this?
“Well, what happens with the Christmas pyjamas is that, of course when you’re little, you’re all excited about having a present to open, and when you’re going to bed on Christmas Eve, you’re looking at, you know, the tree, and you know there are presents from your family and you know Santa’s coming, but we used to always let you guys open, or the kids, open one present on Christmas Eve. The thing was, is that they knew exactly what the present was going to be after the first couple of years cause it started to become, “Okay, yeah, know what this is now.”
But it was still the idea of having something special to open up on Christmas Eve and that was opening up the pyjamas and having that little ritual and it almost became… um, if it is to be not pyjamas, that would have been not good—it had to be pyjamas after a while, because that’s what one wanted, was just another new pair of pyjamas to put on in that evening. And that actual tradition got picked up by another family when they heard me telling them about that tradition and now they do it as well. And Anne and Brad [informant’s friends] do that with Robyn. And someone else I know started that tradition after I was telling them about it, but I started doing it because of Kerry.”
And why pyjamas?
“Why pyjamas. Well, so you’ve got something nice and new to sleep in that night, and then when you wake up in the morning and you’re doing all your unwrapping of presents and they’re taking pictures, you’ve got your nice new clean pyjammies. So you look cute!”
This tradition ties into the larger Christmas present tradition, and combines the “open on Christmas morning” scheme with the “open on Christmas Eve” scheme. I find the picture justification interesting as well; in a sense, it coordinates and moderates the children’s wardrobe. Additionally, allowing the children to open one present early might help take the edge off of the children’s excitement for presents, which would give parents a more quiet and peaceful night’s sleep, giving it a strategic element as well.
This was one of my favorite traditions when I was younger, and I intend to continue it.
Original Script: “When I was younger, after Christmas…probably about two or three days after Christmas, me, my dad, my sister, and my brother, would collect Christmas trees for a Christmas tree fort. We would wait till people started to leave Christmas trees out in their drive ways, and we would go and drive around our neighborhood in our big car, with rope, and tie the Christmas trees to the back of our car, and make a couple rounds, so we were dragging the trees. We would have over 20 trees, sometimes more, and he would create a perimeter in our backyard of rope and lean the trees against the rope and then put them on their sides to make an infrastructure of different rooms and hallways, and he would stack the trees on top of each other so their would be a roof. Me, my brother, and sister and would crawl into the rooms and trim the trees to make the rooms bigger. We would sometimes spy on the neighbors through the fort, with binoculars. And when they came over we would throw berries at them. It was huge, basically we would declare war on neighbors, sometimes we would let other kids play in it. When it was time to throw the trees out, we would put them outside our house—it basically covered up the whole driveway.”
Background Information about the Piece by the informant: Jessica Patrick grew up in a predominantly Irish household. Celebrating Christmas every year with her family. Now that the kids are older–her and her brother in college and her younger sister a junior in high school—they do not do the tradition as much as they use to do it when they were little. While everyone in the household did celebrate Christmas—it was usually the father, Jessica, and her siblings that did the fort building.
Context of the Performance: Past Christmas traditions celebrated in Dallas, Texas with all the children in Jessica’s family.
Thoughts about the piece: After interviewing Jessica, I found it interesting how I have never heard/seen anything from this tradition before. While it is not necessarily a representation of heritage, it is a mode of activity that represents the past and has interesting motifs about the past—which is also considered tradition. For example, the building of a fort (a house) made out of entirely logs, the kids helping the father build the house, even the kids acting that the fort was their home—even though they had a perfectly acceptable house—with a heater—was all representations of the past. It also represents that of a celebration in a narrative format: the tree hunting being the ritual, the playing in the house being the main event, and the taking apart of the fort and putting the trees in the front yard would be the closing ceremony. Furthermore, I believe this event represents a classic “American Dream”(commonly known as the Horatio Alger myth) building a home for oneself, a dream, out of nothing. This tradition can also be correlated to group identity, especially with the practicing of the ritual and the exclusion to other groups: “sometimes we would let other kids play in it.”