Today my son and I talked about another aspect of getting ready for Christmas. Last week I had mentioned that one way we get ready is by studying for tests. Christmas isn’t a test, of course, but there’s lots of stuff to know about Christmas. Some of it is very interesting, but not necessarily important.
I think I finally remember all the verses of “The Twelve Days of Christmas.” I usually have trouble keeping them straight once we get past the seven swans a-swimming. But this year I made Al a game, based on Candyland, that includes some cards that let you go forward some number of spaces. I left blanks for the numbers, so you have to remember how many reindeer there are, how many days of Christmas, how many geese a-laying, etc. And after playing it several times, I think I finally have the lords, pipers, and drummers in order.
But Al agreed that knowing those numbers wasn’t all that important – unless you want to sing the carol. (As it happens, his fourth grade class will be singing it for their Christmas concert, and he will be one of the lords a-leaping.) So I asked, what about knowing who brings Christmas presents in different countries? He knew that Santa Claus has different names in other places, but he was surprised to hear that in some countries it’s someone completely different who brings the presents.
For instance, in some countries it is Baby Jesus who brings presents to children. In others, it is the Three Kings. (This seemed very wrong to Al. Baby Jesus and the three kings belong to the Christmas story, not the fun-and-games-and-presents part.) One characters I hadn’t heard of before looking at wikipedia is Olentzero. He is a traditional figure among the Basque people of northern Spain and southern France. According to tradition, he “was a pagan coal worker who went to adore Jesus in Bethlehem. Nowadays, it is said that he brings presents to all good people at Christmas Eve.”
I was interested in learning about what traditional meals are on Christmas. We usually think of turkey or ham, or maybe goose (think of A Christmas Carol). I always liked it when my father served duckling. But if I lived in Estonia, I would probably eat pork with sauerkraut, baked potatoes, white and blood sausage, potato salad with red beet, and pāté. In the Czech Republic, I’d be eating fried carp and potato salad.
And of course there are all sorts of side dishes and desserts – casseroles with liver and raisins in Finland, pickled herring and Janssons frestelse (potato casserole with anchovy) in Sweden. When I lived in Spain, I enjoyed sampling turrón, a nougat candy made of honey, sugar, egg whites, and toasted almonds. (When I think nougat I think Snickers, but traditional turrón is very hard and crunchy.)
Al agreed that was interesting – but not all that important. What’s important, he stated, is knowing that Jesus was born, and why. He eagerly explained that this is what the Christmas play he’s going to be in next week (at Winfield Presbyterian Church, where my husband preached today) is all about. So I’d have to say that, if there were a test for Christmas, I think Al would pass it with flying colors.