This column first appeared Dec. 20, 2014.

I’m sure Christmas has changed over the years since it first was celebrated on Dec. 25 in 336 A.D., during the time of Roman Emperor Constantine — the first Christian Roman emperor.

A few years later, Pope Julius I officially declared the birth of Jesus would be celebrated on the date we observe today.

It also was chosen because the winter solstice and ancient pagan Roman midwinter festival Saturnalia took place in December around this date, so people already were used to celebrating at this time of the year.

So, what are your Christmas traditions? When I was a kid, we always woke up early Christmas morning to unwrap gifts, then would bundle up (it actually was really cold during Christmas when I was a kid) and travel to El Reno to be with my maternal grandparents and my aunt, uncle and cousins.

It always involved a big meal and playing with our new toys, or waiting impatiently to travel back home and play with the ones we forgot and left behind.

I’m sure many Americans loosely follow this same itinerary.

But Christmas traditions in other places of the world sometimes have a different twist to them — unusual comes to mind.

In South Africa, they eat deep-fried emperor moth caterpillars, and children are told the story of Danny, a young boy who angered his grandmother by eating cookies left for Santa Claus. She killed him and his spirit haunts homes during the holiday.

I think I’ll stay with turkey, and South Africans seem to have the holiday mixed up with Halloween.

In Norway, there is no cleaning on Christmas Eve, with all brooms hidden away in case they’re stolen by witches and evil spirits — you know, that creepy relative you always had to be nice to at Christmas.

In Japan, they apparently took Ralphie, “A Christmas Story” and a Chinese restaurant goose a little too literally. Since 1974, families all go out to KFC on Christmas Eve. American marketing is a powerful tool.

In Caracas, Venezuela, people attend Mass, just like millions of other Catholics do worldwide — but on roller skates.

Greenland has a dandy tradition. They serve raw whale skin on blubber, and Kiviak, which is 500 dead auks, stuffed into a seal skin and left to ferment for seven months.

I’ll stick with ham, if you don’t mind.

In Germany, they hide a pickle in the Christmas tree on Christmas Eve, and the first child to discover it in the morning receives a small gift — and probably smells like pickle juice on Christmas Day.

Also, German children leave a shoe outside the house on Dec. 5, which is then filled with sweets overnight. Naughty children awaken to find a tree branch in the shoe. So, I guess really naughty kids just get an old, smelly, rancid, unwashed empty sneaker under the tree.

People in the Ukraine are quite unique. They don’t decorate their Christmas trees with tinsel and ornaments — they use an artificial spider and web.

Again, I think some people still are stuck at Halloween.

Wales also is unique. Mari Lwyd is performed in some Welsh villages on Christmas Eve, with a villager chosen to parade through the streets bearing the skull of a mare on the end of a stick.

Don’t ask me, I just write them down.

My favorite is from Great Britain, where an age-old tradition, a la Charles Dickens, was that each family member must stir the Christmas pudding in a clockwise fashion before it’s cooked, making a wish as they do so.

And, hopefully, some little kid doesn’t sneeze while stirring.

Italy seems to have missed the mark entirely. Rather than Santa Claus, Italian children await the arrival of Befana, a friendly witch who delivers sweets and toys on the fifth of January.

Again, there sure are a lot of people that don’t want to give up on that Halloween observance.

Guatemalans sweep their houses before Christmas, and each neighborhood creates a large pile of dirt, before placing an effigy of the devil on top and burning it.

In Bavaria, a noisy Christmas tradition has people wearing lederhosen (the Bavarian national costume) and Highlanders firing mortars into the air.

Bavarians still can’t seem to get Adolph Hitler out of their minds, and a strong compulsion to invade their neighbors.

In Slovakia, the senior man of the house takes a spoonful of loksa pudding and throws it at the ceiling — and the more that sticks, the better. Why do I get this vision of “Animal House” and John Belushi yelling, “FOOD FIGHT”?

Finally, Santa traditionally leaves presents in a child’s stocking on Christmas Eve in England. Naughty children may wake up Christmas morn to find a lump of coal in their stockings.

So, that’s where my mom got that one.

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Christy is news editor at the Enid News & Eagle. Visit his column blog at

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3rd-generation journalist, Univ. of Oklahoma School of Journalism 1968-1972, OU Sports Information Office, sports editor Sherman (Texas) Democrat, editor weekly Waukomis Hornet, news editor Enid News & Eagle. Retired 27-year volunteer firefighter and EMT.

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