Christmas Traditions Across the USA


     When a family gets together for Christmas in the Navajo Nation, they butcher and eat a sheep – “and everybody fights over the head.”
     I guess the head is the best part.
     I asked Courthouse News reporters around the country to tell me Christmas traditions peculiar to the cities where they live.
     Crystal Watson, in our Rancho Cucamonga office, says the sheep head is “slow cooked in the ground, which makes the parts pretty tasty. I like the cheeks, but my family is so big and the head is so small. I guess it’s whatever you can get.”
     We had the some tradition on the Tohono O’odham rez in Southern Arizona, where I lived for six years, only it was a cow. You dig a hole in the ground and set a big fire in it, and when it’s blazing you throw in some big rocks. You wrap the head in tinfoil and when the fire has burned down to embers you toss the head in and cover it up with dirt.
     Next day it’s ready.
     On the O’odham rez, when the Smith family throws a party, you don’t say the Smiths are having a party. You say, “The Smiths are feeding.”
     Lots of cities have Christmas parades, but Raleigh, North Carolina’s is probably the only one held in November. Our Raleigh reporter Charles Duncan likes it because “the parade starts out right in front of my apartment. The marching bands and drum lines arrive at about 8 a.m. on that Saturday morning and start practicing, right outside my window. On Saturday. At 8 in the morning.”
     Come to think of it, I don’t see that Charles actually said he likes it.
     Our Cincinnati reporter Melissa Thomas likes her city’s Reindog Parade, though. “People and their dogs dress up and parade around with Santa. It’s very cool and I take all seven of mine every year!” she says.
     Huntley, Illinois has a famous festival that celebrates Thanksgiving, not Christmas, but we should all keep it in mind at this very special time. It’s the Turkey Testicle Festival.
     Our Chicago regional reporter Glynis Farrell told me about it, and it actually exists.
     “They also have a bar that offers a burger the size of a large pizza. If you eat it, it’s free,” she says.
     Thanks, Glynis. No more festivals from you, please.
     In Austin, Madison Venza says, “lots of neighborhoods try to outdo each other putting lights on discarded items like motorcycles – usually it’s the ‘Keep Austin Weird’ crowd.”
     Aah, yes – the Keep Austin Weird crowd. Of course.
     Actually, on a long bicycle ride in the Vermont mountains last summer, I saw a mailbox sporting a “Keep Austin Weird” sign. I guess Austin doesn’t have to worry about that.
     Galveston has celebrated a “Dickens on the Strand” festival since 1973, in which people re-enact “A Christmas Carol” in the city’s Victorian downtown section. They’ll celebrate it this year too, despite the wreckage wrought by Hurricane Ike.
     “In Louisiana, people make enormous bonfires along the levees so that Santa will see them from the sky as he rides past,” says our New Orleans reporter, Sabrina Canfield.
     “What comes to mind immediately for Atlanta is that we have a ride called the Pink Pig,” says Jackie Holness. “I rode it once when I was about 6 or 7. It’s an actual pink pig that has little cars that you ride in like a small roller coaster or a trolley.”
     From now on, when someone says “Atlanta,” I’ll think: the Pink Pig. Jackie says it’s a storetop ride that’s been around for more than a generation – but only at Christmas.
     The Audubon Society of Western Pennsylvania has an annual Christmas Bird Count “in which participants gather together and count Pittsburgh’s feathered friends,” Stacey Vespaziani says.
      In Ventura and Santa Barbara, California, people decorate their boats with lights and have a parade. They do the same thing in Fort Lauderdale, where the old canals pass right through town under drawbridges. Virginia puts on “100 Miles of Lights,” from Richmond to Virginia Beach.
     Thanks to all the other Courthouse News reporters who sent in your city’s Christmas traditions. Sorry I couldn’t get them all in. But how are you going to compete with the Turkey Testicle Festival?
     It’s traditional at this time of year for people to argue about whether Christmas has become too commercialized, and whether we have forgotten its religious meaning. I intend to duck these questions like a man. Watch me.
     Most families try to gather together at Christmas, and in our country, that means a lot of traveling.
     Jane went to Florida last week to visit her sisters and get home before her son came home from college. Her plane was late so I sat around the Hartford airport watching people.
     It was easy to pick out the sons and daughters coming home from college, the husbands or wives home from a business trip, the grandchildren coming to see grandma and grandpa – and the grandchildren who were so little they didn’t know who those old people were.
     There were a couple of greetings I won’t forget – and I don’t even know who those people were. These were the young men in uniform, and the mothers who threw their arms around them and held on and cried, and wouldn’t let go.
     Merry Christmas.

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