OK, so with all the Christmas hustle going on around here, I thought it would be fun to see what folks might be doing around the world — if they’re doing anything at all. I mean, somehow I doubt they’re going a-wassailing in, say, Botswana this year.
    Or are they?
I    n order to get a better idea, I did what people often do these days – I surfed the Internet. True, too much of what you find is pure, unadulterated cra — uh, folderol. But I did find a couple of sites which seemed to have legitimate information. And as near as I can tell, some interesting traditions exist that probably contributed to what we do here today.
    First, the very greeting, “Merry Christmas” — assuming you haven’t allowed yourself to be emasculated by agents of the Politically Correct Gestapo – is a cheery and prevalent phrase used this time of year in a lot of places across this old globule of ours. Want to know what they say in Bulgaria? Try “Tchestito Rojdestvo Hristovo.”
    The Phillipines? Childs play! It’s “Masaganang Bagong Taon.”
    Losing big in the nearest Navajo casino? Try a hearty “Merry Kishmash” as you bolt out the back door.
    And if you’re ever in Northern Sotho, try “ Matlhatse le matlhogonolo mo ngwageng o moswa” – then write me a card immediately, because I have no idea where or what the hell Northern Sotho is.
    Then there’s the Fat Guy Who Gives. Call him Santa Claus, St. Nicholas, Father Christmas, Pere Noel, or Weihnachtsmann, kids in countries across Europe are sweating out that possible lump of coal.
    In England, Father Christmas comes across on Christmas day, filling stockings of good kids everywhere with all manner of groovy loot. In places like the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, and France, St. Nicholas, Sinterklaus, or Pere Noel shows up a little early, on St. Nicholas’s eve, Dec. 5. He’s arrived by boat from Spain wearing a red robe, riding a white horse and he’s sometimes accompanied by a companion, Svarte Pieta (Black Peter). If you’ve been good, he’ll load up your shoes, which you left outside the front door, with all manner of cool stuff.
    In Italy, it seems Santa had a sex change; a kindly old witch named La Befana leaves gifts for the children on the eve of Epiphany, January 5.
    In Asia, Christmas is not as popular, simply because Christmas is a Christian tradition and Christians are largely in the minority. Still, in places like Japan, some of the traditions are coming on strong. For one, Santa is apparently showing up in a lot of shopping malls. I’m not sure if he’s Samurai Santa, lopping the heads off bad little boys and girls with his wicked Christmas sword – which is what I would probably do if I were him – but he’s definitely putting in an appearance.
    Then there’s one of my favorite traditions, that orgy of unbridled gluttony, Christmas dinner. As long as I can remember, my family has gorged on standing rib roast with all the fixings, resulting in a family room full of satiated people lying around in snoring comas for hours.
    But that’s just us. In Poland, they apparently eat a traditional Christmas Eve dinner consisting of fish, sauerkraut, potato pancakes, and beet soup. Not my first choice, but not too bad, either, since I’m trying to watch my leonine, life-guardish figure these days.
    In Denmark, Norway, and Sweden, they have a pretty cool tradition; Christmas dinner includes rice pudding, called julgrot, which has an almond in it. By tradition, whoever gets the almond will have good luck throughout the new year. I reckon that’s no weirder than pulling a wishbone or hunkering down over a heaping helping of hog jowls and collards.
    In Africa, as in Asia, most Christmas traditions really came from Europe, so those who celebrate it kind of do it our way; they go to church services, give gifts, sing Christmas carols. Personally, I think it would be pretty cool to hear something like “It Came Upon A Midnight Clear” or “Deck the Halls” sung in Swahili, or even better, that clicking language the Bushmen use.
Speaking of carols, it won’t be long before neighborhood groups soak their feet in a big ol’ punchbowl and go a-wassailing ‘round the neighborhood. This tradition began a long time ago when people would sing carols in return for a drink from the wassail bowl. The bowl contained hot punch made from ale, apples, eggs, sugar, and spices.
    And just in case you needed to know, the word wassail comes from “Was haile,” an old Saxon greeting that means “Be healthy.” That should be good for a free beer at Team Trivia night.
I don’t know that everyone wassails these days, but I do know one year, a branch of the family well known for its dogmatic tradition of abstinence, descended upon a family reunion and pretty much wore out the wassail bowl. Strangely enough, the caroling started soon after and lasted into the evening. Before the end of the night, we were singing “On The Road To Mandalay” in Northern Sotho-ese, or something pretty close to it.
    Recently, I resurrected a tradition known as “Trick or Martini,” in which adults go out on Halloween night seeking treats from their neighbors’ liquor cabinets – but that’s another holiday.
So enjoy the holidays, and a hearty, “ne mpumelelo e nyakeni” to you and yours