Around the world – with Christmas! 6


Lots of countries celebrate Christmas, but not all of them mark the holiday in the same ways we do. Here are some of the more unusual Christmas customs.

santaUnited Kingdom

In England, children write their letters to Father Christmas and then throw them into the fireplace, hoping they will float up the chimney and fly to the North Pole. If the lists catch fire first, they have to rewrite them. It is no surprise that English children lead the world in writer’s cramp.

At Christmas dinner, a plum pudding is served with little treasures hidden inside. These bring their finders good luck, and their finders’ dentists vacation homes in Spain. England also originated the custom of hanging mistletoe, as well as the tradition of stealing a kiss underneath it. Given the state of English dentition, this is the only way many English men would ever get a kiss without paying for it.

In Ireland, it is tradition to leave mince pies and bottles of Guinness as a snack for Santa, which helps explain both Santa’s girth and his red nose. In Northern Ireland, a traditional surprise for Santa is a pipe bomb disguised as a cheese log.


In Spain, Papa Noel delivers presents by climbing up balconies – or at least that’s what he tells husbands who come home unexpectedly. On Jan. 6, the three wise men come and leave gifts for the children. By waiting for the post-Christmas sales they save a bundle, proving that they are not only wise men, but also smart shoppers.


In the Ukraine, Father Frost visits all the children in a sleigh pulled only by three very tired reindeer. He brings with him a youngster named Snowflake Girl, who wears a fur-trimmed costume and a crown shaped like a snowflake. This speaks volumes about Ukrainian child-labor laws.


In Italy, on the evening of the day after Christmas, children are visited by a good witch named Strega Buffana, who flies around on a broom leaving treats for good children and
coal for naughty children. It is tradition to give a bag of dried lentils to friends to make soup. This bean soup reminds recipients of their humble beginnings, and also helps propel the witch on her journey.


In Austria, on Dec. 6, Heiliger Nikolaus (St. Nicholas) rewards good children with sweets, nuts and apples. Bad children get a bag of dried lentils.


In Lebanon, families plant seeds of grain in small pots a month before Christmas. When Christmas arrives they have little pots of green to place around the traditional Christmas cave. The Christmas cave houses the Batmobile and … no, wait – that’s another cave. The Christmas cave actually houses a nativity scene.


In Australia, Santa’s sleigh is pulled by eight white kangaroos. Since it’s summer in the Southern Hemisphere, Christmas dinner is eaten outdoors and is often followed by a visit to the beach and many, many cans of Foster’s lager. Projectile vomiting traditionally takes the place of caroling.


This Thanksgiving, try a full-body scan with a side of grope 6

As if high prices, airport food, and the threat of “Eat, Pray, Love” as your in-flight movie weren’t enough to make you consider staying home for Thanksgiving, flyers now get to choose between two equally distasteful anti-terrorism options before shoehorning themselves into their seats.

If you haven’t been keeping up with the news (I do, so you don’t have to), these are your options: a full-body scan, or a full-body grope. If it makes you feel any better, remember that both are done by someone who couldn’t make the cut to become a mall cop.

I don’t know about you but by my lights, a turkey sandwich at home is sounding better and better (and I’m vegetarian).

The scanners use X-ray technology to produce an image of the body’s outer several centimeters; this allows TSA employees to basically look under passengers’ clothes without ever touching them. This sounds very much like the x-ray specs I bought when I was a kid. Hope the scanners work better than the specs – those were a total rip-off. I should have gone with the sea monkeys.

The TSA says the scanners leave little to the imagination but are “relatively” anonymous. However, when similar machines were introduced at London’s Heathrow Airport earlier this year, it took only two months for the first sexual-harassment lawsuit to be filed. A young woman there got upset when a guard commented on her breasts after seeing her scan. So, apparently TSA’s definition of “relatively” actually means “holy moley – check these out!”

Option two is what TSA calls an “enhanced pat-down.” I read the description — what TSA calls an enhanced pat-down is what we used to call “getting to second base.”

Neither option is exactly popular, and some people are voicing their displeasure. John Tyner of Oceanside, Calif., has become a folk hero to some after posting a video he shot when he refused both the scan and the grope.

Tyner was trying to fly out of San Diego’s Lindbergh Field when he was selected at random for a scan. He refused, calling the scan intrusive. TSA’s reaction was pure federal government: Intrusive? We got yer intrusive, pal; step right over here.

When the TSA staffer detailed the enhanced pat-down, Tyner told the guy, “You touch my junk and I’m going to have you arrested.” This was an immediate red flag for screeners, because Tyner is a software engineer and not a dealer in scrap metal.

Tyner ended up missing his flight and being thrown out of the airport. He now faces a possible federal fine.

This is all in the name of safety, you understand. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said, “It’s all about security. It’s all about everybody recognizing their role.” Speaking for myself, scan me or grope me — just don’t make me watch a Julia Roberts movie.