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Beware the Christmas Goat 

The odd, absurd and sometimes downright freaky side of Christmas traditions

At right, picture of Mos˛ Gerila˘, based on an image seen in the Romanian communist newspaper Nat‚iunea on Dec. 25, 1947. At left is a depiction of Olentzero, and Joulupukki is shown at top.

At right, picture of Mos˛ Gerila˘, based on an image seen in the Romanian communist newspaper Nat‚iunea on Dec. 25, 1947. At left is a depiction of Olentzero, and Joulupukki is shown at top.

Let's get weird for a second. Imagine you were trying to explain Western holiday traditions to someone not raised in our culture. For one, there's this bearded guy, totally not connected to Jesus or his birthday, who climbs down the chimneys of people with children and leaves presents under a tree propped in a corner covered in lights and ritualistic trinkets.

He leaves a present or two, but the children must be asleep when he comes or something possibly ominous might happen. Also, if you leave him food, he will eat it and leave the dirty dishes where they lay. Don't even get me started on the little people that live with him, forced to build toys for kids who only want electronic stuff anyway. It can be strange to the outsider.

Santa's connections to Saint Nicholas and a few pagan gods notwithstanding, there are all kinds of interesting and quirky Holiday traditions and characters from around the world. Here are three of my favorites.

Joulupukki

This was the OG Santa from Finland. Joulupukki translated literally means "Christmas goat" because his flying wagon was drawn by goat bucks. Some legends have it that Joulupukki turns into a goat man the day after Christmas to hunt for leftover food. His attire is similar to that of Santa, but his half human/half dwarf assistants sound much scarier than elves.

Olentzero

He is basically the Basque Santa, but with a twist. Olentzero is one of a race of mythological giants living in the Pyrenees. Legend tells that they witnessed a cloud so bright that none could look upon it except for a nearly blind old man. The old man told Olentzero that the cloud was a sign of the coming of Jesus. The old man then asked the giants to throw him off a cliff so he wouldn't have to live through Christianization. As they threw him off, all the giants fell to their death except for Olentzero, who remained and embraced Christianity. Many cultures to this day use Olentzero as a way to scare children into being good instead of as a happy, gift-bestowing legend.

Mos Gerila

In 1948, when the Communists took control of Romania, they declared the celebration of Christmas illegal. Mos Gerila translates to "Father Frost," which the propaganda at the time told children would bring gifts every Dec. 30. Mos Gerila was depicted as a bare-chested, athletic and proletarian young man, commonly found right up until the Romanian Revolution of 1989 when Mos Gerila lost influence and the original Mos Craciun character returned.

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