The Christmas Collection

In lieu of a new podcast, let’s look back on the classics. A huge burning goat, Japan’s holiday KFC rituals, the man who poops twelve feet from Jesus, and, of course, Santa Claus.

I think procrastination is an underappreciated spirit of the season. What is Christmas without a present that ships on New Year’s Eve or a holiday party in mid-March? Each of the last three years, I put out at least one Christmas-themed podcast. This year, I ran out of time. Oops.

So, in lieu of a new Christmas podcast, I invite you to enjoy some of the classics, my Christmastime podcasts and written pieces from the last three years. Why expect the new and better-composed when you can have the old and… old? I’ve also included some holiday podcasts and videos that I’ve enjoyed over the past few years.

Of course, there’s also this year’s Christmas piece, Who Stole Christmas? and my feature TV film script, A Hollyjolly Christmas.

There’s no more filibustering to be had. Here are the classics:

The Grapevine: Sweden’s Burning Christmas Goat (2018) – Every year, in the town of Gävle in Northern Sweden erects the world’s largest straw yule goat. And (almost) every year, someone tries to burn it down. The tale of the Gävlebocken is one of my favorite contemporary Christmas stories, and I reference it at least ten times a year to friends who have heard me reference it ten times each previous year. This one’s apt every Christmas, in my opinion, but this year especially; after breaking its record for most years going unburnt, the goat went up in flames on December 17th. Pour one out for our favorite razed grazer.

The Grapevine: Christmas with the Colonel (2018) – If you grew up in the United States or anywhere with a European-themed culture, you grew up with or around Christmas. For people beyond the reach of Christian and European Pagan traditions, like the Japanese, Christmas is a largely foreign holiday that most would-be celebrants don’t have existing blueprints for. Here, we put up trees and eat cookies. In Japan, over a million people make reservations for romantic dinners at Kentucky Fried Chicken.

The Grapevine: Here Comes Santa Claus (2019) – I love Santa, but he’s weird. This is a 4th century Greek priest who went from saving Greek children from prostitution to overseeing a toy factory in the Arctic. A thousand years after he should have died, he’s still romping around with an expanding gang of flying reindeer, breaking into homes and drinking a lake’s worth of milk. He’s been sighted with elves, demons, and “servants”. Who is this guy, and how did he get here?

The Grapevine: The Christmas Truce (2020) – There’s a good chance you’ve heard about the time soldiers from opposite sides of the trenches came together amid the extreme violence of World War I to exchange gifts, sing Christmas songs, and be merry. I’m not gonna tear apart the dream, that really happened, and it is a happy story. But all good things come to an end.

Catalonia’s Coprophilic Christmas (2019) – In “Sweden’s Burning Christmas Goat”, I talk about Tio de Nadal, a Catalan tradition where families dress up a log before beating the (literal) shit out of it and demanding presents. The log obliges, defecating out a year’s worth of holiday cheer. The story is fun, but it paints Catalonia in a misleading light — it’s not all about poop. Anyway, here’s the story of the Caganer, a Christmas nativity figure native to Catalonia. Jesus, Mary, the magi, the animals — they’re all front and center. The Caganer’s content to hang out in the corner… defecating.

And, as promised, here are some of my favorite Christmas stories from other people:

You’re Dead to Me: Medieval Christmas – Host Greg Jenner is joined by comedian Miles Jupp and historian Eleanor Janega to delve into Christmas’s Pagan and early European roots. I promise I started writing this year’s Christmas piece before I listened. Just in case there’s… substantial overlap.

You’re Dead to Me: The Victorian Christmas – Christmas is a collage of traditions with its earliest roots set thousands of years ago. But our modern image of Christmas owes a lot, maybe more than anything, to the habits and imagery set in stone during the Victorian era.

99 Percent Invisible: The Three Santas of Slovenia – Over here, we have one Santa. Europe has a dozen variations, but most families pick one. You’re either all about Santa, all about Grandfather Frost, or dedicated completely to the Christkind. Slovenia eschews choosing and celebrates visits from American, Catholic, and local (communist) Slovenian Santa alike.

Arson as a Christmas Tradition: The Gävle Goat (Tom Scott) – An excellent (visual) description of my favorite Christmas goat.

I Asked 64,182 People About “Jingle Bells, Batman Smells”. Here’s What I Found Out. (Tom Scott) – Big data, Christmas music, and the evolution of language. Also, “Jingle Bells, Batman smells, Robin laid a gun”.


The Emperor

Part four: Pathological corsicophilia.

The President

Part three: Papa Bok.

The Soldier

Part two: The radio tutor’s power play.

The Last Emperor of Africa

Part one: Wishful thinking

An old, public domain painting of a horse-drawn carriage moving through snow-covered England

Cold as Dickens

Dickensian London is iconic, but its plentiful snowdrifts bear little resemblance to the modern city. Is this artistic license? Or are Tiny Tim’s environs evidence of a centuries-long frosty period that gave us Frankenstein, witchcraft, and America?

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