4 Awesome Winter Customs America Needs to Steal
Winter can get boring. We get the hard-eating, hard-drinking Christmas and New Year celebrations right at the beginning, sure, but after that there's just months and months of cold, dark nothing until National Puppy Day on March 23. Even our pre-Christmas customs here in America are tame: without a healthy bunch of European traditions like Christmas demons and nativity scene poop, preparation for the holiday is mostly limited to stringing up a few lights and bitterly crumpling up the braggy Christmas letters we receive from happy relatives.
So why not fill these dreary winter months with more? We'd all appreciate the season more if colder weather meant we could look forward to ...
Swedish Illegal Goat Burning
Yule goats are an old-timey Christmas tradition in Scandinavia and Northern Europe. Today, you can still find straw goats decorating many Scandinavian Christmas trees, as well as the occasional larger version: the Swedish town of Gavle, for example, puts up a 40-foot-tall straw goat every year in early December and keeps it there until after the New Year.
So what, right? It's just a goat statue. It doesn't even make noise or drag around cars with its tongue or anything. Except that the Gavle Goat does have one special power ... the power to be burned down, against city officials' best efforts, almost every year.
Because even animals deserve Viking funerals.
It started in 1966, the first year the goat was erected, when vandals burned the giant straw sculpture down on New Year's Eve. Since then, Swedish goat-burning has mutated into an annual criminal tradition, with goat-vandals plotting various ways to evade the law and bring down the mighty sculpture, even getting tattoos to celebrate their success.
Like hapless characters in a weekly sitcom vainly trying to improve their situation, city authorities have attempted over and over again to stop the citizens' ritual goat-pyre. They set up goat-watching shifts staffed by volunteers and even soldiers from a local infantry division: the goat burned down anyway. They doused the goat in flame-retardant chemicals: someone still managed to set fire to it, possibly with the aid of a Christmas miracle. When burning wasn't possible, residents have resorted to knocking the goat over with a car, kicking it apart, and trying to steal it with a helicopter.
After that, the perpetrators planned to simply blend in among all the other helicopters carrying goats.
But the ultimate goat-destroying honor was awarded in 2005, when a man dressed in a Santa Claus suit set fire to the Yule goat by shooting a burning arrow at it. I think we can all agree that this event needs to be made into a movie. The first scenes can be a flashback that shows us the man's motivations for burning the goat, like maybe his son was trampled by a goat that belonged to Gavle's mayor. Then there's a training montage and a suit-making scene. The climax has the audience watching the burning arrow in slow motion as it moves in an agonizingly slow arc toward the sculpture ... will it burn the goat? It will!
And now imagine the Rocky theme playing.
Although it's technically illegal, the Swedish goat-burning tradition builds a real sense of innovation among the populace, as well as providing entertainment for those who want to witness this epic battle between good, evil, and goats. By now, the Gavle Goat has its own 24-hour webcam and a personal Twitter account, which includes a sad "goodbye and Merry Christmas" message whenever the poor thing burns down.
Later, when we're sick of all the snow and burning goat pieces, we can move on to ...
If you're reading this in mid-January in the Northern Hemisphere, you're probably sick of winter already. And that sucks, because this dumb cold weather goes on for at least two more months. By that time, depending on where you live, you'll be even more tired of scraping ice off your car, or ending work when it's already pitch black outside, or doing whatever they do in winter in Florida, trying to move torpid alligators out of your living room with a broom, I guess. Whatever your winter frustrations, there's one good way to vent your feelings at the season: by destroying its symbolic representation in the most disturbing ways possible.
No, not that.
And that's exactly what they do in some other parts of the world. In Slovakia, for example, a representation of the ancient Slavic goddess of winter is symbolically drowned at the end of March. First, Slovaks construct a straw figurine and dress it in female clothes. Then, if no nearby Swedes set fire to it beforehand, the crowd marches the effigy to a river and throws it in. Maybe they yell, "TAKE YOUR FUCKING ROAD SALT CORROSION WITH YOU," as it floats away, I don't know.
"ENOUGH OF ALL THE PEPPERMINT-FLAVORED SHIT AS WELL."
But that's a peaceful death compared with what happens to the Boogg, a winter symbol constructed by the people of Zurich at their beginning-of-spring celebrations. The Swiss carefully construct a giant, jolly-looking snowman, and then Nicolas Cage that fucker to death. The particulars of the Boogg's fiery, burning death supposedly predict the weather: a quick burn predicts a hot summer, while a slow, painful, torturous burn predicts a cool one, maybe because the Boogg's spirit wants revenge on the people who did that to him.
He is going to eat, like, all of the souls.
Ideally, America could start up a similar public celebration in which everyone harmlessly expresses their anger at cold weather. But failing that, this is also something you can do alone. It might be best to do it in your front yard, to make it easier for the tradition to catch on and spread. First, make a sculpture of something that reminds you of cold winter iciness: maybe it can be an effigy of Santa Claus, or your father. Then, as winter comes to a close, go outside and start hacking the sculpture to death, and then set fire to it.
If you don't want to do that, you'll just have to sit back and wait for the closest thing to an end-of-winter celebration that America has: Groundhog Day. And speaking of that, what the United States also really needs is ...
Reverse Groundhog Day
You might only know about Groundhog Day because you saw the movie where Bill Murray is splashed with groundhog blood and then has to fight groundhogs again and again with not even death as an escape until he finally defeats their leader. But the Groundhog Day tradition has actually been around since the 19th century, all thanks so a supposedly immortal groundhog from Pennsylvania named Punxsutawney Phil, who, the Pennsylvanians tell us, can predict the weather. At the Groundhog Day festival at the start of February, officials carry out a wooden burrow containing the all-powerful Phil and release the groundhog. If the handlers judge that Phil "sees his shadow," that means at least six more weeks of continuing winter weather ahead. If he doesn't, the tail-end of winter is going to be milder than average.
And yet keeping groundhogs in my basement to help me bet on sporting events is "animal cruelty."
Unfortunately, Swedes are much better at burning goats than Phil is at telling us about future-weather. A review from the National Climatic Data Center analyzed Phil's weather predictions from 1988 to 2013 and found something sad for groundhog enthusiasts everywhere: he's just not that good. In fact, Phil predicted the correct weather only 40 percent of the time.
"You wake me up at 5 a.m. on a winter morning, and you think I'm going to help you?"
But wait a minute. Since there are only two options for Phil (seeing his shadow or not) that yield two results for the predicted weather (being milder than average or not), shouldn't Phil's random-prediction rate be 50 percent? The fact that the poor little bastard gets it wrong so many damn times shows that he clearly does have prediction powers: they just go in the opposite direction. Which explains why I've been losing so much money on sporting events, I guess.
I know you're probably thinking, "Listen, Cracked article, this is clearly a statistical anomaly caused by the relatively small sample of years studied. If you recorded Phil's weather predictions for long enough, they would even out to 50 percent. Blah blah blah." To that I say: you are not appreciating the magic of Groundhog Day. I choose to believe that at some point in the past, Phil's attempted messages about future weather were tragically misinterpreted by humans, and it's all gone wrong since then. Switch the interpretations around and Phil will start accurately predicting the end of winter 60 percent of the time, which is better than most weather forecasts.
"The sun will still be there on Friday. Right there in the sky. We're reasonably sure about that."
Christmas to Candlemas Decoration Marathon
As that song with all the birds implies, the Christmas season used to have 12 days, ending in early January. This period is known as Christmastide, and many church groups still celebrate the season according to this tradition. Other Christmas-practicing people will tell you that the Christmas season actually lasts until the start of February, and only ends at Candlemas, a feast celebrating the Virgin Mary's purification in the temple after giving birth (and also candles, apparently).
Not Man Candles, though. The devil made those.
Whatever the exact ending date, the basics are the same: Christmas starts on the 25th of December and goes from there. But in recent years, all that has changed. Rather than starting on the 25th and lasting until early January or February, the "Christmas season" now starts in late October and cuts off right as the clock strikes midnight on the 26th. This change started in the nation's consumer centers: stores want us to buy gifts for each other, and a good way to make us do that is to fill stores with Christmas stuff as early as possible. Nobody buys Christmas gifts after the 25th, so that's when the music stops and the decorations come down.
All that is perfectly understandable: stores exist to sell things, after all. But somehow this "Christmas starts early and ends early" thing has trickled down to the general population as well. Now, people who haven't pulled down their lawn decorations a few days or weeks after Christmas are considered "slackers" and are told to "get your act together" and to "please take down that giant half-burned snowman effigy on your lawn, it is giving my children nightmares."
I'm OK with stores ending their Christmas stuff on the 26th. If they didn't do this, the Christmas shopping season would gradually drift outward in both directions until it swallowed itself like an Ouroboros, and all we'd ever hear when we stepped into a mall would be Wham! But we really should accept that the way we decorate our homes for Christmas these days makes no sense.
First, we're putting our trees up so early that a week before Christmas Eve it's already a dried-out mold-husk covered in flammable, dead pine needles. Second, taking down one's decorations right away ensures we are living through the coldest, darkest months in dreary, light-free misery. We waste all these pretty decorations when it's barely even cold yet, and then go through the next three slushy months without so much as a blinking LED deer display. So don't be afraid to buck the trend and leave up your Santa toilet-seat cover for as long as you damn like.
Preferably all year.
For more from C. Coville, check out 6 American Characters In Foreign Films (Tested for Accuracy) and 4 Mind-Blowing Theories About Famous Lines in the Bible.
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