(Note: this day is dedicated to John Sewell (the one in England. I have two…), in thanks for letting me bug him about cultural topics. And for not having me assassinated for calling him Johnny Seaweed. Thanks, John, for great musical introductions, superfluous “u”‘s, and tolerance. Happy Christmas.)
1. The Ashen Faggot
Yes, you can say it out loud; it’s a real thing. Wassailers(think “drunk carolers”) carry around a bundle of sticks from an ash tree, which is ceremoniously tossed into the fire. When one of the willow stems that bind the sticks burns and pops? Drink! Nothing says “Happy Birthday, Jesus” like fortified cider punch and fire.
Some parts of England add the tradition of the unmarried female wassailers picking their own binding stem, and the first one to break would portend the marriage for that person next year. Relying on flaming faggots for marriage ended as a practice in the United States with the death of Elizabeth Taylor. RIP.
2. “Father Christmas”
I like “Father Christmas” better than “Santa Claus”. Thinner. Green suit instead of red. More of a bussengeist of good tidings than a kid’s toy dealer– think The Most Interesting Man In The Christmas Card, not Ronald McDonald(also: if you know what a bussengeist is, you are either the American John Sewell or some 30-35 year-old dork like me). And, let us not forget…
I had no idea that this was a tradition, but John(Seaweed, not American John) assured me that it was true, and he assured me that it is truly “foregin” feeling to non-Brits. He’s right.
Imagine a community theater doing Humpty Dumpty for kids. Then camp up the costumes. Then replace the small time actors with professional ones who are festively drunk. Then add some adultish humor. Then kick out the kids and do the whole play in a pub. Happy Christmas!
4. The Doctor Who Christmas Special
Doctor Who. Charity for kids. Baby Jesus. The end.
5. The Kate Bush Christmas Special
There are plenty of variety-show type Christmas shows of British origin to choose from, but none so strange and impactful as this one. Made in 1979, it has the just plain odd feel you would expect from Kate Bush. There’s strange costumes and complicated arraignments. There’s a cello with arms and legs waking up from a nap. Wait, we’re in Egypt! Now back to the breakfast nook, where an ennui-stricken couple gets contemplative over tea; that couple is Kate Bush and Peter Gabriel. Completely original and weird.
Ok, maybe this isn’t a tradition per se. The variety show format for Christmas is. I mainly wanted to bring this up because it is truly awesome and to send out this fair warning: FLORENCE AND THE MACHINE, STEP YOUR GAME UP. KATE BUSH PAVED THE WAY FOR YOU WITH THE CHOREOGRAPHED AND THE BIZARRE. SIMPLY COVERING “LAST CHRISTMAS” WILL NOT SUFFICE; THAT TWAT TAYLOR SWIFT EVEN DID A COVER. IT’S YOUR MOVE. MAKE BABY JESUS PROUD.