• Thu, Dec 12 - 11:00 am ET

Christmas Traditions Way Better Than The Obnoxious Elf On The Shelf

155136850Right off the bat, I need to admit something.  I am an Elf Mom.  No, don’t click away!  Look, at first I only put it on literal shelves and in high places. Then I felt the Pinterest pressure and tried to step up my game with a few Barbie car rides and Goldfish cracker fishing. Now, three years in, I am in the basement creating Elf-Zilla, the elf who is hell bent on destroying the Lego Friends’ village.  He breathes paper fire. (No, I don’t have a lot of local friends. Why do you ask?)

Anyway, while I actively participate, I can understand why it rubs some people the wrong way.  It is kind of a creepy way to get kids to behave (though somewhere between the doll check-ups and the My Little Pony party, we completely dropped the behavior element of our elf.)  Also, it’s annoying- for every night I am trying to transform him into Harry Potter, there is another night where I am exhausted and just throw him into the tree.  Plus, the damn thing is $30. With $30, I could buy something awesome for myself, like materials for a hobby I apparently desperately need.  So, here in the US, with our expensive felt nark, we have the market cornered on weird Christmas traditions, right?

Wrong! The world is a treasure trove of weirdness!



The Christmas Pickle:

There is some confusion as to whether this is a German or American tradition. Regardless, focus on the pickle.  Basically, there is a glass pickle ornament somewhere on the tree Christmas morning.  Whoever finds the pickle is thought to have a year of good fortune, and in some households, receive an extra present. Extra present, you say? This means one of my kids would yell “Pickle fight!” and ornaments would go flying. Awesome.

(Image: getty)

(Image: getty)

 Yule Cat or Jólakötturinn

Iceland’s answer to getting kids to do their chores and to appreciate boring gifts.  Icelanders apparently put a lot of stock in hard work, and the mark of a good worker is new clothes at Christmas. Lazy friends do not get a new piece of clothing.  The Icelandic monster cat was said to then eat those without new clothes.  That really puts that box of socks into perspective. Also, at least my elf hasn’t threatened to eat us… yet.

(Image: getty)

(Image: getty)



In Latvia, there are mummers for winter solstice. We have those in Philly too. Half of our Mummers are hard core professionals and the other half drink, throw beads, and relieve themselves in alleyways.  It makes for an interesting parade and awesome questions from your preschooler. In Latvia, they dress as a wide range of animals, fortune tellers and corpses, while going from house-to-house singing and asking for food and drinks. Hostesses oblige, as it is said to bring blessings to their households and frighten away evil.  Want to scare your kids? Dress your Elf as a corpse singing for food!

(Image: Pinterest)

(Image: Pinterest)


The Yule Goat:

In Scandinavia, there is a Yule Goat.  Mixing pagan and Christmas traditions, men in costumes, including one dressed as a demanding goat, would walk in the village singing, dancing and playing pranks.  At one point in their history, Scandinavians believed the Yule goat brought the Christmas gifts. Today, the Yule Goat is a straw Christmas ornament. The best part?  Many towns and cities create giant Yule goats which are often illegally burned before Christmas. As a bonus, I got to learn a fun phrase today- “BrinnBockjävel” which apparently means “Burn, fucking goat!” Merry Christmas!

(Image: Wikipedia)

(Image: Wikipedia)


The CagaTio: 

Finally, we have the Catalan tradition of the CagaTio. The CagaTio is a log with a cheerful face panted on one end. Kids take care of him from December 8th until Christmas Eve by covering his backend with a blanket and “feeding” him orange peels to fatten him up. The fatter the blanket appears to grow, the more presents the kids can hope to get. And how do the kids get the presents? Well, the children get sticks and beat the log to help it poop out gifts! There’s even a song about helping the log along, with a line that roughly translates to “If you don’t poop well, I’ll hit you with a stick!”  After they beat him for a while, the kids lift the blanket and discover their presents.



Kind of puts Elf on a Shelf in perspective, huh? Now these little guys can be traced back to 19th century Scandinavia before we took them and made them into a marketing tool.  Imagine what we could do with logs that poop presents…  The books! The accessories! The promotional opportunities – I am thinking a Macy’s Thanksgiving parade float! Who’s with me? Oh, no one?  Well then, I guess it’s back to fashioning an elf top hat.  He’s the mayor of the Munchkin City tonight.  (No, I don’t get out much.  Why do you keep bringing that up?)


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  • NicknamesAreDull

    I do the pickle tradition! It’s a blast. We dressed our pickle up with a top hat and mini monocle, though. He’s much too classy for a Santa hat.

    • Jessica

      He and Mr. Peanut could totally hang out!

    • NicknamesAreDull

      They used to have lunch dates, but then things got a little sour. Mr. Peanut tried to smooth things over.

  • FaintlyXMacabre

    Is Christmas Pickle a Northern thing? I feel like everyone in the PennDutch area did it, but I can not find a Christmas Pickle down in Texas

    • Jessica

      Our Target has them! But I am in PA, so I am not sure if they are everywhere.

    • Alicia Kiner

      Pa has Dillsburg, where instead of a ball, they drop a pickle on New Year’s eve. If you are looking for pickle ornaments, check etsy. You might be surprised what you find there

    • Kay_Sue

      We actually got them in at the store I worked at last year and none of us knew what they were. Since I’m living in the South, that seems to lend credence to the idea that it’s a Northern thing.

    • Jessica

      Are you willing to travel? Apparently Barrien Springs, Michigan is the Christmas Pickle capital of the world, and they have a pickle festival in December!

  • Kay_Sue

    “If you don’t poop well, I’ll hit you with a stick.” Does this work for constipated toddlers?

    • Jessica

      That’s a present under a blanket I am not so sure you want!

    • Kay_Sue

      True that.

  • Bethany Ramos

    A demanding goat sounds like the best Christmas tradition of all time. Kill it with fire!

  • darras

    I hate to burst an amusing bubble but “Brinn bockjävel” is more along the lines of ‘burn devil goat’. Bock being the word for buck. Jävel is the word for devil but it is commonly used instead of ‘fuck’, scandinavian swears sound entertaining but are usually fairly tame in comparison to english ones :)

    • Jessica

      Noooooo!!!! Wikipedia let me down! I mean, burn devil goat is ok and all, but I still feel disappointed.

  • http://twitter.com/mariaguido Maria Guido

    The log is awesome. Doing it. Well, thinking about doing it.

  • gotgremlins

    Gremlins filmed in Congress :) gotgremlins.com

  • pixie

    I want a Yule goat! Like a real, live goat. I wouldn’t burn it, obviously, but it would be my friend and wear a Christmas hat. Now if I could figure out how to make it so the goat doesn’t eat it’s hat…

    • kay

      I badly want a goat. After Christmas it could eat your tree so you don’t have to pay someone to haul it away!

    • Jessica

      We need some good goat names!

    • kay

      I think when I somehow convince my husband I can have one I will name it Gruff (like the Billy Goats Gruff). Unless I can come up with a pun. I would love a pun (my husband shot down Chairman Meow for our cat. And a decade ago I almost got a cat just so I could name it Death Cat for Kitten)

      ….and now I’m going to fall asleep thinking up goat puns

  • SA

    I wanted a good Christmas tradition to start….Yule Cat, you will NOT disappoint!

  • Lee

    The log thing just makes me think of the Ren and Stimpy “It’s Log” song.

    We do the pickle for a box of Fannie May. One year my parents couldn’t find the pickle ornament so they attached a real pickle to the tree. It wasn’t found until the following year when we were putting up the tree.

    I pick up this guy today:

    • Jessica

      I sang the log song a lot today! My kids were less than impressed…

  • EX

    You know what puts the whole Elf-on-a-Shelf-is-a-creepy-way-to-control-kids’-behavior thing in perspective? Krampus. http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Krampus

    • Amber

      My partner was in Germany with family for Christmas one year, and they had Krampus with Santa, apparently he had a whip and as each child went to see them the good ones received a present while the bad ones were flicked with the whip. Imagine what would happen if someone did that today lol, it was almost 20 years ago

    • EX

      Yep. The Germans (and Austrians) were really into using scare tactics to get their kids to behave. The elf on the shelf (or the threat of coal in your stocking) really pales in comparison to the threat of getting whipped by a devil creature!

  • Elisa Probert

    We never had any of these “things” for our traditions. We did have smashed tangerines though. It happened by accident the first time. Mom bought the tangerines for our Christmas Eve treat table a little too early and they got overripe, to the point where when she put them in the bowl, they squished! So, as a joke, she told the four of us kids, not one of whom believed in Santa in the sense of expecting him at our house, that Santa had brought the reindeer inside and they jumped on the treat table and smashed the tangerines.

    Ever since, we have to have at least one tangerine that is just squished and nasty looking. Go figure.

    • Jessica

      I love the “home grown” traditions the most. They always end up the most meaningful!

  • SusannahJoy

    Our Christmas tradition was “hide the nativity set!” until someone put Joseph on a lamp and he melted. Then it was “Hide the baby Jesus!” but that got too hard to find, so we started only putting him in the tree. At first it was for our own sake, one of us would hide it, another would find it. Until my parents banned “Hide the Baby Jesus.” Then it was “Hide the Baby Jesus in the Christmas Tree Without Parents Noticing and See if They Can Find Him!” It was my favorite game for years and years. One year we couldn’t find it at all, so my Dad had to take the tree out on the porch and shake it until it fell loose. I kinda want to buy a plastic nativity set for my kids.

    • Jessica

      Playmobile has one! It has about 2 million pieces though, so “Hide the ____ ” could become very tricky! You’ll be finding wise men and camels all through the new year! :-)

    • Lisa

      We used to play hide the baby Jesus too, lol

  • http://himanivakarian.tumblr.com/ Himani

    I feel like my childhood Christmases were cheated now that I know of the shitting log.
    On the other hand, I’d have my kids beat that fucker for a half hour each, that’s sure to tire them out!

  • http://ichasekids.com/ Litterboxjen

    Mummering is also a Newfoundland and Labrador thing: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mummering. (http://mummersfestival.ca/) They don’t do Hallowe’en there (at least according to my mom), so this sort of fills that gap, I guess. :)

    “It typically involves a group of friends or family who dress in disguise and visit homes within their community or neighbouring communities during the twelve days of Christmas. If the mummers are welcomed into a house, they often do a variety of informal performances that may include dance, music, jokes, or recitations. The hosts must guess the mummers’ identities before offering them food or drink. They may poke and prod the mummers or ask them questions. To make this a challenge for the hosts, the mummers may stuff their costumes, cross-dress, or speak while inhaling (ingressive speech). Once the mummers have been identified, they remove their disguises, spend some social time with the hosts, and then travel as a group to the next home.”

    Acadiens have Mi-carême, but that’s an Easter thing: http://www.micareme.ca/en/origin.html

    • StaceyNL

      I’m from Newfoundland and mummering is very much a part of our Christmas traditions and a lot of fun! However, we do celebrate Halloween as well with costumes, trick or treating, etc. Downtown St. John’s has Mardi Gras the weekend of Halloween (not the right time, I know) with costume competitions, etc.

      The Mummer’s Song by Simani http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E86bcriRtW8 is often played while mummering…

    • http://ichasekids.com/ Litterboxjen

      Curses! I knew as soon as I said the no-Hallowe’en thing, I’d be corrected. I blame my mom; she misled me. :/

  • Elisa Probert

    I just ran across something today, that I am going to do every year now whether I ever have kids or not! I found “Santa’s key’ at a shop that sells weird and wonderful things from hard-to-find sodas to unique toys. You hang it outside your door on Christmas Eve so Santa can get in if you don’t have a chimney or fireplace, and you can still lock your doors. LOL


    Those are Bruce the Brownie’s feet in the picture. He’s elfing it up a little this year since there are a bunch of bears in sweaters on top of the woodstove. Bruce informs me he does not like bears as they eat brownies. To which I replied, well duh, brownies are so chocolately and delicious!

    • Jessica

      This is awesome! Great find! My kids have started to question that part of the story, and this makes a better answer than “ummmm, magic!”

    • Elisa Probert

      I know, right? I found some different ones on Amazon for my cousins’ babies.The older one is two and probably not even sure who or what Santa is yet, but I wanted to give her something special that would last a little longer than the latest fad toy. I know the 8 month old won’t care at all, it’s more for his mom. LOL

      You could probably use any old fashioned key, but I think the Christmas themed ones are super cute! I found them ranging anywhere from shiny painted plastic to handcrafted sterling silver with gemstones.