Video of the day: Santacon in New York City


If you haven’t heard of Santacon before, this year’s holiday season is as good a time as any to hear of it. Santacon is, in a nutshell, this: It’s a mass gathering of people who come together in cities across the world, all dressed in Santa costumes. They parade on streets and drink in bars and have a jolly good time spreading cheer and singing naughty Christmas carols. Widely known as Naughty Santas or Santarchy, this festive movement has been growing each year. Beginning first in San Francisco in 1994, the event is a bit of a flash mob that tends to shock whoever is around. The gathering manifests itself differently in each city ever year, but for a peak into the kind of activity you can expect in, say, New York City subways, watch this video and then check out this list of Santacon events so you can participate or just watch in the town nearest you.

International Santa Trivia at SantaCon

Winter holiday celebrations in Russia

Winter holiday celebrations in Russia
In most of the western world, Christmas and Hanukkah have come and gone, but in Russia, presents are being wrapped in anticipation of tonight, New Year’s Eve. In the days of the Soviet Union, religious celebrations were frowned upon, so Russians shifted their winter celebrating to December 31 and combining the traditions of gift-exchanging and New Year’s revelry into one night. In the Russian Orthodox church, Christmas isn’t officially for another week, with the Julian calendar corresponding December 25 to January 7, 2011.

I arrived in Moscow last Friday (western Christmas Eve) to find the capital freezing but festive, with New Year’s yolki (trees) decorated all over the city and various versions of Ded Moroz walking the streets, and now in St. Petersburg, locals are rushing home with Champagne and Charlie Brown-like trees under their arms. Nearly every public square has a large decorated tree and every store has elaborate holiday displays.

%Gallery-112268%Ded Moroz (Grandfather or Father Frost in English) is the Russian version of Santa Claus. He wears a blue (or traditional red) and white fur suit and carries a white staff. Ded Moroz originally was a more sinister figure, extorting presents from parents in exchange for not taking their children. In the Russian fairytale (and according to my Russian husband), Father Frost ruled the winter and if children were polite to him, they received gifts, but if they were rude, he would let them freeze to death. Sort of gives a new meaning to naughty and nice! These days, he brings gifts to children at parties rather than leaving them under the tree and he is accompanied by his granddaughter Snegurochka the Snow Maiden. According to the Moscow News, a Ded Moroz appearance can run 2,000 to 10,000 roubles (about $65 to $325 USD) and professional Santas might make more than 10 visits a day during Christmas week, making it a lucrative seasonal profession.

Tonight in Russia, the usual pre-New Year’s partying and indulging is going on, along with tree-trimming and presents. Be sure to stick to your resolutions and be polite to snow kings or you could be left out in the cold next year! S novym godom!

Feliz Navidad: More Christmas traditions from Spain

Christmas, christmas, Navidad, navidad, Spain, MadridMerry Christmas from Madrid! Last year I covered some of the big Spanish Christmas traditions. This year I’d like to talk on a more personal level about how I and my in-laws celebrate. I’m married to a Spaniard. A Castilian to be precise, as regional identity is important here. Living in Madrid we have a very Castilian Christmas. My five-year-old son is pretty much Castilian too, although he’s got a Canadian dad and speaks English as fluently as his public school English teacher.

Being a good little Spanish kid, he’s written out his letter to the Three Kings about what he wants: The Lego Tech crane, a parking garage for his cars, “everything about Real Madrid” (the city football team), and “La Casa de los Gormitis”. The Gormitis don’t seem to have made it across the Atlantic but they’re the big thing for European boys right now. It’s a cartoon where children have a secret base under their parents’ house and turn into monsters to fight the bad monsters in the fantasy world of the Gormitis. Yeah, it hits all the buttons.

Of course the Three Kings came to visit his school, but my son wasn’t fooled. He immediately recognized that the African king Baltasar was played by his English teacher, a black guy from London. Reminds me of that Jesse James story I wrote about earlier today. Since the Kings don’t show up at our home to put gifts in our shoes until January 6, we still haven’t done our shopping. It always feels like the Spanish Christmas gives you more time to shop, even though it’s still exactly a year between gift-giving.

The season is in full swing, however. Everyone has been buying tickets for El Gordo, the national lottery. Personally I think gambling is a stupid waste of money, but I’ll be checking out the numbers this year because my optometrist gave me two tickets! This is a common way for businesses to reward regular customers.

This week my family set up two Bethlehem scenes. My mother-in-law has an old one of lead figures that goes on a side table in the dining room. It has the Kings, buildings, stream, bridge, the manger, and lots of villagers. Over it all Herod looks down from his castle with a rather grumpy expression. This diorama is far bigger and more elaborate than the diminutive Christmas tree we put in the hall. We also have a Playmobil Bethlehem scene (called Los Clicks in Spanish) that my son sets up in his room.

Last night we chowed down on lombarda (red cabbage with pine nuts), langostinos (king prawns), and heaps of nuts, candies, polvorones, and turrón. Polvorón is my favorite. These are crumbly little shortbreads made with flour, nuts, sugar, and milk. Like with Oreos, there’s more than one way to eat them. Some people just bite down and let the whole thing crumble in a tasty, dusty mess. Others squeeze them into a compact bit of tidy sweetness. I’m more of a crumbler than a squeezer. Turrón is an Arabic confection made of almonds, sugar, honey, and egg white. Other ingredients such as chocolate are added to create an endless variety of flavors.

Just before dinner we heard King Juan Carlos I’s annual Christmas Eve speech. Keeping with tradition, my family completely ignored him, even though they made sure the TV was on. I watched it more for the sake of this article than to actually hear what he had to say. Sitting in his palace with a Nativity scene to one side and a photo of Spain’s victorious football team to the other, El Rey talked about the economic crisis, the threat of terrorism, and the drug problem. Pretty much the same issues as last year. There was also a Christmas message from Spanish soldiers serving in overseas operations such as the Indian Ocean, Antarctica, Lebanon, and Afghanistan.

Got to run. Soon my 99 year-old neighbor will show up. She’s become my son’s de facto great-grandmother. It’s nice to see someone born in 1911 interacting with someone born in 2005. Meanwhile, my mother-in-law is cooking up a giant Christmas lunch. Yeah, I lucked out in the mother-in-law department.

Christmas with Jesse James

Jesse James, jesse jamesChristmas can be a stressful time. In fact, statistics show that you’re more likely to have a heart attack on Christmas than any other day of the year. Hanging out with family too much can be hazardous to your health.

Some families, of course, are more hazardous than others. Most people don’t have the emotional baggage that Jesse James, Jr., did. He was the son of the famous outlaw but didn’t even know it until his dad was assassinated. He thought his name was Charlie Howard and his father was named Thomas.

Despite living under aliases, the James family couldn’t give Jesse Jr. or his sister Mary a normal upbringing. Junior’s earliest memory was of a gangmember shooting through the front door at a suspected prowler. They also moved a lot and were discouraged from playing with neighborhood children.

Junior was accustomed to his father going around heavily armed at all times. One Christmas while living in his father’s final home, which is now the Jesse James House Museum in St. Joseph, Missouri, Jesse decided to dress up like Santa Claus to surprise his children.

The outlaw came into the house dressed in a costume he had borrowed (not stolen) from a local church. Giving a cheery “ho ho ho” and bearing gifts and candy, he delighted his son and daughter. He asked if they had been good and Junior and Mary said they had. Santa then opened up the bag of goodies and the kids rummaged around inside. Junior felt a gun under the cloth and exclaimed that this wasn’t the real Saint Nick, but his father dressed up as Santa! Their mother then explained that Santa was very busy that year and Dad was helping him out.

So next time a family member embarrasses you at Christmas, at least be grateful they’re not packing heat.

For more stories of Jesse’s hijinks, check out my series: On the Trail of Jesse James.

[Photo courtesy Library of Congress]

Photo of the Day (12.24.10)

photo day

For Santa, Christmas Eve must be a royal pain in the ass. First of all, he obviously has to work at an unreasonable, unfathomable pace. He is also forced to grapple with potentially uncooperative reindeer and salty elves–not to mention children who just won’t go to bed. One imagines that by the time Santa hits Apia he’s ready to jet back to the tundra and hibernate for a good long month.

On top of everything else, Santa has to constantly watch where he’s going, lest he plunge face-first into a building. In this image, taken in Ljubljana by Gadling Flickr pool contributor pirano, he’s done just that.

Got a funny image of Santa? Upload it to the Gadling Flickr pool. If we like it we’ll select is as a future Photo of the Day.