If there is one universal characteristic of Christmas, it is that there are a few very weird traditions and a few very cute traditions that a lot, if not most, families participate in. Some are well known, like hanging stockings on the fire place, and some are a little more unique, like the pickle ornament. They all, however, have one thing in common; they’re all a little odd, if you think about them hard enough.
Let’s start with the least weird Christmas tradition, the stockings hung by the chimney with care (and only because it has a history, otherwise the next tradition in this article would surely win). This is undeniably a really cute tradition because the stockings can be so cute and personalized, like I have one that has my name decorated on it from when I was a baby—though I actually didn’t realize it was my name until I was about 6, because apparently it never occurred to me that the random and confusing jumble of letters on the stocking was MY random and confusing jumble of letters. We have another one that my grandma knit for my mom when she moved to the US from Ireland, which is also adorable. So, while this tradition is still a little odd, it wins on the cute factor.
Next are the cookies and carrots for Santa and Rudolph. This is actually one the sweetest part of all Christmas traditions. Letting a little kid pick out what they think are the best cookies for Santa to eat is always adorable, and then you get to eat cookies and make it look like Santa did it, so win-win! And the carrots too, I guess. Just break out some hummus, it’ll be a nice little bed time snack (for the eight tiny reindeer and Rudolph, of course; more on this later). Plus, in those generous families that leave a beer for Santa, someone gets to have a nice little pre-bed drink as well!
Next on my list of weird things families do at Christmas is reindeer food. Now, although this is similar to the last one, albeit a bit weirder, this tradition is more of a craft than anything else. For anyone that doesn’t know (and according to my roommates, that’s a lot of people) this is when you mix oatmeal and glitter and some other random kitchen staples that a reindeer would like to eat (yeah, they love oatmeal, you didn’t know?!) and then dump it all on your front lawn. You can also buy bags of it like my family did, because we like the idea of it more than we liked the actual craft. As long as your parent is diligent enough to scare all the birds away before you come downstairs, it will look like reindeer came and ate all of the food! But, if any of you know me at all, you would know that I would be the parent to let my small child see the birds eating Rudolph’s special food, and have to explain to them exactly why Rudolph himself didn’t touch the stuff. I know, total buzzkill.
Now we’re starting to get into the really weird Christmas traditions, so let’s talk about the pickle ornament. This tradition isn’t in any way creepy, but it’s just super confusing. Why are we hiding a pickle in a tree? Why does the person that finds the pickle get an extra present? It’s an overall weird tradition, and it was never really fair, since I’m five and a half years older than my sister and I was never actually allowed to win the game. In fact, no big sister really gets to enjoy winning against her younger siblings. I’m pretty sure I’m the reason it’s a tradition in my family now. In retrospect, I’m 95% certain I was reading some gross preteen magazine and read that Hilary Duff/Vanessa Hudgens/someone equally “cool” back then had a pickle ornament growing up, so it was necessary for my family to adopt the tradition as well.
Last on our list, but by far the most important, is the freaking Elf on a Shelf. This is the number one weirdest tradition ever because absolutely nothing can top a small toy that is supposed to watch you throughout the day from high atop a shelf or cabinet in your home. Why did I think this was the cutest thing ever when I was younger? Why did toy manufacturers let this guy get produced? Didn’t they ever watch Chucky? Toys have the power to be incredibly creepy, and this Elf went above and beyond. There’s nothing charming about this, it’s a bizarre and manipulative way to make your kids behave for a while, no matter how much they love it. Also, the risk of forgetting to move it is always present. And I know myself well enough to know that as a parent, I will someday forget to move the creepy little dude (again, total buzzkill). Simply put, he’s just so weird. Even his face screams potential homicidal maniac. It’s all in the eyes.
So there are my top five most recognized Christmas traditions, from the cute and sentimental to the creepy and potentially scarring (still looking at you, Mr. Elf). Of course, there are other traditions that I hold dear—every Christmas Eve my neighborhood gets together and we have a dramatic drunk reading of The Night Before Christmas, and no one will ever uncover more sexual innuendos in a beloved Christmas classic than a bunch of drunk suburban parents, let me tell you. But I’m pretty sure that’s not the norm, so it didn’t make the cut.