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25 December 2021

Christmas Traditions: From Festivus fisticuffs to fried caterpillars

By Brad Smith

‘Tis the season to talk about Christmas traditions throughout the world.

For years, people have embraced the so-called fictional holiday, Festivus. The holiday was first mentioned in an episode of Seinfeld. Personally, I never liked the show – I found all of the characters highly annoying and unlikeable – but I did find the idea of Festivus somewhat amusing. Reportedly, a Seinfeld staff writer’s family had been celebrating Festivus since 1966; Dan O’Keefe’s father Daniel had the holiday as an anniversary celebration of his first date with his future wife and Dan’s mother, Deborah. As detailed in the December 23, 1997, episode, “The Strike,” there is the “airing of grievances,” that happens during dinner: Yes, each person present describes how others have disappointed them over the past year. After the meal, the “feats of strength” ensue, including wrestling with the head of the household to the floor . . . and if and when they’re pinned, the holiday concludes.

According to O’Keefe, there was never a Festivus Pole.

Since then, throughout the world, yes, Festivus has been celebrated on Dec. 23.

However, for many years, a similar holiday tradition has been celebrated in Chumbivilcas, a Peruvian province in the Cusco Region. It’s called Takanakuy – in the regional language Quechua, it means “when the blood is boiling” or “to hit each other,” depending on the source.

On Christmas Day, communities throughout Latin America typically hold large public celebrations, with people in colorful costumes, lots of food, drink, music and dancing. In communities throughout the Cusco Region, however, celebrants flock to the local sporting arenas or public squares for Takanakuy and watch as people of all ages, kids to the elderly, men and women alike, engage in fist fights.


Single combat.

Takanakuy is how grievances that people have had with one another over the past year are resolved. Be they personal matters or civil disputes, two people slug it out after calling one another out by name. The victor is decided by knockout or intervention by an official. According to tradition, Takanakuy is how people settle conflicts and resolve to spend the new year living peacefully with one another, strengthening community and even familial bonds.

Until more grievances arise.

The Philippines has the highest population of Catholics in the world. At midnight Sept. 1, radio stations start playing Christmas music, lights and decorations appear everywhere. The city of San Fernando, known as the “Christmas Capital of the Philippines,” hosts Ligligan Parul Sampernandu, the Giant Lantern Festival. Surrounding villages compete against one another as they build large, elaborate lanterns; Japanese origami paper was originally used but now more modern materials are used and the lanterns with their kaleidoscope patterns are lit up by lightbulbs rather than candles.

Some lanterns can be nearly 20 feet in diameter.

In Japan, Christmas isn’t a national holiday but some still observe it . . . by eating chicken, Kentucky Fried Chicken in particular. Back in 1974, some savvy salaryman came up with a marketing campaign called “Kurisumasu ni wa kentakkii” or “Kentucky for Christmas.” Ever since then, Kurisumasu ni wa kentakkii has proven to be very popular in Japan. How popular? Well, KFC restaurants start taking advance orders for holiday meals as far back as September or October or it’s a two or three-hour-long line of people wanting their Christmas chicken meal. Employees also dress as Santa Claus too.

Iceland has a number of Christmas traditions. A small nation yet one with one of the highest literacy rates, there’s the Jólabókaflóðið – the Christmas Book Flood. On Christmas Eve, books – the most popular holiday gift in Iceland – are exchanged and people stay up all night, reading their new books and drinking hot chocolate.

And while most countries observe the 12 Days of Christmas, Iceland has thirteen. Each night leading up to Christmas, the thirteen Yule Lads make their rounds as kids place one shoe in their bedroom window. Good kids get candy and the bad ones get rotten, stinking potatoes. The Yule Lads are elf-like creatures and were once depicted as being somewhat malevolent at times. Over the years, they’ve become more mischievous.

Their mother Grýla, however, is a horrific ogress living in the mountains. She’s always on the prowl around Christmas, searching for naughty children to throw in her cauldron of boiling hot water.

Icelandic folklore also has a large black cat that prowls the country on Christmas Eve – everyone must get new clothes and if not, the Christmas Cat will kill and eat them.

Be thankful for those new socks or ties, okay?

In Barbados at Christmastime, people eat Jug Jug: Influenced by Scottish immigrants, it’s a dish that combines salted meat, pigeon peas, guinea corn flour and herbs. Glazed ham and rum also round out holiday meals.

Going back to pagan beliefs, on Christmas Eve, Norwegians hide all of the household brooms in closets, in the fear that evil witches will take them and fly about all night.

That said, in parts of Italy, a good witch named Belfana travels about, leaving gifts and candy for kids.

Instead of candy, kids in South Africa snack on delicious fried caterpillars. Seriously.

If you’re ever in Caracas, Venezuela during Christmastime, be prepared to see people wearing rollerblades; skating to church services is so common that officials keep vehicles off the roads.

For years now, some people have Christmas dinner at Chinese restaurants. Over a century ago, Jewish immigrants could dine out on Christmas because everything was shut down. Save for Chinese restaurants. By the late 19th Century, Jewish and Chinese immigrants often lived close to one another, so, proximity was a factor. Another was that the Chinese didn’t adhere to antisemitic views held by other European immigrants or Americans. They felt safe there.

As New York restauranter Michael Tong said in a 2003 New York Times interview:

“Welcome to the conundrum that is Christmas New York style: While most restaurants close for the holiday, or in a few cases, stay open and serve a prix fixe meal laden with froufrou, thousands of diners, most of them Jewish, are faced with a dilemma. There's nothing to celebrate at home and no place to eat out, at least if they want a regular dinner. That leaves Chinese restaurants . . . .”

When the film A Christmas Story was released in November 1983, the practice of having Chinese food for a holiday meal gained more popularity.

Happy Holidays, Seasons Greetings, Merry Christmas and a Blessed Yule.


02 December 2021

Accused murderer Keegan faces trial next year

More than a year after his death, Aidan Ellison's killer will be in court

By Brad Smith

MEDFORD, Ore. – According to the Jackson County District Attorney’s Office, accused murderer Robert Keegan, 48, will be facing trial more than a year after shooting a young, unarmed Black man.

“(Keegan) will have a Feb. 24, 2022 court appearance and the trial is slated to start on Feb. 28,” said Benjamin Lull, a deputy district attorney. “DDA Samantha Olson will be the co-counsel. It should last about three weeks.”

By then, it will be one year, three months and eight days since Keegan shot and killed 19-year-old Aidan Ellison outside Ashland’s Stratford Inn. An Almeda Fire survivor, he was reportedly sitting in his car, which was located in the motel’s parking lot and listening to music. Keegan, who was also a fire survivor, was reportedly awakened by loud music at around 4 a.m. He went outside and allegedly asked Ellison to turn down the music.

Ellison reportedly declined to do that.

Court records added a few more details to the incident. Keegan told police that he returned to his room, got dressed, put the 9mm semiauto pistol in his jacket pocket and went to the front desk. He spoke to an employee about his concerns. The employee then went out to the parking lot and spoke with Ellison. As they talked, Keegan went outside and then confronted the young man. That is how the argument started. Keegan claimed that Ellison attacked him.

Reportedly, the murder suspect told police officers that he had “racked a round and shot Ellison in the chest because he was in fear for his personal safety.”

A former law enforcement officer said they were “concerned” by Keegan’s account.

“’Racked a round?’ That’s something you find in badly written private eye stories or other macho pulp crap novels,” they said. “It’s my opinion – my opinion, mind you – that Keegan was the aggressor here. He was looking for a confrontation. It sounds like the motel employee was doing their job and (Keegan) made things worse. In my opinion, (Keegan) is just another macho fuckup with a gun and a bad attitude.”

Keegan claimed that Ellison hit him in the face a number of times and that he acted in self-defense by shooting him. However, the autopsy showed that Ellison’s hands lacked bruising or marks consistent with a physical assault. More to the point, Keegan’s face wasn’t bruised or marked.

Keegan was taken into custody and charged with second-degree murder, first-degree manslaughter, unlawful possession of a firearm (Keegan didn't have a concealed weapon permit) and recklessly endangering another person – he fired the weapon near a motel employee. He was booked into the Jackson County Jail and has been there ever since.

Ellison’s murder came after months of protests from Black Lives Matter supporters and their allies – which were countered by right wing extremists’ outcries. There was outrage throughout the Southern Oregon area and even ire at some local media outlets. Some news outlets went into detail about Keegan’s alleged plight as someone displaced by September’s Almeda Fire while extraordinarily little was said about the victim. Making it even worse were others who demanded to see Ellison’s alleged criminal record – which, to date, none has materialized.

As some local media outlets published articles about a vigil on social media, racism reared its ugly head from time to time. It got so bad that in one case, KTVL banned “Elijah Rebel Kruis” for promoting hate speech, they said. Kruis’ Facebook page was adorned with Confederate flags and far-right posts. Others, like William Meehan, Jr. and Ronald King, blamed Ellison for playing “crap rap music” too loud and said the victim was being “disrespectful.” In short, they victim shamed.

Last month, on the year anniversary of Ellison’s murder, the Truth to Power Club held a mural dedication ceremony at the Ashland High School. The group said the mural was honoring Ellison’s life along with the lives of Oregon’s Black, Indigenous, and people of color leaders, both activists and artists alike. In true Southern Oregon fashion, local bigots blasted the comments section, wasting no time as they attacked and victim-shamed Ellison.

It was reported that Keegan didn’t have a criminal record, something his defenders commented about. However, in 2012, his then-wife filed a restraining order against him when they lived in Coos County. She claimed that Keegan was both physically and emotionally abusive to both her and their son. Fearing for her safety, she went into hiding and has tried to regain custody of her son. She told The Rogue Free Press that she received threats from Keegan prior to the shooting.

Since the shooting, there have been claims from a few motel employees saying Keegan was “disruptive and aggressive” during his stay. Some hinted that there were concerns about his behavior and some staffers wanted him relocated elsewhere. 

Southern Oregon Coalition for Racial Equity (SOEquity) research director Dominique Toyer said this: “Here in the Rogue Valley, Black people are navigating through a predominantly white area in a time where a 17-year-old white kid can be a vigilante but Aidan couldn’t play his music in a parking lot. Black folks are constantly surrounded by our white neighbors and coworkers who are able to comfortably discuss if Black pain is legitimate. I am so tired of white rage and white complacency dictating if my Blackness is worthy of justice.”

Toyer wished that more people would take a stand against racism and other forms of oppression. “Neutrality doesn't make you a good person and I really wish more people understood that,” she said.

Lull said updates would be made should there be changes in the trial scheduling.

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