Merry Christmas from Vagobond!

Dec 25, 2019

Merry Christmas folks!

Here’s a picture from Christmas back in 2008. I had no idea what the world had in store for me. Hard to believe it’s been 11 years.

Still got the soul patch but the hair is mostly gone. Back in Hawaii now, which I didn’t really think would happen.

There I was, alone in the world with nothing but my friends and my hat and no home to return to, no home left behind, no home ahead of me. I’m glad I didn’t waste my freedom on some soul sucking job. I’m glad I decided to say fuck it and ditched it all.

And I’m glad, 11  years later that i sit here in Hawaii again on Christmas Day with my beautiful 8-year-old daughter and my lovely wife – and once again – I look outwards at the world ready to see what it has to offer and ready to find what I can offer it.

 

Dec 25, 2018

This was 40 years ago. It’s funny how as I sit with my wife and daughter (mee looking at the instructions and my wife grabbing the wrappings – we almost mirror this picture of me with my parents from 1978. This was my favorite shirt as a kid with a van filled with dogs and cats it said “Keep on Truckin’ – of course it did. Merry Christmas everyone and Keep on Truckin!!!!!
Merry Christmas

Christmas Eve in Hawaii – At Home on Oahu for the Holidays

Oahu Christmas2019: Well, we messed up again. Once again, I had a great plan for Christmas – we were going to go to Molokai but by the time we were able to find my wife’s work schedule – the prices had gone sky high – as they always do on school holidays when capitalists know that families have the opportunity to travel so demand goes up – and while we could have dealt with that – there were no more rental cars available and the place we wanted to stay really needed one. So, once again, here we are again – home on Oahu for the holidays. It’s not such a terrible thing – we will certainly go to the beach and do some sand castle building and body surfing to celebrate the pinnacle of the  blight of consumerism that seems to never have a start or end point any longer.

2018:It was my intention to meet up with friends on Maui and have a Merry Christmas trip to the island of Molokai this year – but things don’t always work out the way you plan. In this case, the fake nuclear attack, near misses with hurricanes, and Big Island volcanic eruptions (plus the largely unspoken economic crisis that is looming) hit our tourism based income incredibly hard this year. As the holidays loomed, my wife and I were left with the choice of working in Honolulu during the Christmas break or taking our annual holiday – due to our budget – we opted to go with working.

Honolulu ChristmasWe will have Christmas Day off together but during all the other days of our daughter’s school break, one or the other (sometimes both) of us will be working. We’ve enrolled Sophia in a Christmas break day camp, so she will still get to have lots of holiday themed fun – and frankly- that’s the most important thing to us. We’re lucky – actually. This year, there are a lot of workers such as those who work for TSA, Homeland Security, or Border Patrol who won’t be collecting a paycheck. There are many families here on Oahu and throughout the Hawaiian Islands (and the USA) who are homeless and won’t be celebrating Christmas, getting presents, or spending any time with loved ones. There are many families who can’t afford to send their kids to day camps during the holiday and without school to watch over them while the parents work – many children are being left to their own devices – not through cruelty, but through necessity.

Honolulu ChristmasSo, we are thankful. Hawaii is a strange place for Christmas in any event – we try really hard here with lots and lots of decorations and Christmas music- but if you’ve ever spent time anywhere else for Christmas – it just feels really odd to have perfect weather, warm water to swim in, and everyone wearing shorts and Santa hats. Merry Christmas in Hawaiian is Mele Kalikimaka. The Hawaiians in ancient times didn’t know anything about Christmas. They celebrated a four month period from about November to February called Makahiki when there was generally no work done, lots of games, contests, and all warfare and hostilities were called off. This is just one more way the Hawaiians lived better in the past than we do today.

Christmas in OregonThere was no money, no economy, no imports, no exports, and nearly everyone could take four months of the year off from working or fighting to just enjoy life. When you average it out, the ancient Hawaiian family only needed a total of 4 hours of work per day to provide everything they needed in life. They didn’t need all this stuff we have now. I noticed something odd this year – people were frantic about their Christmas shopping, often neurotic and seemingly in a panic. In Hawaii, it’s not like other places – you’re expected to give good presents to all of your coworkers and friends and family – and that gets expensive fast. Then there’s the Secret Santa tradition – in the jobs I had on the mainland – Secret Santa was a way to ensure that everyone got one nice gift and no one had to spend too much – something like maximum $25 – and no other gifts needed. Not here – my wife’s work laid out the rules $25 minimum! And- they all went ahead and bought gifts for everyone else too…

Honolulu ChristmasGrowing up, Christmas was never that fantastic for me or my siblings so as an adult, it really took becoming a parent for me to grow to love the holiday. When our daughter was old enough to open presents – I began to spoil her the best I could (okay, from birth, I admit it). I love watching her wake up and look for presents. I love the mystery. I’m going to admit something here though – I’ve always been really honest with her. I’ve never wanted to tell her lies about anything – and frankly – I became terrified that she would discover that I was lying about Santa Claus and feel it as some sort of betrayal of trust. I felt incredibly guilty about it. She had started to ask questions that were leading to the answer and in a moment of what may have been bad judgment – I just told her that Santa isn’t real. After that we worked through the way the whole process works.

Honolulu ChristmasWhen she was a baby, we took her to where the real Santa Claus lived in Demre, Turkey – so I went from there and explained the tradition. As it got closer to Christmas though,  we both  agreed to suspend reality and believe in Santa together. We have a tiny little tree in our tiny little apartment. I’ve kept all her presents hidden so I can put them out on Christmas morning – and just like last year on the Big Island (I snuck the presents in an extra suitcase) – Santa will be visiting us again. So we will leave him cookies and milk. I have to admit, it’s much more fun to suspend our disbelief together than it was to fool her – I think it’s going to be a lovely Christmas in Honolulu this year. We’ll go to the Beach on Christmas Day, build sand castles, and maybe go see a movie and eat Chinese food. Maybe next year we can restart our holiday travel tradition. Or maybe not. In any event, we wish you a Merry Christmas!

Mele Kalikimaka!

Pooping in the Christmas Manger – A Catalan Tradition

This was the first Christmas blog I ever posted – waaaaaay back in 2005….things were different then, this was a different blog, but it’s still a fun bit of Christmas!

Pooping in the Christmas mangerPooping in the manger. Okay…this is a Christmas tradition I can get behind. I love this. Here is an explanation for this strange Spanish Christmas custom from Wikipedia.

The Story Behind Pooping in the Manger

A Caganer is a little statue unique to Catalonia, and neighbouring areas with Catalan culture such as Andorra.

In Catalonia, as in most of Italy, South France and Spain, the traditional Christmas decoration is a large model of the city of Bethlehem, similar to American Nativity scenes that encompasses the entire city rather than just the typical manger scene. The Catalans have added an extra character that is not found in the manger scenes of any other culture. In addition to Mary, Joseph, Jesus, the Shepherds and company, Catalans have the character known as the Caganer. This extra little character is often tucked away in some corner of the model, typically nowhere near the manger scene, where he is not easily noticed. There is a good reason for his obscure position in the display, for “caganer” translates from Catalan to English as “defecator”, and that is exactly what this little statue is doing — defecating.

The reasons for placing a man who is in the act of excreting solid waste from his posterior in a scene which is widely considered holy are as follows:

  1. Just tradition.
  2. Scatological humor.
  3. Finding the Caganer is a fun game, especially for children.
  4. The Caganer, by creating feces, is fertilizing the Earth. However, this is probably an a posteriori explanation, and nobody would say they put the Caganer on the Nativity scene for this reason.
  5. The Caganer represents the equality of all people e.g. regardless of status, race, gender everyone defecates.

Pooping in the Christmas mangerThe exact origin of the Caganer is lost, but the tradition has existed since the 18th century. Originally, the Caganer was portrayed as a Catalan peasant wearing a traditional hat called a barretina — a red stocking hat with a black band.

The Catalans have modified this tradition somewhat since the 1940s. In addition to the traditional caganer design, you can easily find other characters assuming the caganer position, such as nuns, devils, Santa Claus, celebrities, athletes, historical figures, politicians, Spanish royalty, and other famous people past and present, including Pope John Paul II, Salvador Dalí, prime minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, Princess Letizia and even Osama bin Laden.

The practice is tolerated by the local Catholic church. Caganers are easiest to find before Pooping in the Christmas mangerChristmas in holiday markets, like the one in front of the Cathedral of Santa Eulalia, which has tables and tables of caganers. Caganers have even been featured in art exhibits.

The caganer is not the only defecating character in the Catalan Christmas tradition—another is the Tió de Nadal, which also makes extensive use of the image of human waste production. Other mentions of feces and defecation are common in Catalan folklore. One popular Catalan phrase before eating says “menja bé, caga fort!” (Eat well, shit strong!).

Santa Claus – Extraordinary World Traveler Vagabond

Real Santa ClausSanta Claus – He’s Not Who You Think He Is

Earlier this year, before her 1st birthday, my daughter had the opportunity to visit the real home of Santa Claus. No, we didn’t go to the North Pole. Nor did we go to Lapland.  We didn’t visit with the elves or travel through the snow.

We were in Demre, Turkey. If you don’t believe me, you can read a little about the history of Santa on Wikipedia or you can just read on and trust me with the facts.

If anyone ever tells my daughter that Santa is a made up person, I can show her pictures of us visiting where he really lived. He was a real person. A person named Nicholas.

If you are one of those people who says Santa Claus isn’t real – you’re right because he’s long dead, but he was real. He was a real person, so if you are one of those people who say Santa Clause is a fictional or imaginary character – you are wrong.

Santa Clause was born in the town of Patara, Turkey on the Mediterranean Coast. If you visit today you will find (much to the surprise of many) Santa shops, Christmas shops, and everything Santa you can imagine in this mostly Muslim town. At the time he was born, Turkey wasn’t yet a country and so despite being Anatolian, he was Greek. A Byzantine Christian to be precise. For those who don’t know, Istanbul was the capital of Byzantium and called Constantinople in those days.

His parents left him as a wealthy orphan and he used his inheritance to help the poor who weren’t as fortunate as he.  In particular, he was generous with children and traveled the known world distributing gifts and help to the needy.

Real Santa ClausIn 325 A.D. He became the Bishop of Myra (Now Demre, Turkey) and was a part of the Council of Nicea who cobbled together the Holy Bible from a vast assortment of documents. He died December 6, 343 A.D. In fact, in many parts of Europe, December 6 is a day to give gifts and exchange presents.

Six Facts You Didn’t Know About Santa (From Natalie Sayin’s Turkish Travel Blog)

 

So, how did he become Santa Clause?

Here’s a story you won’t see in Christmas cartoons…one of the most famous stories of St. Nick’s generosity was when he gave three orphaned girls dowries so they would be able to marry and wouldn’t have to become prostitutes! It was this gift that some say led to the giving of presents on Christmas today!

In the 10th century – Myra was attacked by Italian sailors who carried away all the relics of St. Nicholas to Bari where they still sit today.  He is the patron saint of archers, sailors, and children to pawnbrokers.

After his death, he was attributed with miracles aplenty. He brought boys murdered by a butcher back to life, he kept a ship from sinking with his prayers, and he levitated one sailor from the water to save his life. Hmmm…I believe he can fly!

Clement C. Moore, an American professor of divinity, was the one who turned Saint Nicholas into Santa with his 1823 poem “A Visit from Saint Nicholas.” The poem provided the inspiration for the first portrait of Santa Claus, drawn by newspaper cartoonist Thomas Nast in 1870.

Real Santa ClausAfter he died, he was made a saint and a tomb was built for him in Demre. The Church of St Nicholas was built over that tomb in the 6th Century. It is a ruin now, but still a very beautiful piece of  Anatolian Byzantine architecture. Many of the mosaics and frescoes have survived.  There is a tomb there, but the bones are in Bari.

St. Nicholas is the patron saint of Russian Orthodoxy, so it’s not surprising that on peak days (around December 6th) you can find up to 60 buses per day of tourists – mostly from Russia. The government of Turkey issued a Santa Claus stamp in 1955 and have heavily promoted ‘Noel Baba’ as a tourist draw. It’s a pretty good one if you ask me.

 

Top Three European Christmas Destinations

Christmas in Europe is delightful, no matter where you go. The marriage of old world charm with unique traditions makes for a lovely holiday. Here are my picks for the Top Three European Christmas Destinations of 2019.

1.Copenhagen, Denmark – Tivoli Gardens

Christmas in DenmarkChristmas in Copenhagen is nothing short of enchanting, especially in Tivoli Gardens. Tivoli Gardens is the second oldest amusement park in the world, originally opening on the 15th of August in 1843. It is a popular attraction throughout the year, drawing well over four million visitors annually. But you haven’t experienced Tivoli until you have visited for Christmas.

A complete and total fairy tale, every holiday season the park and gardens are transformed into a winter wonderland unlike any other. There are over four miles of decorative lights, in addition to almost two-thousand fairy lights used to illuminate over four hundred trees. The glittering weeping willows and the giant Christmas tree are a spectacle to behold.

If you are traveling with children, they will be delighted by the forty-five meter toboggan run, the chance to sit with Santa in his sleigh, and by Pixie Ville. Pixie Ville is home to Tivoli’s mechanical pixies and elves, and you can watch them frolicking in the snow, ice skating, and settling down in their igloos. You can catch a further glimpse at the pixies preparing their celebrations when you chug by them on the Christmas Express. Keep an eye out for Santa and Mrs. Claus!

Even if you’re vacationing without wee ones, Tivoli is still worth the visit. The Christmas market is made up of over seventy decorated stalls that line the garden walkway. Here you can purchase a wide variety of handmade Scandinavian gifts and delectable treats, like iced donuts, caramel apples, and warm, mulled wine. Enjoy your treats as you tour the impressive ice sculptures, and then work off the calories by dancing the evening away to some live holiday music.

If you plan on making the trek to Copenhagen this year, you can expect to see the usual Danish décor replaced with a Russian theme. This includes a brightly colored reproduction of the famous and beautiful St. Basil’s Cathedral. Visit Tivoli between December 26th and 30th, and end the evening with an impressive fireworks display.

2.Rome, Italy – The Vatican

Christmas VaticanThis is not a trip I would recommend for families traveling with small children. The late hours and long masses are sure to make them sleepy and restless. However, for those wishing to celebrate Christmas in a deeply religious fashion, midnight mass at the Vatican will provide a moving experience.

You will need a ticket to attend this mass, as it draws quite the crowd. Tickets are free, but it is best to request them in advance to avoid rushing around, or worse, not being able to get in. Even the lines to present your confirmation and pick up your tickets can be extremely long, so dress accordingly. December in Rome can be rather chilly, another reason you may want to avoid bringing wee ones to this event.

The Pope will preside over two Christmas masses. The first will take place at midnight on Christmas Eve, December 24th. The second will take place on Christmas day, December 25th, at noon.

 

 

 

3.Nuremberg, Germany – Christkindlesmarkt

Nuremberg Germany ChristmasCan you think of anything more charming than a Bavarian Christmas? Maybe it is just because I grew up with rum balls and nutcrackers, but I find Christmas in this part of Europe absolutely magical. Germany is famous for its Christmas markets, and you won’t find another market like the one in Nuremberg.

Every holiday season, on the eve of advent, the market is officially opened following a prologue from the Christmas Angel. Dressed in golden robes with golden, flowing curls, the beautiful Angel ends her speech with, “You men and women, you who were once children, too, be a child again today. Rejoice when Christchild now invites you all to see this market. Whoever comes to visit will be welcome.”

You will find nearly two-hundred stalls selling their wares. From handmade crafts, ornaments, candles and wreaths to fruit cakes, spicy gingerbread, and mulled wine. This is the perfect spot to find a unique ornament that you can cherish for Christmases to come.

Children love the Christkindlesmarkt, and not just because the place is crawling with irresistible sweets. A ride on the steam train or around the old fashioned carousel is fun for the whole family. The House of Stars offers a plethora of ever-changing children’s activities, and every Tuesday and Thursday, the Christmas Angel will be there to read their favorite fairy tales.

 

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