O.K. so it's Christmas Eve and you're lying in bed listening for sleigh bells when suddenly you hear noise coming from the chimney. Who is there bringing presents for you? If you answered Santa Claus, you'd be wrong - at least if you lived in Switzerland. Oh yes, I learned all about Swiss Christmas this holiday season.
For one thing, they use real candles on the tree. Real candles on the very flammable tree. A little crazy perhaps, but traditional nonetheless. And Santa Claus? No he doesn't bring presents on Christmas, he brings presents on December 6th, Saint Nicholas Day. I guess technically that makes more sense. So who leaves presents for you on Christmas you might be asking? Well it's your good friend Jesus, that's who. I'm not sure if he actually scoots up and down the chimney, but he does bring you presents, even though it's his birthday. Which, thanks to special holiday educational programs on PBS and the history channel, I can now say most assuredly that it is not actually his birthday at all. His real birthday is approximately April 17th, 6 B.C. (after telling that to my mom I asked, "hey, isn't that your anniversary?" to which she replied "yes, but not the 6 B.C. part - although it feels that way sometimes.") But I digress.
I'm not sure if Jesus leaves coal or withholds presents from you if you've been bad, but on St. Nicholas Day look out for Santa carrying a club to knock some sense into unruly children - for real! Coal? Those American children get off easy. And lest we forget about the third holiday of the season which doesn't even exist in America, I'll tell you what I can about Three Kings Day which takes place on January 6th - the twelvth day of Christmas.
There is a special cake or cakes for Three Kings Day and in one cake is a small plastic king (or in modern times, perhaps a queen just to make everything a little more inclusive). If your cake has the plastic royalty in it, you are the king/queen of the day and you get to wear a crown. So there's something else to look forward to after Christmas is over.
I tried to determine if Swiss people feel betrayal at the discovery that none of these things are real - Santa doesn't bring presents, Jesus doesn't stop by to drop off goodies, etc. But there seemed to be no anger to report. I remember feeling outraged at the revelation that Santa wasn't real. I wasn't so angry at my parents necessarily, but at adults in general for taking part in the grand conspiracy to manipulate children into behaving. I long ago decided that I won't tell my future children an outright lie like that. But I will still make sure they have magical holidays.
Oh and speaking of magical holidays, my brother didn't come home for Christmas this year but at least my sister's boyfriend was there in his place! My brother decided to spend Christmas in the magical California sunshine and he was greatly missed. But at least Santa wasn't waiting in a darkened living room with a club in hand ready to beat the crap out of us, so there's a plus.