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Grassroots Graton - December 2014


Grassroots Graton - December 2014

by Heather Granahan

The frost is on the pumpkin. And the roofs, the hesitant winter garden plants and the seat of your motorcycle that you forgot to bring in last night. Graton being a special little sinkhole of extreme temperatures, you just cannot go by the local forecasts. As I write this we started the day at 32 degrees F and peaked at 70. As I learned last winter, hucking a sheet over those cold-sensitive plants isn’t enough; you have to drape a rope light around up under the sheet to keep the freeze off.  And while we’re at it, will someone please do the same for me? If you see an underlit blob in town, it’ll be me, dreaming of somewhere warm. As writer Isabelle Eberhardt says, “Now more than ever do I realize that I will never be content with a sedentary life, that I will always be haunted by thoughts of a sun-drenched elsewhere.” 

These are the days of cocooning, of family feasts and celebrations and dreams fueled by seed catalogs, books and travel stories (yes, all of which still exist, amazingly). Of course, the culture here in the States and much of the world focuses on a mix of shopping, eating a lot and a sprinkling of some sometimes questionable décor as we each observe Hannkwansticemas in our own ways. As diverse as we may think that is, other countries may have us over the barrel in the jolly department. In the interest of keeping it real, I will share a bit from lands I’ve actually been to.

In Greece they kick off December in Chios on the first with the island’s seamen carry around 3-meter models of ships, singing island songs. They end up at the central square and the four best models win a prize. In the village of Siatista in Greece they commemorate the shepherds who lit the bonfires to announce the birth of Christos on the 23rd. The party is known as Kladaries, and the ceremony consists of locals dancing around bonfires while drinking the local wines. The three best bonfires win prizes. I suggest Graton take up this excellent tradition…oh wait. Too many Spare The Air days. Like most countries I’ve been to, saint and name days pepper the year with parties and parades; in Greece, it’s no surprise that the 25th of December is the name day for Christos. The 27th is the name day for Stefanos – hmmm – a Stafanosmas tree?

In Catalonia (still an mostly autonomous community of Spain at the moment), they have three of the most arresting holiday traditions I’ve seen anywhere. And by that I mean that at least one of them would probably offend someone enough in the US somewhere to get you in a conversation with the law if not arrested. First, on the day “Diada de les tradicions nadalencs” there is the “Carassa de Barcelona” – a “Face of Christmas” figure which is paraded to a nearby market. Sweets pour from the large extended tongue of this huge grimacing head for the kids. Yay!

If that wasn’t enough, every nativity scene and even the big shopping malls are not complete without a “Caganer”, or as we fondly call the small one in our house, the “crapping Catalan”. The Metropolitan paper of Barcelona politely describes this 300-yr-old tradition also shared in larger Spain, Italy and Portugal, ”The caganer is a small, defecating figure associated with Christmas. The typical Catalan caganer is squatting with his trousers around his ankles; he wears a red barretina and is often reading a newspaper or smoking a pipe”. Behind him there is always evidence of his “tribute to fertility and connection to the earth.” This is true no matter who is depicted in this traditional pose – no world leader or sports hero goes un-Caganered.

Of course, there is always the Caga Tio. This happy-faced log with a blanket wrapped behind is stuffed with treats and then beaten gleefully by children with sticks on Christmas morning to loosen the load of treats. Larger versions of this firewood piñata are flailed on at the public market while funk-ily descriptive songs are sung.

I say all this would surely convince me to stop hiding from getting out amongst it during the Xmess holidays. Who could resist?   Our ways are not the only ways, remember, in the words of  Pascal Mercier in The Night Train To Lisbon – “We leave something of ourselves behind when we leave a place, we stay there, even though we go away. And there are things in us that we can find again only by going back there.”  Enjoy your Winter dreams, wherever they take you.