Now that Christmas over and everybody’s holiday cheer has been poisoned by bitter relatives and travel reminiscent of a bad peyote trip, I’d like to talk about all things Yule. I’ll hurry, since I ought to be editing right now.
I rate this Christmas as bizarre. It was far stranger than the one at which every child in my extended family had the flu, and Christmas morning found them lying scattered around the couches and rugs like victims of a grenade attack. One of them would lift his head an inch and flop it sideways to look at a new toy before collapsing back onto a pillow, and another might barf on a poinsettia, but they whimpered at the suggestion they go back to bed.
This Christmas was more peculiar than that. It was the first one without my mom, and Christmas without my mom is like the circus without monkeys. She loved Christmas more than any person I’ve ever met, so without her the festivity index was low. Also, we gathered a couple of days before Christmas, which seemed odd, but as far as my father is concerned Christmas Day is now no more significant than August 7.
But I don’t want to talk about all that.
I spent much of Christmas Eve fixing my in-law’s wireless network, which was more festive than it might sound, once everyone went away and stopped talking to me. I love them all, but my brain does one thing at a time, and answering questions counts as one thing. It occasionally appeared that I might fail, and comments about the need for bigger brains were overheard, but at last, on Christmas morning, I drove a victorious stake through the son of a bitch’s heart in the spirit of the season.
But I don’t want to talk about that either.
I want to talk about coconuts.
When I was a boy, my father always bought a coconut and put it under our Christmas tree. He never explained it. I never asked. Why would I ask? You have tinsel, you have gifts, you have a coconut. It’s the way things were done. On Christmas morning, once the gifts had been opened in turn so we could all appreciate every revelation, my father smashed open the coconut with a 22-ounce framing hammer. Then he drank the milk and ate most of the meat, since the rest of us didn’t care much for coconut. I think my mom ate a little for the sake of politeness.
When I grew up and started talking to my friends about holidays, I realized that not a single one of them had a coconut burrowing under his Christmas tree. My family was unique. I asked my father, hey, what’s with the coconut? He said he had no idea. In his childhood, whenever his family could afford a coconut, they had a coconut. He guessed it was a family tradition, like cooking ham at Easter, or following young men who leave town after trifling with their daughters and then quietly murdering them.
This puzzles me a lot. Five generations ago my people were hanging around North Texas, felling timber and farming and making trouble. They’d have to ride a horse two weeks to find the closest coconut trees. Getting a coconut must have been a significant effort. Catching a bobcat and strapping it to the floor under the tree would have been a lot easier.
I turned to my friend and mentor, Google, who guided me through a lot of Christmas coconut cakes, Christmas coconut cookies, and Christmas coconut balls before I found I’m not the only child of the coconut tradition. At least two other people in the world grew up with coconuts in cozy nests under their trees—and neither of them has a shade of an idea where this behavior came from or what it means.
I could create a crackerjack story about the Christmas coconut tradition. No one seems to know a damn thing about it, so who could say I’m wrong?
The coconut represents the sacred heart of Huldah, the cow in the manger that stepped on the second wise man’s foot, causing him to spill some frankincense, and whose heart shrank in contrition, and who afterwards gave vodka instead of milk on the Sabbath. So we put a coconut under the tree to remember her. And then we smash it and hope there’s vodka in it.
It’s tradition. Don’t mess with it.
Photo by Loadmaster (David R. Tribble)