Some Clark County families share their offbeat holiday traditions

By Sue Vorenberg, Columbian features reporter



Weird Christmas around the world:

Alpine regions: Krampus, who is sort of like Santa’s evil twin, accompanies St. Nicholas during the Christmas season looking for bad children. When he finds a particularly naughty child, he stuffs the child in a sack and heads off to his lair. Krampus is usually depicted as a demon with horns. In some areas on the night of Dec. 5 young men will dress as Krampus and run around the streets scaring small children. More info:

Catalonia, Spain: The Caganer, a peasant figure depicted defecating with his pants around his ankles, is a common sight around the holidays. Catalonian Nativity scenes often have more characters in them than American ones and include things like fishermen, washer women and the Caganer. The tradition of the Caganer has been around since at least the late 17th century and is a favorite among children. More info:

Japan: Christmas isn’t a huge holiday in Japan, but if you want to do it right you better get your order in early for their traditional Christmas meal of Kentucky Fried Chicken. The American fast-food chain takes orders up to two months in advance. The company launched a Christmas meal campaign in the country in 1974, and it has become a multigenerational tradition. More info:

Slovakia and Ukraine: At the beginning of Christmas Eve dinner, the head of the household takes a spoon of the traditional loksa — made from bread, poppy seed filling and water — and tosses it at the ceiling. The more of it that sticks, the richer the crop harvest will be in the coming year. More info:

Caracas, Venezuela: Streets are closed to motor vehicles during the holidays, so rather than driving to early morning Mass, residents strap on their roller skates and roll to the service. More info:

When you get right down to it, everybody’s family is a little weird — and nothing brings out that strangeness more than the holiday season.

Keep an eye out this morning as you unwrap gifts, sit by the fire or get ready to eat your holiday meal, that is if you celebrate Christmas. You might get a laugh when you realize your family has a few odd habits of its own.

If you’re willing to share your tale on The Columbian’s website, you’ll find yourself in good company. Here are a few unusual Christmas traditions from your Clark County neighbors:

In Marjorie Johnson’s family, nothing says Christmas quite like the traditional nacho dinner.

Johnson, whose daughter works for The Columbian, worked retail during the holidays in the 1980s when her kids were young. And with the exhausting hours she started looking for ways to save time on the Christmas meal.

“Kids, if you ask them would you rather have burritos or a nice ham dinner, well, you know what they’re going to choose,” Johnson said with a laugh.

What started out as burritos the first year morphed quickly into a nacho casserole — what family members now simply call the Christmas Nacho.

“It’s a layered dish with cheese and beans, nachos, guacamole, chiles, all that stuff,” Johnson said. “The nice thing when the kids were little was that they could help me make it.”

After the kids grew up and Johnson had more time to prepare for the holidays, she asked her family if they’d like to switch back to a more traditional meal.

“They said ‘No! You have to do the Christmas Nacho, we love the Christmas Nacho,’” she said. “My kids and my grandkids love it. And it’s nice to be able to take some of that stress out of the holidays so I can spend more time with my family, rather than just cooking.”

Gail Critchfield discovered her in-laws’ strange Christmas tradition when she and her husband, Bob, first started dating.

One of Bob’s aunts got an extremely ugly red dress as a Christmas present from a friend, and decided a little regifting was in order.

“So his aunt had this red dress that she just hated, and she rewrapped it and gave it to another friend in their circle, who then gave it to another one of Bob’s family members,” Gail Critchfield said. “They kept doing that and it became this sort of funny tradition. Everybody used to hope to get that red dress each year so they could decide who to pass it on to next.”

Everybody, by the way, included men as well as women.

In Karen Curry’s family, you quickly learn that Christmas Eve is the best night for a pajama party.

That evening, each family member gets one gift — a new pair of pajamas.

“My mother started that tradition,” Curry, 48, said. “It’s great. Everybody wakes up in their new pajamas on Christmas morning just in time for our holiday breakfast of Norwegian egg pancakes.”

Curry’s daughter, Kallayah Curry, 20, said she couldn’t imagine the holidays without the tradition.

“Of course, when I have kids I’ll do that,” she said.

Rhonda Spencer’s family has a slightly darker holiday tradition. On Christmas evening, after the feast, family members head out to the movie theater to check out a horror flick, she said.

“All my aunts and uncles and cousins go,” Spencer said. “I especially remember the year we saw ‘Scream’ for some reason. I think it sticks out because we didn’t know what it was about.”

The family also does a Christmas Eve gift exchange between relatives. The only gifts allowed are alcohol or lottery tickets.

“Although one year we ended up with an X-rated Chia Pet that got regifted several times,” she said.

The Christmas Nacho

Makes one 9 by 13 pan

Marjorie Johnson’s family recipe

Tortilla chips (sturdy). The thin kind tend to break easily.

1 large or 2 small cans of refried beans

1 pound ground beef

1 package your favorite dry taco seasoning

2 cups grated cheese or more if you like lots of cheese. (I use a combination of cheddar and Monterey jack.)

1 small can diced mild green chilies

1 small can sliced olives

2-3 tomatillos, diced (optional)

2-3 tomatoes, diced (Romas are good because they are firmer)

Sour cream

Guacamole (optional)

Sauté the ground beef, breaking it into small pieces, until no longer pink. Drain the fat and add the dry taco seasoning and water. Don’t add too much water because you want the end product to be dry. Simmer the meat at least 10 minutes while you prepare the other ingredients.

Spread the refried beans in the bottom of the pan (kids love to do this part). Spread the seasoned ground beef over the beans and sprinkle the cheese over the meat. Put in a 350 degree oven for about 20 minutes. You want it to be heated through and the cheese melted.

Remove from the oven and spread the olives, green chilies, tomatillos and tomatoes over the cheese.

Add dollops of sour cream and guacamole. Serve with tortilla chips.

It is easy to customize the dish to your own tastes by adding or removing ingredients. If you like it spicier, you can add hot chilies or salsa.

You can enlarge or reduce the size of the nacho by adjusting the ingredients but this recipe will serve six people or more depending on whether this is the main dish or just an appetizer. It is great anytime of the year.