MAD DOG: Inspecting Customs

Everyone loves a celebration. Birthdays, anniversaries, bi-centennials, graduation from decoupage school, there's no such thing as an excuse too lame to have a celebration.Of course we're just completing another round of the big celebration season, what with Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwaanza, New Year's Eve, and Boxing Day, which as you know is celebrated in Australia, Canada and Great Britain but not here in the United States, a topic which would make most boxers say "Huh?," which is about all you can expect to hear from someone who's career choice features having their head repeatedly battered around by people with the strength of a car crusher.After all the hustle and bustle is over, it's good to sit back and take stock of how we celebrate our holidays. If you live in a Hallmark card, your holidays were spent quietly with your family and friends, sitting around a flickering fireplace drinking hot chocolate and roasting chestnuts no one ever eats. In reality, you were probably up at dawn, raced around to four houses (since everyone's divorced and you have to visit all sets of parents or you'll never get another sterling silver pizza cutter as long as you live), ate four Christmas dinners (only one of which was edible -- if you're lucky), and felt it was a successful day because it resulted in no fist fights, gunshot wounds or salmonella poisoning. Face it, Norman Rockwell lied.But it's not like this all over the globe. Well, maybe at Christmas it is, but the rest of the year it's very different. In Ireland on St. Patrick's Day, the Irish go to church and thank St. Patrick, their patron saint, for driving the snakes out of their homeland. Here in the United States we celebrate St. Patrick's Day by throwing parades and parties and giving thanks to the inventors of green dye and potable alcohol. Somehow it would seem more appropriate if we celebrated Clare of Assisi Day and Bernadine of Siena Day, who are the patron saints of television and advertising.In Mexico they celebrate holidays by breaking pinatas. These are brightly colored packages which hang from string and are battered and beat by children holding baseball bats until their contents -- candy and toys -- fly out all over the place, causing a mad scramble in which young children are often trampled, leaving more candy for the others. This is a lot like the games street gangs play in East Los Angeles except, of course, they use live kids as the pinata.In Spain they celebrate many holidays by letting bulls run through the streets, which is not only extremely festive, but a highly effectively means of reducing the population. Meanwhile, in Thailand they've come up with a more humane way of keeping the population down while they celebrate -- they get vasectomies. That's right, in a recent rite to honor King Bhumibol Adulyadej's 50th year on the throne, hundreds of otherwise sane Thai men had their tubes snipped, tied and generally rendered ineffective. Personally I don't want to be around to see how they celebrate his 60th anniversary.South Korea, now they know how to celebrate big. Huge masses of people roam the streets, beating gongs and carrying on while handing out "yot," which are pressed sticks of caramel-laced rice, sort of an Asian Rice Krispies Treat. Ten thousand additional traffic police are out to keep control. Extra taxis and subway trains are everywhere. And what are they celebrating? The completion of the college entrance exams.That's right. While South Koreans may not think the X-Files are worth not having a social life over, they do take their college entrance exams very seriously. Mothers pray, airplanes are banned from landing and taking off during critical parts of the test, and people go to work an hour later than usual so the students won't be caught in rush hour traffic. Contrast this with the United States, where exam day means missing your friends at the mall, having to wear your baseball cap brim forward, and then going home and trying to convince your parents that Hamburger University is so a real college. Face it, most American high school students think SAT is the past tense of...of....well, they know it's French and, after all, isn't that really what's important?But before you make your holiday plans, no matter what holiday it is, I suggest you check several sources. Last November 21st a woman in Jackson, TN (who shall remain nameless because she's already been through enough and we don't need to rub in just what an idiot she is) had Thanksgiving dinner all cooked and ready and was waiting for the family to come over when she found out she was a week early. It turned out it wasn't her fault. The calendar she got from Jackson-Madison County General Hospital (motto: "Which leg was it again that has to come off?") had the wrong dated marked as Thanksgiving.You know, maybe the Thai concept of celebrating holidays isn't such a bad idea after all.

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