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.

Don’t strap this little dude down under your cheery Christmas tree–adopt the coconut tradition instead.

Photo by Loadmaster (David R. Tribble)

Released under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License and the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike License

17 thoughts on “Coconuts, Monkeys, Tradition, and Booze

  1. We too always had a coconut under our Christmas tree. I just called my brotherto see if he know why. He said he thought it was for ggood luck. We grow up in Texas also. Was your father in the navy?

    • Somebody else with the coconut tradition! I’m so happy to know you exist. It may well be for good luck–I wouldn’t deny it. It was good luck for my dad, who got to eat the coconut.

      Alas, my dad was in the anti-Navy. He was a marine. If coconuts are a Navy tradition, I expect dad would have been burning a coconut tree in the living room.

  2. We always had a coconut under our tree. We don’t know why but we did. Our oldest brother had the pleasure of cracking and we would drink the milk. I decided to google because we don’t know why. Guess we will never know but my brother still does this under his own tree. Thx for sharing!

      • We also had a coconut under the Christmas tree! Have no idea why and no connection to the military or Texas! And my mom cracked it, dank the milk. Go figure.

        • Bill McCurry says:

          Yet another family with the coconut tradition! We may never know why, but I guess we’re bound by this in some unfathomable way. Or, it’s entirely random and the universe is meaningless. Could go either way.

          • Oneda Cushman says:

            We had the Christmas coconut under the tree as well. It’s been part of family for over 100 years.
            My Grandma told me that it was her family tradition and it started as a way to keep kids from peeping at the gifts.
            They were told that coconut would “punish” kids who messed with gifts or decorations.
            Eventually the kids figured out that wouldn’t happen, but by then it was tradition and my family still does it today.
            Grandma would crack the coconut after all the gifts were opened and use the milk and meat to make a pie for Christmas dinner.

            The darker story of this tradition, as told by my Grandfather, was that the children were told the coconut would trap the soul of a young child who was too curious about what was under the tree and the only way to free the child’s soul was to smash the coconut.
            The child was dead, but his soul could return to heaven.

            Grandma was born in Texas, her family was largely Scottish. Don’t know if that helps tracing the tradition but thought it was worth mentioning.

          • Thank you, Oneda, that’s great to know! The explanation sounds plausible. I mean it seems like a tale that might be behind the tradition, not that a coconut would steal a child’s soul. In my house, my mom held to philosophies that induced as much fear as possible, but the coconut tradition came from my dad’s side of the family, and he was laid back about things.

            The McCurry side of my family is mostly Scottish, and we’ve lived in Texas for four generations before me. For us, the coconut tradition goes back at least to 1900 and maybe as far back as 1840. So, we have some commonality with your Grandma in terms of place of origin. What was her maiden name? Some surnames in my family tree are Pasley, Black, Speer, Nugans, Rosalyn, Screw, Hodges, Bailes, Almond, Hollingsworth, Coker, Blankenship, and Latham.

            Do you put a coconut under your tree? I don’t anymore, but my sister still does.

  3. Oneda Cushman says:

    Yes, I still do it, even though my kids were never afraid of it and are now grown.
    Since we don’t have that many traditions I cling to the few we have.
    Our family in Texas were Duncan, Harper &Mcginnis. I’ll check my tree to see if any of your names show up.
    Hope you have a great Christmas… coconut or not. 🙂

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