Ever fantasized about belonging to one of those old British explorer’s clubs? [Tweet this!] You know, the kind where you can stride into the book-lined room, pith helmet under one arm, sit in a high armchair by the fire and chat about lost treasurers and your latest adventure up the Nile?
Since my trip to Southern California last week, I realize that this is a fantasy I can lay squarely at the feet of a man named Walt and his Tiki Lounge.
Fortunately, a modern version of just such an explorer club exists – The Obscura Society.
Atlas Obscura is a website of the weird and wonderful. There you’ll find listings of oddball, haunted, and out-of-the-way places to explore. If it’s famous, it’s not on Obscura – no Eiffel Tower’s allowed. Atlas Obscura is more about giant balls of twine and paranormal museums. It’s my new favorite website – my go-to place when I’m about to travel somewhere and don’t know what to do.
Even better, several cities have Obscura Society chapters, including San Francisco. I attended my first meeting last Tuesday – their last salon of the year. The topic: the world’s oddest holiday traditions. The location: a bar. Once again, a win-win for this lover of the paranormal and outre.
Seven speakers talked about oddball Christmas traditions around the world. Krampus took the lead – apparently Santa’s devilish sidekick is becoming increasingly popular worldwide, which… somehow makes it less cool. Other topics included the Italian Christmas witch, La Befana. According to legend, the widow hosted the Three Wise Men and they were so impressed with her hospitality that they asked if she’d like to go along with them in search of baby Jesus. She declined, pleading excessive housework, and regretted it ever since. Being a widow, she became a witch, and as a gesture of regret for missing Jesus, she delivers presents to Italian children.
My favorite topic of the evening had nothing to do with the paranormal. Apparently every year since the late 1960s, a town in Sweden builds a giant Christmas goat out of straw, and nearly every year someone burns it down in spite of guards and web cams. Last year, a gang of vandals dressed as gingerbread men shot flaming arrows into the goat, incinerating it. The gingerbread men remain at large. British bookies are now laying bets on whether the goat will survive this year, and you can view a live webcam to see if it’s still standing.
Call me small-minded, but I was oddly pleased that no one mentioned Gryla, Iceland’s Christmas troll. I might be slightly behind the trend on Krampus, but Gryla was too obscure for the Obscura Society that night. Ha!