THE BASEMENT’S PODCAST REVIEW: “Weird Christmas” with Craig Kringle

Though Halloween is my favorite holiday, I still enjoy Christmas, especially since it does have a dark and weird side. There are so many genuinely good Christmas podcasts out there and this one, WEIRD CHRISTMAS, hosted by Craig Kringle, is one of the best, especially if you are like me and like to hear about both sides of the holiday.

While listening to another podcast, Brian Earl’s CHRISTMAS PAST, we learned of the DEFINITIVE DIRECTORY OF CHRISTMAS PODCASTS where you could go and see what is out there for Christmas podcasts. Of course the name of this one stood out and we started listening and immediately became hooked.

When a podcast discusses topics such as Krampus, Christmas werewolves and Christmas pickles, I am there! The episodes are well thought out and researched and he has some great guests as well. If you didn’t realize that Christmas wasn’t always the commercialized holiday it is not, I think you will enjoy what Craig Kringle has to talk about. The podcasts are short too which are perfect to listen to in the car while you are out buying gifts and spending way too much money.

One of our favorite aspects of this blog is Craig’s sense of humor. It is dry and very snarky at times, creating laugh-out-loud moments. I think everyone will agree that this past year has made us yearn for laughs and escape; you will get that here. Craig was nice enough to take time out of his busy schedule to answer some questions!

David: Was Christmas your favorite holiday growing up?  

Craig: Totally. It was always magical. I mean it literally seemed magical. My parents weren’t religious at all, so when I was little, it was a novelty to all of a sudden listen to songs about magical babies and magical men who’d sneak in at night and give me stuff. So, for me, Christmas was basically the only time I really experienced any kind of ritual or religious “stuff.” So it was fascinating to me. And I think one reason I’m so attracted to the strange side is that Christmas always seemed about breaking out of normal rules to me. It was certainly cozy and comfy, and I enjoyed the gifts and my family. But, more importantly to me, it was the one time when my otherwise very rational and skeptical parents embraced things that seemed weird or strange or not normal. So, yeah, I loved Christmas and how it made the whole world just feel…strange. Good strange, but strange.

David: What is your favorite memory of Christmas?

Craig: Picking one memory is hard. I’m lucky that it’s all mostly good, about getting special presents and feeling loved and safe around family and what not. But I have this one memory of being really small and playing underneath the tree with some Star Wars figures. I was using the tree like a big base, and it just hit me how much stuff there was on the tree that I didn’t remember being there. It was like my little kid brain was god-smacked by how much novelty and variety there could be, and how it all was so happy and cool. And every year after that, I’d force my parents to just over-decorate the tree so that I could never keep track of what all was on it. I wanted to be blown away by the excess.

Craig Kringle in the studio.

David: When did Christmas become weird for you?

Craig: Like I said, I think Christmas was always kinda strange for me. But I first got into the REALLY strange (and surreal and disturbing) side when I stumbled on to a book called “Christmas Curiosities: Odd, Dark, and Forgotten Christmas” by John Grossman. He’s a historian and collector of Victorian ephemera, which means like postcards and brochures and tickets — any kind of paper stuff that’s meant to be used briefly and then discarded. But the book is about all the weirdest things from his collections that now just seem off or not-Christmassy or even terrifying that used to be associated with Christmas. That opened me up to both collecting strange old postcards but also to the bigger world of Christmas history, where you learn that it’s really only in the last 50 years or so that Christmas seems so totally happy and cheerful. Traditionally, because of its association with the winter solstice, it’s a time that’s about acknowledging the darkness and hoping that the sun will come back. So it was a time filled with stories of winter monsters like Krampus who would turn loose in the world. And a lot of the stuff we now think of as being more for Halloween used to just be part of the general solstice/winter/Christmas season. And that’s not even talking about pre-Christian times. Even before World War I, Christmas was a time to tell ghost stories, especially in England, and a time when the veil between the worlds was thinner. There are even some old medieval discussions that Christ was born in winter because of that connection to the spirit world. So things can get pretty weird.  But, yeah, it was that book the clued me in to this whole other way of looking at the season.

David: How did you decide to enter the world of podcasting?

Craig: The podcast started on a lark. I’d been sharing weird vintage postcards on social media for years, and I had a pretty big following. So one year, literally just one evening, I thought about making a website (WeirdChristmas.com) and the template had a spot for a podcast. So I figured why not? I’d just read a book about “Christmas myths” by a philosopher who seemed like an interesting guy to talk to, so I sent him an email. Turns out that people will actually respond to you and seemed excited if you tell them you have a show. So we set up a call, I recorded it, and I put it out with almost no editing whatsoever. But it got like 100 listens in an hour, which was way more than I expected, and a couple people asked for more. So I figured…well, ok! Turns out I had a podcast. But then it became something fun to plan for and think about all year, even though it’s only been the last year or so that I actually get ahead of the game and record things over the summer. It makes me not hate my life during December when I’m not staring at a sound editing app instead of spending time with my family. And that led to starting ANOTHER show, probably even more niche, about one of my favorite writers named Gene Wolfe. A friend and I do it called ReReading Wolfe (rereadingwolfe.podbean.com).

David: What is one of your favorite weird Christmas customs or legends?

Craig: You have to love the folk from Catalonia. They have a ton of Christmas traditions that use poop. There’s the caganer, which is their addition to nativity scenes. It’s pretty much just a pooping guy. It’s a lot like they reacted to being to Christianity by saying, “Ok, we’ll take your religion. But we’re still gonna stick a dude in the back taking a giant dump on your god.” Gotta love the attitude. they also have the Tio de Nadal, which is a tradition about singing a song to a log that’s filled with candy. The song asks the log to poop out the candy. My friend Benito Cereno wrote a wonderful comic about it: https://comicsalliance.com/benito-cereno-and-anthony-clark-bring-you-a-true-christmas-story/

David: Why do you dislike the movie KRAMPUS? LOL

Craig: Heh heh. I actually like it! But I like it for the same reason a lot of people don’t: it can’t decide whether to be campy or scary. I think the movie just doesn’t work in a lot of ways. The biggest is that the scares and the camp silliness end up cancelling each other out. So the film’s vibe just seems weird and awkwardly unsettling. And I love that. They also for some reason decided to get the Krampus legend 100% wrong. The grandmother tells a story about Krampus in the “old country” that has absolutely nothing to do with any Krampus legend anywhere. it’s not like they tried and got it wrong. They just flat made something up. But that’s so strange because the appeal of Krampus is that he’s a real, legit Christmas legend that seems like he doesn’t belong. But in the movie, they just basically made up a new monster. So…cool? I dunno. But the weird awkwardness gives it a vibe I just get.

David: Is there one topic you cover that you enjoy more than the rest?

Craig: There are two things I do that I love more than all the rest. The first is the annual flash fiction contest. I’ve done it three years now, where I ask people to submit flash fiction stories of no more than 350 words about anything winter-holiday-y and strange. The first year I got about 200 submissions, the second year I got over 600, and it just keeps growing. But I get to luxuriate in all this creativity that people send me, and I make a show out of a dozen of the best. (I can’t always say that they’re THE best stories because I try to mix it up a lot, too, so there’s a mix of humor and horror and what not.) But it’s so cool to have so many other people involved in this little project that ends up with such original collections of tales. But as for actual topics I cover, I’ll always like the folklore and history the best. I love learning that “weird Christmas” isn’t just my own odd taste but that Christmas always has truly been strange, deep down in its roots. There are monsters and murders and so much beyond the supposed “reason for the season” that keeps even non-believers like me fully invested in this holiday.

David: Is there a topic you have been dying to cover but haven’t been able to yet?

Craig: I want to do something on the “war on Christmas” and how the whole cultural “thing” about “keeping Christ in Christmas” is something that’s all about recent propaganda. Christmas has almost never really been about Christ, and it didn’t become a really sanctimonious sacred cultural thing until the 19th and 20th centuries. In fact, for most of its existence, the Catholic Church and then the protestants probably spent more time on average trying to get people NOT to celebrate Christmas at all than to make it a religious holiday or celebration. That’s not even an interpretation of events — it’s just the simple fact of the matter, but especially in the US, you still have a bunch of folk with a big political chip on their shoulder about keeping the holiday “pure” or some other nonsense that has no basis in fact. I know I’ll feel better when I get that done and out of my system

David: Are there any podcasts that you listen to regularly?

Craig: I’ll be honest: I’m a terrible podcast listener. And the stuff I do listen to is niche of the niche. That’s what I like about podcasts, though, is that you can make them for an audience of 20 and end up with a devoted following. For example, a friend and I do another podcast about a writer you’ve probably never heard of named Gene Wolfe. He wrote these intricate, hard-to-read (in some ways), inscrutable science fiction and fantasy books that you can read multiple times and still never quite figure out. In fact, our podcast is called ReReading Wolfe because we assume that you’ve read his big masterwork, The Book of the New Sun, at least once before you start to listen. We’re obviously not shooting for a money maker. But we’re actually the newest of THREE different podcasts about the guy (and I hear there are more in the works). But I love the idea that you have a tiny community of people fascinated with one topic who are making all of this content for each other. That’s what I love about podcasts: creating media that’s intended to be for folk who share a very particular love of something or a very particular aesthetic. I never expected Weird Christmas to be popular because I thought most people would find it strange or off-putting, so I’m gratified that folk like you have found it. As for other shows, I don’t keep up with a whole lot. There’s SHWEP (The Secret History of Western Esotericism), Apocrypals (a read thru of the Bible by a couple of non-believers who, as they say, “try not to be jerks about it”), Bone & Sickle (about folklore from a macabre perspective), Expanding Mind before he stopped making them, but really I look for shows that take some one particular interest and dive far deeper than they should. I try to keep up with the Christmas podcasts a bit, but I realized long ago that I’m not going to listen to all of them unless they have some really unique take. There are two new ones I do love, though: Seasons Eatings, which is done by Glen who has some amazing research about holiday food and drink traditions, and then there’s Holly Jolly Xmasu which is all about Japanese Christmas music. I like both of them for taking one slice of Christmas and just committing full bore to diving down a rabbit hole.

David: What is your process for creating each episode? How long does each episode take from beginning to end?

Craig: By now, I’m working on them all year long. I talk to people throughout the year and record the interviews or work on the ideas. My natural procrastination means that I don’t usually edit them until November and December. But it really depends on the show. Some are easy, especially if it’s an interview, where I can hit record, add an intro, and put it out. But the story contest, for example, takes a ton of reading, thinking, deciding, asking other peoples’ opinions, and THEN I have to get the winners to record their story if they want to, edit it, and what not. That one’s always the most labor.

David: Is there someone you really would like to interview but haven’t been able to yet?

Craig: Oh, plenty. Lots of writers, really. I’ve been trying for a year now to get in touch with Connie Willis, who’s written some of my favorite Christmas short stories. But for the most part, I’ve been lucky that just about everyone’s said yes. I haven’t made any deep enemies yet, I suppose.

Again, I want to thank Craig for not only doing this interview but also for providing such fun podcasts to help us get through not only the holidays, but for this whole past year. Listen to WEIRD CHRISTMAS today on Spotify or wherever you listen to podcasts

Don’t forget to read other entries in my BASEMENT PODCAST REVIEW series.

~David Albaugh

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