Totally True Christmas Traditions of Small-Town Oregon

This year, have an authentic Oregon holiday season.

This may come as a surprise to many readers, but Oregon is a vast state that includes other towns that are not Portland and, in fact, extends even beyond the outskirts of Gresham and Tigard. This Christmas, why not explore our great state by participating in some of these time-honored, small-town Oregon Christmas traditions?

Gingerbread House

Every December in Corvallis, the small Oregon town where I grew up, one elderly single woman's house is designated the Gingerbread House. It is decorated in an extravagantly cutesy manner, and the woman is required to bake gingerbread men with Red Hots for eyes all day and hand them out to any children who knock at her door.

King of the Christmas Tree

In the far Eastern Oregon village of Elgin, Christmas trees are displayed prominently in front windows. If, while walking down the street, you see a tree you like, it is customary to ring the doorbell and ask, "May I have your Christmas tree?" The residents of the home pick one person in the house to leg wrestle you, and whoever wins gets to keep the Christmas tree, decorations included.

Secular Humanist Day of Giving

Christmas Valley is the only town in Oregon that does not allow Christians to buy or rent homes there. As such, the residents of this small and peaceful borough give handmade gifts to their friends every year on Dec. 25 and then spend the rest of the day respectfully allowing their neighbors to do whatever they want so long as it doesn't hurt anyone.

The Lonely Fish

Oregon fishermen are a superstitious bunch. Coastal towns from Brookings to Astoria send one man each between the ages of 15 and 20, selected by lottery, to spend Christmas Eve day alone on a red-and-green dinghy, fishing with a net. Upon his return at sunset, the entire village feasts on the largest fish he catches, ripping it apart while it still writhes. The ritual is thought to bring good luck for the year to come.

Elfolk Labor Day

It's a little-known fact that Santa's toy-making operation has an auxiliary workshop in lightly populated Central Oregon. While many people celebrate Boxing Day on Dec. 26, Santa's indentured-servant elves in La Pine get their only day off of the year. They spend the day napping, gazing into their children's eyes and trying to memorize their faces (elves are not allowed to own pictures of their children because it is considered "distracting" by their boss). At 11:59 pm on Dec. 26, Santa faxes in his order for the following year, and the elves of La Pine commence the unending and ultimately insufficient work of building Christmas toys for the children of the world.