I’ve kicked around the world a fair bit, one way and another, thought I knew what Christmas was about but it’s so different here in Spain. Take today – 28th – that’s the Day Of The Innocents, aka prank day. April Fool in December, if you like: a few years ago one of the national newspapers set the bar high with a headline that the King of Spain had married Madonna . . . on the whole the foreigners are left in peace, since we can’t be expected to know, but generally take every unexpected or unlikely comment with a pinch of salt, eh?
The Spanish take Christmas at a steady pace and they need to – it lasts nearly a month. Cava flows like water throughout and it all kicks off with celebrating the Immaculate Conception on December 8th, which is a feast day and when street lights and commercial decorations in shops generally switch on. I must have picked up some kind of subconscious trigger because I never decorate before the 16th (that being a public holiday in the country where I grew up, very handy) but was hauling out the dusty box of decorations in good time and finding new places for old favourites – fun!
Street decorations can be oddly avante garde, and not traditionally Christmas at all. The town sees to the main streets – side streets can do their own. This one was decorated by a local school, very effectively.
(BTW, No pooing man or poo stick traditions for Andalucia, that is Catalan.)
Nochebuena, Christmas Eve, is a family dinner, taken very seriously, with much solid food and luxurious side dishes. The devout go on to midnight Mass, the sociable take to the bars to meet friends while they digest the enormous meal.
Sometime overnight there will be a silent visitor: not usually Santa Claus. Depending where you are in the country he is known as Papa Noel, or Olentzero, or Tió de Nadal. He’s not lavish – the main gifts come with the Kings in January, so it is usually one gift apiece. This does of course mean no Boxing Day sales! Festive shopping continues briskly up to the day of the Kings.
On the 28th, today, it is the prank-filled el Día de los Santos Inocentes and when I got a nice booking for January I did wonder if it was a tease but nope, it has been paid. Yay!
On the 31st there’s another enormous traditional dinner (if life was fair, all Spanish would be waddling, food is taken very seriously here) and a handful of grapes for midnight – bring luck for the coming year by eating 12 grapes in the last 12 seconds of the year, which is slightly harder than it sounds and requires some giggling gobbling. Some prefer a more sedate grape for every stroke of midnight. It is considered lucky on this night to wear red underwear, so Papa Noel often brings that as a gift …
All this is merely the prelude, the build-up, for 12th night and the overnight arrival of the Tres Reyes Magos on what I always called Epiphany, the 6th of January. Ladders are propped against balconies and effigies of the kings are often added, scrambling up to deliver their gifts.
Every city and large town has a parade with at least one float on the 5th of January to welcome the Kings, who arrive by land, sea or air, throw sweets into the crowds, and are greeted with almost hysterical delight. I’ve linked in an internet pic from last year on my Facebook page –
Children have been writing to them explaining how very well behaved they have been all year, and what they would like as a reward. At bedtime, shoes are polished and set ready, one pair for everyone in the home so the Kings can see how many people there are needing gifts. On the 6th January, there’s an excited scramble to the shoes to check the booty – this is THE lavish gift day.
There is, almost inevitably, traditionally a last gigantic feast for lunch, followed by the roscon de la reyes, and then the decorations come down and school starts the next day.
I’ll probably do a patch-on blog with pics of the parade, I didn’t even know about it last year and missed it completely, so I am as fidgety as a child for this one!
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