It’s New Year’s Day as I write this and for most of you Christmas is probably over. However, in Spain we still have another few days of festive fun as kids await the arrival of the Three Kings on January 6th.
I’m not one to get overly excited about Christmas until almost last minute which I guess was a good thing this year because I wasn’t sure what celebrations would look like for us in 2020. Then again, I’m not sure anyone did.
Christmas looks different for everyone who celebrates it, anyway. Every country, every family has its own traditions. Today I thought I’d mention some of the Spanish ones I’ve enjoyed over the years.
Nº 1: Braseros. Ok, so this isn’t a Christmas thing per se but it is a winter thing. Spain (or the parts of Spain where I’ve lived) is not very good at insulation. In winter I often find it’s warmer outdoors than in. So one invention we value a lot is a brasero. It’s a round heater you stick under a table, the table is covered in a sort of blanket and has a glass top to keep it in place and keep it usable. It’s not just any table and not just any blanket and not just any heater, either. In Andalucía they call the table mesa camilla. Before moving to Seville I just called the whole thing brasero: heater, table and all. These days they’re mostly electric but traditional ones are fuelled by charcoal (brasero de picón). They can be a fire hazzard if not minded properly but they are definitely cozy. You pull up a chair, or if it’s in the lounge it’s usually by the sofa, and cover your knees with the blanket-like cover. The heat is trapped under the table and warms you nicely, but the downer is the rest of the room or house remains cold. So you kind of get trapped there, not wanting to move away from the warmth.
Nº 2: Seasonal sweets. Generally speaking I prefer English cakes to any traditional Spanish dulce. However, more recently, and this year in particular, I’ve begun to appreciate special Christmas treats such as turrón, polvorones, mantecados or Roscón de Reyes. I’m not sure I can accurately describe any of these. The first three are available in shops from late October or so whereas Roscón is specially made for Kings Day on the 6th of January and is more likely to be seen closer to the New Year. I was gifted a really nice selecction of chocolate turrones and traditional mantecados this year. I find they vary enourmously from brand to brand, some are yummy and others aren’t particularly worth it. If you’re in Spain at Christmas time I’d encourage you to try a few different ones before you make up your mind. Same goes for Roscón, if it’s very industrial it is likely to taste far too sweet and sugary, at least for my taste, but the real deal is another story.
Nº 3: Reyes and the traditional parade on January 5th. Parades are cancelled this year for obvious reasons but the Three Kings are due to visit with their presents as usual. Instead of Father Christmas or Santa bringing gifts on the evening of the 24th of December, Spanish children wait until the Three Kings come visiting in January. On the evening of the 5th there is usually a colouful parade full of floats and a bunch of interesting characters throw sweets at the watching cowds who rush to gather them up. Among them you will find Melchor, Gaspar and Baltasar smiling, waving and tossing handfuls of sweets up to people watching from their balconies or down to the road where everyone has gathered to see them pass. Traditionally, kids left their shoes on the balcony that night to receive presents if they had been good or pieces of charcoal if they had been badly behaved during the year (there is an edible sugar charcoal version). Then on the morning of the 6th they wake to open their gifts.
These are just some things I enjoy about Christmas time in Spain, but there are others that could be mentioned. Do you have any favourite Christmas traditions?