A Spanish Christmas and New Year

“Winter is on my head, but eternal spring is in my heart…”
Victor Hugo

befana canile-2Fascinated by the customs of other countries, I was involved in some research recently and discovered several odd facts about Christmas. Unless you happen to be Italian, did you know, for instance, that in Italy an “old woman” named Befana delivers presents on the night of January 5th and even “goes down chimneys!” I bet all the octogenarians are queuing up, poor dears…

In Iceland, the Jólakötturinn (the Yule Cat) dominates the scene. Good children are given new clothes, but woe betide the bad ones, as they are eaten by gigantic felines. Oh dear!

Christmas-catIn Spain, things are much more to everyone’s liking, especially the sometimes naughty children…
Being a mainly Catholic country, religious Spanish attend Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve – also known as the “Mass of the Rooster” – as one was said to crow when Jesus was born, while the non-religious celebrate it in a traditional manner without the religious connection. Parks, and other green areas, are planted with hundreds of glowing Poinsettias, and outside many town halls and churches, creative “Beléns” are erected. A Belén is usually a religious scene, or a ‘cameo’ showing how people lived at the time of Christ’s birth. Some are beautifully constructed and lit, and often different villages and towns compete. They are also evident in many shop widows.

BelénChristmas Eve sees most revellers partaking of generous feasts of festive fare when family and friends get together, continuing on the 25th… The streets and houses are decorated- often in lavish fashion – with festooned trees, coloured lights and bright decorations, as in many parts of the world. And, I can assure you, the Spanish know how to welcome and party!! Can you feel a BUT coming? For it doesn’t end on Boxing Day… Oh no! Apart from New Year’s Eve celebrations to welcome in the New Year (Wowie…) when the magical 5th of January arrives, children in particular get very excited, for it is the night of the Three Kings. And anyone who has seen the extravagant, colourful, procession of the beautifully dressed figures, will always 46191107442_1da1b1b0c3_wremember it! I certainly will. We saw ours on the 5th night of the new century 2000, snuggled in our warm coats against the cold, and ducking to escape the showers of sweets being generously thrown to the children from the elaborate floats passing by. As custom decrees, most children put their shoes outside their bedroom doors which are magically filled with small gifts in the night. (Glasses of cognac, a Satsuma and walnuts are left for each King.) Then more festive food on the 6th! In the Basque country of Spain, gifts are distributed by a ‘magical man’ called Olentzero, and in Catalonia country, gifts are left in or near a hollow log in the image of a ‘funny man.‘

2959233463_d8c68098b0_wHeralding in a new century, the lavish firework display was another memory for the diary. It was the most extravagant I had seen since the end of World War 2…Oddly enough, nevertheless, the New Year’s eve of 2001 beat it hollow.

Living in a new country in the midst of people of many nationalities, was a newish and heady experience and no less than fifty people of our acquaintance – from two urbanizations – got together and booked tables at an excellent fish restaurant in Torrevieja. You could have cut the ambience and electric atmosphere with a knife! The fact that my middle brother and his dear wife were present, plus a Scottish couple who had a holiday home near us, was also of significance. My brother had brought some ‘flying balloons’ over and the poor waiters – so good-humoured – had the devil of a time serving our food while being ‘attacked.’ The Scots: Katrine and Gordon, were more than ‘up for it,’ and Gordon, in particular, was the life and soul of the party. Possessing an infectious humour and warm personality, he was ‘flavour of the month.’ He later … wearing a red wig and Scottish hat, sang us ballads and strummed his guitar until the wee hours. We all remained good friends…

25627865030_97a4752618_wThe rest of that January seemed very quiet…until a Dutch couple moved in nearby. While they behaved impeccably and were very pleasant, we noticed pungent odours drifting from their casa and, in fact, the wife of our President – who had stayed chatting to them too long – admitted she felt ‘squiffy’ when she arrived home…The Dutch couple had a romantic story to tell – told to yours truly – in that ‘he’ who had been in the British Navy, wrote his name and phone number on a slip of paper, sealed it in a bottle and threw it overboard (fortunately still at sea). It bobbed gaily along in the ocean, until it was washed up on a Dutch beach weeks later. A young lady, out walking, picked it up, read the contents and phoned ‘said guy.’ Footloose and fancy-free, he travelled to Holland and claimed the maiden as his own. You couldn’t make it up! They duly married, had children, and lived near us for several years.

Meanwhile, there was a Boules match to organize – on cleared waste ground nearby – planted and treed with seats and suitable pitch – and a holiday in the UK to arrange.

Before I wish you Adios, I must admit to a weakness for good quotations, and noted a few worth quoting, by no less a person than Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, author of the acclaimed “Don Quixote.” He said: “Wit and humour do not reside in slow minds.” Comforting words. And another I’m fond of “When life itself seems lunatic, who knows where madness lies? Perhaps to be too practical is madness. To surrender dreams – this may be madness. Too much sanity may be madness, but maddest of all, is to see life as it is, and not as it should be.”

3154478032_ea58011fc8_cWishing everyone a healthy Christmas, with no socks… (well, not under the tree) lots of noshy things to eat, maybe a few gifts AND an abundance of peace, fun and love.

Feliz Navidad

Joy xx


Important PS
I would like to express my heart-felt appreciation for the inspiration and assistance freely given by so many writers on the internet. You are stars in the earthly firmament. X

© Copyright Joy Lennick 2019

Pic links: Befana  Yule cat  Belen  Street lights   Fireworks & Valencia tree   Bottle

Condoms, Carols and a Crème Caramel

Back-tracking, I actually found a few minutes in my frantic day to recall the first day we ‘opened for business’ at the hotel, and giggled … I must explain here that my ‘Gordon Blue’ can – to use a favourite expression – “turn on a sixpence.” If he didn’t turn back as quickly, it could have proved a problem … He has a complex personality that quite intrigues me, as he is also kind, thoughtful, romantic and very funny at times. But … on that morning, he was understandably feeling both tired and maybe a little edgy. As I walked into the kitchen, I had to quickly duck as a slice of burnt toast sped in my direction like a frantic frisbee … ‘Seig Heil’ I said and goose-stepped as he barked out an order. ‘Count to ten … that helps sometimes!’ He did and sanity prevailed. We had worked together before when we had a shop, so were soon running things smoothly and good humour reigned. With a fully-booked Christmas on the horizon – 26 bums on seats – fractious hosts would have spelt disaster.

eric-rothermel-23788-unsplashThe attractive “sales goodies” the previous owners had either promised or predicted were like sand on a shore, and we soon discovered that some subterfuge had taken place. Bookings, or names in a ledger didn’t mean anything. There were no bookings … The three fish fingers, spoonful of peas and handful of frozen chips left in the fridge for our resident’s dinner the day we took over, spoke volumes. The “Burtons” had been stingy hosts! We, of course, binned the uncooked meal and Ms.Groves dined splendidly that night. But enough of negative talk. There was a large Christmas tree waiting to be purchased, plus presents and a special menu to compose …

As for the expected guests, we had worked hard, advertising and spreading the word what we, the NEW hoteliers, had to offer. Our eldest son, Jason, had designed an amusing logo for our stationery, and the gift tags for the presents, but was working, temporarily, in a nearby shop. We were charging an ‘all inclusive’ modest price as we were just cutting our teeth, which included four meals on the 25th (with gift from said tree) and three meals on the other three days. We were advertised as a family hotel, with a pool table for the youngsters, TV and books or soft music and a bar for the adults.

In the midst of our busy schedule, a most attractive young lady from Bristol booked a few days break, and her personality was such that we immediately clicked. Friendly and chatty, she requested that her mother join her from Chelsea for a few days. She duly arrived: a well-endowed, well-bejewelled, well-perfumed character who yanked the bell of my alert alarm system. A perfect “Madame” if ever there was one. Surely not …

invitation-3112030_640Proof arrived when I was dusting the daughter’s dressing table the second morning after they arrived as I accidentally knocked a largish clutch bag on the floor, spilling the contents. It suggested the following: a) that she was the over-zealous employee of a Birth-Control company, and carried a generous supply of their wares, b) had a rapacious sexual appetite, or c) was a prostitute. Mother and daughter owned cars … but would they try and smuggle in prospective clients later that night? But all had been peaceful the night before, and they hadn’t even appeared for dinner that night … GB was consulted and we were on red alert.

Our bedroom was, fortunately, on the ground floor, so when the door-bell rang at around 2.30 am (GB remained asleep … ) I grabbed my dressing-gown and hurried to the hallway where the younger woman was standing, brimming with apologies:

‘So sorry to wake you, but Mummy’s had news of some problem at home, and had to return immediately and my aunt in Bristol had a fall and I must go to her.’

More of the convoluted tale emerged as she paid me monies owed while we sat on the stairs. She then hugged me, thanked me profusely and disappeared into the night. At least she was honest re money!

The following days seemed marginally boring … but, thereafter, it was a case of sleeves rolled up and the business of extra shopping and cooking preparations, plus the fun of ‘”decking the halls with holly” etc.

gaby-dyson-1148582-unsplashAfter I had served a full, English breakfast and cleared the tables on the magical 25th, I made the largest crème caramel I’d ever attempted. The dish was gargantuan and I’d found an enormous round tray and covered it with silver foil to serve. Surely the caramel would crack. It didn’t! Hallelujah. After dinner later, one guest, who eschewed the traditional pudding, had three … portions. A light lunch was served at 1 pm, turkey/chicken/or pork, etc., at 6.30 and a light supper at 10 pm. (My non-Kosher husband is Jewish; sufficient food vital as air … ). To be honest, there were some guests who “pigged out” to put it crudely. They were going to get their money’s worth … or bust! As for our two resident ladies, Ms Groves “turned out” in her best finery, while Mrs Solomons somehow managed to look as though she’d dressed in the dark, bless her, but they both enjoyed themselves enormously. They engaged with the other guests, and as dusk descended and with lights dimmed, the atmosphere grew even jollier.

As Charles Dickens wrote in “A Christmas Carol:” ‘It is a fair, noble adjustment of things that, where there is infection in disease and sorrow, there is nothing in the world so irresistibly contagious as laughter and good humour.’

Satiated by good food, wine and music, the atmosphere mellowed in our dining room. Our inherited, elaborate, antique sideboard, stacked with edible, seasonalchristmas-party-780x450 treats, wouldn’t have looked out of place in one of Dickens scenes, but not in Tiny Tim’s humble house, that’s for sure. But laughter and fun are not exclusive to any strata of society and there was plenty of that around! We played a few, silly parlour games, cleared an area for dancing and played every seasonal song composed. We certainly slept soundly that night!

 

© Joy Lennick 2019

 

Photos: Eric Rothermel Gaby Dyson on Unsplash, Bru-nO on Pixabay, askideas.com