I am currently living in Madrid, improving Spaniards lives as an English teacher. In the run up to Christmas it has become glaringly apparent that there exists a bit of a gulf between the way they celebrate it and the way we celebrate ours. First and foremost this stems from the difference in religion. In our charming, green, little blob of a country we have generally had the tea and cake, nice hugs and smiles version of Christianity – Protestantism. In Spain they have traditionally had the Hail Mary, God is not fun, let’s have a silent procession with chanting version – Catholicism.
In England we have a comfy collaboration between Jesus’ big day and Coca Cola
’s favourite fat man in a red coat. They don’t get in the way of each other. In fact it has also been noted that that pan-global fizzy corporation have provided an alternative for families that don’t wish to celebrate a religious day. In my family we have a bit of a mix. Mother and brother – you may know them by their alter egos Ann and Ben – pootle off to church to do their bit for Christianity and father - Brian – and I stay at home, warming our cockles on an imaginary fire awaiting their return. On the 25th we then celebrate the day like most families. I say most. Multiculturalism has opened a door to a vast variety of different celebrations, but I think you can imagine what I’m getting at – turkey, presents, tree, crackers, silly hats, Christmas pudding etc.
In Spain however, it is as if in the metaphorical workshop for creating festive holidays the instructions have got a bit confused. A messy mash-up of Papa Noel (Father Christmas if you couldn’t guess) and the Nativity fight it out to be centre stage every year. The bias is still towards the Holy Bunch, but jolly Mr. HoHoHo is still trying to get more and more attention. As a result, the 24th and 25th are a heady mixture of both. Traditionally the major festive day in Spain is on the 6th of January, when they celebrate the Reyes Magos (The Three Kings/Three Wise Men). Historically these are the chaps that bring gifts to the children. This makes sense really, as it’s basically they’re only job in the Bible. With the inclusion of Santa, the gift giving is being split. Despite Father Christmas trying to usurp their place, they still come every year, on the 5th, and carry out a large gift-donating procession up one of the main streets in the city.
Another difference is the food. Whereas Great Britain is an essentially a meat-based country, Spain loves its fish. It’s not uncommon to have roast lamb followed by ‘marisco’ (seafood) at Christmas. Instead of Christmas pudding they have ‘roscon de Reyes’ (the big bagel of the kings), which is a circular cake with a hole in the middle. Inside the cake are gifts. If you are unlucky enough to choose the wrong gift, you must pay for the cake. They also have many Spanish flavoured sweets and delights for pudding, but I shan’t go into them now.
Decorations include: small to massive representations of the Nativity called ‘Belenes’; an outrageous, oversized, partly mechanical Christmas display called Cortylandia, which is plastered to the side of the mega-department store El Corte Ingles; and the usual glittering and
glowing lights and trees that we would usually associate with the period.
Ultimately, although differences are apparent between our two nations, the sentiment remains the same. For me, the day is nothing to do with Jesus or Santa’s reindeer-centric activities. For me, England and Spain, the day, let’s be honest, is really about friends and family and the relationships you have with them. Everything else is just the brandy on the pudding, or the star on the top of a tree – you don’t need it, but it makes it a bit more special.
- Luke Darracott