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Monday, December 19, 2011

Stuff Your Stocking Blogfest: Jenny Twist

Christmas in Spain
I moved to Spain ten years ago. I don't know quite what I expected. Sunshine, of course, mountains, sea, beautiful views and wonderful fresh fruit and vegetables. I had learnt Spanish in England before I came out here and thought I was pretty fluent until I realised I couldn't understand a word any of my new neighbours said. This was because they speak with a regional accent which is impenetrable to most other Spanish speakers, never mind poor foreigners like me. And then there is the culture...

Here in the mountain villages little has changed since medieval times. Oh yes, we have televisions and cars and mobile phones, but they have been sort of added on to the existing way of life, a thin veneer, disguising the old ways. It is not unusual to see a young peasant farmer talking into his phone as he rides his donkey, laden with vine cuttings, along the winding tracks.

Spain is a Catholic country. We are not talking about modern, erudite Catholicism here. This is the Catholicism of the Middle Ages, closely linked to the agricultural cycle. Colourful, exuberant, full of life.

Christmas here, until very recently, had nothing to do with Santa Claus. Here it is the three kings who bring the presents, and they don't bring them on Christmas Eve, they bring them on 5th January, the eve of epiphany, traditionally the day when the three kings brought the gifts to the baby Jesus.

Our Christmas season begins with a wonderful nativity play in the village of Almayate.

Every year the entire village takes part in this event which is held in the school sports field. An entire scene of ancient Israel is re-created, with live cattle, sheep, goats, hens, etc.

The evening performance is particularly spectacular as the scene is lit with bonfires and one by one little cameo scenes are lit up with spotlights to reveal the angel announcing the coming birth to Mary, or Herod interviewing the three kings.

The story goes that there is tremendous competition in the village to produce a baby at the right time to play the infant Jesus.

Christmas day itself is not particularly exciting. There are, of course, no presents yet. And the family generally goes out for lunch in one of the numerous county inns which seem to exist solely for the purpose of providing enormous Sunday and holiday meals. We are talking about the whole family here, mother, father, children, grandparents, uncles, aunties, cousins. Traditionally, there is a lot of fish in the Christmas lunch menu. Not a turkey, Christmas pudding or mince pie in sight.

New Year is far more important. The whole village gathers in the village square in front of the church and everyone is given a glass of sparkling wine and a party bag with a hat, streamers, squeakers, sweets (candy) and, most importantly, twelve grapes. As the church bells chime midnight, you have to eat a grape for each chime. It is surprisingly difficult to manage this. You end up with a mouthful of unchewed grapes and often still la couple left in the bag. It's supposed to be lucky for the year ahead if you can eat them all in time. Last year was the first time I managed it and in March my first book was accepted for publication. So there you are. I'm getting into practice right now to get it right again this year. It would be really nice to sell some books. Sorry, I digress.

The climax for the children is Los Reyes – The Kings. In the early evening of 5th January, the three kings come riding into the village on their donkeys, each accompanied by a servant. Sometimes Mary, Joseph, baby Jesus and an assortment of angels come too. It rather depends how many people are available. The procession winds its way up and down all the village streets and as it goes the kings throw sweets into the crowd. Eventually it arrives at the village square and the kings dismount and sit on the steps ready to give out presents to the waiting children. Every child has a present with his or her name written on it and the kings' servants read out the names one by one.

Later in the night when everybody is in bed, the kings visit every house and leave even more presents. In the olden days each child would leave a shoe outside the bedroom door and the kings would put the present in the shoe. Now, I suspect nobody would have shoes large enough to contain the dozens of gifts each child receives.

The children don't have much time to play with their presents before they have to go back to school, but at least they don't have long to wait for the next holiday – San Anton and the blessing of the animals. But that is a story for another day.

About the Author: Jenny Twist was born in York and brought up in the West Yorkshire mill town of Heckmondwike, the eldest grandchild of a huge extended family.

She left school at fifteen and went to work in an asbestos factory. After working in various jobs, including bacon-packer and escapologist’s assistant, she returned to full-time education and did a BA in history at Manchester and post-graduate studies at Oxford.

She stayed in Oxford working as a recruitment consultant for many years and it was there that she met and married her husband, Vic.

In 2001 they retired and moved to Southern Spain where they live with their rather eccentric dog and cat.

Her first book, Take One At Bedtime, was published in April 2011 and the second, Domingo’s Angel, was published in July 2011. Her novella, "Doppelganger", was published in the anthology Curious Hearts in July 2011, "Uncle Vernon" was published in Spellbound in September 2011, "Jamey and the Alien" and "Uncle Albert's Christmas" was published in Warm Christmas Wishes in November 2011 and "Mantequero" will be published in December 2011 in the anthology Winter Wonders.

Visit Jenny at her website.

Leave a comment to be entered into a drawing for a pdf or Kindle copy of the winner's choice from Jenny's books: Curious Hearts, Domingo's Angel, Spellbound 2011, Take One At Bedtime and Warm Christmas Wishes.


Jean P said...

Thank you for sharing such a fascinating glimpse into another culture, it must have taken a bit of getting used to moving from your country to Spain. Happy Holidays!

skpetal at hotmail dot com

Debby said...

I spent one Christmas in Spain. I enjoyed it so much.
debby236 at gmail dot com

books4me said...

My hubby's nephew lived in Spain for a few years, teaching students English. He knew some spanish but now is totally fluent!

What a great experience for you! Enjoy the holiday!

books4me67 at ymail dot com

GladysMP said...

Your description of Christmas in Spain is extremely interesting. The scene where the whole community takes part has to be something to see. Thanks so much for sharing these experiences with us.

shadow_kohler said...

Great post! Thanks for sharing! It must have been fun going there. Merry Christmas!

wanda f said...

I love learning how other cultures celebrate .It must have been realy cool being an escapologist’s assistant that sounds fun.

Unknown said...

I dont think i will ever experience Xmas in another culture so i appreciate the insight.
thank you !

Na said...

Christmas in Spain sounds marvalous. I would love to visit there and I love how times hasn't changed much. It makes it easier to imagine how things were like in the past. Have a wonderful holiday :)


Jenny Twist said...

Hi everybody.
How lovely to receive your comments. I'm so glad you all enjoyed the post. Good luck with the draw.
Happy Christmas

M. Allman said...

Lovely post, Jenny. I've never been out of the U.S., so I love reading about other places. Happy Christmas to you as well.

ManicScribbler said...

Hi Jenny,
What a delightful picture you paint of your Spanish hideaway - it makes me feel quite nostalgic because the first 18 months of my six year sojourn in Greece was spent in Sparta - and life was not that dissimilar.
It's a rich experience and no wonder you enjoy writing about it.
I'll be willing you on to polish off your 12 grapes in time to the midnight chimes and wish you the best of literary luck for 2012.
PS - I also hail from Yorkshire originally - told you we had things in common! :)

Jenny Twist said...

Hi Molly
Thank you for leaving your lovely comment. You are such a star!

Jenny Twist said...

Hi Lyn
I don't believe all the coincidences here. I studied Sparta for my special subject in Ancient History and did a thesis on Spartan religion. It was the one place I really wanted to visit when we first went to Greece. I felt very nostalgic when you reminded me. I will think of you when I attempt the trick with the 12 grapes!

Judith said...

It is lovely to hear of all the different Christmas traditions.
Thank you for giving us a real feeling for the Spanish holiday.

Jenny Twist said...

My pleasure, Judith. Have a lovely Christmas.

Frank said...

Wow, Jenny! How cool! Thanks for sharing about your international experiences--we haven't yet celebrated Christmas overseas, but do look forward to more travel with the family, and perhaps during the holidays one year! The world is getting smaller in that sense all the time :)

--flchen1, using DH's account
f dot chen at comcast dot net

Krista said...

I also thank you for your insight into traditions from another locale. It's always interesting to learn of the differences in celebrations around the world. Since Christmas is a little late, I hope all have a great New Year!

VampedChik said...

Thanks so much for sharing! I love hearing about other cultures. It's my dream to travel but can't afford to. :( so I live vicariously through others. LOL thanks,

Kathryn Merkel said...

I've thought about taking a trip somewhere exotic for Christmas & finding out what they do differently than back home to celebrate the season, but I think I would miss being with my extended family too much & there is no way I could take everyone with me.

drainbamaged.gyzmo at

Jenny Twist said...

And the winner is Frank! Congratulations, Frank, your copy of Domingo's Angel is on its way!