Tuesday, January 22, 2013

It's still Christmas in Spain!

lucitas de Navidad in the Plaza Mayor

My return to Spain after a happy holiday with the family marked annual inevitability we all face of having to pack away the memories of eggnog, stockings, and warm fires, and accept with a sigh the fact that it is time to get back to work. Though leaving one place for another has a few more ups and downs than the airplane flight, touching down in a new city is arguably less tragic than stepping back into a cubicle--there are always new adventures on the horizon.

Having passed through Madrid a few times now, it is one of my favorite cities in Spain, a place with the familiarity of an old friend, always with old favorites to revisit and new opportunities to discover. Returning to a place that I know (and love!) always has the feeling of a little hug, and this time, as I absorbed my Spanish reality with a laugh while navigating public transportation strikes and lugging my giant cookie-laden bag uphill to my hostel, Madrid had a pleasantly surprising reminder for me: It was still Christmas in Spain!

Because it is one of those lucky places that celebrates El día de los Reyes Magos, the Three King's Day, or Epiphany, the Spanish holidays always extend through January 6th. Many, many years ago, three wise men followed a star to lay gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh before a newborn king, an act which Spain remembers today, perhaps with more enthusiasm than for the day of Jesus's birth itself, by continuing the tradition of gift-giving.

Wandring the streets of Spain at Christmas you are likely to see Reyes dolls climbing balconies. Similarly to the way Santa Clause sneaks down the chimney, this is how the three kings make their clandestine entrance through the balcony or window on the night of January 5th. Inside, they will find shoes laid under the Christmas tree by children, so that they know where the presents belong.

And, in case the thought of presents didn't excite you, there's also cake for breakfast!

roscón de reyes

Staying with the universal holiday spirit, Spain's capital city was fully decked to the halls. Christmas trees, Christmas lights, and taxis (a holiday necessity) abounded, and I wandered the streets to indulge in the unexpected excitement. Enjoying the atmosphere and trying out my new camera, stumbled upon this concert in front of the famous ayuntamiento building. Local grade-school students were singing villancicos, or Christmas carols, and, as the stage had most sensibly been erected facing the streets with no absolutely no viewing area, their performance was literally stopping traffic. People flooded the streets and cars slowed to listen, while I joined the chaos to sing along and snap this photo.

a Christmas Choir that literally stopped traffic. 
taxis, the only way to drive during the holidays
the puerta de sol, where Spain famously rings in the new year

I was in for one more Christmas surprise when I made a trip to Cuenca, where I was able to see the cabalgata, the traditional parade that celebrates the arrival of los reyes, the kings. Okay, two more surprises, as I had not expected a Christmas parade to include pirates!

the cabalgata in Cuenca

The celebration is held on the night of the 5th of January, when in towns across Spain the three kings Melchor, Gaspar, and Baltasar (Why do I feel like I am writing the prologue of Paradise Lost?), and, apparently, pirates, throw candies for the children watching. I thought it might be fun to try one of the caramelos, since this was my first reyes parade, but was up against some fierce competition! Not from little children, but abuelas! In the Christmas spirit, I thought it right to let the older ladies have their fun. After the parade, Children are supposed to go to bed early, so that they can wake up and open their presents--or eat their lump of candy coal if they've been bad!

Now that I am finally publishing this post at the end of January, to the contrary of its title I'm back at work and the Christmas season really has come to an end. There's still room, however, for snow and cola-cao in the winter months ahead, and, best of all, polvorones are on sale!

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