Adeje is a cultural cross roads, a salad bowl of traditions and practises, and Christmas is just one of these times when we tend to remember how we celebrated this festive season in the different countries of our birth.
With people from over 120 different countries living in our multi-cultural borough, it would be virtually impossible to list all the different traditions that are represented here today. But what is interesting is how immigration over the years has seen some practises from our past travel to new lands and adapt to new communities?
Here in Spain the most obvious example at Christmas is, no doubt, the fact that Santa Claus now visits many many children in Spain – in the past he left most of the gift-giving to his good friends the Three Kings, who brought the baby Jesus gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. But as communities in Spain and in Adeje began to welcome families from other lands, Santa Claus agreed to include Spain in his busy schedule.
But while we now share many customs, some we still observe in our own way. For instance for most Spanish people the big Christmas meal, where family come together, is dinner on Christmas Eve. Traditional meals will almost inevitably include prawns or other shellfish, with meats or fish as part of the main course. Most businesses close at lunch time on December 24th to give people time to get home and get ready for the meal, and while small presents may be exchanged that night, the big day for presents in Spain continues to be Kings Day, January 6th. December 25th is really a day to relax, and attend religious services for those who wish to.
To those of us who are from the UK or Ireland, December 25th is the day when our children will wake up early (too early for many parents!) and search eagerly for their presents under the tree. That afternoon is when we will have our Christmas lunch or dinner- with turkey, stuffing, roast potatoes and vegetables. Regional differences may see goose served instead of turkey, in Ireland a boiled ham is frequently served alongside the turkey, in the UK ham, roast beef or roast pork may be the second meat. Cranberry sauce is standard for the turkey as well. After the main course Christmas pudding is served, often lit with a dash of whiskey as it enters the dining room, and usually accompanied by cream or brandy butter. In many households the pudding is made months in advance, and steamed on the day.
The next day is traditionally our day to relax and get over the excesses of the large meal.. In the UK December 26th is Boxing Day, the name probably stemming from the old custom in Britain of giving a ‘Christmas Box’ to tradesmen and women on the first weekday after Christmas as thanks for good service throughout the year. This is turn is linked to an older tradition which saw many servants who had served the family where they worked on the 25th allowed home on December 26th, often with a box containing gifts and bonuses, and sometimes leftover food. In Ireland the day is a Feast Day, St Stephen’s Day and the day of the Wren Boys!
The Wren Boys traditionally were groups of small boys who would hunt for a wren, and then chase the bird until they either caught it or it died from exhaustion. The dead bird was tied to the top of a pole or holly bush, which was decorated with ribbons or coloured paper. On St. Stephen’s Day, the wren was carried from house to house by the boys, who wore straw masks or blackened their faces with burnt cork, and dressed in old clothes (often women’s dresses.) At each house, the boys sing the Wren Boys’ song in return for money which would be used to hold a dance for the whole village. Even today groups of Wren Boys will be seen on St Stephens day, but without dead wrens.
Similar to the Wren Boys but not just in Ireland, Mummers would also go from house to house, and they would perform plays and wear disguises, often of straw, and ask permission before entering the house. Mummer performances would have been the first kind of folk theatre experienced in the UK and Ireland, and these would have been generally light-hearted occasions with audiences allowed to laugh and comment during the play. This tradition has also travelled with immigrant waves in previous centuries, and today you will find Mummer groups performing theatrical works in Russia, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, and many other parts of the world.
Christmas is a very special time in Germany too, the country which has brought us the notion of the Kris-kind, or Christ chid, which many of us have adapted to use for gift giving among groups of friends or workers. There, on December 6th, many houses receive a visit from St. Nicholas. On the night before, children place their newly cleaned shoes by the front door in the hope that Nicholas might fill them with nuts, fruits, chocolate, and sweets and not a stick which they will get if they have been naughty. The German excellence in baking and biscuit making comes into its own too at this time of year. Christmas markets are hugely popular and traditional in Germany and are held in many towns and cities during December, with hand crafted gifts and produce on offer in the most of picturesque settings. The Advent Calendar, also a German invention, is now found in many countries around the world, whether home made or shop bought, and is a lovely way for children to count down to December 25th.
The Christmas Crib first appeared in Italy though has undergone changes since then with many countries adapting the concept and adding different figures. In Sweden on December 13 young girls visit homes bringing cakes, dressed in long white robes and wearing a crown of candles like Saint Lucia. Lucia was a martyr, probably from the 4th century, who helped Christians who were persecuted by the Romans to survive by bringing them food in their hiding places, wearing a crown of candles.
Christmas is celebrated throughout the African continent by Christian communities, and there are approximately 350 million Christians in Africa. The Coptic Christians in Ethiopia and Egypt celebrate Christmas on the 25th of December in their calendar, which is the 7th of January for most of the rest of us, similar to the Russian Orthodox church. However, some Russians observe two Christmases and even two New Years, following both the church and the secular calendars.
Take care here in Spain on December 28th – while you probably won’t see Wren Boys, you might find yourself the victim of a prank or two. This is Dia de los Inocentes, which is, in a sense, the Spanish version of April Fool’s Day.
As in most part of the world celebrations are pretty spectacular on New Year’s Eve. While many of us might watch the count-down on television tuned into Big Ben in London, for Spanish people who live in the peninsula they will probably watch the clock and celebrations in the Puerto del Sol, in Madrid, though don’t forget it will be 2014 an hour earlier there. Local television stations here will be tuned to Santa Cruz, but if you are in Adeje why not go down to the plaza in La Caleta where the year will be rung in style with live music and lots of fun. Also remember to bring your grapes. In Spain traditionally people eat one grape for each stroke of the clock at midnight on December 31st, and for each grape you swallow you should have a month’s good luck in the year to come.
January 6th is the probably the most important date of the year for Spanish children. Even those who might have been good and received a present from Santa Claus in December will know that it is the arrival of the Three Kings, Melchior, Balthazar and Gaspar, that sees their ‘big’ present delivered. Parades take place in many towns and here in Adeje the Kings arrive by helicopter at 5pm on January 5th to the main town football stadium and at 7pm there is a terrific parade up Adeje’s Calle Grande with each of the Kings on a magnificent float handing out sweets to passers by. There is loads of colour and fun during the parade with a host of other characters taking part. The next day children will wake early to find out what they have been left – and hope it’s not a lump of coal!
In Ireland January 6th is also celebrated, but it is know as Nollaig na mBan or Women’s Christmas, and is a day when men traditionally did all the housework. In Canada, in Quebec have a celebration called “La Fete du Roi” They bake a cake and place a bean in the middle. Whoever is the lucky discoverer of the bean, gets to be the king or queen, according to tradition.