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Today you should leave your car home and hope for non-overcrowded public transportation. That is due to the famous “Cabalgata de Reyes” (sort of “the kings ride”. And NO, it is not a special spicy sauce from a famous burger restaurant!). This is a massive event to celebrate epiphany, that consists on:
- Closing down all mayor center roads.
- Dressing up tractors and other bulky, strong, slow and polluting cars (in other words: what in the US standards would be considered a “practical metropolitan vehicle”).
- Handing over to as many people as you can a musical instrument and a weird “did-not-make-it-for-super-hero-costume” .
- Dressing up three adults in the proper kings costumes.
- Putting all of the above in a line
- Making them walk through the closed roads for hours and hours.
If you think this all sounds like a non-rated version of “Christopher’s Day” on Prozac, I admit that you got a point…
Also: I recommend you wear a helmet in the streets. How so? Kids love candy, so each of the many cars/tractors transports a ton of “close-to-expiration-date-sweets”. The candy is usually packed and has a minimum weight, so it can be thrown into the expecting crowd. The heavier the candy, the further you can throw it. As per Murphy’s Law, you certainly will get hit on the head by a piece of candy. Hence the helmet…
Today, millions of kids are fed with free sugar simultaneously in all nation. Parents in Spain have today the toughest mission of the year: get their kids to bed. The kids:
- Are full of sugar after the candy and full of energy after for two weeks vacation
- Have been waiting for their presents for weeks, while bombarded by TV ads of toys that are scaringly big and expensive…
- Know which presents they want: ALL!
- Have seen the kings with “all their present boxes”
- Think that the same parade that made it through town will pass by their living room to drop the presents.
On top of all, you probably had the chance to attend a session of the famous christmas carols dedicated to the three kings (sung by kids, of course, as mentioned in an earlier post)… Anyone who gets them down before midnight is either a hero, or is using Chloroform… Dear parents: you have my fullest admiration!
What I recommend? Make sure you have a bottle of “The Spanish Quarter“, or your favorite Spanish wine, for when it all finishes. Have a glass to the health of the kings, Santa, Rudolph, the elves and the holy cow. And pray to God that your kids figure out the next morning how to open and operate the presents by themselves. At least, you might have a chance to sleep in…
New Year’s Eve: Probably the single biggest party event in the world. Independently of religion or believe, this seems to be the day that the largest amount of people globally have agreed to celebrate.
Dinner is of course spectacular. It seems like a revival of the Christmas Eve Dinner that I described in a recent post. Only that this time, mood is generally even happier and everyone has a bit of uncle Antonio. After all, we have had a lot of “dinner rehersals” over the past days.
The big moment comes. We are approaching midnight. You can welcome the new year at home with family and friends or in a bigger party, which we call “cotillon“. But the most fun is to celebrate in the streets.
In most countries the year enters with a countdown. We do it infront of the television, with the twelve bells from the midnight clock. There is the official clock in Madrid at the Puerta del Sol. By the way this is theoretically the exact center of Spain, with its “kilometro 0”. Most roads in Spain count their distances in km from this point. But that’s a different story…
The funniest and most peculiar tradition for new year are the twelve “lucky grapes”. One grape per bell tone. You might have heard about it and thought it was a myth. It is not. I promise. This year, the tradition has its 100 year anyversary, since it seems to have been initiated in 1909. The overstock of grapes of that year was distributed to celebrate the new year with the wish of prosperity. As you can imagine, a day or two before the 31st of December, grape prices sky rocket.
At midnight, everyone stares at the TV, waiting for the clock to ring the twelve bell tones. It would be too simple to just ring twelve times, and you would not need TV moderators for it. We like it complicated: first you have a lot of small bells that announce the four quarter bell tones. Then -surprise- you get the four quarter bell tones. Their are double tones (sort of “dind-dong”) so it is actually 8 tones. Then – FINALLY – the twelve tones of midnight. Everyone puts a grape in the mouth per bell tone. This all happens at high speed amd everyone is excited. Plus: twelve grapes is a lot. That is why, by the time the new year actually enters, 40 million people in Spain have their mouth full, absolutely full of grapes. We will consume about 1.500 tons of grapes in the 36,6 seconds that the procedure lasts all together. This is why “happy new year” in Spain is “fffooellisss aaannniiio mmhuebbbho”. This is more or less how “feliz año nuevo” sounds when your mouth is full. No matter how often you practice, how many times you tried to say Pamplona with a polvoron in your mouth. It is a mess. And it is terribly funny. We love it…
I have enjoyed new year’s eve in a few different countries in the world. No matter where and in what time zone I was: I always had my twelve grapes with me, and I always started the countdown at 12 to 12. And I always got funny looks from those around me. And last but not least, my new year always started with:
“fffooellisss aaannniiio mmhuebbbho”
Maybe this year I will try to have a glass of “The Spanish Quarter” Chardonnay-Albariño to spill down the grapes.
Salud and “fffooellisss aaannniiio mmhuebbbho”
That is what we say in Spain these days. Or “Felices fiestas”, which my favorite politically correct american fellows call “happy holidays”.
I have had the pleasure to enjoy Christmas in many countries in the world. Something truly incredible is how many little funny traditions and habits gravitate around Christmas in any particular culture.
Germans, with their Avent calendars that hide a little something everyday on the way to Christmas Eve. Or their delicious obsession about baking cookies. A minimum of 50 different cookie-cut-out-shapes belong to every standard German home. NEVER accept the invitation to stay overnight in a German home with less than 50 cookie-cut-out-shapes in their kitchen. Something is for sure wrong with them. Run and don’t look back!
Americans, with their Carrols and the abusive use of colors and lights. Everybody knows that the Chinese wall is the one construction that can be seen from outer space. At night, that certainly applies to the average american home in its X-mas decoration (with a minimum of 15 reindeers + Rudolph in the frontyard). This might be one of the traditions that I am not sure if even mr president Obama will be able to change in his crusade against global warming (don’t worry Barrak, there is still plenty else to do).
Brits, with their socks by the chimney and the house full of candles, making sure that fireman are kept well busy over the holidays. Maybe Americans (i.e. Coca-Cola) invented the current image of Santa Claus. But one thing is sure: the country keeping alive the believe is the UK. How couldn’t they, if their kids get to see everyday the huge red noisy cars full of lights driving around their peacefull burning homes. This is not meant as an accusation, but I think someone stole the idea of oh-so-famous-Rudolph from the UK’s hyperactive fireman.
These are just a few examples. We will get to Spain. Mañana, of course. Meanwhile, I invite you to enjoy a glass of “The Spanish Quarter” or your favourite red wine. And no, I will not be offended – rather honored – if you pick a Spanish wine to be part of the famous traditions of “Christmatizing” red wine. Be it the Swedish “Glog”, the German “Gluehwein” or the Polish “Roz Grozaniez” (sorry for the spelling). It is always a pleasure to be invited to be part of your Christmas traditions.
Salud y felices fiestas!