‘Spain is different’ it’s a saying that we, Spaniards, love to repeat over and over in many contexts throughout the year. And we have many pretty strange traditions to prove this statement right. Christmas is not an exception at all: little wonder Spain appears in every list of the “5 creepy Christmas traditions around the world”, “10 of the World’s Weird & Wacky Christmas Traditions”, etc. This 5 weird Spanish Christmas traditions shows how different we are.
Yes, we do have some very weird ways to celebrate what some people consider ‘the most wonderful time of the year’. Let’s take a look to some of them!
1.Spanish Christmas songs or “Villancicos”:
There’s nothing wrong with singing Christmas songs at this time of the year. Quite the opposite, carols are a must during these holidays in most parts of the world. But traditional Spanish ‘villancicos’ have some elements that make them… different, to say the least:
i. Creepy children’s voices: Although this has started to change in recent years, and more enjoyable and mature voices have appeared, the traditional versions of these songs have always something in common: childish high-pitched voices, which are hard to bear for more than one minute. See how long you are able to stand them in this video! 😉
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ii. The lyrics: I’m not saying that every Spanish Christmas song has bad lyrics, but for some reason, the most popular ones are pretty bad. Here’s just one example:
(English translation: ”The Brunette Madonna’)
“Tonight it’s Christmas Eve
And tomorrow Christmas Day
Take out the wineskin Mary
That I want to get drunk
Come along, the Black Madonna
Come along, It’s Christmas Eve
In the stable of Bethlehem
The mice have come in
And poor Saint Joseph
They’ve gnawed at his pants
Here we’ve arrived
A group of four hundred
If you want us to sing to you
Put out four hundred chairs.
I’ve been singing for three hours
Loads of carols
If you don’t want me to go
Bring out the Christmas biscuits”.
iii. ‘Zambomba’ (Strange-sounded drum): There’s a very typical Spanish instrument that is used – thank God! – exclusively for Christmas songs. If you are wondering how it sounds click on this link: http://es.wikipedia.org/wiki/Archivo:Zambomba.ogg
2. Olentzero (some kind of local version of Santa Claus):
In the North of Spain – particularly in the regions of Navarre and Basque Country- many people celebrate the arrival of the Olentzero. According to the traditions, this overweight peasant comes to town from the mountains late at night on the 24th of December to bring presents to children. He is normally depicted in traditional farmer’s attire and smoking pipe. He’s supposed to have a huge appetite for food and alcohol, and many of the songs dedicated to him mention what in many countries would be consider a drinking problem. Here’s the English translation of the most famous song dedicated to him:
OLENTZERO BURU HANDIA
(English translation: “Olentzero big head”):
“Olentzero big head
robed in understanding
is said to have drunk last night
a wineskin of ten *arrobas
Oh big-bellied pig!
Oh big-bellied pig!
*(An arroba is an old measure equivalent to just over 11 kg.)
3. Spanish Christmas dishes:
While in many countries they eat roasted turkey, in Spain it is far more popular to enjoy roasted lamb and seafood. Nothing wrong with that? I know, but it’s probably the way we serve them what is more unusual.
A lamb is normally cut in half, roasted and then served in a tray just like that (including the head with its brain, tongue, etc.). The brain is considered a real delicacy, due to its soft texture and very special taste. As for the seafood, there are 2 very typical dishes that you might not find that traditional:
– Calamares en su tinta (“Squid in its ink”): many foreign people I know find the black color and sticky texture of this plate pretty unpleasant. I recommend you to open your mind to new flavors and try it! There are many chances that you’ll like it!
– Angulas al ajillo con guindillas (“Baby eels with garlic and cayenne peppers”): This a very traditional –and expensive- dish that is served in many Spanish tables during Christmas. Their elevate price has risen to a cheaper alternative called gulas, which are just short noodles made from fish paste that imitate the coveted real young eels.
There are also many typical Christmas desserts, but there’s one that stands out for its unusual name: ‘Pedos de monja’, which means ‘Nun’s farts’. As you can see, even when naming some little cookies covered in chocolate, Spain is different. Lol
4. The Caganer & Caga Tío:
Following with this unsual relation between poo and Christmas, here’s another shocking example. In the region of Catalonia, there’s a very ancient tradition of placing a little figurine in the nativity scene called the ‘Caganer’. The ‘Caganer’ (literally means ‘the shitter’) is depicted as a peasant in traditional Catalan outfit, with his pants down and defecating.
In recent years, modern versions of the Caganer have appeared, and if you go to Catalonia (Barcelona’s region) you can find celebrities like Obama, Queen Elisabeth II, the Pope or Michael Jackson performing that intimate duty.
Also in Catalonia, presents are not brought to kids by Santa Claus, but by a ‘pooping log’ called ‘Caga Tío’. As Misc explains in his article ‘10 of the World’s Weird & Wacky Christmas Traditions’:
“Beginning on the night of December 8, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, the Caga Tio is placed by the fireplace, covered with a blanket, and treated as a pet. Each evening the children of the household feed the log fruit, nuts, and chocolate in hopes that it will grow bigger. Loving parents secretly swap out the log with a progressively bigger one until magically, by Christmas, it is full grown.
On Christmas day, the children of the household gather round their Pooping Log pet and sing songs to urge it to release its loot. The song lyrics translate as “Poop log, poop candy! If you don’t poop well, I’ll hit you with a stick. Poop log!” The children then beat the little log with sticks to force it to defecate traditional presents like Turon nougat candy, small toys, and coins”.
5. “Las Campanadas” (New Year’s Eve tradition):
And finally, a less scatological tradition takes place on New Year’s Eve. On midnight December 31, – while people in most parts of the world are already drunk and dancing the night out in clubs and pubs-, Spaniards are still finishing their family dinners. They normally wait in their houses for the magical moment when one year makes way for the following. At this exact moment, every person in the country is watching his/her TV, paying close attention to an old clock in Madrid as it strike it’s bells twelve times. That’s when the whole country begins to eat a single grape at every strike of the of old clock in Madrid. By the time the clock falls silent all of Spain mouths are filled with 12 grapes….lol! And you better do it…otherwise it’s bad luck for the whole year!!
Spain takes this tradition very seriously. After the grape tradition is done, people begin to get ready to go out and party the night and morning! away. People will start to go out around 1:00 am and many of them won’t be back home until 8-9 am!! Normally they have breakfast together after partying all night. In some parts of Spain it is also a tradition to dress up in costumes before heading out to party, as if it was Halloween or a carnival.
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Next year you should come to Spain and see all our weird traditions in person… The best way to experience Spanish culture and learn Spanish!