Friday, December 19, 2008

La Navidad está en puertas (Christmas is just around the corner)

Well, I successfully moved apartments this morning! All I have left in my current apartment is my suitcase for my trip! I even had to eat McDonald's because I moved all my food to the new place. On my way back from Mickey D's I saw this lady with a Chritmas tree on the back of her bike leaving the outdoor market- I loved it! I am bustling around and am headed to work soon, but wanted to tell you a little bit about my holiday experience here so far!

As you might have guessed, Christmas abroad is quite different from Christmas in the States. In Spain, Christmas isn't the most important day of the holiday season. It is merely a day to have a big dinner with the family. The big holiday is Epiphany on January 6th. With the recession, I am not even really getting to experience a full Basque Christmas because they cut back on decorations and parties, but I have picked up on some of the big traditions and wanted to tell you some of the special things I have learned.

Olentzero - The Basque people don't really have Santa Claus - it seems to be more American than anything. Instead, they have a man named Olentzero (kind of pronounced like O-lan-chair-o) who is basically the equivalent to our Santa. The name Olentzero in Euskera means 'times of the good ones'. The story goes that Olentzero was a mythical figure who lives on a mountain before Jesus was born. He saw a bright cloud one day and knew that Jesus had been born and wanted to let the people in the town at the bottom of the hill know. He was the person who brought the news of Jesus' birth to the townspeople and returns every December 24th to bring gifts to the people. Like how we hang our stockings, kids here clean thier shoes and put them in front of the fireplace for him. Olentzero is a coal miner, which is the reason that good kids get presents and bad kids get coal here (why does Santa give coal??) All over the Basque Country, you will see figurines (here is one in the pic), puppets and huge blow-up toys of Olentzero in his peasant outfit with a charcoal-burnt face or a pipe. On Christmas Eve, the people of each village take thier Olentzero figurines and run them through the city asking for candies and celebrating.

Día de los Reyes - This is the main day of the holidays for the Basque people. Christmas is really religious here and is similar to many weekends where you have lunch with your family. But, Day of the 3 Kings is the most important day of los Navidades. On this day, the 3 Kings brought Jesus gifts and nowadays it is the day that children get gifts. Normally, adults do not exchange gifts and children really only get a few gifts. It is definitley not even as close to how commerical it is in the States. Tradition says that the 3 Kings: Melchor, Gaspar and Balthazar respectivley represented Europe, Arabia and Asia and brought Jesus gold, frankicense and myrrh. Because of this, before the Spanish people go to bed, they polish and leave thier shoes for the 3 Kings to arrive and leave them presents. Also, people during the holidays dress up as the 3 Wise Men (like we have Santa Claus) but they visit schools, orphanages, etc to visit the kids. I didn't know about this day til about last month and had already bought my ticket home from Rome to Bilbao. When I bought it, I thought, wow this is a SUPER cheap flight and that I must be really lucky. Turns out, it is one of the biggest holidays and I happen to be flying on it, which explains the low low price - it's basically like flying on Christmas Day at home...which NO ONE does!

···· Special Note - each family picks which of these they celebrate. This week in my classes, I asked my kids to tell me what they celebrate, and some celebrate only Olenztero, some celebrate only 3 Kings and some celebrate both.

Turrón - This is the famous Spanish Christmas dessert that is super popular but only available for the holidays. During the rest of the year, it is pretty scarce and hard to find. It is basically a nougat made of honey, sugar, egg white and some sort of nut or fruit. History says that turron (pronounced like two-ron) was created by Arabs in the 15th century. Supposedly, it became popular in Spain when King Felipe II took a liking to it and served it at his special gatherings. The same has stayed true to today and it is served at family gatherings during the holidays. I think that some of it looks like a thick peanut brittle haha. I am waiting til I get to Brussels to try some with my friends :D Here is a picture I got from the internet just so you can picture it.

Christmas Lottery - Something that blows my mind is this huge lottery that started going on about a few weeks ago. Lines and lines are outside the lottery office every day to buy a ticket at this lottery that is the largest in Spain. All of Spain sells tickets and the pot is so big that you would be instantly rich if you won. The winners are announced on December 22nd and this signals the beginning of Christmas for the Spanish people. Too bad I'm not Spanish...otherwise I would buy a ticket and hopefully win! The lottery is called el Gordo (which basically translates to the Fat One, which I guess means its a HUGE prize ha). The winning numbers are announced by a childrens choir who sings the numbers as they come out of the old-timer lottery cage.

Doce Uvas de Suerte - 12 Grapes of Luck - This is a tradition for New Year's Eve (nochevieja) in Spain. Eventhough I won't be here for New Years, I think it is a really interesting tradition. When the clock strikes 12 midnight on New Years Eve, Spainards eat one white grape for each of the 12 chime of the clock. They say if you are able to eat them all before the last bell you will have good luck for the whole year! This tradition started in 1909 when the grape growers overproduced and had a lot of extra grapes and needed to get rid of this surplus, so they thought this idea up and it really caught on! They say that each grape represents a month in the year. The big celebration happens in the Puerta del Sol (remember the center of Spain - from my previous blog about Madrid) - kind of like Times Square. When we were in Madrid told us that some people cheat and that there are some stores that sell peeled, seedless grapes in a can of 12 and it makes them really easy to eat all 12 quickly for good luck hahah!

These are just some of the things that I have learned about the holidays! Eventhough it is very different from the States, it is still a time for family and love. :D Here are a few words that might be interesting to you:

· Merry Christmas - Feliz Navidad or Zorionak (in Basque) - and here is the Kursaal (our convention center) light up with Zorionak!
· Christmas Eve - nochebuena
· Season's Greetings - Felices Fiestas
· Happy New Year - Feliz Año Nuevo
· present - regalo
· nativity scene - belén
· Christmas songs - canciones de Navidad
· snowman - muñeca de nieve (muñeca means doll)
· gingerbread - jengibre
· Christmas tree - pino (because it's a pine tree)
· carta de Navidad - Christmas card

Well, it is off for work for me - more Christmas arts & crafts for the day! I hope you have a wonderful week and found this blog kind of interesting :D


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