SPAIN "Feliz Navidad"
In Spain, the Christmas holiday season is full of the usual Christmas festivities,
but there is one tradition, not at all common elsewhere. Named "Hogueras" (bonfires), this tradition originated long before
Christmas itself. It is the observance of the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year and the beginning of winter. It
is characterized by people jumping over fires as a symbolic protection against illness. This fire-jumping can be seen primarily
in Granada and Jaen.
The more common traditions include incredibly elaborate "Nacimiento" (nativity
scenes), Christmas trees, and remarkable Christmas markets scattered among villages and cities with piles of fruits, flowers,
marzipan and other sweets, candles, decorations and hand-made Christmas gifts. Often, as the Christmas Eve stars appear in
the heavens, tiny oil lamps are lighted, warming village windows. The crowds at the Christmas market thin as shoppers return
to prepare for the coming meal. The Christmas Eve gaiety is interrupted at midnight be the ringing of bells calling the families
to "La Misa Del Gallo" (The Mass of the Rooster). The most beautiful of these candlelight services is held at the monastery
of Montserrat, high in the mountain near Barcelona, which is highlighted by a boy's choir describes as performing the Mass
in "one pure voice."
Christmas dinner is never eaten until after midnight. It is a family feast,
and often highlighted with "Pavo Trufado de Navidad" (Christmas turkey with truffles; truffles are a mushroom-like delicacy
found underground). After the meal, family members gather around the Christmas tree and sing Christmas carols and hymns of
Christendom. The rejoicing continues through the wee hours of the morning. An old Spanish verse says...
"Esta noche es Noche-Buena, Y no es noche de dormir"
(This is the goodnight, therefore it is not meant for sleep.)
Christmas Day is spent at church, at feasts and in more merry-making. A custom
peculiar to Spain is that of "swinging." Sings are set up throughout the courtyards and young people swing to the accompaniment
of songs and laughter.
It is not Santa who comes to Spain bearing gifts, but the Three
Wise Men. The Spanish Christmas continues for a few weeks after Dec. 25th. On the Eve of Epiphany, January 5th, children place
their shoes on the doorstep, and in the secret of the night, the Three Wise Men pass leaving gifts. January 6th, Epiphany
is heralded with parades in various cities where candy and cakes are distributed to throngs of children.
OF SPECIAL NOTE...
The three Wise men are seen everywhere in Spain at Christmas, visiting hospitals,
orphanages, etc. The men who dress up in various "Wise men" garments are from all walks of life. The legend tells of the three
Wise men traveling through the country on their way to Bethlehem. To properly receive them, the children fill their shoes
with straw on Epiphany Eve. For their efforts, they find their shoes filled with presents the following (Epiphany) morning.
Spanish children have a great fondness for the three Wise men, especially Balthazar.
TRADITIONAL DISHES FROM SPAIN
Pavo Trufado de Navidad
(Christmas Turkey with Truffles)
1 turkey of 4 kg.
½ kg. minced lean
1 kg. minced veal
Salt and ground black pepper
glass of brandy
1 large glass of dry oloroso sherry
3 tins (of 90g)
150 g "jamon serrano"
200 g belly of pork in
puree, Plums, Pineapple, oranges and maraschino cherries
For the stock..
Carcass and giblets of the turkey
½ kg leeks
½ kg onions
1 bottle of dry sherry
2 ham bones
Place the turkey upside down, cut the skin along the backbone, and using the
fingers, ease away the skin in one piece, first on one side of the backbone and then on the other. It is elastic and should
come away easily.
Keep the breasts apart, making fillets of the thickest parts and cutting into
strips. Remove the meat from the legs and wings, etc., and mince it with the pork and veal, putting it all into a bowl. Season
with salt and ground black pepper, sprinkle with the brandy and sherry, add the chopped truffles and their juice, and the
ham and belly of pork in strips. Leave to marinate for 4 hours, together with the beaten eggs.
Remove the sliced truffles and the strips of ham and belly of pork, and reserve.
Then knead together the filling thoroughly by hand.
Now spread out the skin of the turkey on the working surface and lay the fillets
on top like the pages of a book. Cover the breasts with a layer of the minced meat and then with one of ham and belly of pork
strips, breasts and slices of truffle, repeating the operation until the ingredients are used up. Using a stout needle, sew
together the edges of the skin and also the holes made by the wings and legs.
Place the sew-up skin with its filling on a white napkin, roll it around and
sew with large stitches, then tie it into a roll with uncolored string.
Put the roll into a large saucepan, together with the cut up carcass and cut
up vegetables and pour over this the bottle of dry sherry. Add the ham bones, the gelatin and a few egg shells. Cover with
3 liters of cold water and boil briskly for 3 hours (1 ½ hours each side), seasoning with salt and ground pepper. Make sure
that it is evenly cooked, then remove the roll and leave it on a dish to drain and cool.
Remove the cloth in which it is wrapped, wring out the juice into the cooking
liquid, rinse out the cloth and again wrap up the roll without sewing. Put it on a dish, place a chopping board on top, and
on top of this a weight of 3 or 4 kg. Press for 12 hours and then put into the refrigerator.
Boil the cooking liquid without a lid, reducing it to 1 liter if converting
it into a jelly. If strained, this makes a magnificent soup or consomme. If required thicker, add three or four leave of gelatin.
Cut the roll into slices 1 cm. thick. Serve with puree of apples and plums and decorate with slices of fresh pineapples and
orange and with maraschino cherries.
8 egg yolks
A few drops of vanilla
1 pint milk
2 tbls. syrup
Heat 3 tbls. sugar with ½ tbls. water until it is of a brown caramel consistency.
Pour into an oven-proof dish or little individual dishes, which have previously been dipped into cold water and not dried
(this prevents sticking). Make a custard by beating the yolks well, adding the milk and flavoring and pour into the caramel-lined
dish or dishes and bake for about 20 minutes. Cool, turn out and keep in cool place until served.
MEXICO "Feliz Navidad"
"La Posadas," the remarkable buildup to Christmas Eve, is perhaps the most delightful and unique
Mexican tradition. Beginning December 16th, it commemorates the events in the journey of Mary and Joseph from Nazareth to
After dark, each night of the "Posada," a procession begins led by two children. The children carry
a small pine-decorated platform bearing replicas of Joseph and Mary riding a burro. Other members of the company, all with
lighted long slender candles, sing the "Litany of the Virgin" as they approach the door of the house assigned to the first
"Posada." Together they chant an old traditional song and awaken the mast of the house to ask lodging for Mary. Those within
the house threaten the company with beatings unless they move on. Again, the company pleads for admittance. When the owner
of the house finally learns who his guests are, he jubilantly throws open the doors and bids them welcome. All kneel around
the manger scene or "Nacimiento" and offer songs of welcome, Ave Marias and a prayer.
Now it's time of the "Pinata," refreshments and dancing. The "Pinata" is a pottery (or paper) container,
brightly decorated and filled with candy and toys. It is hung from he ceiling or a tree. One by one, the children are blindfolded,
turned around and instructed to strike the Pinata with a stick. Usually several attempts are made before the container is
broken. Of course, when that happens, there is an explosion of goodies and a scattering of children.
On Christmas Eve another verse is added to the Ave Marias, telling the Virgin Mary that the desired
night has come. Small children dressed as shepherds stand on either side of the nativity scene while members of the company
kneel and sing a litany, after which the Christ Child is lulled to sleep with the cradle song, "El Rorro" (Babe in Arms).
At midnight the birth of Christ is announced with fireworks, ringing bells and blowing whistles.
Devout worshipers surge into churches to attend the famous "Misa de Gallo" or "Mass of the Rooster." Following Mass, families
return home for a tremendous dinner of traditional Mexican foods. The dishes vary with the different regions. However, somewhat
common are the ,"tamales," rice, rellenos, "atole" (a sweet traditional drink) and "menudo," which is said to be more sobering
than strong coffee.
Christmas Day has no special celebration though many have adopted the American style Christmas
with a Christmas tree and Santa Claus.
Of Special Note...
Mexican children delight in the game where the "Pinata," a pottery or paper container, many times
shaped like a bull or donkey, is filled with candy and suspended from the ceiling on a rope. Each child is blindfolded and
attempts to break the Pinata with a stick or bat. The child who succeeds is the hero of the festival and the candy is shared
Champurrado (Chocolate Atole)
6 cups whole milk
1 cup masa harina--corn flour
1 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
3 oz. unsweetened chocolate, grated
Heat the mild and chocolate in a saucepan, stirring to dissolve the chocolate. When chocolate
is completely dissolved, remove from the heat and set aside to keep warm. Mix the masa harina with the water in another saucepan;
place over low heat, add the cinnamon stick, and cook until the mixture has thickened and the masa becomes translucent. Add
the chocolate milk and sugar. Stir to dissolve the sugar and simmer for a few minutes. Remove the cinnamon stick and serve
the champurrado hot in cups or mugs.
Arroz Dulce (Rice Sweet)
¾ cup rice
2/3 cup sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
1 cup rich cream
¼ tsp. salt
Scald milk. Put the rice into a deep baking dish, cover with the hot milk, and bake in a
moderate oven for 3 hours, or until the rice is soft. Stir occasionally during first hour to prevent sticking. If necessary,
add more hot milk. When almost done, add vanilla, sugar, and cream, and finish baking.
VENEZUELA "Feliz Navidad"
In Venezuela, Christmas is celebrated with a number of religious and traditional customs.
As a predominantly Catholic country, Christmas festivities celebrate the birth of the child Jesus. The religious celebrations
begin on the 16th of December with masses said every morning until December 24th, when the religious service is held at midnight
(Misa de Gallo).
The main celebration takes place on Christmas Eve, "Noche Buena" as it is called in Spanish.
Families get together to enjoy the traditional holiday meal: "hallacas," "pan de jamón," "dulce de lechoza." The pan de "jamón"
is a long bread filled with cooked ham and raisins. The "dulce de lechoza" is a dessert made of green papaya and brown sugar,
slowly cooked for hours and served cold.
Many homes put up a Christmas tree but the most authentic Venezuelan custom is to display
a nacimiento (Nativity scene). A more sophisticated nacimiento is the pesebre. This represents an entire region with mountains,
hills, plains and valleys. The central point is a replica of the manger at Bethlehem. The structure is a framework covered
with canvas and painted accordingly. Often, the pesebre becomes a real work of art.
On December 25 children awake to find their gifts around the Nacimiento or the Christmas
tree. Tradition has it that it is the Child Jesus who brings gifts to the Venezuelan children instead of Santa Claus.
The Christmas festivities come to an official closing on January 6, the Day of the Reyes
Magos (the three wise kings who came to visit Mary and the infant Jesus), when children again receive toys and candies. Christmas
is, above all, the main holiday during which Venezuelan families get together and rejoice.
Music plays an important role in the celebrations. The traditional songs of this period
are called aguinaldos. In the old days the aguinalderos (singers of aguinaldos) would go from home to home singing their songs
and playing traditional instruments such as the cuatro (a small, four strings guitar), the maracas (rattle) and the furruco
(a small, elongated drum with a wooden stick in the middle. The movement of the stick slightly indented on the drums leather
is what produces the sound).
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