At Christmas the British seem to lean towards excess; too much; food-drink-spending…excess. The Spanish are a quiet and civilised people, they come out onto the streets in large numbers; whole families, to celebrate the festive season. In Spain a few gifts are exchanged at Christmas, but it’s not the main event. In Spain the real festivities take place around the first weekend in January. They commemorate the arrival of the 3 Wise Men and the giving of their gifts to the baby Jesus. This is when the Spanish give their gifts to each other and sit down together for a festive meal, incuding a festive cake called Roscon de Navidad. So in our terms, the 3 Kings Fiesta is like our Christmas Eve and the following day, is like our Christmas Day.
Coming into town on Fiesta Day all was quiet, calm and, well, to be honest, ordinary. For us, Christmas eve is a panic fuelled rush to get everything perfect. The streets are crammed with shoppers, the roads with cars and our heads with images of the perfect family celebration, which we must, at all costs, emulate. When it comes to a British Christmas, there is no serene duck gliding smoothly across the water whilst underneath, paddling frantically; we are frantic personified, as we spend more time and money than we have, or should, making something once so very simple, unspeakably complex.
Now, I didn’t nose about in the homes of Spanish people, nor did I conduct an in depth survey, but from what I saw, this most holy of times is just that. The town has Christmas lights, but the shops barely give Christmas a mention. There’s no hard sell here. Christmas feels optional.
Fiesta Day, the equivalent of our Christmas Eve, saw runners race for festive prizes and fun at the start the day, and just after dark, a carnival style parade showcasing the 3 wise men throwing sweets to the crowds. In between these 2 main events, people came out to stroll, have coffees and lunches and enjoy the sun. It was a family day, with most folks off work. The relaxed atmosphere was palpable. I wondered what had happened to us, the British, to take something so perfectly lovely and make it into what we have now, competitive house dressing and gift giving. And I wondered why the Spanish have not fallen foul of the rampant commercialism that has consumed our festive seasons and made us all the poorer in every sense.