Trans-Iberian

Trans-Iberian

Covering everything from the major news of the week and burning social issues, to expat living and la vida local, EL PAÍS’ team of English-language bloggers offers its opinions, observations and analysis on Spain and beyond.

Merry Christmas (again)

Por: | 03 de enero de 2012

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Arriving back in Barcelona this week after a holiday in England it appeared time had stood still in my absence.

While Christmas had definitively passed in the UK, with attention there turning to the excesses of New Year and the dreaded return to work, the Catalan capital was in full festive flight, with shop windows lit up by garish Christmas lighting and carols blazing from El Corte Inglés.

For a moment I was confused: had everyone simply forgotten to take the decorations down? Or could holding two Christmases, one after the other, be some kind of clever move to boost the Spanish economy?

Then I remembered: Reyes.

It’s not like I didn’t know about Reyes, of course. I remember being impressed by the idea of a second day of presents when introduced to it by my Spanish friend back in my youth.

But somehow, as a Brit, it’s hard to imagine anyone REALLY getting their presents any day other than December 25 or from anyone other than Father Christmas himself.

I suppose I also worried Reyes might have somehow been subsumed in the same rush of globalisation that has made Halloween such an international festival, a fear not helped by a prominent Father Christmas in the doorway of the Corte Inglés from the first of December.

But, really, I shouldn’t have worried. Because, if there is one thing I’ve learned about the Spanish in my time here, it’s that they take their holidays very seriously indeed: if it isn’t the celebration of some previously unheard of religious event, it’s the rather brilliant Constitution Day or a local holiday that brings the entire town out into the streets to parade around with fireworks in a way that would be closed down within seconds in an overly Health and Safety conscious UK.

The festive period, then, seems like an obvious extension of this. Spaniards celebrate Christmas Day with vigour – if maybe a few presents less than elsewhere – enjoy a night out for the New Year and then, just as much of the world is settling down to a back-to-work hangover, stretch out in another day of presents and food.

Of course, I’m being slightly flippant: Reyes – or Epiphany - is one of the oldest religious holidays on the calendar and has been celebrated in Spain for hundreds of years.

Nevertheless, there is something about the second celebration day that reminds me of the joie de vivre that I have long respected of the Spanish and which makes such a refreshing change to the work obsession of Anglosphere.

That’s not to say that the British and Americans don’t like to party: one look at any British town centre on a Saturday night would be enough to blow that notion clean out of the booze-addled water.

However, there is something in the Anglo Saxon work culture that makes holidays somehow frowned upon: the British have among the lowest number of public holidays in Europe – despite the longest working week – and many Americans get by on 10 days holiday a year.

But it’s not just the number of public holidays in Spain that is notable - it’s the way the Spanish go about them. I was lucky enough to be in the Catalan village of Querol (pictured above) for its fiesta mayor last summer and witnessed the kind of inclusive, good-natured celebration that makes you want to extend the hand of goodwill to all and sundry, even when you wake up the next day hung over and hurting.

Surely this is what holidays should all be about? In Querol almost the entire 40-strong population gathered in the town square to dance the night away to a two-man band, with no one too drunk or too cool for the Macarena or Shakira’s ubiquitous Waka Waka.

Very different – but yet equally representative of the Spanish art of the fiesta in its own way – was the Barcelona Mercè one month later, which brought experimental Manchester guitar rockers Wu Lfy and two-step garage don Wookie to massive open-air stages in the Catalan capital, in a move of quite outrageous élan and musical experimentation.

Of course the art of the fiesta won’t fix the Spanish economy – more’s the pity - nor will it bring down youth unemployment. But that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t count.

The Spanish people I have met are industrious and entrepreneurial. But they also know that there are other things that count, among them a dance, a drink and a kiss for the neighbours. Frankly, it’s a lesson that other countries could learn.

And happy Reyes to you all.

Photo: Alexandra Sans Masso

Hay 5 Comentarios

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Authors (Bloggers)

Chris Finnigan is a freelance journalist based in Barcelona. He writes for Barcelona Metropolitan and is a book reviewer and reader for The Barcelona Review. He is a graduate of the London School of Economics. You can find him on twitter @chrisjfinnigan

Ben Cardew is a freelance journalist, translator and teacher, now resident in Barcelona after growing up gracefully in Scotland via Norwich. He writes for The Guardian, the NME and The Quietus, among others, on everything from music to digital media. You can find him on Twitter @bencardew

Fiona Flores Watson is a freelance journalist, guide and translator who has lived in Seville since 2003, and has been a writer and editor for more than 20 years. She writes for the Guardian, Telegraph and Sunday Times Travel Magazine. Originally from Essex, Fiona is also Consulting Editor of Andalucia.com and has her own blog, Scribbler in Seville. She has been contributing to Trans-Iberian since 2014 and tweets at @Seville_Writer

Jeff Brodsky is a freelance writer. He arrived in Barcelona in 2013 via an admittedly indirect route, living in Chicago, Arizona, Seville, Amsterdam, North Carolina and Madrid. Despite not having stepped foot in Seville for over five years, he still speaks Spanish with an Andalusian accent. Jeff’s writing has been published in newspapers and magazines in America and Europe.

Koren Helbig is an Australian freelance journalist and blogger enjoying a life of near-eternal sunshine in Alicante. She writes for publications in Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom, focusing on stories exploring smart and positive approaches to social issues. She hangs out on Twitter at @KorenHelbig and keeps a selection of her favourite stories at korenhelbig.com.

Julie Pybus lives in a small off-grid house on a hillside in Catalunya. She usually focuses on helping charities and social enterprises with their publications and websites, but has also written for The Guardian, Country Living and The Observer. Julie launched and runs a hyperlocal website which endeavors to increase understanding between the different nationalities in her area perelloplus.com. @JuliePybus

Paul Louis Archer is a freelance photographer, multimedia storyteller and artist educator. A cross-disciplinary worker, who endeavors to encompass the mediums of photography, audio design and writing. Born in Hertfordshire of an English father and Spanish mother. Based in the United Kingdom. @PaulLouisArcher

Vicki McLeod is a freelance writer and photographer. She has lived in Mallorca since 2004. Vicki writes about her beloved island for The Majorca Daily Bulletin, the only daily English language paper in Spain; produces regular columns for the Euro Weekly News, and articles for Spain-Holiday.com. Vicki runs PR strategies for several businesses in Mallorca and London as well as working on her own blogs and projects. She and her husband, Oliver Neilson, supply photo and text content for private clients via @phoenixmediamlr. She tweets at @mcleod_vicki.

Born in Newcastle upon Tyne and based in Barcelona, Alx Phillips writes about contemporary art, dance and theatre in a way that human beings can understand. For more previews, reviews, interviews and extras, check: www.lookingfordrama.com.

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