After a number of Christmas festivities in Spain, we spent New Year’s Eve in the Netherlands with – in my view – the best celebrations in the whole world. An exaggeration, perhaps, stemming from my very fond childhood memories of big parties at my parental home in The Hague – fireworks going off everywhere around you, massive bonfires on every street corner, and the roads filled with New Year revellers who, glass in hand, kiss everyone in sight to wish them the best for the New year. Happy memories!
La Noche Vieja (Spanish New Year’s Eve)
There are also fireworks in Spain, with some very large displays in the big cities. However, in el campo in Andalucia, our neighbours have told us that they mostly spend La Noche Vieja together at home with family and close friends, or in a hotel or restaurant. There are also some interesting traditions…. One of them is that with each strike of the clock at midnight, you eat a grape. If you’ve managed to eat (and swallow) all twelve grapes before the twelfth strike, you will have luck in the coming year.
Quite a challenge, because most Spanish grapes are big and full of pips. This grape tradition is very similar to what happens in Chile where we spent New Year’s Eve a few years ago, with one minor difference: if any of the grapes are sour, you will have bad luck in the coming year. I can see why in the supermarkets people will try a grape before they buy!
Spain is full of Chinese Bazaar shops, which are a bit like Poundland – ideal for buying all sorts of things cheaply. They are run by Chinese people, and can have interesting names such as ‘El Corte Chino’ (name derived from the posh Spanish department store ‘El Corte Ingles’) or ‘Mercachina’ (a variation on the supermarket Mercadona).
A few weeks ago I visited one of these Chinese shops and noticed a very large section of red underwear. And there was also a big red underwear sale in the next store I went to, and in the one after that. It all seemed a bit weird, but I’ve now been told that it’s the custom to wear red underwear (given as a present) on La Noche Vieja – for luck. Not sure if that goes for men too. If so, perhaps I should buy some for Hilary next year …!
Fiesta de los Reyes (Three Kings)
Hilary and I were in Barcelona for the festival of the Three Kings on 5th and 6th January. If anyone thinks that Christmas and New Year’s Eve are perhaps a bit low key in Spain, come and see this! Every child receives presents (much more so than at Christmas time). Every town has a parade. Everyone is out on the streets to celebrate.
It’s a festival for children, but really everyone is involved and takes part. The parade we saw in Barcelona was outstanding, with more than 50 very elaborately themed floats, accompanied by music, with the Three Kings and all their helpers throwing tons and tons of sweets to the children (and adults!) who were lining the streets.
The 6th of January is a family day, when the children unwrap their presents from the Three Kings, and there’s (again!) a lot of food and drink. This includes the Roscon de Reyes, a traditional cake sprinkled with sugar and dried fruits. Inside the cake is a little plastic king or queen, and if you are lucky enough to get the figurine inside your piece, you can be king or queen for the day. What a lovely tradition!
After so many sweets, cakes, pinchos (tapas on a stick) and alcoholic drinks consumed in Barcelona, we felt the need to walk off some of the excesses, and took the train and cable car to Montserrat – about one hour by public transport. The fresh mountain air was pure, the sun was shining, and it felt a long way away from the buzz of Barcelona and the Three Kings celebrations.
We enjoyed our long walk in the mountains, though I suspect that the detox and exercise regime will need to be extended by at least another month to get over all the Spanish festivities of the last two months. And I’ve just realised that the next big fiesta is Carnival, which starts mid-February. Detox will be relatively short this year!