Navidad, El Gordo, Los Reyes and everything

Today is the final Sunday in Advent, and so tomorrow Spanish minds turn properly to Christmas. The week starts with a momentous event which will have the majority of Spaniards glued to their TV sets from early morning. The 22nd December is the day when El Gordo (The Big One) lottery is drawn. Over one billion euros will be paid out in prizes, with the top prize well over one hundred million euros. The draw starts at eight am, and as each number is drawn it is sung out by one of a team of children; ticket holders check each number against their ticket. In fact, most people don't have a whole ticket but a share, usually a 'decimo' or tenth of a ticket. Many people will club together to buy a decimo. This is because each full ticket costs €200, hence the huge sum in the prize fund which means that even holding just one tenth of a decimo will bring you a fortune if that number wins the top prize.

Next comes La Noche Buena, as Christmas Eve is called. This is when the big family get together and meal takes place. From round six o'clock families and friends gather in the local bars to begin the celebration with a few drinks, before heading to the home where the meal is served - langoustines to start the meal, then either suckling pig, baby lamb or baby goat. At midnight the family is to be found in their local church for La Misa del Gallo - midnight mass - after which the party resumes until three or four in the morning; Christmas Day by comparison is a very quiet affair. These days the children will receive a present from Papa Noel, but the main present-giving time is not for another twelve days.

Before that we have to celebrate La Noche Vieja (the old night, or New Year's Eve). It is a time to secure your luck for the coming year. To do this you must eat twelve grapes at midnight, one grape with each stroke of the clock; or you can wear red underwear; or to be on the safe side you can do both!

Los Reyes ( the Feast of the Epiphany; 6th January) is when children receive their main presents, brought by the Kings/Wise Men who brought gifts for the baby Jesus. The night before (the 5th) they arrive in the village on their mules (camels being in very short supply in these parts!), tossing sweets to the children. Actually 'tossing' is the wrong word; boiled sweets are hurled by the handful into the crowd, so that for faint hearts like me, the route becomes a hard hat area. That night the children leave their shoes on the doorstep like British children hang up their stockings.

After that it's all quiet until Carneval, Shrove Tuesday, also celebrated with gusto, but that's another story and another posting!

In the meantime, os deseo un Feliz Navidad y un Próspero Año Nuevo.

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