The Christmas season is in full swing now that the Day of the Constitution and the Immaculate Conception are behind us. So on Friday evening we settled down in the parish church for a concert of villancicos, the Spanish equivalent of Christmas carols, performed by Frigiliana's own choir and by five visiting choirs from surrounding villages. Spanish folk singing has a very nasal quality, like flamenco, and enthusiasm seems to count for more than musicality, so that the church reverberated to the sound of strident voices, rattling tambourines, energetic drumming and guitars.
On Saturday evening our local Polish restaurant put on a special Polish Christmas menu, and ten of us went together to enjoy it. I even won a T-shirt in the free draw!
Yesterday, my wife's Anglican church down in Nerja held their annual service of lessons and carols at four o'clock, after which we were back to the parish church here in the village at eight o'clock for a concert of Christmas music by the Banda Música de Frigiliana, the village band, accompanying the students of the village music school, which develops the next generation of band members.
After a deafening opening medley of Christmas music (the band usually plays in the open air, accompanying processions around the village, and thus has never heard the term 'pianissimo', we were treated to a stream of children coming forward to demonstrate their prowess to fond parents, grandparents, aunties, uncles, - everyone, really. The oldest, I guess, would be 11 or 12, and the youngest probably 6 or 7. We listened attentively to clarinets, flutes, saxophones, keyboards, and each performer received enthusiastic and prolonged applause, even the keyboard player who hesitantly tapped out a one-finger verse of Jingle Bells; next year he'll be much more accomplished! What delights me about the Spanish attitude to children is that they are brought up to believe in themselves, and are given all available credit for whatever they have been able to achieve so far.
Tomorrow will be one of the most important days of the run-up to Christmas; every Spaniard who is able to do so, will be glued to the TV tomorrow morning for the draw, over a period of several hours, of the Christmas lottery, also known as El Gordo, though in fact that name properly belongs only to the massive first prize. Tickets cost €200 each, but are usually sold as decimos (tenths) at €20. By tradition, scholars from the school of San Ildefenso in Madrid operate in relays to sing out the winning numbers as they are drawn. The total prize fund this year is a mind-blowing €2.3billion, and El Gordo will doubtless change the life of some village or barrio for ever. We have our ticket, and we too shall be glued to the TV!
..... but in Spain it's poinsettias! These colourful plants, originally from Mexico I believe, are the classic accompaniment to Christmas decorations; in flowerbeds, on roundabouts, along the central reservations of roads, on balconies, everywhere.
In Britain, it's the crib... in Spain, it's the Belén. The word Belén is the Spanish word for Bethlehem, and that is the scope of the Spanish 'crib'; an elaborate construction which encompasses the whole of the town of Bethlehem, and often too, the whole course of Jesus's life. Churches display them, obviously, but so also do town halls, shopping centres and even airports where you may find one in pride of place in the Check-In Hall.
There's a street market in Malaga every night at this time of year specialising in everything you want for your Christmas decorations.
Yesterday we went to Malaga on the lunchtime bus, checked into a hotel near the cathedral, and then spent the afternoon and evening wandering with the crowds, enjoying all the sites, pausing a couple of times to sit at a table on the pavement to drink a glass of wine and do a bit of people-watching, before finding a restaurant where we could get a table outside for a late dinner.
We did the same last year, and I think it is going to turn into a Christmas tradition. I had forgotten that last year we were delighted to find the pavement chestnut sellers with their braziers and the heady smell of roasting chestnuts; they were there again this year, so another pleasure was the paper cone filled with @2-worth of hot chestnuts to be eaten as we stood gazing at the lights disappearing into the distance in the Alameda. I think that's going to be a new tradition as well.
I've put my photos here so that you can see what I'm talking about.
I was saddened to learn last night, whilst watching Panorama on UK television, that Britain is so far down the league when it comes to reducing carbon emissions, that only Malta and Luxembourg have a poorer record in the EU. By contrast, my electricity bill here in Spain shows that just over 40% of generation is from non-fossil sources (20.7% renewables; 19.7% nuclear). Of course, Spain has the benefit of copious amounts of sun to draw on, but it is also one of the leading countries in rolling out wind power, and as you drive across Spain it seems that everywhere that has the potential to capture the wind is either already doing so, or is well on the way. Despite the low rainfall, hydroelectricity is also an important part of the mix.
The photo has nothing to do with any of this really (unless you take into account the daily dose of solar required to get this lizard up and running); I just like the picture.