7 Unexpected Spanish Christmas Traditions

Christmas is celebrated in one way or another in most of the world. Spain,  not only celebrates Christmas on Christmas Day but from early December to early January- it is a whole month of celebration! Read on to learn 7 unexpected Spanish Christmas traditions.

The Immaculate Conception

The official kick-off of the Christmas season is on December 8th, with the Feast of the Immaculate Conception – the day that the Virgin Mary was conceived free from original sin. This day doesn’t necessarily have celebrations or festivities but Catholics attend mass to commemorate the conception of Jesus. This day signifies the start of the Christmas season, especially for devout Catholics.

 

Spanish Christmas Food

There’s no talking about holidays, especially in Spain, without talking about food! Each region has their own specialities, especially for the holiday season but the majority of Spain eats fish for holiday dinners, mainly one called Dorada or ‘Gilt-Head Bream’ and for dessert, Turrón, made from nougat, almonds, and sugar, is a typical holiday sweet. Iberico ham is also a Christmas favourite, along with soup, lobster, suckling pig, or a roast for Christmas dinner. The more elaborate, the better.

 

Nativity Scenes Throughout Spain

Throughout December, it is a common sight throughout Spain to see nativity scenes which is called ‘Belén’ or Bethlehem as many towns set up more than just the nativity scene. During the days leading to Christmas, many towns and cities will have plays reenacting readings from the Bible and the birth of Jesus.

 

 

Christmas Lottery aka ‘The Fat One”

As Christmas comes closer, Spaniards across the country gather to participate and see the results for the largest lottery in Spain on December 22nd. The prize of the Christmas lottery is so large it is called the “El Gordo” or ‘The Fat One”. The prize is a large sum because 70% of the money spent on the tickets is distributed towards the prizes. The Christmas lottery is considered a tradition to many- families and employers often share tickets or pitch in for a certain portion. This Christmas lottery is considered to be the largest one in the world and has been celebrated since its inception in 1812, and every year since, including during the country’s civil war, and is a highlight in the Spanish Christmas culture.

 

Christmas Eve Celebrations

Christmas Eve is usually celebrated with food and church. The day is spent with families gathering, eating an elaborate Christmas dinner which usually consists of seafood, and attending mass. Each region of Spain has their own traditions and customs. In the Basque region in Northern Spain, a mythical figure akin to Santa Claus named Olentzero comes to town on this night and drops off presents for the kids in the area. Legend has it, Olentzero was a kind-hearted charcoal burner who made toys, packed them in his charcoal bag, and distributed the gifts to the kids in his neighbourhood. One day he saw a house on fire and immediately stepped in to save the people from the burning house. The house looked like it was going to collapse and Olentzero was going to die but a fairy declared him immortal due to his generosity and kindness, and since then, he has come every Christmas Eve to deliver toys to the kids in the Basque region. Other Spanish towns have their own regional Olentzero, but for the most part, Spanish kids wait until Three Kings Day to receive gifts.

 

Christmas Day

Christmas Day or ‘día de Navidad’ is December 25th. Shops are closed and families tend to spend time together, whether walking around their neighbourhood together or eating meals altogether. Gifts for children are a tradition here, but it is on January 6th for ‘Three Kings Day’. The concept of Santa Claus or Papa Noel is gaining momentum here, but children still look forward to their gifts on January 6th.

 

‘Day of the Holy Innocents’

December 28 is ‘Dia de los Santos Inocentes’ or ‘Day of the Holy Innocents’ in Spain. This day is a day of practical jokes, similar to April Fool’s Day. Though this day is full of pranks and silliness, it is a religious holiday in honour and remembrance of the young children or ‘the holy innocents’ who were slaughtered by order of King Herod during the time of Jesus’ birth. This holiday is widely celebrated and it is not uncommon to see outrageously false and fabricated news stories on television or in print.  

 

New Year’s Eve

New Year’s Eve in Spain is termed ‘nochevieja’, which translates to ‘old night’. Right before midnight, as a tradition and guaranteed good fortune for the upcoming New Year, Spaniards eat twelve green grapes, one for each hour. Most eat their grapes in their homes but many in big cities, gather outside together and ring in the new year together eating their twelve grapes and a celebratory bottle.

 

‘Three Kings Day’

On January 6th, children are giddy because it is ‘Three Kings Day’ or ‘El Día de los Reyes’. This day celebrates the biblical story of the three kings, or the three wise men, who went to visit baby Jesus after he was born. The three wise men, Melchor, Gaspar, and Baltasar, followed a star to get to baby Jesus, and brought gifts with them, gold, incense, and myrrh, thus the giving of gifts on this day. Days before, kids write to the three kings telling them they have been good children and request what they want for the holiday. On January 5th, the children leave their shoes outside and hope that the three kings listened to their requests. The next morning, the gifts are left for them. This day marks the end of the Christmas season in Spain until the next year.

7 Perfect Christmas Gifts For The Hiker In Your Life

Deciding to walk the Camino is a process, but what’s even more of a process is deciding what to pack to ensure a buen Camino. While the Camino can be completed with the right attitude, some light training and a good pair of walking shoes… Some hikers love their gadgets! Especially on tougher sections.

With the holiday season coming up, here is some inspiration for the hardcore hiker in your life.

 

 

 

  1. Smartwool Brand Socks

You can’t go hiking without a good pair of socks. Hiking long routes is a recipe for blisters so the key is good socks (and proper shoes!). By a large margin, Smartwool brand socks have been the most recommended socks for hikers and for good reason. They were made for active people by active people. Breathability, odour resistance, and temperature control are just some of the qualities these socks hold. Get yours at Basecamp.ie now.

 

 

 

2. Leki Voyager Walking Poles

Trekking poles, though not necessary, are incredibly helpful in reducing the weight carried by your knees, enhancing stability, and providing support in all types of terrain. The Leki Voyager pair offers strength and comfort and is lightweight to not hinder your voyage. Recommended for older hikers and those who experience sore muscles and muscle pain, trekking poles, are a great help and can be purchased here.

 

 

 

3. Osprey Escapist 25 Backpack

     The less weight in your hiking bag the better! That is probably the number one saying while getting ready for hikes. The Osprey Escapist 25 Backpack is lightweight, comfortable, durable, has many pockets, adjustable straps, and a rain cover so hikers have all the basics covered. Its ergonomic design makes this bag great for those wanting to carry their life for days at a time but don’t want to feel like they are, thus making it great for hiking. Buy your backpack here.

 

 

 

4. BUFF Camino High UV Buff

A BUFF is a versatile headwear accessory that can be used as a beanie, headband, and more. Due to the buff being multipurpose and lightweight, many seasoned hikers have said it is a must-pack item for hikes. For hikes during the warm seasons, they can protect your face from the sun, keep your hair out of your face, and help with sweat. For hikes in the colder seasons, they can keep your nose, neck, and face warm. All in all, it is a win-win. If you book with Follow the Camino, you can get a complimentary buff but if you would like to purchase one, you can here.

 

 

 

 

5. Platypus Platy Plus Bottle 1.0 L

Platypus Platy Plus Bottle 1.0 L is a taste and BPA free collapsable waterbottle that serve its purpose then can be compressed to save space. They are simple, durable, reusable, and can hold the right amount of water before getting to a water refill station. Hikers highly recommend this for their source of hydration, whether it is a short hiking trip or hiking the Camino de Santiago. To see what the hype is all about, get yours here today.

 

 

 

6. Leatherman Sidekick

Outdoor adventures call for cool gadgets! The Leatherman Sidekick is a handy pocket-sized tool that functions as many household items such as a knife and screwdriver amongst other uses. Sturdy and full of components that will surely be helpful in any situation, the leatherman sidekick would make an excellent gift for any hiker. Purchase one here.

 

 

 

7. Lifeventure Ultralight Dry Bag

The Lifeventure Ultralight Dry Bag Multipack is made from durable nylon fabric which makes the dry bags extremely lightweight. The bags are waterproof and in an oval-like shape for maximum space efficiency. Whether if it has just rained or the bag has accidentally fallen into the sea, your items are guaranteed to stay dry. In a pack of three, all your stuff can fit and stay dry throughout your outdoor adventure, making it a perfect gift for the hiker in your life, you can purchase some here

All these items have been rated and recommended highly by seasoned hikers. It is recommended for you to try these products and see if they fit your needs before your journey as everyone is different.

 

Recipe: Feast on Holy Bones This Halloween

Spain doesn’t celebrate Halloween the way it is portrayed in the cinema or pop culture. Although the tradition of costumes, candy, and trick or treating is making its way to Spain, most Spaniards consider the day of Halloween and a couple of days after to be a time to think about and celebrate family members who passed.

In Northern Spain in particular, Halloween is celebrated due to the region’s Celtic roots but for the most part, the more celebrated holiday is All Saint’s Day which lies on November 1st of every year. On this day, families celebrate the holy saints as well as those who have passed away. It is common for families to visit cemeteries and make a sweet called “Huesos de Santo” (Bones of the Holy) to bring to the cemetery.

This sweet skeletal replica is made with almonds, sugar, and eggs. The preparation takes a couple days for the marzipan to dry and take shape. The traditional Huesos de Santo is filled with an egg yolk/sugar syrup cream but over the years people have made different variations filled with chocolate, vanilla, etc. This recipe will be for the traditional Huesos de Santo and can make up to 45 “bones”.

 

Ingredients/kitchen supplies Needed:

1.5 cups of whole almonds
4 tablespoons of water
4.5 cups of confectioners’ sugar
3 tablespoons of egg whites (they won’t be cooked, so you may want to use pasteurized ones)
12 egg yolks
1 cup granulated sugar
Rolling pin
A pencil or something similar to roll the dough
Cooling rack
Piping bags

Step 1: Make the marzipan

  • 1.5 cups of whole almonds
  • 2 cups of confectioners’ sugar
  • 3 tablespoons of egg whites (recommended to use pasteurized eggs)

 

Blend the almonds and 2 cups of confectioners' sugar, blend until ground

Mix the almond ground with the eggs and knead it until it doesn’t stick to your hands

Stretch the mixture (after dusting it the sugar) with the rolling pin,  until it is about 3mm thick

Cut it into 5x5cm squares

Curl each square around the pencil or similar utensil until its tube-shaped

Lay the tubes on a cooling rack until they dry, around 2-3 days

Step 2: The yolk filling

  • 12 egg yolks
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
Mix and boil the 12 egg yolks and the 1 cup granulated sugar

 Keep stirring until boiled then allow to cool

Fill the tubes using your piping bags

Step 3: The glaze

  • 2.5 confectioners’ sugar
  • 4 tablespoons of water
Mix the 2.5 cups of confectioners’ sugar and 4 tablespoons of water.

 Dunk the marzipan tubes in the glaze

 Lay them on the cooling rack to dry

Step 4: enjoy

 

 

Santa Compaña: A Procession of Souls

Santa Compaña is a myth that has been known in the Iberian Peninsula and other countries for years. Each region has their own version of the ghostly tale but generally, the Santa Compaña is a procession of souls usually in two rows, dressed in cloaks, barefoot, holding candles, that visit houses to announce an upcoming death in the nighttime.

Santa Compaña. A Estrada. 10/01/2014

The procession is usually led by a human who is cursed and does not know what they are doing. Legend says that they are extremely pale and ghastly looking and seen usually holding a cross or a cauldron of holy water. They are not allowed to turn around and see the dead and the only way to release themselves from this task is to find someone else to take their place or if they die. If they do not find someone to replace them, they will get sick from the hard work they do at night. The person would not know what they are doing at night so they do not know why they are sick or what they are sick with. They eventually die from an “unknown” illness. 

The dead carry lamps but to the surrounding people, there are not seen, and the smell of burning wax from the candles they hold is one way they announce their presence in the area. Other ways to notice that the Santa Compaña is nearby is the silence of the forests as animals notice their presence and leave, bells and prayers can be heard, and a sharp drop in temperature is felt.

     

There are many ways someone can avoid the Santa Compaña. The most popular way is to draw the Circle of Solomon with chalk or salt on the ground and lay face down on it. Also carrying a black cat or having one cross the procession’s path will make them stay clear. If they come near you, pray, and if they try to hand you a cross tell them “Cruz I already have” or make sure to have your hands full.  Additionally, if you make Queimada and recite the spell during the making, you will be safe from the Santa Compaña.

     Most people will say they have never seen the Santa Compaña but at times have felt a ghostly presence surrounding them. Many regions in Spain are afraid of seeing the Compaña and have had reports of someone in their village seeing them throughout the years. They say that during the time of Halloween through All Saint’s Day is a popular time to come across the Santa Compaña along the Camino so maybe its best to stick to daytime walking on these days!

 

Buen Camino!

Queimada: Make The Drink That Protects You From Evil Spirits

Ward off evil spirits this Halloween with the traditional Galician fiery drink of Queimada.

 

Halloween in Spain is not the consumer candy and costume-filled holiday that is usually associated with Halloween. Each region of Spain has its own customs and traditions for this holiday – which generally is a three-day event celebrating the lives of those who have passed away. In Galicia, due to the region’s Celtic roots, Halloween is more popular and celebrated. It is called Noite dos Calacús (Night of the Pumpkins) and usually celebrated with pumpkin carving, costumes, and trick or treating.

One of the Halloween highlights in Galicia is the strong alcoholic beverage of Queimada. It is made with orujo, unground coffee beans, sugar, and lemon rind or orange peels. Traditionally, the Queimada is prepared within a pumpkin and consumed after reciting a spell (esconxuro). Now, many families have a specially designed clay pot that comes with cups, to prepare the drink. Tradition calls for chanting spells while making the Queimada.

The spells ward off evil spirits that want to curse the unfortunate souls that cross their path. It is best to make the drink at night or with the lights off because the caramelised sugar produced a pretty blue flame popular with tourists and kids alike.  

Note: This drink is not for the faint of heart, drink with caution.

Need:  
Fireproof clay pot
Long wooden ladle 
¼ cup of coffee beans
4 tablespoons sugar
A bottle of oruju (or Italian Grappa)
Coffee beans
Lemon rind or orange peels
Gloves (as a precaution) 
Instructions: 
 (a little bit dangerous to make so be cautious)

Wear gloves
Place all ingredients in the clay pot
Pour some of the alcohol and put some extra sugar, wait until sugar is dissolved
Set alight
Place some of the alcohol and sugar in the ladle and drop it in the pot and repeat until spell complete

6 Unexpected Benefits of Hiking

Whether hiking the Camino or taking a stroll at a nearby nature trail, hiking is a great form of exercise and helps improve the body – both mentally and physically.

 

No wonder a life long saying to anything from having a bad day to having a stomach ache is “walk it off”!

Benefits of hiking may seem slim and simple, but there really is more to it than that. If you are interested in knowing some surprising advantages, you have come to the right place.

Read on as you may come across a benefit that might convince a friend to join you on your next hike.

1. Tones the Whole Body (Builds Muscle)

Everyone interested in a work out wants to see what sport or exercise routine does the most for your body. Look no further, hiking is the answer. Hiking is a good way to lose weight and build muscle as it engages in multiple muscle groups simultaneously. Though the amount of calories burned varies due to the amount of weight you are carrying to the incline of your hiking trail, the fact is hiking is an excellent way to lose weight and gain muscle throughout your body.

2. Reduces Many Health Risks

Hiking helps to decrease blood pressure and cholesterol which in turn lowers the risk of heart disease. Engaging in physical activity such as hiking lowers the risk of certain cancers, obesity, and helps those who suffer from mental health issues. Studies show that being in nature where there are fewer distractions, lower noise level, and lower mental stressors can have a positive effect to our mental health. Hiking is a great way to be fit in both the mind and body!

3. Can Help Your Social Life

Anyone is allowed to partake in hiking which makes it an easy and fun thing to do with others as well as solo. Hiking is free and as long as you can find a hiking trail near you, it is available wherever you are. To pass time on a hike, people resort to chatting to catch up with old friends or family members and make new friends with those who are hiking the same trail.

4. Helps Reduce Inflammation

Inflammation is the body’s attempt at healing itself when an injury occurs but often times is painful and uncomfortable. Just twenty minutes of walking, according to many small studies, reduces the immune cells that produce a protein found in the body when inflammation occurs.

5. A Time to Disconnect from Technology and Connect with Nature

We are always told to go tech-free for a it each day and to make sure to exercise each day, but sometimes it’s hard with our daily schedules. In comes hiking! Going on hikes not only is a form of exercise, but is a time to unplug and be one with nature. Being without distraction and amongst nature boosts creativity It hinders our brains from thinking negative thoughts which makes us feel happier and have an instant mood improvement. Who wouldn’t want that?

6. Increases Attention Span

According to a study, those who have ADHD and took a stroll in a park concentrated better after their walk in the park than their peers who took a stroll in an urban environment. Being outside poses less of a distraction and breathing fresh air restarts our brains so we are ready to go once we get back to our responsibilities.