Subject: RE: Christmas in Spain
Hi Mandy. OK, letīs begin with an spanish Christmas celebrations calendar:

21st or 22nd of December (still donīt know) - Big lottery draw in Madrid (El gordo de Navidad). Everybody has to buy at least one ticket, with the friends, in the office, everywhere. Itīs a bit like the beginning of the saison

24th of December. Christmas Eve. Everywhere, except Catalonia, celebrates this evening with a big evening meal. At 21:00 we have the Kingīs Speech, and then everybody stuffs itself with whatever is typical in their region. You can have anything from lamb, cauliflower, besugo (a kind of fish) or cod, seafood, different soups, turkey, more fish, and lots of sweets (turrón, made of honey and almonds, mazapán,...) and cava (our own bubbly). Afterwards, you can go to Mass at 12 oīclock. It is usually a family affair, but lately there has been more and more people travelling to the islands or skiing, and some people are beginning to go out before or after dinner. Public transport normally stops around 21:00, and you donīt have late cinema sessions.

25th of December. Christmas Day. Olentzero bring presents in the Basque Country, and also the Child Jesus in other parts of Spain (but we havenīt forgotten the three Kings). Another big meal. In Catalonia this is the big one. You can go to Mass in the morning, and afterwards visit the family and friends. During the afternoon, many people go to the cinema and have a drink with the friends afterwards, or leave for the ski slopes to spend the next week.

26th of December. Stephans in Catalonia. Holiday there, the rest of us, unlucky, have to work.

28th of December. Innocents Day. Plenty of jokes in the newspapers and the TV channels, but the best ones during the last years were real ones. Itīs our April Fools Day.

31th of December. New Yearīs Eve. Our Times Square is Puerta del Sol, in Madrid (between you and me, I wouldnīt go there even if I was invited, too crowded). In this case you can either dine at a restaurant or a hotel, or at home. Itīs more normal to go out with friends before dinner (unless you are the cook, of course). Just 5 minutes before midnight all the TV channels connect with Puerta del Sol, and then we wait with a bunch of grapes (12) for the clock chimes. You have to eat one grape with each chime, and if you manage to swallow all of them by the time, you will have good luck for the rest of the year. And then, after midnight, you can have all the fireworks you want, all the partys (cotillones) you want, and end up pretty tired at 8 oīclock.

1st of January. Trying to recover from an awful hangover, or getting up pretty relaxed if you were in bed with a bad flu, as many of us did last year. Then you try to focus on the Tv, showing the New Yearīs Concert from Vienna, and afterwards trying to find out which finnish skier will win this yearīs Garmisch Contest (oops, heīs not finnish, heīs Slovak this time).

5th of January. Oh no, I have still my mumīs present to buy. And you will find the Wise Kings Cavalcade in every city and small village in Spain. Some of them arrive on a plane, or by boat, or try to ride a camel along the streets. The children (and the grown-ups) put their shoes near a window, leave three sherry glasses, some cookies and turrón, and water and barley for the Kingsī camels. Some people go out to cotillones as in New Yearīs Eve.

6th of January. If there are any children at home, I think 6 a.m. is a normal time to wake up, if not, you can sleep for a while. And then you get your presents, go to your familyīs homes and collect more presents, and have a big family meal closing the celebrations. Afterwards, you might go out to the cinema, or concerts, or with the friends.

7th of January. Beginning of the January sales. If you were presented with any clothes, and you didnīt like them or it didnīt fit, you go back to the shop. If not, there was always something you wanted to buy and now itīs cheaper.

More or less, this can give you an idea of our Christmas time. I havenīt seen any special strike during this time (strangely). Thatīs more normal before Easter or Summer holidays. There are a lot of people moving around (visiting the family and friends, going skiing,...) that the public transport is not really affected, except during the big days, Christmas and New Year.

When do you plan to come ? Before or after Christmas? As I have already told, Christmas Eve and Day are more of a family affair, although I think itīs easier here than in Ireland. At least we can go to the cinema, and it is normal to meet friends.

Rgds from Covadonga in Bilbao