Subject: Re: Sharing Holiday Traditions
Hello everybody!

I intended to have sent this mail last week, but I completely forgot about it. In Spain, Christmas season lasts at least a couple of weeks. It begins on the 21st or the 22nd of December, and it finishes on the 6th of January, Epiphany. Here, in the Basque Country, we have the Saint Thomasīs Markets in Bilbao and San Sebastian on the 21st of December. The farmers used to come down to the city in order to pay the rent to the landowners, and during the XIX century, they began to bring along also some of their products and sell them. It helped their economies, and it was something special for the city people just before Christmas. They bring their best fruits and vegetables, and some of them bring also turkeys (alive) and chickens. There is a competition organized by one of the local banks, and they get prizes for the best vegetables stand, the best turkey and so on. Some of the stands sell this yearīs txakoli (a fresh, a bit acidic white wine. By the way, it was quite nice this time), cider and talo con chorizo (talo is kind of a maize tortilla, and chorizo, well, spicy sausage ??? ). If you donīt like chorizo, you can have morcilla (black pudding, made with rice or with vegetables). This yearīs Santo Tomas was quite good, because it didnīt rain. It was cold ( around 0š ), but the txakoli was much better than other years, and it helped.

Then, the 22nd of December arrives. The day of the big lottery draw, the last one in pesetas, El Gordo. Also called Health day, because when you realize that your number hasnīt won the big prize, all of us say well, at least we are healthy, and thatīs the most important thing). I had bough two tickets, and I had thought that after all the problems at work, I should win ... but nothing happened, and Iīll forget about Christmas in the Orient Express, until next year. Everybody buys at least a ticket, or shares it with friends, people at work, itīs kind of funny. People try to buy the tickets at places where disasters have happened, so given that you cannot buy tickets in NY, the most popular number has been 11901.

On the 24th, Nochebuena, we have a big dinner (except Catalonia, they follow a more continental custom ). At 21:00 we have the Kingīs Speech on the all the TV and radio senders, 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). It really depends. In the Basque Country, we eat lots of fish and seafood (not baby eels, this year they are asking 95000 ptas/kilo, and thatīs a bit too much). In Extremadura, they have cold meats, ham, vegetables and roasted lamb. Afterwards, you might 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. At home, we have been downgrading the menu since we were children. We will have sparagus, ham, maybe some seashells in a green sauce (almejas a la marinera o en salsa verde), tiger prawns, chicken broth and lubina (I think itīs called sea bass ). And as dessert, compota (pears and apples boiled with wine and cinnamon, we will finish with the cinnamon I bought in India ). I bought a couple of bottles of Albariņo, from the Santiago Ruiz winery near the spanish - portuguese frontier in La Guardia, a great white wine. I know it sounds as a huge dinner, but most of the things will end up as left-overs on the table on Christmas Day.

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 might 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. I have already booked the tickets to see Harry Potter, The lord of the rings was really difficult.

26th of December. Saint Stephen in Catalonia. Lucky them, holiday and another big meal. The rest of us have to work.

28th of December. Innocents Day. Plenty of jokes in the newspapers and the TV channels. Itīs our April Fools Day. But I donīt think that this year we will have any good one.

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 decided not to go out (and those are my plans. With this cold weather, I am not looking forward to dressing up and paying way too much for a bad party, as usual). 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 Ski Jump Contest. This year we also have the Euro to worry about.

5th of January. You can find the Three 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. Iīll be going to see a zarzuela with my mum ( kind of a spanish operetta ). We always have zarzuela during Christmas time at the Arriaga theatre in Bilbao, and the tickets are difficult to buy, because lots of people have to go those days.

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 family houses 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 someone gave you clothes the previous day, and you didnīt like them or it didnīt fit, you go back to the shop (and get more things for the same money). If not, there is always something you wanted to buy and now itīs cheaper.

Zorionak, and very kind regards from Covadonga in a cold Bilbao (Spain)