In Spain, the Christmas holiday season is full of the usual Christmas festivities, but there is one tradition, not at all common elsewhere. Named "Hogueras" (bonfires), this tradition originated long before Christmas itself. It is the observance of the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year and the beginning of winter. It is characterized by people jumping over fires as a symbolic protection against illness. This fire-jumping can be seen primarily in Granada and Jaen.
The more common traditions include incredibly elaborate "Nacimiento" (nativity scenes), Christmas trees, and remarkable Christmas markets scattered among villages and cities with piles of fruits, flowers, marzipan and other sweets, candles, decorations and hand-made Christmas gifts. Often, as the Christmas Eve stars appear in the heavens, tiny oil lamps are lighted, warming village windows. The crowds at the Christmas market thin as shoppers return to prepare for the coming meal. The Christmas Eve gaiety is interrupted at midnight be the ringing of bells calling the families to "La Misa Del Gallo" (The Mass of the Rooster). The most beautiful of these candlelight services is held at the monastery of Montserrat, high in the mountain near Barcelona, which is highlighted by a boy's choir describes as performing the Mass in "one pure voice."
Christmas dinner is never eaten until after midnight. It is a family feast, and often highlighted with "Pavo Trufado de Navidad" (Christmas turkey with truffles; truffles are a mushroom-like delicacy found underground). After the meal, family members gather around the Christmas tree and sing Christmas carols and hymns of Christendom. The rejoicing continues through the wee hours of the morning. An old Spanish verse says...
"Esta noche es Noche-Buena, Y no es noche de dormir"
(This is the goodnight, therefore it is not meant for sleep.)
Christmas Day is spent at church, at feasts and in more merry-making. A custom peculiar to Spain is that of "swinging." Sings are set up throughout the courtyards and young people swing to the accompaniment of songs and laughter.
It is not Santa who comes to Spain bearing gifts, but the Three Wise Men. The Spanish Christmas continues for a few weeks after Dec. 25th. On the Eve of Epiphany, January 5th, children place their shoes on the doorstep, and in the secret of the night, the Three Wise Men pass leaving gifts. January 6th, Epiphany is heralded with parades in various cities where candy and cakes are distributed to the children.
The three Wise men are seen everywhere in Spain at Christmas, visiting hospitals, orphanages, etc. The men who dress up in various "Wise men" garments are from all walks of life. The legend tells of the three Wise men travelling through the country on their way to Bethlehem. To properly receive them, the children fill their shoes with straw on Epiphany Eve. For their efforts, they find their shoes filled with presents the following (Epiphany) morning. Spanish children have a great fondness for the three Wise men, especially Balthazar.
TRADITIONAL XMAS DISHES FROM SPAIN
Pavo Trufado de Navidad (Christmas Turkey with Truffles)
|1 turkey of 4 kg.
½ kg. minced lean pork
1 kg. minced veal
Salt and ground black pepper
1 glass of brandy
1 large glass of dry oloroso sherry
3 tins (of 90g) truffles (mushrooms)
150 g "jamon serrano"
200 g belly of pork in rashers
Apple puree, Plums, Pineapple, oranges and maraschino cherries
For the stock..
Carcass and giblets of the turkey
½ kg carrots
½ kg leeks
½ kg onions
1 stick of celery
1 bottle of dry sherry
2 ham bones
36 g gelatine
Place the turkey upside down, cut the skin along the backbone, and using the fingers, ease away the skin in one piece, first on one side of the backbone and then on the other. It is elastic and should come away easily.
Keep the breasts apart, making fillets of the thickest parts and cutting into strips. Remove the meat from the legs and wings, etc., and mince it with the pork and veal, putting it all into a bowl. Season with salt and ground black pepper, sprinkle with the brandy and sherry, add the chopped truffles and their juice, and the ham and belly of pork in strips. Leave to marinate for 4 hours, together with the beaten eggs.
Remove the sliced truffles and the strips of ham and belly of pork, and reserve. Then knead together the filling thoroughly by hand.
Now spread out the skin of the turkey on the working surface and lay the fillets on top like the pages of a book. Cover the breasts with a layer of the minced meat and then with one of ham and belly of pork strips, breasts and slices of truffle, repeating the operation until the ingredients are used up. Using a stout needle, sew together the edges of the skin and also the holes made by the wings and legs.
Place the sew-up skin with its filling on a white napkin, roll it around and sew with large stitches, then tie it into a roll with uncoloured string.
Put the roll into a large saucepan, together with the cut up carcass and cut up vegetables and pour over this the bottle of dry sherry. Add the ham bones, the gelatine and a few egg shells. Cover with 3 litres of cold water and boil briskly for 3 hours (1 ½ hours each side), seasoning with salt and ground pepper. Make sure that it is evenly cooked, then remove the roll and leave it on a dish to drain and cool.
Remove the cloth in which it is wrapped, wring out the juice into the cooking liquid, rinse out the cloth and again wrap up the roll without sewing. Put it on a dish, place a chopping board on top, and on top of this a weight of 3 or 4 kg. Press for 12 hours and then put into the refrigerator.
Boil the cooking liquid without a lid, reducing it to 1 litre if converting it into a jelly. If strained, this makes a magnificent soup or consomme. If required thicker, add three or four leave of gelatine. Cut the roll into slices 1 cm. thick. Serve with puree of apples and plums and decorate with slices of fresh pineapples and orange and with maraschino cherries.
8 egg yolks
A few drops of vanilla essence
1 pint milk
2 tbls. syrup
4 oz. sugar
Heat 3 tbls. sugar with ½ tbls. water until it is of a brown caramel consistency. Pour into an oven-proof dish or little individual dishes, which have previously been dipped into cold water and not dried (this prevents sticking). Make a custard by beating the yolks well, adding the milk and flavouring and pour into the caramel-lined dish or dishes and bake for about 20 minutes. Cool, turn out and keep in cool place until served.