Santa, stockings, and a tree are relatively new arrivals to Christmas celebrations here in Spain, and are not yet universal. Instead, Christmas and especially the all-important Christmas Eve are traditionally occasions to celebrate quietly at home with a family meal. Instead of ham or turkey, it’s seafood soup and lamb to follow. For dessert, a platter of various turrones, Spanish candy made from nuts and honey. Lots of Cava. Candles and nativity scenes for decoration. That’s it. Families gathering for food in abundance. No jolly Santa and no team of reindeer, no stockings, no presents, although, just as at Halloween, you now find the stores full of the usual American accoutrements of Christmas, and both those who buy and those who don’t protest the Americanization of tradition.
Why blame America? Yes, we have Christmas trees, but so does much of Europe. We have stockings, but so do dozens of countries. We have Santa, but who doesn’t by now? I coolly eye the complainers. It’s their own fault they find themselves caving to pressure from the youngest members of their family—and the younger they are, the better the chances that they know who Rudolph and Frosty are—because, as I want to ask, who allowed the kids to watch a hundred hours of videos last month?
Once the children have passed the 25th, either with or without presents, they settle down to write their letters to the Three Kings, our wisemen, the Reyes Magos, in preparation for the real highlight of the holiday, which comes on January 6, the night before which The Kings will have passed through. Children will awaken in the morning, run to see if the camels have drunk the water put out for them and if The Kings have eaten their magdalenas, then check to see if they have been left a pile of coal, as parents warned might happen, or, wonderfully, a pile of presents.
True, kids have just a day to enjoy the gifts before school starts again, but even children seem to know the true pleasure is in the anticipation. That’s why they start right away. A new toy in hand, they will already be choosing what to ask The Kings for next year.
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