Friday, December 16, 2011

Feliz Navidad

by Nina Croft 

 I’m Nina Croft and I’m English. Though I tend to write aimed at the American market, my characters are usually English and my stories tend to be set in England. So when my fantastic critique group, Passionate Critters, decided to write an anthology of Christmas stories and base them all around the fictional American town of Five Oaks, I knew I was venturing into alien territory.

The heroine of my story, Mid-Winter Magic, is Dina, a witch who has been hiding out in Five Oaks for the last fifty years. As a witch, Dina never really celebrated Christmas. Her family was more into celebrating the mid-winter fire festival of Yule, where they would burn an oak log and dance around it in celebration of the rebirth of the sun. But she’s come to love Christmas in Five Oaks. And while writing I learnt some of the American customs at Christmas and how they differ (a lot!) from English customs.

But though I’m English, I actually live in the mountains of southern Spain. So I thought I’d maybe look at some of the ways the Spanish celebrate the festive season.

Spain is a big country, so I’m sticking to my own little part of it, which is an area known as Las Alpujarras; a spectacularly beautiful region, which lies between the Sierra Nevada Mountains to the north and the Mediterranean, far below us, to the south. It’s also quite remote and so retains a lot of the older customs that have been lost elsewhere in Spain.

The nearest village is Murtas, a small cluster of houses that clings to the side of the mountains. Most of the young people have moved away in search of jobs and a little more excitement than Murtas can offer, leaving the average age of the population somewhere around eighty.

So how do the people of Murtas celebrate Christmas? One of the biggest differences is the food. Here, we’re not far from the Mediterranean, and it’s customary to eat seafood on Christmas Eve, or Nochebuena as it’s called here:  prawns, langoustines, lobster, crab, calamari—delicious.

On Christmas day, one of the most popular dishes is roast suckling pig. Before Christmas, the supermarkets are full of the poor little things—they are cooked whole so there’s no hiding what they are. But they do taste mouth-watering —so tender you’re supposed to be able to cut them with a plate.

On New Year ’s Eve, or Nochevieja, there is a fiesta in the village. All the young people return for the fiestas so the place comes to life. Just before midnight, everyone is handed twelve grapes and a glass of cava (Spanish champagne). On the stroke of midnight, it is traditional to eat the grapes, one on each stroke of the clock to bring good luck for the New Year. Unfortunately, on out first year here, the clock stopped at five to midnight, and we were all left holding our grapes, not knowing what to do. I’m not sure the clock has moved since.
But the biggest difference between Christmas in Spain and England is that children in Spain don’t get their presents on Christmas day, they have to wait until the 6th January—the Feast of the Epiphany—when the Three Kings, Los Reyes Magos arrived in Bethlehem with their gifts. Which means that Christmas seems to go on a lot longer over here.

So, wherever you live, are there any customs that you think are specific to your area—if so what are they? Let me know for a chance to win a paperback copy of A Passionate Christmas, which contains all four of the anthology stories.


  1. I'm English too. Gosh - making the kids wait until the 6th - mine would have lynched me by then. Customs specific to my area - um - don't think I know of any - only the ones that are specific to our house. We HAVE to have a trail of chocolate money leading to the Christmas tree on Christmas morning. Heaven forbid Santa should forget. The meal has to be the same - year after year - heaven forbid the cook - aka me - should get it wrong. No suckling pigs here though - only turkey.

  2. I can't think of any customs that are just for the area I live in.
    Thanks for sharing yours.It sounds interesting.I don't think though I could cook a pig whole and then eat him.
    Happy Holidays!

  3. Here in South Mississippi, we usually add seafood dishes to our dinner celebration. If the weather is cool enough, we light a bon fire that night.

    koonie2888 at yahoo dot com

  4. I love the chocolate money idea, Barbara - especially if it's Cadbury's.

    Elain - the whole pig does take a bit of getting used to!

    We eat seafood here on Christmas Eve, Michelle.

  5. I would love to spend Christmas in another country to experience it's culture and customs and traditions.

    I live in MD and we have sauerkraut with our Christmas meal. For years, I thought it was a family tradition until I spoke with other folks.

    Go figure...

    Tracey D
    booklover0226 at gmail dot com

  6. What an intriguing post with very unique customs! I wish we had some special holiday customs, but we just don't. We're pretty similar to what others do. Maybe we'll have to incorporate some of your family's rituals into our holiday.

    Thanks for the giveaway!

    joderjo402 AT gmail DOT com

  7. There are not really regional traditions associated with the holidays but definitely ones connected to the areas heritage-mostly connected to food-surprise, surprise. ;-D Krumkake, Peppernuts, Kringla, Lefse, Pickled Herring, Oyster Stew, and Lutefisk are all served.

    If we are lucky and there is enough snow on Christmas Day, everyone in our small town rides the streets on snowmobiles with or without sleds tied behind. The streets are usually empty of cars as everyone is home with family. Not sure that is really a tradition, but it sure is fun.

  8. On Christmas Eve we go to the Festival of Lights. The kids love it. You drive through a park downtown where they have different scenes lit up.


  9. I live in SW Michigan and grew up in SE Michigan, so as far as unique local customs uh... I don't think we have any. A custom my little family of four has is that we celebrate our Christmas the weekend before *actual* Christmas (ie today) since we travel to my parents' for Christmas Eve/Day and the in-laws show up on the 26th or 27th for a few days.

  10. I wanna come visit you! And we can have a Nochebuena! lol

  11. I don't think there are any unique customs here in Kentucky. There is a lot of Kentucky Bourbon used in Bourbon Balls at this time of year (not to mention just consumed, lol). Otherwise, I can't think of anything. There is a huge light show at the horse park each year.
    Have a safe & happy holiday season.
    June M.
    manning_j2004 at yahoo dot com

  12. I'm in SW Michigan & there aren't any particular regional customs that I'm aware of here. My dad's family, however, always has a big get together on Christmas Eve & our tradional meal is lasagna, salad & garlic bread follwed by Christmas cookies.

    drainbamaged.gyzmo at