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.