I heard something on the radio this morning about a charity, that had been collecting toys for poorer children. The charity had been robbed and the toys stolen. The radio interviewer was sympathetic. "And just two weeks away from handing over the toys." he said.
Now I know that the traditional day for gift giving in Spain isn't until January 6th. Nonetheless it struck me that the interviewer took no account of Santa doing his rounds. Every year, at Christmas time, for years now, I have been teaching English to Spaniards. I tell my students that we eat turkey, I know not all of us do, vegans and vegetarians don't and probably a whole bundle of other people for ethical or religious reasons, but we do. That's me, my family, most of the people I know. We have turkey, we play Monopoly or Scrabble, we eat mince pies and ignore all but one of those "Eat Me" dates which may or may not still exist. James Bond films, the only time of the year when we eat nuts by breaking them free from shells - add whatever you like - those things that make Christmas Christmas.
I ask Spaniards for their equivalents but there seem to be none. Most of my students say they eat sea food but the main course can be anything from lamb to sea bass. If we have Christmas pudding and mince pies they can counter with mantecados, polvorones and especially turrón but there seems to be much less of the shared ritual. Miracle on 34th street, It's a Wonderful Life and Love Actually may well be on the telly but there is no folk history to them. There are plenty of carols but the litany of awful Christmas songs that get dusted off each year isn't anything like the same; there are no home grown versions of Slade and Wizard but neither do spacemen come travelling nor cavalry get halted. The Christmas "classics" like White Christmas and Winter Wonderland are virtually unknown. Santa Claus is now a Christmas personality in Spain but the link to Saint Nicholas is far too tenuous for most of my students. Whilst the French Papa Noël is a well known character, to most Spaniards, his Anglo alter ego, Father Christmas, is not.
This year Christmas day falls on Sunday. As that is a non working day there is no need for it to be a declared as a day not to work. Most regions have decided to make the Monday, the 26th, which has no significance for Spaniards whatsoever, a holiday. Nonetheless I'm sure that there will be lots of Spanish workers who finish work on Friday evening and go back to work on Monday morning without feeling particularly hard done by. Over the weekend they will have eaten and drunk much more than usual, almost certainly with their families, but they aren't being denied anything particularly special. It's just another of the potential non working days that fell on a Sunday. On top of that Christmas is still far from over. New Year and especially Reyes Magos, Three Kings, the principal gift giving time is still to come.
In the streets there are no Salvation Army bands and no carol singers. As I drive to and from work I don't pass houses ablaze with Christmas lights. The school I work in was not buzzing with children handing over gifts to their teachers as term ended. My bosses at one of my workplaces gave me a really nice gift pack with wine and local foods but no other Spanish person I work with has given me a card or handed out the mince pies or roped me in to the Secret Santa circle. There has been no works do and the crackers and hats that go with a do are unknown.
I would not claim that I know how Christmas works for most Spaniards but that's not to say that I don't know a fair bit about the detail of how Christmas is celebrated here. It would be utterly wrong to suggest that Christmas is not an important landmark in the Spanish calendar or that it is not a huge driver of consumer spending but it is not a holiday, nor a time of year, that has the resonance with Spaniards that it has for Britons.