Saturday, December 25, 2010


    If you are looking to spend Christmas in Spain you may want to plan on spending a month there because Christmas in Spain is a very religious holiday which starts on the 8th of December and celebrations last until the 6th of January.  The  festivities for Christmas in Spain start on December 8th, which is also a national holiday in Spain, celebrating "Immaculada"...the feast of the Immaculate Conception.  In  Sevilla (Seville), one celebration is the "Dance of the Six" and in Caceres the young children of the town dress in jeweled clothing and holds a figure of the Virgin Mary as high in the air as they can run through the streets.
   In Spain, Christmas Eve is known as "Nochebuena", meaning the Good Night.  It is a huge candlelight celebration which consists of a magnificent feast and going to mass at midnight.  One of the most beautiful masses is the Mass of the Rooster, held at a mountain monastery at Montserrat, the boys choir is believed to be one of the best in Spain.  In Labastida, shepherds enter the church carrying lambs and female shepherdesses carry a representation of the Christ child.



   Celebrating Christmas Day in Spain is not the big gift giving holiday; it is really a day for celebrations, family gatherings and going to church.  Children may receive a small gift.  One tradition is to build bon fires called Hogueras, which are believed to protect against illness.
   December 28th is the day they celebrate El dia de Los Santos Inocentes, which is the feast of the holy innocents and is almost the same as April Fool's day here in America, where everyone goes around playing pranks or tricks on each other.  One big difference however is that one child from a village or town is elected to be mayor for the day and they get to tell people what to do, like sweep the streets or clean up the town.  If you don't do it, you have to contribute something to the celebration.  If you should happen to catch someone playing a trick make sure you call out "Inocente"!


     El dia de Reyes,  celebrated on January 6th, is actually the big Christmas celebration in Spain and the one that ends the holiday season.  It is the traditional visit of the Three Kings, Melchior, Gaspar, and Balthazar.  It too,  is a day of festivities and gathering and it's also the big gift giving day.  On the eve of Epiphany, January 5th, children will fill their shoes with grass, grain and carrots for the kings camels and put them on their doorstep, in the hope that the kings will leave gifts around their shoes.  Balthazar is believed to be the bringer of the gifts, so he is the children's favorite.
   Once you arrive for your Christmas in Spain celebration, there are several options for getting to various cities or towns, flying in Spain is cheap and a fast way to get from one major city to another.  Another method is by train, the system is very dependable and easy, but all lines lead to Madrid ( the capital of Spain), which means you may have to go out of your way to get to your destination,  and trains are not available in all cities.


    Buses are the most popular means of transportation and believe it or not, they are often faster than taking the train.  Since they are in high demand , the prices are affordable, comfortable and dependable.  Taking a ferry is also sometimes an option depending what area you are looking to visit.  Renting a car is also an option, however unless you are familiar with laws and have a valid license to drive in Spain.  It really is not a good option.  Driving in Spain could be hazardous and road conditions are poor so unless you know what you are doing and where you are going, public transportation is the best way to get around.
   Celebrating Christmas in Spain is a wonderful and extremely festive experience and it doesn't seem to matter where you go, having a great time will be unavoidable.



   When Virginia O'Hanlon, an 8 year old girl from New York City, sent a letter addressed to the newspaper The Sun in 1897, she asked a very simple question: "Please tell me the truth, is there a Santa Claus?"  In what must have been a surprise to her, the question was answered quite frankly.  After calling out Virginia's "little friends" for doubting the existence of Santa Claus and being clouded by an age of skepticism, the writer of the article, Francis Pharcelius Church, replied, "Yes Virginia, there is a Santa Claus".
   Today, children all over the world are still asking the same question as Virgina did.  So who exactly is this Santa Claus guy, and why would he cause so much skepticism among boys and girls?  Is he some kind of magical figure?  How could one person cause so much excitement, doubt and even concern?
   This Santa Claus guy appears to be pretty secretive about his operations.  Along with Mrs. Claus, elves and a certain reindeer with a glowing red nose.  Santa is reputed to live at the North Pole, an impressive feat since the temperature almost never rises above freezing.

Santa Claus depicted in 1821

    Because the North Pole isn't the most hospitable place for people to visit, it would be difficult for most people to withstand the harsh weather and rough terrain in order to gain any serious intel on Santa.  And although no one may ever know for sure just how Santa operates, I have what are the most logical explanations for how the big guy accomplishes all that he does: science and technology.

Naughty or Nice?

   Santa Claus is one of the most popular and recognizable figures on Earth.  He's been depicted in dozens of holiday-themed shows, from the 1947 film "Miracle on 34th Street" to the 1964 t.v. special "Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer" to more recent films like "Elf", in 2003.  Many countries have different names for him...although he's Santa Claus in North America, he goes by Father Christmas in the United Kingdom, Pere Noel in France, Babbo Natale in Italy and Sinterklass in Holland, where he's associated with the December 6th Nicholas Day celebration.

   Whether you call him St. Nicholas, St. Nick or Santa Claus, though, the man represents the same to nearly everyone who celebrates Christmas and the holiday season...he's known as a benevolent soul, a giver of gifts and a spreader of Christmas cheer.
   According to Christmas folklore, Santa's main concern is making toys and distributing them in a timely and orderly fashion to children all over the world.  This has garnered him quite a following.  After all, children like toys, and Santa gives toys away...therefore, children like Santa Claus.
   Santa not only gives toys away, but he does it in style too.  He rides in his very own sleigh led by a team of reindeer, but it isn't just any old sleigh...this one flies and rumor has it that it can make it around the world in just one night.  It's also thought by some that Santa doesn't simply pass by your house and leave a few presents on your doorstep...he lands on top of your roof, climbs down your chimney and puts presents both in your stocking and around your Christmas tree.

   But where does Santa get all of these toys?  Certainly one couldn't make or buy all of that merchandise by himself.  That's where Santa's elves come in.  It's possible that these little workers possess a drive and energy even the smallest of nanorobots couldn't match, so Santa would never have to worry too much about being behind in production. 
   There's a catch to Santa's good will, however.  According to the classic Christmas song "Santa Claus is Coming to Town", Santa's always watching: "He's making a list, he's checking it twice, he's gonna find out who's naughty or nice".  A big part of his job is to keep an eye on your behavior over the course of the year...if you've behave well, there's a good chance you'll get what you want for Christmas.  If your behavior was less than satisfactory, however, you risk getting nothing but a lump of coal in your stocking.  How does he do this?  The best bet is that he's using something similar to Google Earth.  Think of that, then fast-foward into the future a few hundred years.

Santa's Appearance and Santa Gear

   If you've ever paid attention to the floats during the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, you'll notice one constant from year to year...Santa Claus is always the big finale, the last one to pass through the streets of New York City.  We'd have to assume that this is his only major official public appearance during the year, since he would be incredibly busy organizing wish lists and keeping tabs on elf productivity.
   That brief glimpse, however, is enough to let us know that all those songs, poems, stories, and movies about Santa Claus could be fairly accurate in their visual representations.  Whether Santa is portrayed on films in live-action or in stop-motion animation, Hollywood has his image down pretty well...he's a large, rather plump older man with white hair and a long, white beard, and most of the time he's wearing his trademark red suit and red stocking cap.  His cheeks are almost always a rose-colored hue, and it may not be because he's been drinking too much eggnog.  As was mentioned earlier, the weather is very cold in the North Pole, so his skin could become easily chapped.
   The best  estimations are that Santa must use some serious gear to deliver presents:

  •   The Sleigh-In addition to being outfitted with flying reindeer.  Santa's sleigh must be a highly advanced machine that performs faster and more efficiently than any spaceship currently used by NASA.  The vehicle would have to be equipped with a special Antimatter Propulsion Unit that allows Santa to skip from one roof to the next in less than 24 hours and make it home to the North Pole in time for a nap and Christmas dinner.  The sleigh would probably be outfitted with an iPod player and a hot cocoa maker, allowing maximum comfort during Santa's trip around the Earth.
  • The Suit-The traditional red suit Santa wears would have to be a bit more complex than it looks.  First, it would be made out of a protective, lead-free material that blocks any radiation from Santa's engine...antimatter rockets produce dangerous gamma radiation, so it's important for Santa to keep safe up in the sky.  Second, the suit would also be threaded with carbon nanotubes, allowing the suite to shrink with Santa, if he ever changes his size.
  • The Belt-For climbing up and down chimneys, Santa would need a little support.  Assuming he's taken some rock climbing lessons, and his belt comes with all the necessary hooks, grapples, bells and whistles to get him in and out of your living room before you even have a chance to spot him.

Mall Santa's and Letter to Santa

   If you're ever strolling through your local mall after Thanksgiving, you might notice Santa Claus in the middle of the mall. There's probably an unbearably long line of children waiting for the chance to talk to Santa and tell him what they really want this year for Christmas presents.  Perhaps you smile and wave, and Santa will smile and wave right back, laughing his deep, trademark "Ho, ho, ho!" and you'll move on.
   Shortly thereafter, you might mosey on over to the other local mall, the one that's across the street.  Wandering  around from store to store, you might notice yet another Santa Claus, slightly different from the one you just saw at the other mall.  How could this be?  Is the mall some kind of portal between parallel universes?  Is one the real Santa and the other a fake?  Or are they both impostors?

    First things first: These Santa's probably don't consider themselves to be "fake", and they may not appreciate the word "impostor".  If anything, you might call them "messengers".  Like Santa's elves, we believe that the most logical explanation is that they're an extension of the Santa's Helpers Alliance, aka, mall Santa's.
   Mall Santa's are people just like you and me, but they must pass a few specifications in order to carry out their seasonal duties.  They must be of similar build to Santa Claus.  They must be in the appropriate age range of 50 to 60 years old, and they must sport an acceptable beard.  Mall Santa's must also graduate from a special Santa School, where they'll learn to laugh like Santa, eat like Santa and keep a snow-white beard like Santa.  Could it be that Santa drew up the curriculum himself?
   A mall Santa's job is simple...he must ask children what they want for Christmas, make sure they've behaved this year, and then send detailed e-mail reports back to Santa Claus.  A mall Santa's work accounts for about 33 percent of all gifts requests, making them an important part of Santa's team...the other 67 percent of Christmas wishes are sent directly to the North Pole by mail, of course.  nearly 100,000 letters make it out every holiday season to Santa's address at the North Pole.
   Why would Santa need an alliance of Mall Santa's?  Even though he might make it around the world in one night, he couldn't be in lot of different places all at the same time.  We'll have to assume that he's not quite there yet with the technology.  For the moment, he has to settle with a complex but efficient way of collecting Christmas wish information.


    Why is Christmas in Poland such a wonderful opportunity to learn about a rich country's religious traditions???  Because Poland has many terrific ways to celebrate Christmas, from the simple to the elaborate.  Like most of Europe, Poland's history as a Christian country stretches back across the ages.  The Polish people have always taken great pride in their religious fervor, and a a result, many beautiful churches (and many wonderful traditions) have been attributed to Polish Christianity.  Christmas, in particular, is a Polish favorite.  Whether you have the good fortune to spend the Christmas season in Poland or you'd just like to do some arm-chair traveling to this beautiful country, here are some Polish Christmas traditions that may or may not have caught your eye.
   SAY IT IN POLISH: MERRY CHRISTMAS!!  Different words, same meaning:  If you want to say "Merry Christmas" like they say it in Poland, try pronouncing "Wesolych Swiat Bozego Narodzenia"!  If you can pull this off, I guarantee you'll not only impress your hosts in Poland or abroad, you'll also be a certified master of languages!  Keep in mind the Polish words are often "not" pronounced the way the are spelled.  For example the city of "Lodz, was pronounced as "Woodch"!  And Krakow is not said as "Kra-cow".  It's usually "Krah-koff".  Polish words are very interesting!!


PARTAKE OF THE WIGILIA.  Christmas Eve is a very important part of the festivities: Wigilia (Christmas Eve dinner) holds its own pleasures when Christmastime arrives in Poland.  It's a deeply meaningful religious occasion where loved ones spend the night deep in appreciation for the coming holiday and its true meaning.  Polish Christians make sure work is done ahead of time; when Christmas Eve begins, the Wigilia meal starts.  The solemnness of the meal quickly changes to glee when the time comes for the "choinka", or presents!
   LOOK OUT FOR GWIAZDKA.  How exactly do Poles know when to partake of the delicious "Wigilia" Christmas Eve dinner?  By staring hopefully at the sky and waiting for the "Gwiadka", the first star that appears.  When the lucky person who witnesses the coming of the Gwiazdka heralds its arrival, everyone may eat.  Children especially love this part of the Christmas Eve tradition, but it is fun for adults also!  Gwiazdka literally means "little star".


 VISIT PASTERKA AND SING KOLEDY.  People in Poland, just like people all around the world, have specific beloved Christmas songs that are cherished during the holiday season.  These songs are known as "koledy" and will touch your soul in a way you never thought possible.  A great place to hear these songs is at the iconic Christmas Eve Mass, known in Poland as the Pasterka.
   WATCH A SHOPKY.  When Christmas Day itself arrives in Poland, it's heralded by merriment that culminates in a show known as "shopky".  If you have the good fortune to be spending Christmas in this beautiful country, you'll be able to wave to Polish boys who have good fun portraying a very grumpy King Herod, as they slip through towns to show off their singing skills.  The "shopky" is the puppet show the children create and staff.
ALL IN THE INITIALS: K.M.B.  During Christmastime the houses of Poland, seeking protection from any troubles the year may bring, are carefully marked with three letters, "K", "M", "B".  This is to represent the names of the wise men who visited the baby Jesus ("Kasper", is the spelling in Polish).  This is just one of many small yet holy traditions in Poland that make the holiday season so unique and beautiful.


BUY A BEAUTIFUL SZOPKA.  Want the perfect Christmas gift from Poland?  A Krakow Szopka (nativity scene) is an amazing piece that doubles as a creche and a lovely souvenir of royal proportions. Szopkas are unique because the basis for the scene is a model of one of Krakow's famous structures.  These are no small models!  Some tower far above the Christmas ornaments and decorative items we scatter around our homes.  Anyone who has been to Krakow or recognizes its famous historic churches will be able to tell which building is represented by each Szopka.
"Wesolych Swiat Bozego Narodzenia"!