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Saturday, December 24, 2005

Nochebuena: Christmas Eve

A tiny part of the huge selection of turron

The main celebrations in Spain and the Canary Islands, as in many European countries, are on Christmas Eve, Nochebuena, when the family will get together to share an evening meal. Food at Christmas revolves around the sweet stuff, with Truchas de Batata (sweet potato pies) and a mountain of fruit, nuts and sweets, especially polverones, turrones and mazapan.

For many years I spent Christmas Eve, Nochebuena, in 'El Pueblo', Canarian style. The typical fayre, generally, is barbecued meat with boiled potatoes. Yams are usually eaten after the meal, sweetened with sugar or honey (palm honey is good too!).

If resources permit, a whole goat kid or suckling pig is preferable as tradition dictated that this meal should not be of fish. For many poor families here, Christmas Eve is one of the few celebration times when they will have any quantity of meat, so it is very simply prepared, quickly enjoyed and followed by the vast array of sweets.

Celebrations may go on quite late and the gathered family will probably start singing and playing Canarian Folk music. This isn't traditionally a time for the exchanging of gifts. That comes later, at Epiphany, or for the fortunate few, it might be both.

Long ago the meal was served after attending the Misa de Gallo (Midnight Mass): the 24th being a day of fasting and abstinence, but that has tended to change these days. The mass, at which carols may be sung, being left out altogether by a large majority.

In Los Cristianos and other multi-nationally populated areas, there are usually carol services in a wonderful pot-purri of Spanish, English, German and Latin. In smaller villages, local children perform the Nativity (with often interesting and humorous interpretation). Folk groups provide the accompaniment.

One year at El Palmar, the dialogue went, roughly:

Joseph: (speaks to innkeeper) "Can we come in, only my wife isn't feeling too good."

Innkeeper: "Well, if she's ill she can't come in here. Take her to the health center!

I don't remember that being in the original version. It was truly unexpected and had everyone rolling in the isles at the Nativity in the little church. Another year the mass was more traditional, with a visiting priest from El Salvador, which was an opportunity to see another viewpoint.

All events are liable to change beyond our control.

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