Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Christmas in Hungary

I was very pleased when I was asked to write a blog about Christmas in my own country, Hungary. It is very different to the one in Spain or in the UK but there are things that are the same, we all get together to celebrate the birth of Jesus and be with our loved ones.

Christmas is a very important time for Hungarians. Before the 24th December people in Hungary start to clean their houses, start baking and buy the Christmas tree, although they don’t decorate it yet. In the days coming up to Christmas the whole country seems to be on the move as everybody goes to see their relatives. For many of us this is the only time when we all get together. In fact, this is such an important family time that even the public transport services stop at 4pm so that the drivers can go home, too.

In the afternoon of the 24th the Tree gets set up in its designated place. Some families decorate it together. My family always gives this important task to the smallest members of the family. We all help (especially with the fragile decorations) but they are the ones who put the star/angel on the top of the tree. In other families the decoration is done by the parents and children are banned from the room where the tree is. Here the Christmas Tree will be part of the surprise, together with the presents.

An important part of the decoration is the szaloncukor. We tie them together and hang them on the tree. There are many different kinds available in the shops.

In Hungary we don’t have Rudolph and Santa Claus does not have much to do. The tree and the presents come from Jesus or ‘Jezuska’ as we call them. I know, I know, it doesn’t make sense at all as Christmas celebrates the birth of Jesus but I can’t give an explanation for this.

Therefore the children are asked to stay in their room for a bit while the adults put all the presents under the tree. When I was a child my dad always took us for a walk in the town centre ‘to see the Christmas lights’ while my mum sorted out the presents. When we arrived we went to our room. The sign that we could go and see the presents was the chime of a bell. Then all the three of us would burst into the room… you can imagine the rest.

The traditional Hungarian Christmas dinner always includes some fish, generally fish soup (in the photo) and stuffed cabbage (I forgot to take a photo of that).

Another important element is ‘beigli’. This is a rolled up pastry that is traditionally filled with walnuts or poppy seeds.

At midnight many of us go to Midnight Mass or ‘Ejfeli Mise’. We used to go with my Grandmother and sing Christmas songs.

Boldog Karacsonyt!

(Merry Christmas)

Monday, 30 December 2013

Christmas in Spain

As I already mentioned Christmas in Spain doesn’t really happen on the 24th of December but rather on the 5th of January when the long awaited kings finally arrive to give out their presents.

Still, everybody celebrates the birth of Jesus by getting together and spending a few days together with their families. There is a Midnight Mass, too, which most people go to. It’s called ‘La Misa del Gallo’ or the Rooster’s Mass as according to popular belief a rooster crowed when the Baby was born.

Generally speaking Christmas trees do exist and they are nicely decorated although they are not real ones, only plastic ones (at least down here in the South). There are no presents though, only children under 5 get one single present. The older ones have to wait a few more days for theirs to arrive.

There is a big family dinner although there is no special Christmas meal. Usually fish is included and the meal is more special (i.e. more expensive) than usual. The dessert, however, is very typical. It consists of lots of little sweets, polvorones, monteditos and bocaditos, such as these.

Finally another essential part of the dinner: the Spanish bubbly wine, the Cava.

Monday, 23 December 2013


Every year during Christmas time the town of Seville has a little projection show on the side of the Town Hall called Mapping. The show is different during every Christmas and this year they spiced it up with the addition of a laser show. I love projections and after an intercambio session we went to see it with a small group of my students.

I really liked the show. So much so that I’d like to show it to you, too. I filmed the best parts of it for your enjoyment.

It started with children singing the Spanish version of Christmas carols, the villancicos.

The message of the Three Wise Men or Los Reyes Magos de Oriente. The gist of it is that Christmas lives in everybody’s hearts.

The crazy fish-bit.

This is my favourite part, it looks so spectacular!

I hope you enjoyed the Mapping of Seville, too.

Sunday, 22 December 2013

The ‘El Gordo’ Christmas Lottery

The Spanish Christmas Lottery, the ‘El Gordo’ or ‘The Fat One’ is the biggest lottery in the world. It started in 1812 during the reign of Carlos V and has become a huge event. It is actually so popular that they start to sell the tickets in August. The winning prize is ridiculously big, the total prize pool is 2 520 000 000 Euros (more than 2.5 billion Euros!).

This Lottery is always played on the 22nd of December. In the last days leading up to the deadline you can see people queuing in front of the lottery selling places as even those who don’t like gambling will participate in this one.

This is not your average kind of lottery as it has its own rules. You can buy a whole ticket or you can buy part of a ticket, too, but this means that the prize will be divided as well. There aren’t only first, second and third prizes but also thousands of smaller ones. Due to this the draw takes hours and some people will stay glued to their telly to watch the whole show, clutching their ticket in their hands.

The draw is conducted by two children, a boy and a girl form the San Idelfonso School in Madrid. It is quite peculiar as the children are singing while drawing the numbers. Here’s a short youtube video to demonstrate.

You don’t have to be Spanish to play the El Gordo. Have a look at the website thefatone.com, it explains everything in English.    

Saturday, 21 December 2013

The Nun-made Biscuit Market

During the long weekend of December there were many markets set up in various squares of Seville. You can browse for handmade craft products, old books and magazines or homemade sweets. It is always nice to look into one of these if you happen to go that way but there was one market that I insisted on going to: the Nun-made Biscuit Market or in its proper name the Yearly Convent Pastry Display (Muestra Annual de Dulces de Conventos de Clausura). As soon as we had a little free time I dragged Paul over to see it.

Did you know that after Rome Seville province has the biggest number of convents? Well, they were all represented here, all 19 of them! Apparently they have all been making sweets for centuries. On Seville’s official website there’s even an Excel chart showing which convent made which type of sweets.

The attraction wasn’t only the market itself but also the fact that it was held within the famous Royal Alcázar of Seville with free entry. Most of the building was off-limit but we could still see some parts of the Gothic Palace. The market was in a room where the walls are adorned with huge, very old and very beautiful tapestries.

We were taken aback by the amount of sweets on sale. There were many kinds, even sugar or gluten free ones.

There was a great selection of handmade jams, too.

My favourite was the ‘variety pack’, this is what I bought to take home.

They were obviously expecting a huge turnout.

All the people helping out here were volunteers. The market was very popular and the amount the convents raise will go to maintenance and restoration.  

Friday, 20 December 2013

The Dance of the Sixes

The December ‘puente’ or long weekend had one more event that I found very intriguing: la Danza de los Seises, or the Dance of the Sixes.

This dance carries on a very old tradition which apparently started in the 15th century after the Reconquering of Spain. At only three times of the year little boys dress up into elaborate, beautiful traditional clothes and dance in the Cathedral of Seville in front of the altar for which a small string orchestra and the church choir provide the music. At the beginning they used tambourines to accompany some of the songs but nowadays the boys use castanets. I’ve heard that they are all orphans. Apparently their costumes and songs have been unchanged since the 16th century.

The internet was full of this dance promising something very special and the fact that you can only see it three times a year just fuelled my curiosity even more therefore I was there on the 9th December half an hour early of the Dance to secure a good place to watch it from. At five o’clock a short ceremony started than at half five the boys arrived. Straight away everybody got their phones or cameras out and started to take photos or film them. I did exactly the same.

I’m not sure about the ‘truly special experience’ and the ‘grand solemnity of the occasion’ as it was promised and the fact that there were actually ten of them instead of six was quite a surprise. However I did find it very charming.

The boys were obviously a bit uncomfortable in the unusual outfits and they kept adjusting their clothes and with their hats. Even though they knew the choreography well and the smaller boys followed the older ones’ lead they still sometimes started to step to the wrong direction and that brought out a quick smile from the others.

The Danza de los Seises is performed every day until the 15th December with free entry. The next occasion will be during the Corpus Christi celebrations when instead of blue the boys will wear red coloured clothes.

Thursday, 19 December 2013

The night of the ‘tunas’

During the first week of December the Christmas lights were lit up during the evening hours then on the weekend the celebrations went to a whole new level. This weekend was a ‘puente’ or bridge which means a long weekend with Friday and Monday off. This is the joint celebration of Spain’s Constitution and the Día de la Inmaculada Concepción, or the Day of the Immaculate Conception.

I was eagerly awaiting this weekend, not only because it was a four day long holiday but also because there were interesting events going on in the city. The first one was the night of the ´tunas´, these university groups who dress up into traditional clothes, play music and sing on the Streets of Seville.

The tradition is very old, it started in the medieval age when poor college boys used their musical talents to go around pubs and events to earn a few coins or a bowl of soup in exchange for singing popular songs for the guests. They also used their guitars to court their chosen ladies and to give a serenade under their windows. I think they were similar to the ones we know as ‘troubadours’.

Their clothing is also worth looking into as they closely resemble of a 16-17th century Spanish student’s outfit which is called the ‘grillo’. The most interesting is their cloak. It is full of coat of arms of cities they have visited. It is also decorated by colourful long ribbons that were given by their loved ones.

Seville’s ‘tuna’ groups are very famous. On the night of the 7th December they all head into the city where they play music and sing to entertain the people. We had been stalking them with Paul, counting all the different coloured groups and taking notes of which group goes to which bar. At midnight they all gathered next to the Cathedral on the Plaza de Triunfo to serenade in front of the statue of the Virgin Mary and to give her flowers.

By the time we got to the square at 11.30pm there were so many people that we couldn’t find a very good place to watch the proceedings. 

To be honest when the first group sang the first song it didn’t feel that special. However later they started to sing more popular songs and the whole square started to sing together. People were smiling around us, the group got more animated and one of them started to conduct the people, the musicians were laughing and dancing, suddenly we were very happy to be there.

Later when we went home I caught a group who were just getting ready to go to the statue. After a group photo they lined up and started to sing.

We’re not sure how many groups sang that night but the next day when I walked that way I saw that the statue was covered with flowers.

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

The Three Wizard Kings

Christmas in Span is a completely different story to the one in England or in Hungary. Here the limelight is stolen away from poor Santa. Children know about him but he’s not important at all. The protagonists (yes, there are more than one!) are the Three Wise Man or Los Reyes Magos de Oriente as they are known here. They have magic power hence the ‘wizard’ in their names and they are the ones who bring presents to the children. They however don’t come on Christmas but on January the 5th. Therefore in Spain the celebrations are extended to the new year.

Even though you can see some commercialized Santa (or Papa Noel in Spanish) decorations the ones who climb up to the windows are the Kings.

Seems like there are some who don't want to chance it.

And who else would the children write their Christmas letter to than the Three Wizard Kings? 

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Seville – La Feria de Belén

As Christmas is almost upon us I decided that instead of finishing up our Granada adventures I’m going to start to blog about more immediate matters. We’ve been living in Seville for a few weeks now so I’m going to show you the preparations for the festivities in this lovely city.

The first sign of Christmas approaching was the opening of the Feria de Belén or the Nativity Scene Market on the 30th November next to the Cathedral of Seville. As it is a very typical Spanish custom  I was right there to document everything for my blog.

In Spain the Nativity Scene or belén is very important and it seems like the town of Seville took it to a whole other level. You can have your own little one in your home, you can see them displayed in many shop windows and courtyards that are open for the public to see it. There is even a Ruta de Belén or a Nativity Scene Route which you can find on the official website of Seville which leads you through the biggest and nicest belén displays.

You can find everything you need to make your own belén here in the Market. 

Not only the ‘usual suspects’ such as Mary, Joseph, the Baby and the Three Kings but also many other complementary details to enrich your display. 

Animals in all shapes and sizes (for obvious reasons the donkey is a huge favourite), food, meat, fruit, vegetables, people of the village, everything is here!

You can build a whole village for yourself from the variety of buildings on offer.

There are ponds, gardens, rivers with flowing water, moving windmills, everything you can possibly think of.

There’s even a ‘paint your own’ section.

There are many different themes to choose from, too.

My favourite is this colourful, slightly unusual belén stall. These tiny belénes are from South America and the ingenuity of them makes everybody smile.