Today is the day when the Three Kings – the same ones who visited the infant Jesus – begin their journey to visit all children in the Spanish speaking world to deliver presents to them. We watched the Carnival parade they brought with them as they passed through Barcelona earlier this evening. Dancing, singing, exhuberant and imaginative displays had us enthralled for an hour or more. It was never like this in biblical times, I’m sure.
Everyone knows I’m a Christmas Refuser. Oh, I enjoy Christmas alright. I made our cake weeks ago, and Malcolm and I regularly ‘feed’ it with doses of brandy to make sure it’s good and sozzled. I’ll happily rehearse Christmas music at choir too.
But that’s about it. I do an about turn in any shop belting out Christmas Muzac and leave immediately. I haven’t bought a single card or present, nor shall I until …. oh…. about the end of next week . Then it’ll all get done in a flurry of cheerful activity, and I’ll enjoy it, because I haven’t been thinking about it since September.
Then the other day, I came across this six-years-old blog post, written in France. Simpler times, simpler customs. I wonder how often the window displays I wrote about here are seen these days? Innocent pleasures….
December 9th, 2012
Christmas on the High Street
It was 5 years ago when we were first in Laroque round about Christmas time. There were no signs of its coming until well into December, and we thought it wonderful: no decorations, no adverts, merchandise or muzak, just a bustle of festive activity from about two or three weeks beforehand.
The first signs, as in England, were in the shops. Unlike England however, most shopkeepers didn’t usually buy tinsel, baubles, and several packs of cotton wool to introduce a Christmas theme into their window display. Instead they had a seasonal design applied directly to the window. We once saw a scene-painter busily decorating a local window, and wondered what he did the rest of the year. Shops in small town high streets like Laroque’s would all be unified by being the same but different. The same folksy interpretations of Christmas motifs, the same limited palettes of white, red, greens and yellows. Some would choose scenes of reindeer amongst the Christmas tree forests, others Father Christmas, snowmen, or radiant candles.
Five years on, hardly any shopkeepers are keeping up this tradition. They’re decorating their shops, but in their own way: dressing up their window display with baubles, snowflakes and Santa Claus figures. They’re nicely done too, but I miss the particularly French idea, which I’ve seen nowhere else.
Here are the few traditional window scenes I’ve been able to find this year. Maybe next year even these will be part of the past.
No, I’m not talking about the Día de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, that life-affirming joyous celebration of life that happens in Mexico at this time of year.
I’m remembering our life in France. I’m remembering how, from early October and for the rest of the month, shops and markets would be crammed with pots and pots of chrysanthemums. It’s hard to know where they could all have been grown. Or how they could all find buyers. The Hard Discount supermarkets would sell them for a euro or two, while high-end florists expected a great deal more.
On All Saints’ Day, November 1st, all these chrysanthemums – white, russet, yellow, mauve, crimson – would suddenly appear in the cemeteries, jostled and packed onto family tombs . And those cemeteries weren’t just crowded with plants. Family groups make it their business to visit their deceased relatives in the season of Toussaint. The day itself is a public holiday, and so those family members who’ve died provide an excuse for a family get-together. Here’s a day when, out of respect, there’s no opportunity to air old grievances or argue over the family silver.
Foreign visitors can make a big mistake when coming to see their French friends at this time of year. ‘There were such a lot of lovely chrysanthemums in the shops, I couldn’t resist buying a pot for you’. It doesn’t go down well. There’s only one place for these flowers once they’ve left the shop. The graveyard.
What HAS happened to all my photos taken in France of Toussaint chrysanthemums in shops, markets, cemeteries? Who knows? I’ve had to rely on Unsplash, a brilliant collection of copyright-free photos, offered by the world’s photographers.
I’ve got lots of readers with Yorkshire connections. With addresses in Australia, southern France, London, Northumbria, Spain and East Sussex, among other places, I bet not one of them has celebrated Yorkshire Day.
Who knew? Not me. Not anyone I know. We all bumbled through life in the 1970s, 80s, 90s, and though the early years of the twenty first century, blissfully unaware until about five years ago that we were supposed to be partying for Yorkshire.
Two Ripon shops take Yorkshire Day seriously.
Now Yorkshire cities take it in turn to host Yorkshire Day, and this year it is Ripon’s turn. This meant a fairground in the Market Square, a procession with a band and civic dignitaries, a service in the cathedral, picnicking in the Park, and all manner of stalls in the town centre, mainly celebrating Yorkshire charities and institutions.
It’s early yet. It’s still quiet round the Town Hall.
If you can’t see the procession, catch it om your phone ….
A fine marching band.
Good old Punch and Judy: ‘That’s the way to do it!’
This bank of flowere was a great place for photo opportunities.
Such as The National Trust’s stall celebrating Fountains Abbey & Studley Royal. I was there. I was one of a small team encouraging mainly families to have fun. A few punters dressed up as monks from the Abbey, or as fine Georgian ladies who might have enjoyed the Studley Royal Water Gardens. Most children – boys and girls – got enthusiastic about using the kind of wool which was produced in abundance at Fountains Abbey to get stuck into simple weaving. They chose their colours with care, threaded their shuttles, and wove, wove, wove. They ended up with nothing more elaborate than a bookmark, but goodness, they treasured them, and handed them carefully to mums, grandads – anyone who would put them safely away till they arrived home.
All that hand-dyed wool! Best get stuck into weaving.
And we all ate Wilfra Cakes. That’s a sort of apple pie cooked with Wensleydale cheese, and a long-forgotten Ripon delicacy, produced thanks to the Workhouse Museum.
If we go back this evening, there are bands playing, and a big firework display. Well, any excuse for a party in God’s Own Country. Why not?
Today was why we came to Barcelona in early January. Emily’s partner’s family invited us to share in today’s traditional family gathering. How could we refuse?
We’ve just had the best of days, with about thirty members of Miquel’s wider family. We’ve muddled through in Spanish, in English, in French. We’ve watched with pride Emily’s integration into this loving and close family group.
Lots of eating, lots of drinking. Then everyone had to share in eating the traditional Three Kings cake, el roscón de Reyes. We’d all chucked five euros into the pot, and the person who found the little pottery king in their slice won the lot – all but five euros. Miquel won that, for finding a bean in his slice.
Then it was charades. Can you imagine? But this little detail made us laugh. If you need to indicate that the title you’re miming is in English, you drink from an imaginary cup of tea whilst crooking your little finger ….
A very good day has been had by all. Thank you, Miquel’s family, for making us so welcome.
Did Father Christmas come your way the other week? I hope so.
But this year we’ve come to try to spot another team bearing gifts. We’re in Barcelona, where tonight children are waiting eagerly for their Christmas presents from – the Three Kings.
It was at Epiphany that the Magi visited the infant Christ, and at Epiphany that they continue the tradition by bringing gifts to all Spanish and Hispanic children.
We’ve already spotted them. Here they are, slowly winding their way through the crowded streets of Barcelona with their accompanying queens, elves, African drummers and jungle creatures. My phone hasn’t made a good job of recording their visit. I hope my camera will have done better.