When we first re-located to the beautiful island of Mallorca, we had no real idea what to expect at the jingle of Christmastide. We knew the onslaught of tourists would be long gone by December, yet didn’t know what the natives did, or how Mallorcans celebrated their festive season. The Spanish take on Michaelmass offered us a new experience. Yet in real time, tinsel and turkey is very much the same no matter where you are . . . even with a Balearic twist!
Generally, it takes a little longer for festive frivolity to ramp up in Mallorca than it does in the UK. After all, Christmas here is traditionally regarded as more of a religious holiday, with the ‘Kings’ fiesta on 5th January being the main focus of festivity, shortly after the global New Year’s Eve celebration bash.
Dear old Santa is quite a recent revelation for the Spanish and Mallorcan islanders; but the opportunity for blatant commercialism has well and truly landed. And the Mallorcans were never going to be left behind for long when there was an opportunity to put on a party and celebrate.
Back in the UK, the frenzy of festive fairy lights can be seen flashing in stores and supermarkets from as early as October! I’ve even seen mince pies appear on shelves shortly after the Easter Eggs have hatched. My guess is that it’s only a matter of time before the two holidays meet somewhere in the middle, and we see Christmas trees in August with an Easter bunny aloft instead of a twinkling angel!
In mainland Spain and across the Balearics, a lovely tradition greatly embraced by Mallorcan culture is the ‘Belén’, which can be a quaint and simple nativity scene, which many families display in their front windows, or a large and impressive diorama exhibit displayed in shop windows, town halls and departments stores, complete with moving parts, flowing water and spinning mill wheels. Traditional Beléns can be seen everywhere across the island, and for me they epitomize the arrival and true spirit of the Majorcan Christmas. Of course, a plethora of tacky overstuffed Santas have also started appearing at the same time, hanging by ropes from windows and balconies alike, which over the past few years have seemingly become just as popular as the Belén across our island landscape!
Here in Majorca, social culture is structured with a strong emphasis and focus on family, unless of course they have fallen out over who ate the last stuffed olive one past Christmas and haven’t spoken for the last 20 years!
As opposed to the open, drunken revelry often displayed across the UK (mental reference here to embarrassing office parties flowing out onto busy high streets, with half naked employees about to regret their inappropriate advances on the boss or someone they’ve had the hots for all year), the festive celebrations in Mallorca are generally more low-key, and centre around the gentler, religious aspect of the occasion. Much anticipated, all inclusive, traditional family feasts on Christmas Eve involve everybody from great grandparents to newborns. No-one ever gets left out or forgotten at these large family ‘get togethers’, but addressing the elephant in the room, 2020 will obviously be a bit different!
Diluting any heart felt tradition is a really tough call, yet hopefully the locals will be respecting and tightening up their personal protocol regarding social gatherings this season, and concentrate on spreading socially distanced Christmas cheer amongst smaller family groups instead of spreading Covid at larger, mass gatherings!
The Christmas Eve feast in Mallorca is a tight knit family affair and a closed shop to outsiders, showcasing a traditional menu which usually consists of Entremeses – a typical platter of gourmet delicacies offering a selection of jamón Iberico, chorizo, morcilla (blood sausage) manchego cheese and Medjool dates amongst other gastronomic goodies. Followed by Sopa de Galets – large, shell shaped pasta stuffed with spiced mincemeat and served in a broth. Or an alternative, yet luxurious seafood stew with prawns and lobster. No expense is spared at these family feasts! There is often a fish course followed by either roast lamb or suckling pig. Traditionally there would also be an Ensaimada to finish the feast, along with Polvorones – soft almond cookies and Turrón, all washed down with barrels of wine and bubbling cava!
Those remaining conscious, who can still move and string a sentence together, end up staggering to the local church for Midnight Mass, leaving the more serious revellers (usually the men) to look after the brandy and liqueurs along with the comotose. Amen!
Christmas Day is still traditionally for family, but scaled down a tad on the food front, and often giving a nod to include close friends. A huge fish usually finds itself at the Christmas centerpiece. Boxing day is definitely for chilling out in pyjamas and finishing off any leftovers. Surprisingly, the streets and bars are usually very quiet over these specific days of festive celebration, with friends and family generally meeting up during the days and nights beforehand.
Due to restrictions through breaches in Covid protocol, restaurants and bars across Majorca are currently limited in the numbers they can safely entertain on their terraces. Yet despite the shocking rise in Covid cases, many people are still determined to get out and about, meet up and celebrate their Christmas fiesta. With this in mind, our own local Town Hall in Mancor de la Vall, has generously erected marquee tents outside each of our five bars, so those who feel the need to socialise can at least meet and greet under cover, whilst respectfully keeping a safe distance while doing so. Hopefully they won’t turn into free-for-all party tents with everyone throwing caution to the wind. And surely, there will be some kind of monitored supervision? Or not!!! (why did I even think there might be?)
The other day we witnessed two local families arriving simultaneously on the pavement outside a town house in our small municipality. The two families were obviously about to celebrate together at a pre-planned lunch party.
On meeting, the two families immediately all threw their arms around each other hugging and kissing outside the house before they went inside. “Oh, we shouldn’t really be doing all this hugging and kissing!” laughed one of the women, (in Mallorcan) although they continued doing it all the same, trashing any form of advised safety guidelines which are set out to protect individuals, not punish them!
We all have choices over this Christmas period when it comes to our attitude and beliefs towards protocol. And those choices whether selfish or sensible, can have a great impact, along with a grave consequence on yourself and others if it all goes horribly wrong. If taking a risk becomes a calculated choice that you might live to regret, then think again before you commit. Is it worth it? Kissing and hugging is great, but maybe not at this present time with Covid infections raging out of control. “If you catch the virus then it’s down to fate!” some might foolishly say. Well, if you lie down on a train rail you might just get hit by a train! Stay off the tracks and you most certainly won’t! Is that fate or common sense? Whatever your choices this Christmas, please be ultra careful, think twice, and have a Very Safe Celebration whatever you decide to do.
FELIZ NAVIDAD one and all!