Christmas might well be knocking on our doors and rattling the shutters but here in sleepy rural Soller life continues at a rather sedate pace, interrupted only by the odd whisper of the festivities to come.
In Café Paris, my favourite haunt in Soller town, coca de patatas have arrived, the deceptively light and spongy seeming iced buns that have a slight hint of anise and sit on the stomach like a small sack of potatoes. Traditionally made with manteca or pig fat, eggs, milk, potatoes, olive oil and sugar, it’s not surprising that they put less of a spring and more of a lump of lead in one’s step. All the same I love them dearly and never miss a chance to visit Valldemossa, once a fleeting home to Frederic Chopin and his disgruntled lover, George Sand, where one famed bakery, Ca’n Molinas has been lovingly making a variety of cocas for more than 90 years. In order to pile on the pounds it is strongly advisable to enjoy one of these buns with a mug of hot, thick chocolate, the stirring of which will defeat a common teaspoon. And then there are my other favourites, mantecados, the calorie drenched crumbly shortbreads sold in bakeries across the island at this time of year. You may wonder why I am admitting to such utter piggery with the earnestness of a sinner in a confessional box but I do it purely to underline the importance of food to Majorcans at such a celebratory time.
Forget gyrating Santas, cards, Christmas crackers, tasteless baubles and gaudy tree illuminations that blink faster than the flashing lights of a police car because rural Majorca is all about a slow build up to the fun that lies ahead. Daringly tiny white lights have just been strung across the denuded plane trees in our plaça but won’t be switched on until Christmas is nearly upon us and beléns, traditional nativity scenes, have discreetly appeared in porches and on windowsills. All of these contain the Catalan joke caganer, the little red-capped fellow that harks back to Baroque times, seen squatting with his trousers about his knees, fertilising the land. Earthy humour abounds here, and in some homes the tió de Nadal –the Christmas uncle- is also popular. The tió, a log painted with a face, is stuffed with sweets and beaten with a stick on Christmas Eve to ‘evacuate’ its contents.
No one will give a thought to gift buying until nearer the time of Los Reyes Magos, the Three Kings, Spain’s traditional gift-giving event that takes place on 6, January. Although Father Christmas might have caught on in parts of Spain, here in Mallorca, the Three Kings are still the big attraction with most villages holding their own special celebration the night before, the eve of the Epiphany. In Fornalutx our nearest village three locals dress up as Balthazar, Gaspar and Melchior, arriving with great fanfare on horses followed by their magical helpers who throw sweets to the crowds. The kings then invite every village child up on to a makeshift stage one by one to collect a gift which has been carefully selected for them by friends or family.
Kicking off with Christmas Eve, nochebuena, families will enjoy wonderful homely banquets after which many will waddle to the local church with stomachs groaning to hear the spine tingling Cant de la Sibil-la, the Song of the Sybil, a Gregorian chant that briefly puts the dampener on the festivities with its rather mournful prophesying of the apocalypse. In Medieval times the song was originally performed in Latin by a male, but now it is sung in Catalan by a girl who wears a flowing robe, and grimly grips a sword. After midnight everyone toddles back home to gorge themselves on hot chocolate and ensaimadas, Majorca’s famed snail shaped pastry. And Christmas Day? What do you think! The food fest continues followed by long walks and plenty of pleasantries. Wherever you go, there will be cries of “Molts d’anys!”
many happy years to come and hugs and kisses abound.
By New Year’s Eve, la noche vieja, with stomachs sagging we have only- thank heavens- twelve grapes and cava to whet our appetite as the clock strikes twelve in the village plaça. An oompah band blasts out old numbers and cava and packs of grapes are handed round to one and all courtesy of the generous village mayor. And when it’s over and normal life resumes, Majorcan women huddle together in cafés to soberly discuss the only subject burning on all of their lips: diets, oh and the next fiesta!
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