In London last week I was dazzled by a sea of Christmas lights on Oxford and Regent Street and shop windows bursting with a heady mix of bauble-drenched festive trees, tinsel, gyrating santas and decorations. Christmas, it seemed, had officially arrived in the UK.
The bright lights of London are a far cry from Majorca’s modest displays
In department stores cheery carols blasted from speakers as hordes of shoppers bustled about the gift, greeting card and tree decoration departments with groaning baskets. So great was the throng on the street with shoppers burdened down with heavy bags of goods that I took refuge in the road. No sooner had I left London than apocalyptic scenes were reported in the media on ‘Black Friday’, the massive discount day now offered by UK stores as a way of stimulating pre-Christmas spending. Fighting apparently broke out in shops across the country as shoppers greedily tried to cadge bargains in volume or jumped queues. A modern day interpretation of Dante’s Inferno, perhaps?
Meanwhile back in Majorca Christmas – refreshingly – has yet to arrive. A few subtle and tasteful decorations can be spied in the main streets of Palma but there’s little trading going on in the stores and an air of serenity abounds. I spoke with an assistant at El Corte Inglés, the main department store in the island’s capital who told me that shoppers traditionally popped by a few days in advance of the Three Kings celebration on 6, January when gifts are traditionally given but even then she was not anticipating a scrum. The Majorcans aren’t too fussed about Christmas and despite a minor tremor of commercialism creeping into shops in the capital, it’s still not a big deal. Thankfully locals prefer to treat the festivities as a time for family and community get-togethers over huge and extended meals.
In my rural valley Christmas comes to life on la nochebuena, Christmas Eve, when families share large feasts of roast suckling pig or turkey, and all sorts of dulces, desserts and calorific almond nougat turrón after which many pop along to local churches for the midnight service. They return home for cups of piping hot chocolate often with a generous slug of brandy, and the famed spiral-shaped Majorcan ensaïmada pastries. Christmas Day is fairly low key with most locals taking bracing walks by the sea or in the hills with family and friends and preparing and sharing festive meals come the evening.
Decorations aren’t very popular in our valley although beléns, traditional nativity scenes, are often dusted down and displayed by the fireplace. Most feature a little Catalan humour with the inclusion of a caganer, a mischievous chap with his trousers about his knees, defecating in the undergrowth.
New Year’s Eve, nochevieja, is when communities get together in front of the town hall or in village squares to share a glass of cava and to gobble down a grape with every strike of the clock at midnight – normally provided gratis by local councils. An oompah band is usually on hand to get everyone on their feet and hugs and kisses with neighbours and friends are de rigeur on the dot of midnight. And finally the big day of the Magi arrives -Les Reyes Magos – when in every village and town a lookalike Balthazar, Caspar and Melchior trio rolls up via horse, donkey, tractor or boat as part of a cheerful parade distributing caramelos, sweets, and good cheer. Children rush home after the event to open gifts with relatives which is usually a modest affair. Few of our Majorcan friends lavish expensive presents on their children and tend to give them one longed for item with a few small extra toys rather than a whole stash.
So much as it’s fun to breeze into London during the festive season to witness the dramatic lights and sumptuous Christmas spreads in stores, I’m more than content to toddle back to my quiet Majorcan eyrie in the hills where family, friends and food still top the bill.
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