So, in the U.S. today, everyone will be relaxing and watching some football and generally enjoying their last day of holidays before the long winter ahead. Here in Spain, however, it's not the last day - we're in the middle of the holidays, actually, because the 6th of January is the Three Kings Day.
I think I have it down now. Here's how the holidays work here in Spain. About 5 days before Christmas day, the holidays start to heat up. You start seeing commercials, all the businesses start giving out their Christmas Baskets and having their Christmas dinners, and everyone asks whether you've bought a $20 ticket for El Gordo lottery (it's considered lucky to share the cost of a ticket).
Then Christmas Eve ("Noche Buena") hits and you get together with your family and you have a big dinner. And because everyone is together, you'll exhange some gifts. It's not "Christmas" like in the U.S. - there is usually only one gift per person - if that - and it's pretty small. For the little kids, this is when "Papa Noel" comes and drops off a game or some other small surprise also. I'm thinking this is the force of the Anglo world pushing its way into Spanish culture and they've integrated it into their customs like this. Christmas day is just a day to relax, nothing big happens (at least in my wife's family).
Then for the next two weeks now it's REALLY the holiday season. All the commercials on television are filled to the brim with toy ads and the losers or minor winners in El Gordo go out and buy tickets for El NiAo, which is another big holiday lottery for the first of the year, but not as big as El Gordo.
Then New Year's Eve comes ("Nochevieja"), and as I explained yesterday, this is the big fancy dinner - also with your family. Then during the strokes of midnight, you eat your grapes and toast with champagne or sparkling cider. Then there's fireworks for the next hour or so while everyone goes out and parties ending around 7 a.m. or so the next morning with Churros and hot-chocolate pudding at the bars.
The first of the year is a relaxed day again (yeah!) and next Monday, all the little kids (not the grownups from what I can tell) will get their presents. The way the mythology of the three kings (Caspar, Melchior and Balthasa) works is like this: The night before, all over Spain, there are parades where the Three Kings come riding into town on their camels to give the presents to the little kids. The parades are huge and they throw out candy, etc. Thus between now and sixth, all the last minute shoppers go and get their presents, there's a zillion toy ads on television. If you don't have kids, the holidays are pretty much over, but for everyone else, the big days coming.
The kids shine their shoes the night before - or boots if the kid is smart - to be filled with surprises and put out Turron for the kings to eat. Then when they wake up, all their presents are out there - sort of like our Christmas, but there's no presents for Mom or Dad, that I can tell. (I just confirmed this with Moof).
Then finally, like during Christmas in the U.S., the holidays are thankfully over. The kids go back to school pretty much immediately and things return to normal. It's like a very condensed version of Christmas in the U.S. which starts with Thanksgiving and ends around Christmas...
Okay, here's my editorial comment: There's no excuse in the world for blackface. It's insulting and racist. The Spanish always use a guy in blackface in the Three Kings Parade instead of a real black person and it pisses me off. I've bitched about it since I first saw it (it's everywhere this time of year - not just in the parade, but in stores, on TV, etc.) and I always hear the same excuse that there's no black people here, which is complete bullshit. Africa is freakin' 4 miles away from Spain across the Straights of Gilbralter, if that far. If you're Spanish and you're reading this, you should be ashamed of this custom - go find a black guy for your parades. If you can't figure out why blackface is bad, go ask a black person. If you don't know any, ask yourself why. If I see another black-faced Balthazar pretending he's rapping, I swear I'm taking him out.
Ahem. Okay. I'm better now. We'll be back in the U.S. by the time Alex is ready to see the Three Kings, so I won't worry about it for now. But later, it's going to be interesting trying to figure out how to integrate both the Spanish and Anglo cultures and traditions... In the U.S. the three kings bring a token present but here in Spain it's the other way around? Something like that.