Thursday, December 22, 2011

Random Christmas Fact #22 - Christmas Eve

Christmas Eve is known as Nochebuena or "the Good Night." It is a time for family members to gather together to rejoice and feast around the Nativity scenes that are present in nearly every home.  As the stars come out, tiny oil lamps are lit in every house, and after Midnight Mass Christmas dinner is served.

Midnight mass on Christmas Eve is called 'La Misa Del Gallo' (The Mass of the Rooster). It is called this because a rooster is supposed to have crowed the night that Jesus was born.

A traditional Christmas Dinner includes:

  • Appetizer - jamón (Spanish ham), large shrimp, or a seafood soup
  • Main Dishes - Roast Lamb or 'Pavo Trufado de Navidad' which is Turkey stuffed with truffles (the mushrooms not the chocolate ones!) or Lobster (have heard of very few doing the lamb or turkey, most are doing lobster)
  • Dessert - Flan and the other pastries mentioned in earlier posts

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Random Fact #21 - Parades

Christmas parades are not a big thing here in Spain, however, King's Day Parades are a whole different story.  On January 5, later in the evening - 9:00 ish, almost every city, town, or pueblo will have a King's Day Parade. This is how the kid's know that the kings have made it to their city and will be able to deliver presents to them for the King's Day (remember this is the big present day - the kids put their shoes out for the king's to put presents in and around.  We had an American friend ask to borrow Scott's shoes for King's Day - he wears a size 12, she is only in the 4th grade).  When the parade is over they return home and often find shoes already filled (assuming the king's dropped them off on their way to the parade).

In small pueblos where the "kings" are known people from the community parents will often give the kid's presents to the kings and as the parade is progressing the kids will receive their gifts, reinforcing that idea that the kings are real (sit on a king's lap and tell him what you want and then he delivers it as he arrives in town - sounds pretty real to me).

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Random Christmas Fact #20 - Balthazar

The final king is Balthazar. He is black and typically has a black beard. He wears a purple coat. He is the king of Egypt and Tarse and represents the myrrh brought to Jesus. 

Monday, December 19, 2011

Random Fact #19 - Melchior

The second king is Melchior. He has long white hair with a long white beard. He wears a long gold coat. He is the king of Arabia and is associated with the gold brought to Jesus.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Random Christmas Fact #18 - Gaspar

The first of the Three Kings is Gaspar. He has brown hair and usually has a brown beard. He wears a green robe and a gold crown adorned with green jewels. He is the king of Sheba and associated with bringing frankincense.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Operación Niño de la Navidad

Today we volunteered with Operación Niño de la Navidad.  For the past many years we have always participated in Operation Christmas Child in the states.  We have packed boxes, sorted boxes, collected and received boxes, and then even went to the processing center.  It always kicked off Christmas for us because the whole process occurs much earlier in the states.

Operación Niño de la Navidad has only been in Spain for 3 years so it is still in the baby stages.  What a great blessing it was to volunteer at such an intimate level.  Hannah and Alex and I probably helped process a couple hundred boxes and it didn't even look like we made a dent.  There were a few workers and other volunteers who spoke English which also helped.  Everyone found it cool that we had helped in the states where the operation is so much bigger.

Wondering if I have time in my schedule to go back again this week.

Random Fact #17 - 3 Kings Day

On January 6th, the Three Kings come deliver presents - this is the day many children and families exchange gifts. We see the Three Kings all over Spain! I've even read online that instead of getting your picture with Santa, children will take with the Three Kings (haven't seen this though).   Watch for the next 3 days to see the descriptions of each of the kings.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Random Fact About Christmas #16 - Trick or Treat

You thought Trick or Treat was only for Halloween, but here in Spain they have their own way of doing it. I was told today that it is customary on Christmas Eve for children to come to your door and ring the doorbell.  They will then sing you a Christmas carol and you are to give them a treat or a 50 cent piece.  Hmm, wonder if they come to apartment doors?

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Random Christmas Fact #15 - King's Ring

Roscón de reyes (kings' ring) is a Spanish king's cake pastry traditionally eaten to celebrate Epiphany (January 6)  The tradition of placing a trinket (figurine of the Christ Child) in the cake is very old. The baby Jesus, when hidden in the bread, represents the flight of Jesus, fleeing from King Herod's evil plan to kill all babies that could be the prophesied messiah. Whoever finds the baby Jesus figurine is blessed.  The candied fruit on top represents the jewels in the king's crown.  In some cultures (haven't been able to determine if this is only a Mexican practice or also a Spanish one) whoever finds the figurine must take the figurine to the nearest church on February 2, Candlemas Day (Día de la Candelaria). Other traditions say that the person who gets the figurine in their slice of cake gets to be "king" for the day.

We are seeing these cakes all around town already.  I wonder if you buy one early in the season if they have the figurine in them.  Perhaps I'll have to buy one and eat it to find out.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Random Fact About Christmas #14 - Polvoron

At Christmas time in Spain you are able to find all kinds of treats that are not available the rest of the year.  In the grocery stories you see whole new sections and most of the items resemble nothing from home.  A favorite Christmas treat is a shortbread-like cookie called polvorón.  In Spanish, polvorón literally means powder cake. They are made using finely ground almonds, Iberico shortening (originally pig fat), sugar and not much else, so they literally crumble in your mouth! The result is a sweet, slightly crunchy treat.


  • Time 25 minutes
  • Serves 16


  • 1 1/2 cups all purpose Flour
  • 3/4 cup almonds (raw)
  • 1 cup good quality lard
  • 3/4 cup white sugar
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup powder sugar (optional)

How to make it

  • Preheat the oven to 350ºF.
  • Measure and pour flour out onto a cookie sheet. Place in oven and "toast" the flour. Occasionally move the flour around on the sheet, so that it toasts evenly. Leave in oven for about 8 minutes. Remove and set aside.
  • Place raw almonds on another cookie sheet. Toast the almonds until they change color just slightly. Remove and place almonds into a food processor. Process almonds until they are finely ground.
  • Cream lard, sugar and cinnamon in a large mixing bowl. Add the flour and finely ground almonds and continue mixing. The dough will be very crumbly!.
  • Place a sheet of waxed paper on a cutting board or other flat work surface. Press the dough together to form a ball. Then press the dough onto the waxed paper. Carefully flatten it down to about 1/2 inch. Use a cookie cutter to cut out the cookies.
  • Use a small spatula to carefully move the cookies from the waxed paper to a cookie sheet for baking because the dough is very dry and flaky.
  • Bake cookies on ungreased cookie sheet for 25-30 minutes at 400ºF.
  • Remove cookie sheet from oven and allow cookies to cool completely before removing them. Take special care not to break them.
  • Dust with powder sugar when ready to serve.
  • Makes approximately 16 cookies.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Random Facts About Christmas #13 - Jota

The special Christmas dance of Spain is called 'Jota' and it is said that the lyrics and music on which it is performed is centuries old. Musical instruments such as guitars and castanets accompany Jota.

Random Fact About Christmas in Spain #12 - Tio De Nadal

The Tio de Nadal, or "Christmas log," is a traditional decoration in the homes of the Catalan region of Spain.  (By the way, we do not live in the Catalan Region - this region is up in the northeast of Spain)  A crudely-painted face adorns one side of the log, and sticks are wedged in the bottom to represent arms and legs. Beginning December 8th, the children of the house "feed" it a little bit of food every day - nuts, dried fruits, etc - and cover it with a blanket at night.  And then, on Christmas, the real terror begins. The kids take the Tio and put it into the unlit fireplace. They then hit it with sticks and make it poop out treats - candies, nuts, etc. It's sort of like a stocking here, only everything comes out of a butt.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Mi Esperanza (My Hope)

At the end of this week the Decision office, a ministry of the Billy Graham Association, will be hosting Mi Esperanza - three days of broadcasts and teaching about Hope.  Individuals and evangelical churches here in Spain have been praying together that this time will bring great fruit.  Evangelicals have invited friends to join them for a meal and to watch the broadcasts together in their homes and then to have discussion as to what they heard.  Will you pray for the families and churches that are hosting friends and family?  The broadcasts are Thursday, Friday, and Saturday evening. 

Here is a little more information:

The Need:
We live in times of crisis. Every day we wake up with a new story that shows how our world is suffering and is on the brink of the precipice. Unemployment, foreclosures, bank failures, companies and countries have generated a great despair. Today more than ever we need to provide answers and help foster the hope that a better world is possible.

In Spain there is a strong religious illiteracy in all that is not Catholic. In particular the Spanish culture is marked by ignorance and stereotypes about Protestantism, which promoted the years of intolerance in society, which promotes religious xenophobia actively or passively, consciously or unconsciously. Evangelical Churches assume their share of responsibility for failing to make themselves known, and want to make this campaign the media to express their ideas and contribute in building a more pluralistic and tolerant society. Moreover, we live a time of crisis, where it is necessary to integrate all the alternatives that help to build confidence and hope. In this area, Protestant Christianity is a group already doing this work in many different forms throughout the Spanish territory.

What Is It?
 My hope is the project that evangelical churches and organizations have joined in the history of Spain. A project that aims to inform, spreading hope and demonstrate the power of faith, relying on the experience of some of its representative members, from anonymous people, even celebrities and scholars who share their values ​​in three television programs, to be issued on schedule
prime and a national channel.

Around this central axis, the members of each church (parish) used these programs to their homes to invite friends and colleagues to share in a relaxed and informal content of programs. We believe it is so important (or more) talk about the vision of life based on faith, like football or politics.

When Is It?
 Television programs will be broadcast on 15, 16 and December 17, 2011 at 9:30 PM (EST)

Every TV show is different but has a similar scheme. Lasts 30 minutes and features of anonymous testimonies of different profiles that match social reality evangelicals who live in Spain. They express the experience and the strength that gives them their faith in the every day, with the aim of making Jesus known and not to a particular religion. also involved some celebrities like footballer Kaká or singer Juan Luis Guerra. In each program there will also be a short speech of evangelical pastor Billy Graham, offering a message of hope to the global crisis that shook our world. 

For my Spanish speaking friends, you can watch promos and read more about this event at

Since our language is still very limited we will not be hosting one of these events, however, we will be spending time praying each evening that in the homes around us the hope of eternity is being heard.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

The Blessing (or is it a curse?) of Language

We have been asked several times when are we going to start our "real work?"  Another popular question is "what else are you doing other than learning Spanish?"  Can't you just use a translator?

I wish we could just use a translator - that would be a lot easier than trying to master a new language.  But the simple answer is no, we cannot.  We are doing our real work right now and it is a full time job with lots of overtime.  To reach those around us we must learn Spanish.  It is slow and it is discouraging and it requires a lot of tylenol.  We see lots of need and work that needs to be done, and yet we have our noses in books and flash cards.  We ask ourselves (and I am sure some of you ask the same question) isn't there something more productive we could be doing?

I am reading Like a Flickering Flame: A History of Protestant Missions In Spain.  It is a slow read, even in English.  I skipped to the back however and read some of the appendices and I now know there is no shortcut or way around learning language.  Appendix I is a "Manifesto to the Foreign Missionaries and Missions in Spain."  It is a letter that was sent to missionary societies working in Spain many years ago, yet it still rings true.

In a section entitled Some Facts That Need to Be Pointed Out it says:

A brief trip around Spain, by people without a knowledge of the language and the characteristics of the field, is totally insufficient as a preparation for beginning a new work.  Spain is a difficult and complicated place to work for many reasons and a minimum requisite is a serious study through ample consultations.......No one should be sent to the mission field without first knowing that they have the capacity to learn a language, as, without a profound knowledge of the normal means of expression, nothing effective can be done.  Spain is a country with a long history and ancient culture that comes directly from the Latin and messages where missionaries "murder" the Spanish are not normally acceptable.  Nevertheless, there are cases where missionaries that have not reached a sufficient level of dominating the language after two or three years of study, continue here as "missionaries."  Does it surprise us that the national believers ask the reason for this?

Before we were placed in Spain we took a language acquisition test.  It says we can learn the language (my brain begs to differ at times) and we are working full time at the task.  We are studying the culture and the history of the country.  We are doing our "real work."  Without this, our work will be futile.

Random Christmas Fact #11 - Swing Sets

Park in Alcala de Henares (our town)

A custom peculiar to Spain is that of "swinging." Sings are set up throughout the courtyards and young people swing to the accompaniment of songs and laughter.   It is believed that swinging at solstice time (December 22) evokes an ancient desire in the sun to 'swing' higher in the sky.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Random Facts About Christmas #10 - No Chimneys

Since the majority of the population in Spain lives in apartments it is difficult for Santa (or the Kings or any other character) to arrive via the chimney.  Instead legend says that Santa arrives via a ladder through the window.  You will see plastic or stuffed Santas and Kings hanging from window sills all throughout the country.  They aren't trying to jump for their lives, but instead they are climbing a ladder in the window.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Random Facts About Christmas #9 - Olentzero

In the Basque area of Spain (see map below) legend says that gifts are not brought by Santa or one of the Wise Men, but instead by a character named Olentzero.  There are many legends surrounding this character and his personality has evolved over the years.

Basque Country of Spain

The original legend began in the 17th century.  One common version has Olentzero being one of the jentillak, a mythological race of Basque giants living in the Pyrenees. Legend has it that they observed a glowing cloud in the sky one day. None of them could look at this bright cloud except for a very old, nearly blind man. When asked to examine it, he confirmed their fears and told them that it was a sign that Jesus will be born soon. According to some stories, the old man asked the giants to throw him off a cliff to avoid having to live through Christianisation. Having obliged him, the giants tripped on the way down and died themselves except Olentzero.

Other versions of the tell that as a new born he was abandoned in the woods and was found by a fairy who gave him the name Olentzero, bestowed gifts of strength and kindness on him and handed him to an older childless couple living alone in the woods. He turned into a strong man and charcoal burner who was also good with his hands, carving wooden toys that he would carry in a big charcoal bag to give to the children of the village. It is said that he died one day saving children from a burning house and that when he died, the fairy who had found him granted him eternal life to continue to bring joy to children and people.

In the modern version, Olentzero is depicted as a lovable character, widely attributed to being overweight, having a huge appetite and thirst. He is depicted as a Basque peasant wearing a Basque beret, a farmer's attire with traditional abarketa shoes and smoking a pipe. Whether he has a beard or not is not yet an established tradition. Sometimes his face is stained with charcoal, as a sign of his trade as a charcoal-burner. On Christmas Eve, groups of people or children carry effigies of Olentzero around on a chair through the streets, singing Olentzero carols and collecting food or sweets (not unlike the American trick or treat) and the traditions surrounding the holiday of Santa Ageda in the Basque Country where oles egitea "asking for alms" is practised. At the end, it is customary in some places to burn the Olentzero.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Random Facts About Christmas #8 - Immaculada

December 8 is the official start to Christmas.  It is a national festival day called Immaculada, a day to honor the Virgin Mary.  In Sevilla it is best known for the night before on the 7th when los tunos, university student musical groups or fraternities, dress up and head into the streets to play guitar and sing through the night. All end up in front of La Purisima, leaving flowers and taking turns serenading the statue representing the Virgin Mary. Many people flood the streets and gather around the statue before midnight to get a good view of the serenading. The following day (the 8th) there is a service in the Cathedral with children performing traditional dances.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Random Facts About Christmas #7 - Turon

A common Christmas treat is Turon.  It is a nougat type dessert.  

Today these sweets can be bought all over Spain. In olden days, Turron was a costly treat, and was made at home for special occasions such as christmas or Easter. Each family had its own recipe. I haven't made it yet, but it might be fun to try.

250g / 8 oz castor sugar
240g / 8 oz ground almonds
egg yolks
egg white

Thoroughly mix the sugar and almonds in a bowl. Fold in the egg yolks, one after the other. Whisk the  egg white into a stiff foam and fold it into the mixture. Lay a sheet of foil over a baking sheet and place the mixture on it.  Press the mixture into a slab about 1.5cm /1/2 inch thick using a rolling pin and your fingers. Cover it with foil and place a wooden board weighted down with a couple of full tin cans on top. Leave the turron to stand for 3 days, so that it dries out and hardnes, then slice it into 2.5cm/ 1 inch squares.

Note: EggBeaters and Just Whites can be used in place of raw eggs. 


Ávila is a town that dates back to at least 600 B.C.  Around the old city is the one of the best maintained original city walls in all of Europe.  Yesterday we took off for a day of exploring.  It is an unbelievable city.  The weather was wonderful - sunny and clear.  The temperatures were moderate.  The mood was great.  We stopped for coffee, wandering through old churches, walked on top of the wall, had lunch at a beautiful restaurant, shopped a little, and headed home.  This is by far my favorite place we have visited so far.  There is so much more to see.  I cannot wait to have a day to return!

only green grass we have seen since arriving