December 23, 2010

The Twelve Posts of Santa, Part VIII: La Navidad de España

As we've already covered in our series of posts up to this point, Christmas traditions are incredibly varied around the world. In fact, we haven't even gone past Europe and we've found a number of different ways that people celebrate the holidays. Spain is no exception, with a unique combination of religious iconography and regionally-specific characters.
Closest to the traditional notion of Santa Claus in Spain is Papá Noel (shown in red), and one can see that references to the portly bearded guy we all know and love are scattered across the country. We suspect that the scattering of references to Papá Noel in francophone Europe may actually be for Papa Noël, the French spelling.

More prevalent than Papá Noel, however, is the tradition of the Three Kings who bring gifts on the celebration of the Epiphany, just as Christian lore says the kings came to deliver gifts to the baby Jesus. In castellano, they are called the "Reyes Magos", and in Catalan, they are the "Reis Mags", a linguistic difference that can be seen in the widespread diffusion of references to Reyes Magos and the clustering of references to Reis Mags in Catalonia.

Another important Catalan figure is the Tió de Nadal. It's like a Christmas tree, but you feed it candy in the weeks leading up to Christmas and then it poops them out on command. Life of the holiday party, he is, that Tió de Nadal. His star seems to be fading a bit as there is but a single purple dot in Catalonia, where references to him predominate.

On the other side of the country, in the Basque region (including parts of Spain and France), the Olentzero is the quasi-mythical figure who brings presents to children on Christmas eve. Although many legends about the Olentzero abound, he is always a giant, and has come to coexist with the many other more universal Christmas traditions in the surrounding regions.

¡Feliz Navidad!

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