International Christmas Traditions Adopted in Spain
Christmas is a holiday celebrated around the world. Everyone knows about the traditions of some of the biggest world capitals; we are overwhelmed with movies about Christmas spirit from every nationality, and of course, our shopping centers are filled with products from other countries, just waiting to be picked up as a “new tradition” here. So, how could Spaniards not adopt some Christmas traditions from other countries?
We have already talked, on various occasions, about the controversy over whether it is better for children to receive their gifts from Santa Claus or the Three Kings. But the question of tradition goes even further than that. Many of the traditions we hold dearest actually have international origins.
Why for example have panetonnes triumphed in Spain? Besides the fact that many people love Italian culture, there is also the fact that more Spanish people than it may seem don’t like turron or polvorones (a type of crumbly shortbread). Incidentally, there are also losers when it comes to tradition swapping; for example the German Christstollen, which tried to find a place in Spain, but which was simply too dry for Spanish tastes.
One tradition of particular controversy is the poinsettia. This so called “Easter flower” is originally from Mexico and it was Franciscan friars who used it as Christmas decoration for the first time in the 16th century. However, it owes its popularity and its common name to Joel Roberts Poinsett, who was a US ambassador to Mexico between 1825 and 1829.
And what about turkey? We see that this specialty now abounds on Spanish tables - how good turkey could marry with prawns is a mystery - but the interesting thing is that, even though some people shout bloody murder about it, this tradition did not come from the US, but rather from the one and only Hernán Cortés, who introduced the bird to Europe from America.
Nobody questions the famous Christmas tree as an authentic tradition, which is also practical, since it takes up less space than a nativity scene. But it should be noted that the tradition actually comes from Germany. According to legend, Saint Boniface chose it as a symbol of love for God after seeing that only a fir tree was left standing after an oak, that the Germans had begun to worship, was knocked down. And to top it all, this tradition didn’t get to Spain until the 1920s. What do you think about that?
One of the most well known Christmas carols, or at least one of the most solemn, is "Silent Night". In fact, it is one of the most widely used carols in commercials and in Spanish Christmas specials. But there is something that we should clear up; although Christmas carols are in fact of Spanish origin, “Silent Night” in particular is Austrian and was composed by Joseph Mohr and Franz Gruber, two friends who had to improvise it as a guitar piece because the organ at their church had broken.
So there you have it. Christmas has been international for much longer than any of us thought!