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Mount Orégano
Sue Burke
Small-town Spanish Christmas 
21st-Dec-2006 03:56 pm
Let me see..

At a Christmas party last weekend, I chatted with two young men who were very excited about their upcoming Christmas vacation. They had the same pueblo (ancestral home town), a little village in rural west-central Spain, and would be going back to be with their extended families and celebrate the traditional way.

"It's really old-fashioned," one of them said, "and we're trying to keep the original customs alive."

The big thing will be the winter matanza, the slaughtering of the family pig. This was traditionally done at the start of winter because the cold temperatures would help preserve the meat in times before the invention of refrigerators. Much of the pig, including the blood, will be used for sausages, other parts might be salted down for hams, and in fact "everything but the squeal" will be put to use.

Everything. Slow-roasted pig ears, chopped into bite-sized pieces, are a popular snack in Spain. (I think that they're tasty, but the cartilage is too crunchy.)

When they finish slitting pig throats, they will gather in the evening in the little town square to sing Christmas carols, called "villancicos" in Spanish(literally "country songs"), accompanying themselves on homey percussion instruments. Their favorite is the cast-iron cooking cauldron.

"When you have fifteen or twenty people banging on big cauldrons," the young man said, "the noise is impressive!"

Another traditional instrument is an empty anisette liquor bottle. The glass is textured, and running a coin on the outside of the bottle produces a gratifying, constant clink.

It will be a joyful noise using instruments suitable for people of great cheer and uncertain sobriety who, traditionally, were dirt-poor, so they had to use what they had on hand. Of course, it is a lot more fun to pretend to be poor than to really be poor.

I will be in Madrid, which has its own customs, but that's a different post.

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