viernes, enero 06, 2006

The Epiphany

When Franco's Minister for Propaganda and Tourism, - and more recently in democracy, the President of the autonomous region of Galicia, Manuel Fraga,- coined the phrase "Spain is different" as part of a 1960's campaign to revitalise the tourist industry, his objective was to promote the country as an exotic and unique destination. 40 years later, Spain is a changed country however the phrase in many ways continues to hold true.

One characteristic feature that still continues to surprise foreigners, or guiris (as the Spanish often refer to their northern neighbours ), is the Spanish tradition of exchanging presents, not on Christmas day but on the evening of January 5, the eve of 'la fiesta de los reyes magos', or the Epiphany as it is referred to in 'Anglo Saxon' cultures. Globalisation and the continual commercialisation of Christmas has led to Santa Claus gaining prestige in Spain however previous attempts to bring Spain into line with the rest of Europe by moving the traditional 6 January feast day to a date closer to Christmas day have met firm popular resistance. Meanwhile Spaniards continue to throng the streets of city centres on January 5 to watch the traditional parade in which the three kings triumphantly enter the city centre and throw sweets at the children.

'Reyes', as the festival is commonly referred to, is of course no less commercial than Christmas day. A couple of years back I attended the event myself however due to the driving rain I could not bare to wait for Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar to arrive since they seemed to be preceeded by floats promoting just about everybody from the police, fire brigade and rubbish collectors, right down to McDonald's and Telefónica mobile phones. Christmas is no longer a religious event in the eyes of most and while people will continue to argue about the most traditional way of celebrating it, it is unlikely to revert from being essentially an excuse to indulge and spend far too much money on things you do not really need. The objective is the same everywhere, while here in Spain the means continue to be 'different'.