culture


Cultural Festivities – Spanish Christmas (I) 1

Ho, ho, ho The Christmas season has come. And since learning a language is much more than learning some vocabulary and structures, I am determined (and delighted) to showing you some of the cultural aspects of this Christmas season in Spain, which will be very helpful to understand the Spanish culture better and will give you a flavor of Spain and its Christmas.

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The Spanish Christmas go around many of the same traditions as they do in the rest of the world. It’s all about family gatherings, celebration, kindness, generosity… As well as food, drink, villancicos (‘Christmas carols’) and gifts. However there are peculiarities, some customs and traditions that make Christmas in Spain different from any other countries.

As you know, Spain is quite a big country with many different regions (13 to be precise) and each one holds special customs.  You must have into account as well that Spain has a very religious past, so a traditional Christmas would revolve around religious customs.

24th of December: Christmas Eve ☞ Nochebuena (Goodnight)

Nochebuena is probably the most important family gathering of the year.

In the evening, people will gather after work to celebrate the beginning of the Christmas holidays with friends and few glasses of cava (‘champagne’). After that, people go home to their families and enjoy a typical Christmas meal with the family. A typical Christmas dinner will vary from region to region but some common ingredients will be some fish, like  lubina al horno (‘baked sea bass’) or besugo al horno (‘baked red sea bream’), the turkey is not that common in Spain, although we still can have roast suckling pig in some parts, but fish is the most common mean dish in a Christmas dinner. Around the fish one can find sea food, like prawns and crayfish, clams, mussels and octopus… In some regions, lombarda (‘red cabbage’) is a traditional Christmas dish and in others is the roast stuffed capon… As you can see, different dishes from different regions.

What is a common thing is going with the family to the Misa del Gallo (‘Midnight mass’) which literally means Rooster’s Mass where the Christians commemorate the birth of Jesus Christ.

Santa Claus or Papá Noel, as we call him in Spain, does not make part of the traditional Spanish Christmas and it’s quite recent. In Spain, the gifts are given in Reyes, the 6th of January (the Epiphany) but we’ll talk about that in a following post. However, since the 6th of January is the end of Christmas holidays, some families adopted the Santa Claus custom just to give the gifts at the beginning of the holidays so that the children can enjoy their presents during the holidays.

Olentzero_Hendaia_2006

Olentzero

As I was saying, Papá Noel is not part of the Spanish Christmasy figures, but we have other traditional personages that also bring presents to well behaved children, like the Olentzero, a coalman who lives in the mountains and come the 24th to bring gifts to children in the Basque Country.

25 th of December: Christmas Day ☞ Navidad

Navidad is national holiday in Spain so all business and shops are closed this day, although it’s not a day of a big celebration. It’s a day of relax instead where people usually go out in the morning and have an aperitif with other members of the family. We have a very large meal at lunch time.

During the day, well, from the 24th to the end of the Christmas season on the 6th, we have always a plate with turrón (‘a kind of nougat’), peladillas (‘sugared almonds’), mazapanes (‘marzipan’), mantecados and polvorones (‘some kind of shortbread but not exactly’).

Caganer

Caganer

The decoration for Christmas is a nativity scene, called Belén, which always have the figurines of baby Jesus,  Joseph and Mary, and the ox and the mule. In some houses the Belén is very big and has the Three Wise Men, the shepherds and angels, the village of Belem… a very detailed nativity scene as described in the gospels of Matthew and Luke. As I told you before, there are as many Christmas customs as they are regions in Spain, and one funny custom in Catalonia is the figurine called “caganer“, which is a figurine depicted as having a poo… There are even prizes for the best “belén”!

We also have the Árbol de Navidad (‘Christmas tree’), but as Papá Noel, that’s not that traditional.

¡Felices Fiestas!

 

 

I leave you with a couple of villancicos (‘Christmas carols’) for you to listen and have a taste of a Christmas in  Spain. Enjoy the angelical voices…!

 

 

 

 


Teaching cultural awareness in an intercultural class 2

 

 

This post has been inspired by the book I have just finished reading: In the name of identity: violence and the need to belong, by Amin Maalouf. Read that I strongly recommend for several reasons: it is a thought provoking book about what makes up an individual: he says there is no one fixed, unique identity, but a series of what he calls ‘allegiances”: nationality, religion, gender, class… the individual, therefore, is the sum of all their surroundings, society and acts of free will and quirks of personality. I particularly loved that thoughtful liberalism, that enthusiasm for a rights based ideology of individual freedom. But that’s not all, it can be found an interesting discussion about the dominant ideology in the media and the culture, the negative possibilities of globalization, like the loss of local identities at the hands of homogeneity, that the fundamentalists might feels.

In short, this is a book that argues for understanding, tolerance and a hard realisation that violence and fanaticism can have very real reasons, rooted in fear, misery and poverty. A must read!!!

 

But what I want to talk in this post is about the necessity of teaching cultural awareness in class. In a previous post, I already wrote about the importance of teaching culture in a language class, but I want to focus here in something that is happening in our classes. More and more often, there are different cultures present in every classroom, and it’s the teacher work to make sure that she/he is incorporating a multicultural education, based in the equality of every single culture and focused in the values of these cultural differences amongst the students.

Moreover, it’s so interesting and enriching for students, as well as the teacher, when the students discuss their native culture with their foreign-speaking classmates at the same time that they are provided with a real experiential content. Few months ago, I was lucky to be in a Spanish class, beginners, in Ireland; so the majority of the students were Irish, but there were also Polish, French and Latvians. What an amazing class! The purpose of the class was obviously to learn Spanish and Spanish culture, but we were learning as well Irish, Polish, French and Latvian culture. This multicultural diversity in class motivated the students to talk and express themselves in order to show the rest the different behavior or customs in their country. It was also interesting to see how the students left the class with a wider perspective in the perception of the reality, because they recognize openly that everyone in the world is not “just like me”.

As I said, it is the teacher’s responsability to promote this multicultural understanding. And there are so many ways to do so… The role-play, for instance, help in the process of cross-cultural dialogues while at the same time it provides opportunities for oral communication. Other techniques, like readings, films, simulation, games, culture assimilators or culture capsules can be used for language teacher to help them in the process of acculturation in the classroom.

I finally hope that teaching of cultural standards may stop pigeonhole thinking and avoid establishing further stereotypes. Because is not only about culture, but about the individual self, aware of its roots and defining himself as the spider web, with links to individuals from other cultural contexts. Because identity is not only a matter of where you are born, but a whole life time process which assimilates all kinds of life-experiences as I said in the beginning with Maalouf book.