and Happy Christmas! This week we will turn our attention to the ways in which
Ibiza traditionally celebrated this important holiday. As opposed to the Northern
European Yule-tide celebrations, in which the key ingredient has, for centuries,
been gaiety, the key ingredient in the Ibicenco Christmas tradition was, until
very recently, solemnity.
Part of the reason behind these
two different approaches can no doubt be attributed to climate. The protracted
length and severity of northern winters required people to develop methods of
combating both the icy cold and the long hours of idleness. The result was a culture
rich in 'indoor' tradition. It is an observable fact that the coldest countries
(e.g. Germany, Britain, Scandinavia, etc.) typically have the most festive Christmas
traditions. Carols (which developed in northern Europe during the early Middle
Ages and were frequently condemned by the Church as 'obscene and wicked songs
with choruses of women' *) remind us that northern Christmas customs invoked their
people to "deck the halls with boughs of holly', to "strike the harp
and join the chorus", to "troll the ancient Yuletide carol", and
to generally give themselves over to revelling.
in Ibiza, and southern Europe in general, Christmas was a high holy affair. Gaiety
and merry-making were not the order of the day, but rather a deep and chaste veneration
of the Christ child. Also, because the primary focus of Ibicenco society was on
the 'outdoor' aspects of life, islanders did not develop the 'let-it-snow' mentality
with its accompanying wealth of indoor amusements. Life was, in short, rather
dull at this time of year, Christmas notwithstanding.
del Gall and Ses Caramelles
The religious aspect of the holiday
was observed by attending Midnight Mass (Misa del Gall) on Christmas Eve. During
this service, a slow, lugubrious type of Christmas hymn called ses caramelles
were (and are) performed. Unlike the catchy carols of northern Europe and even
mainland Spain, ses caramelles were not intended as popular jingles but as solemn
liturgical music to be sung only by trained choir members. Perhaps the merriest
part of Misa del Gall, was when everyone could at last walk home, huddled together
for warmth and singing popular folk songs to ward off evil spirits.
was Christmas a time of gift-giving and lavish decorations. The unrelieved poverty
of yesteryear's islanders inhibited the exchange of presents, while the basic,
and often sole, element of domestic Yule-tide embellishment consisted of a crib
(i.e. manger scene). Perhaps a few extra candles would be lit, but little else
marked the yearly commemoration of baby Jesus's birth.
The gastronomy of the season, however, did register
a certain festive flair. Because Christmas comes so soon after ses matançes
(see Kirk's series), many households served sofrit pagès for Christmas
dinner (and often still do). This dish is prepared from the produce of slaughter
and its leftovers, ensuring that virtually none of the pig was wasted - as Kirk
has pointed out many times.
Basically, sofrit pagès
is a rich stew made of tongue, spare ribs, streaky bacon, butifarra (Catalan blood
sausage), sobrasada (Balearic red sausage), garlic, parsley and a type of tiny
potato called patató. All of these ingredients are added to a big vat of
stock that has been boiled up with chunks of lamb, chicken and pork. One of the
secrets of the dish is its seasoning, of marked Moorish influence: cinnamon, saffron,
paprika, salt, pepper or any combination thereof - each family has its own special
recipe. Traditionally, the preparation of sofrit pagès took two days with
all of the women in the houshold helping in the different kitchen tasks.
The crowning glory of the Ibicenco Christmas menu is a weird
and wondrous dessert known as salsa de Nadal or 'Christmas sauce'. I regard the
concoction as weird because it combines a somewhat incongruous list of ingredients,
and wondrous because the human digestive system has probably never known a greater
challenge and will wonder how to go about digesting the stuff!
Nadal is a thick liquid (also very time-consuming to prepare) made of ground almonds,
honey and oriental spices (again showing the islands' strong Moorish influence),
all cooked in stock. In some households, the stock used for this pudding is the
same three-meat stock used for sofrit pagès, while other homes use a milder
chicken stock, or simply water It can be served hot or cold and is accompanied
by biscuit, a type of plain sponge used for dunking. Even among native Ibicencos,
opinions on salsa de Nadal are polarized: people either love it or they hate it.
I invite each reader to try it for himself and decide!
As is only natural, the advent of tourism in Ibiza has brought with
it a partial dissolution of cultural boundaries and the invasion of consumerism,
thus giving rise to a more 'typical' Christmas celebration. Globally familiar
features such as Santa Claus, gift-giving, Christmas trees, flashy decorations,
etc. can now be seen in the main towns. To a large degree, however, the old and
the new co-exist in a melange of religious sentiment and worldly merry-making.
Before closing, I would like to wish all of our readers
a joyful holiday season, full of warmth and pleasure. Next week, I will be away
on holiday, so I bid you all a safe and prosperous journey into the New Year.
See you in two weeks from now when I will try my hand at an artistic write-up.
* Prudence Jones and Nigel Pennick, A History of Pagan
Europe, 1995, Routledge.