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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.