Friday, 20 February 2009

Before you give up anything for Lent...

Costumes and crepes

What is it about the Spanish that whenever there is something to celebrate they seem to go over the top? For example the great processions during Holy Week and Easter are famous the world over. In Spanish cities thousands flock to see processions coming from every quarter carrying solemn candlelit statues accompanied by people dressed as penitents often with chains on their bare feet.

Holy Week comes at the end of Lent, that period of 42 days commemorating the time Jesus spent in the desert before his passion, death and resurrection. For many Christians Lent is a time of solidarity with Christ’s suffering and so people give up some of the pleasures they usually enjoy such as alcohol or chocolate.

And so the flamboyant Spaniards in this Catholic country facing a period of even hypothetical deprivation can’t resist some serious indulgence before it begins. We have the same in the UK with Shrove Tuesday but in Spain they don’t just devote a day to eating some pancakes they devote several days to all sorts of celebrations. They call it Carnival; a time for special menus, Carnival Soup, eating out, dressing up in fancy dress. In some places they have cavalcades through the streets and some towns have their own customs. In the Galician town of Laza they have their own strange traditions such as throwing lives ants at each other in an “ant fight” and running through the streets with lighted torches of hay while people throw dirt out of the window in a ritual act of purification.

These practices don’t go on everywhere but the one common denominator is over indulgence. Even herein my modest little hostal in Santiago I’ve been spontaneously served Filloas at the end of every meal this week. Filloas are pancakes made without milk served with honey and sugar. The Carnival menus are on display in all restaurants. Here you can enjoy the traditional Galician dish Cocido. The contents are listed: pig’s ears, cheeks, lips, bacon, ribs, tail, chorizo, beef and a little chicken stewed with chickpeas and potatoes.
I was having supper last night in an empty restaurant when five air hostesses arrived followed by a pirate, a Mexican guitarist, two ghosts, a hippie and assorted others. This was a group having their Carnival night out early to avoid the weekend crowds!

As we would say in Glasgow: See the Spanish. See enjoyment. They love it.

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