Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Holy Innocents

Back here in the US, the holiday festivities are winding down as we slouch toward New Years. But back in Spain, things are barely getting started. New Years, after all, is merely the halfway point in a fortnight's worth of celebrations. And today—a Wednesday unremarkable in most parts of the world—is reason for its own brand of rowdiness.

For an outsider, the Spanish Christmas is full of mysteries. That's moss on the cardboard next to the Christmas trees, and it took me many years to figure out why anyone would want moss at Christmas. But of course: the landscapes in the elaborate nativity scenes—called beléns, or Bethlehems, in a charming piece of Spanish shorthand—that go up seemingly everywhere are lined with moss. The really upscale ones have waterwheels too. I know this because all the stands at the Christmas market that sell nativity scene figures have hand-painted signs tacked to the front proclaiming, "We have waterwheels that work."

And I only just learned why next to all those stalls selling miniature shepherds and Baby Jesuses are others—sometimes the same ones--that sell whoopee cushions, and fake bugs, and plastic piles of shit, and strange wooden instruments that look like butter churns but make loud farting noises when played. It's because December 28th—today—is the Feast of the Holy Innocents, which for the Spanish is a kind of April Fool's Day when everyone plays pranks on each other. Of course.

Have yet to figure out why everyone goes around in electric-colored fright wigs and cartoon masks, however.


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