Over the years, I have been fortunate enough to travel to Spain several times, and each of these visits provided rich inspiration for my Andalucían Nights trilogy, spanning Indiscretion, Masquerade and Legacy.
Each of my stories is set during the hot, heady days of summer, but I didn’t limit my research to only this season; I was fascinated by Spanish culture year-round. What shapes these impassioned people? What values are of importance to them, and to which traditions do they hold fast?
When it comes to tradition, this is the time of year that is especially important to the Spanish, and interesting for a visitor.
Today, the 5th of January, Spanish people begin celebrations for the Fiesta de Los Reyes, the Three Kings Festival. This commemorates the Three Kings, Melchior, Gaspar and Balthazar, bringing gold, frankincense and myrrh to the baby Jesus.
This evening, in keeping with a tradition dating back centuries, families will go out to watch a colourful parade celebrating the arrival of the Three Kings at the Epiphany. Then they will return home. The children will lay out refreshments for the Three Kings and their camels, and then polish their shoes and leave them out ready to be filled with gifts when the Kings visit while they sleep.
Tomorrow morning, children will awaken to presents (or to coal if they have not behaved well; the ‘coal’ is in fact Carbón Dulce, a sweet confectionary which looks inedible but is delicious). The rest of the day is about coming together as a family, exchanging gifts and sharing meals. Top of the menu is Three Kings’ Cake, a sweet bread containing dried fruit (you can find a recipe on this blog post: http://hannahfielding.net/fiesta-de-los-tres-reyes-mages/). Traditionally, the Three Kings’ Cake also contains two secret prizes: a gold paper crown and a bean. Whoever gets the crown in his/her piece is king or queen for the day; whoever finds the bean is supposed to pay for next year’s cake (which can be a fair amount).
The Fiesta de Los Reyes is effectively the Spanish version of the Christmas Eve/Santa custom of countries like the United Kingdom and the United States. It’s an important day in the Spanish calendar, and one with a great deal of religious significance.
But as I explore in my Andalucían Nights series, Spain is a country where old and new sometimes clash. In the days of Indiscretion, the 1950s, Spain was quite insular, cut off from the world by General Franco’s regime, and out of step with plenty of modern thinking such as equality for women. Fast-forward to Legacy, set just a few years ago, and the backdrop to my story has changed immensely. Still, though, there is a struggle between old and new, heartfelt tradition and stark modernity.
Exemplifying this in the Fiesta de Los Reyes. It remains popular in Spain, and yet for many families it is no longer the only, or even dominant, celebration at Christmas. ‘Papa Noel’ competes with the Three Kings; the 25th December competes with the 6th January; the Christmas tree competes with the nativity scene.
For most families, the answer is to embrace both simultaneously. Thus children are visited by both Santa and the Three Kings; homes have both Christmas trees and nativity scenes; families come together on both 25th December and 6th January.
This, I think, is the spirit of Spain today: to refuse to be one thing or another, but instead to assimilate. I endeavour to imbue my novels with this same spirit. In Legacy, for example, Ruy is very much the modern man, but he is also part-gypsy, and proud of the fact. He is able assimilate both sides of himself and the associated traditions; for example, he is a clinical doctor who also practises herbal medicine based on gypsy teachings.
The title of my most recent book says it all: legacy. Tradition, in whatever form, from whatever source, matters. I will leave you with my favourite quotation from the Romantic composer Gustav Mahler:
‘Tradition is not the worship of ashes, but the preservation of fire.’