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Calabaza, calabaza…

Durante mi temporada de residencia en El Imperio, salí tradicionalmente cada año a recolectar caramelos por el vecindario de algún amigo y el recorrido acababa en el punto de partida, convirtiéndose en una fiesta de halloween y la celebración de cumpleaños de una amiga cuando daban las 12; rumba a la que de paso todos asistíamos con nuestro mejor disfraz.

Sin embargo en ese período de 5 años nunca asistí a ninguna sesión de tallado de calabazas ni como espectador ni como participante por lo que una de las tradiciones más típicas durante estas fechas pasó completamente desapercibida para mí mientras viví allí.

Pero con esto de la globalización las tradiciones parecen unificarse cada vez más traspasando fronteras; a pesar de eso nunca me imaginé que me encontraría viviendo esta linda experiencia al otro lado del charco, en un país donde la noche de brujas es tan ajena a su cultura como lo es el día de acción de gracias en estas mismas latitudes.

No obstante a la gente le encanta buscar cualquier excusa para celebrar; más si se trata de una festividad pagana tan cool como ésta. La gente se viste con trajes horroríficos, las casas, comercios, escuelas y calles se decoran con motivos alusivos a las fiestas y la gente celebra a su propia manera sin importar ni saber lo que a ciencia cierta reza cada tradición.

Supongo que nunca es tarde para trabajar todas esas cosas de niño que aún de adultos quedan en nuestro interior. Supongo que una parte de mí quiso siempre matar la curiosidad de esculpir una calabaza y este año aunque no fui la ejecutora directa, sí participé activamente en el proceso de su creación por lo que es un ítem más en el “to-do-sometime” list to cross out.

 
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Posted by on October 31, 2010 in no te llevo naylon!

 

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G R A C I A S (De Colores)

Muchos días sin escribir porque mi musa inspiradora está de vacaciones y no me ha quedado más remedio que sentarme cada tarde a ver si ya está de regreso, pero por ahora nada. Están sucediendo algunas, por no decir pocas o muchas, cosas en mi vida y me encantaría documentarlas, aunque escribir sin ganas nunca ha sido mi fuerte.

Aunque la tradición de celebrar el día de acción de gracias no es en absoluto una que suelo celebrar a lo grande o con la típica cena de pavo, graving y stuffing, lo cierto es que lo celebro menos cada vez, y con más razón ahora que me fui de USA. Cuando estaba allá quizás el compromiso social hacía la celebración inevitable, sin embargo el año pasado hicimos un almuerzo en casa el domingo siguiente y seguramente este haremos igual; aquí no es festivo ni hoy ni mañana, los negocios no se forran haciendo ventas de productos exageradamente rebajados en tiendas en las que la gente hace cola desde la noche anterior, y nadie prepara discursos ni viste atuendos especiales para la cena familiar.

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Posted by on November 27, 2008 in todo lo demás

 

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Mucha Sal y Devoción

Y más de 5.000 kilos de sal decoran el día de hoy las calles de Adeje repartidos en las tradicionales alfombras de sal del Corpus Christi, calles que cada año se convierten en el escenario principal de estas creaciones realizadas por los distintos colectivos de la comunidad y en las que además participa gente de todas las edades.

La confección de las alfombras comenzó este año el día de ayer, 24 de Mayo de 2008 a las 17 horas. Cualquiera que lo desee puede participar en este evento simplemente presentando su diseño en el centro cultural junto con los colores que llevará el mismo y el nombre del grupo.

El día de hoy se celebra la misa y la procesión sobre las alfombras de sal tintada.

El origen de esta tradición es aparentemente desconocido, aunque sigue siendo una fiesta que tiene un gran significado para sus participantes y los vecinos de la comunidad. Se trata del trabajo en equipo y de la contribución amigable entre los distintos colectivos.

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Posted by on May 25, 2008 in todo lo demás

 

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All Saints’ Day in Spain

With the intention of honoring both acknowledged and unfamiliar martyrs, All Saint’s Day, also known as All Hallows or Hallowmas, is mainly a Roman Catholic and Anglican holiday that gives followers a chance to remember all saints and martyrs throughout history. “Moved from its original date in May more than ten centuries ago to offset the pagan autumn festivals held at that time of year,” this holiday is usually celebrated on the day after All Hallows’ Eve (Halloween) on November 1st in Spain and other Western countries since Pope Gregory IV designated its official and mandatory church-wide observance in the year 837. However, churches in the East typically commemorate it on the Sunday right after Pentecost.
The original observance of this day started as a solemnity for all martyrs of the ancient church, “men, women, and children who were persecuted and killed for their faith in Christ,” but because many of the martyrs’ names were unknown, and because many of them died on the same day or in groups; the celebration came about to include all sufferers and believers, and it resulted in a common veneration and tribute to all saints, representing the gradual unity of the entire Roman Catholic Church.

Even if this feast is genuinely considered more of a religious than pagan tradition, the Lutheran or Protestant Church also honors this holiday although in a much different way; they celebrate Thanksgiving and strengthen their devotion through the imitation of faith and other virtues by giving glory to God and not to the saints since they believe that only God can give saints the grace they need to deserve heaven, as on Earth they were miserable and sinners, just like we are.

Today, all the thousands and thousands of people who have died in the past defending their faith are remembered and honored on this day even if their names are not on the list of canonized saints. This celebration is much like the American Veterans’ Day or Memorial Day holidays, in which many people or heroes are admired in a single day.

The liturgical color of this holiday is white, and although each country celebrates in their own way, this festivity is considered an “obligation” day in the West and a “feast” day in the East, which translates in the forgoing of servile work and the requirement of attending mass for followers.

In Spain, followers make offerings on this national holiday; they visit and bring flowers, usually chrysanthemums, and light candles next to the graves of dead relatives during the previous days and on the day of the feast. The Church traditionally celebrates a Eucharist to commemorate all saints, and remind us of our links to those who have passed away. It is customary for people to attend Mass, often held in the local cemeteries, or participate in a march even if no relatives are buried on the sacred grounds. On this day, Catholics “recall men and women of the Bible,” Apostles, Martyrs, Prophets, Hierarchs, Monastics, and Righteous “and praise God for their examples.” People recall their relatives and friends, which makes the celebration more personal and meaningful, and they also “glorify God not just for the faithfulness of the saints, but for His faithfulness to the saints.”

Another typical Spanish tradition is for people to see a performance of José Zorrilla’s play “Don Juan Tenorio.” This play tells the myth of “Don Juan” and his choice between salvation and perdition, which mirrors the theme of the holiday and has been performed in Spanish theaters on All Saints’ Day for dozens of years.

Even though this represents a day of retrospection and prayers, as with other religious festivities, there’s also room for enjoying the typical All Saint’s Day sweets and favorite gift of relatives during the celebration: “Huesos de Santos” (“Saints’ Bones”), which are thumb-sized marzipan sweets made of egg yolk, almond and sugar, and frequently filled with egg-yolk cream although as time has gone by, Spanish bakeries have started to offer them filed with chocolate, strawberry syrup, coconut and even praline and yogurt. The flavors of this dessert are very concentrated, which makes them sickly. Although the saints’ bones aren’t really bone- but rather cylinder-shaped, they do have the characteristic whitish color that’s given by the sugar syrup that covers them.

Other typical sweets that people are delighted with during this holiday are the “Buñuelos de Viento” (Puffs of Wind) and “Panellets.” The “Buñuelos de Viento” are small, usually fried round-cakes of sweetened, leavened dough, much like the traditional donuts but smaller. They have a delicate taste and although they weren’t originally filled, therefore their name “puffs of wind,” nowadays they can have milk cream, whipping cream or chocolate on the inside. Finally, the “Panellets” were originally handmade sweets made of almonds, sugar, lime, sweet potato and egg-yolk, typically covered with chocolate, coconut or pine nuts, although today they are also industrially produced. These small cakes are traditionally given to Godchildren by their Godparents during this day.

In Catalonia, “La Castañada” is customary as well, which is a tradition that includes not only eating the traditional sweets but also sweet potato and roasted chestnuts with white wine after a family meal, and in many other regions of the country local traditions are also embraced on this day.

All Saints’ Day can be seen as the sum of the most important Catholic festivities such as Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Holy Week, Easter, and Pentecost “because it reminds us that it is only by the perfect life and saving death of Jesus Christ that Christians are made saints in the sight of the God.” Although its importance varies from country to country and person to person, and each church holds a different interpretation of who are to be considered saints, All Saints’ Day is an emblematic tradition that has been celebrated for centuries and will keep passing on from generations as the day in which we simply remember all saints.

Images By: Dimitris Petridis @ Stock.Xchng & Consumer.es

 
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Posted by on November 1, 2007 in días como hoy

 

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All Hallows Eve in Spain

Traditionally celebrated on the night of October 31, Halloween is the day before All Saints’ Day as its name entails the vigil or “All Hallows Eve” (Hallowe’en) of all saints. As many other Catholic traditions such as Christmas and New Year’s, the festivity of All Saint’s’ starts the evening before, so even though most people only think of candy, costumes, pumpkins and witches on Halloween, and even though it is widely thought to be a pagan tradition, this celebration actually has its origins in the Roman Catholic Church since “the date is simply the eve of the feast of All Saints,” and “many customs of Halloween reflect the Christian belief that on the feast’s vigils.”
In the Celtic tradition, “Samhain” was celebrated on the night before November 1st, and this was the pagan festivity that marked the end of the summer and harvest season and the beginning of the cold and dark-day season. Celtic tribes believed that the Lord of the dead made the souls of deceased come to life, which allowed the druids (priests, soothsayers, judges, poets, etc. in ancient Britain, Ireland, and France) to communicate with ancestors and invoke the dead. They started bonfires and cast spells to scare away the deaths, and people used to leave food at their doorways so that spirits would leave happy and leave them alone unharmed. After the roman invasion, the two cultures began to mix and the sketches of the primitive Halloween celebration began to appear, and it transformed through the years until it became the traditional Halloween celebration that people commemorate these days and that has little or nothing to do with what it primarily intended.

Some controversy still revolves around the origins of Halloween and on whether it is genuinely Catholic or Pagan. Although its origins are Pagan, the holiday seems to have more elements of the Catholic Church. For example, the start of the current “trick-or-treat” custom can be found between the ancient and modern European history, in which “poor people in the community begged for ‘soul cakes,’ and upon receiving these doughnuts, they would agree to pray for departed souls.” In the States Halloween is actually not an evening to cry or remember saints or the departed, but rather a night n which kids wear costumes and go door-to-door asking for candy. In addition, the trick-or-treating tradition remains as such mainly by custom since “the naughty and destructive tricks once associated with Hallowe’en seem mostly to have disappeared.”

In the same manner, people dress in evil costumes and wear frightening masks to mock evil, confuse and scare evil spirits while looking like them “because as Christians, it has no real power over us.” The tradition of the jack-o-lantern also developed originally in Europe as a way of decorating streets during the eve of All Hallows Day, and therein the Witch Night evolved. However, some people believe that the tradition of the pumpkins is uniquely American, but the truth is that it has its origins in an old Irish custom according to which a dead man had to walk every night with hollowed-out turnip lantern as punishment for all his sins, which relates to the “authentic Catholic teaching about Purgatory and the need for every soul’s purification from the effects of sin before entering Heaven.”

Being the traditional Halloween colors, orange and black represent the color of “ripe pumpkins, falling leaves and glowing sunsets and candlelight;” and the “traditional color of mourning in the West” respectively. The latter is believed to represent sins and evil, as it is the liturgical color of All Souls’ Day (the day after All Saints) while the previous one is believed to represent the fall season and the blazing of bonfires and candles.

Nowadays, the “Halloween” tradition is considered a secular festivity, and it is the result of the different customs that European immigrants took with them to the U.S., many of which are just part of the past in Europe since they only make sense in the integration that the American culture has given to this festivity. Although the tradition remains strong in the U.S. and has been widely Americanized while it has disappeared in most parts of the world, some European countries are resorting back to this holiday. In Spain, October represents the month of candy and every year more schools throw costume parties for the children. Spaniards have and are everlastingly adopting their own version of the tradition, which I have found surprising even though the celebration hasn’t extended as much as it has in the States.

Today was the second Halloween that I spend in Spain and both last and this year my family and I got kids on our door asking for “Truco o Golosina” or “Truco o Trato.” It was kind of cute as I had never listened to kids trick-or-treating in Spanish, so I was all excited watching the kids wearing their Halloween costumes and collecting candy around the neighborhood. Even if the tradition remains primarily American and it isn’t officially observed in Spain, people from this and other cultures are embracing it as well, and I think it is a matter of time before the tradition becomes more popular and we start seeing imposing Halloween decorations and customs around the entire European land.

Image by: Mark Miller @ Stock.Xchng

 
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Posted by on October 31, 2007 in días como hoy

 

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Adeje’s Patron Saints’ Holiday

Being the city center and capital of the county receiving the same name, Adeje is proud of its heritage and celebrates every year its ancestral traditions during the city’s local festivities on the occasion of the town’s patron saints: Saint Sebastian, Saint Ursula and Virgin Incarnation. The county’s Mayor, the Culture Councilor and the local parish priest presented the schedule for this year’s festivities last October 4th. This year the celebration lasted from the 6th until the 21st of October and the detailed outline for the different religious and secular activities to take place during those days was also announced.
I’ve only been living in this county for twelve months, and although I couldn’t attend to the rest of the galas this year, I was able to join the crowd of pilgrims for the closing event during the town’s festivities. Splendid, colorful and decorated carts together with traditional Canary groups of dancers and singers wearing classic Canary costumes flooded the town’s streets as they paraded through Adeje. Hundreds of people from the neighborhood and adjacent cities in the South of Tenerife’s Island traveled through the streets as well while they followed and walked next to the many carriages that the different city’s neighborhoods and associations rode.

What I enjoyed the most was the fact that the people riding each carriage would give out to pedestrians typical Canary food and drinks as they walked along and at the same time that singers and dancers livened up the passage. Glasses of wine, beer, sangria, and sodas; typical Canarian potatoes, “gofio” and hard-boiled eggs were some of the items on the menu. Grilled pork chops, chicken skewers, chickpeas, sardines and stew were also part of the list of options. Everything was cooked on the moving carriages and dished out for free when ready; it is the first time I participate in a celebration of the kind, and also the first time I am aware of one like it. The distribution of alcoholic bevera ges would be unthinkable in the U.S. and even worse if it is during midday hours.

Pilgrims also honored the patron saints with offerings of fruit, flowers and vegetables, which they placed at the saints’ feet once they finished the journey. The ambience was pretty warm and emotional, and people’s happiness could be felt as they sang along and enjoyed the Canarian live music. Adeje’s traditions have found their way into people’s culture and allow citizens to bond together while they live those customs in their own way. This is precisely what makes the town and its people special, because their ethnic foods, decorations, music and special activities help them become distinctive.

The entire celebration flowed smoothly as no incidents took place. The local police and a Civil Protection team looked after the multitude, which along with the neatness of the event demonstrated the great organization behind it. It is amazing how the traditions of this town are kept and passed on through generations by means of that symbolic communication that goes past what words can express. It’s wonderful to see how the entire family, from the smaller ones in the house to the elderly participates actively in the festivities, thereby creating a bridge between family members, their present and their past.

I was glad to participate in this event, and I enjoyed not only the music and food but also the carriages. I couldn’t stay until the end of the celebration, but I’ll make sure to attend again next year. Adeje’s festivities are observed year in and year, and regardless of what else may happen, the town’s traditions will not change. Their importance surpasses the economic, cultural and religious lines, and there comes a point at which it doesn’t matter what the tradition is or how it came about, but only that it is practiced. Adeje’s traditions grant great value to their culture, and it is a kind of value that lasts far beyond the moment because it comes from the stability, continuity and identity that it provides for those who participate in such traditions while they make this town unique, link generations, and offer something for every person to hold on to and to rely upon.

“Traditions are group efforts to keep the unexpected from happening”

Images by: Lito Brau & Coraline

 
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Posted by on October 29, 2007 in días como hoy

 

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7 Islands, 7 Stars

The Canary Islands have a rich, yet diverse history as the different tribes on the seven islands that compose this great archipelago had their own culture and customs back during the Spanish conquest. In addition, the significant migratory flow of Spaniards underlies the different influences that remain strong in the islands as the search for better life conditions during hardship and poverty post-war times took Spanish citizens to other countries and later back to their native land.
Because of the thousands of Canary islanders who furtively emigrated temporarily or permanently to South American countries and mainly to Venezuela during the 19th and 20th centuries, and the comings and goings that have brought Venezuelan immigrants closer to the Canarian coasts during recent years; many are the friendship, cultural and affective bonds that have developed through the years and today bring people from these two cultures together.

Even though these two places are thousands of miles away, Venezuelans share many things in common with Canarians and therefore we hold a special fondness for people from the latter culture. Moreover, many Canarian colonies still exist in modern Venezuela, and a large Canary-born population preserving the vocabulary, customs and traditions of its society keeps passing on these cultural features through generations, more so in Venezuela than in any other Latin American country. By the same token, Venezuela is largely referred to in the Canary archipelago as the eighth island, and more specifically, Tenerife is considered the Venezuelan Miami as most of the Venezuelan immigration concentrates in this insular area.

The Spanish language was introduced in Venezuela by the Spaniard conquistadors, many of which were from the fortunate Islands and participated actively in the settlement and development of Latin America. In fact, Venezuelan Spanish has been primarily influenced by Canarians to such an extent that it may be very difficult for other Spanish speakers to tell the Canarian and Venezuelan accents apart. This can be particularly noticed on peninsular Spaniards who typically can’t distinguish the slightly different pronunciation and inflection shades of both cultures.

Other examples of the Spanish and Canarian influence in the Venezuelan traditions are found in religion, architecture, music, food, and other aspects of the Venezuelan culture. For this reason, many of the customary Venezuelan dishes like arepas, cachapas, and hallacas can be found in the islands as they have become a small part of the local cuisine and culture much like the Bienmesabe has become part of the Venezuelan gastronomy when it is originally Canarian. The Roman Catholic also represents the primary religion adopted by Venezuelans in the same way that the Catholic faith is a symbol of the great majority of Spaniard people.

Because of the links that can be recognized between the Canarian and Venezuelan cultures, many different Canary-Venezuelan associations have been created through the years both in Venezuela and in the Islands in order to promote and drive all aspects of culture involving these two societies. An example of this is the “Club Hogar Canario de Venezuela” (Venezuela’s Canarian Organization) located in Venezuela, that arranges yearly celebrations and observes Canarian holidays in order to commemorate and keep alive their traditions, gastronomy, and even typical dresses no matter if they are away.

On the occasion of Columbus Day this past October 12th, one of the Canary-Venezuelan associations settled in Tenerife prepared a special event to rejoice this celebration by honoring the interwoven Canary and Venezuelan roots of all those Venezuelans currently residing in the island who have a Canary heritage, and all of those Canarians whose parents are returnees, just to give a couple of examples. The event was celebrated in the Guía de Isora County, where a large community of Venezuelans currently exists.

At the fair there were food kiosks selling traditional Canarian food and Venezuelan dishes, desserts, drinks and beer. There was also typical Venezuelan music including Joropo, tambores, Gaitas, merengue and salsa. A live band also livened up the afternoon, and later on a group of Canarian ladies delighted the audience with a great performance of “Isas Canarias,” which together with “Folías” and “Seguidillas” represent typical dances from this culture. Soon after, a combo of kids shook their bodies to the rhythm of the Venezuelan drums in honor to “San Juan” (Saint John) since the celebration was being held in the Playa San Juan (Saint John Beach) area.

At this event I felt like I was back in my native land and it was a nice sensation since for a while I had been feeling like I didn’t belong to any particular culture any longer. I was also able to learn more of the Canarian folklore including their dances and their costumes; there was some very touching poetry as well, and I really enjoyed myself while participating in this celebration.

History is all around and we have a lot to learn from the Spanish and Canarian legacy of our ancestors. Canarians were immigrants back in the days, not only because of their financial needs, but due to the Spaniards’ settlement plans for the Americas. Back then, they established a strong presence in our country, in the same way that we’re now returning by a wave of large-scale immigration to the land of our parents and grandparents looking for a better life. We can’t deny of our routs, and neither can modern Canarians who don’t welcome aliens forget their own history. “The kind of ancestors we have had is not as important as the kind of descendants our ancestors have.”

Image composition by: Coraline

 
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Posted by on October 14, 2007 in días como hoy

 

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Best Carnivals in The World

Taking place every year during February or March and in the wait to receive the Catholic Lent, Tenerife’s Carnival finds its origins in the Roman festivals of Lupercalia, Saturnalia and Bacchanalia, which were celebrated to honor the gods of bread, harvest and wine with the purpose of saying goodbye to the winter season and welcoming the New Year. As the Roman Empire expanded throughout Europe, what today represent typical Carnival traditions, were passed on to Conquistadors of Latin-American countries and The Canary Islands. As a result, Tenerife’s Carnival has become the most popular and multitudinous festival of all the ones celebrated in the Canary Islands and the European Union (EU), and despite the evolution of these festivities in different countries throughout Europe and the world, Tenerife’s Carnival represents a traditional festive activity celebrated by the town of Santa Cruz and characterized by joyful elements such as thematic costumes, shows, exhibitions, and parades accompanied by dances, noisy music in the streets and featuring an ambience that prompts people to participate and have fun in a healthy way.
Carnivals emerged as a reaction to the fasting period that precedes Lent and as a way for people to have fun, drink, wear costumes, mock the Catholic Church and let go of all the things that they felt oppressed by. The first few written references of this festivity go back to the late 18th century, and based on the testimony of writers and travelers of the period; it was the wealthy families of the island who regularly held fancy dances in their homes while the lower class celebrated in the street. Due to political confrontation, Carnivals were later on prohibited until the year 1945 in which women of the town began to organize secret masked celebrations in attempt to hide their identity, and this practice became so popular that in the year 1980, after general Franco’s death, Tenerife’s Carnival was officially declared a “Celebration of International Tourist Interest” which resulted on a big festivity that made it to the Guinness Book of Records for the large number of people who participated in the gala.

During the late 1800s and early 1900s, and as carnival itself started to grow, the different traditions that characterize the Island’s holiday also began to emerge in the form of “cabalgatas,” “rondallas,” “comparsas,” and “murgas” that would gain greater importance to this festivity in later years. The cabalgatas (Spanish for cavalcades) are named after the “caballos” (Spanish for horses) used to transport millions of dozens masks and dozens of people in costumes to the first few Carnival parades celebrated in town announcing the festivities. The cabalgatas usually travel through the main streets in the city of Santa Cruz. In addition, the “Coso” is also typical which is like a second cabalgata only more important. This parade is said to be the most significant display lasting for hours during which all participant group expose their songs, lyrics, garments and creativity to their fullest ability. The rondallas are large bands of street singers and musicians who perform Spanish traditional songs and opera pieces while playing string instruments to accompany their songs. Although during the 1960s they were the classical and true protagonists of Tenerife’s Carnival, they have progressively been overshadowed by the spectacular increase in the number of murgas and comparsas.

The comparsas are colorful dancing bands that unlike the rondallas play wind instruments to accompany their songs. The groups usually include participants of both sexes who frequently wear the same costumes and perform songs resembling those of Brazil and Latin America while adding their own choreographies. They became more common as of the turn of the 19th century. During the 1920s and 1930s the murgas also emerged, and these are satirical singing groups who originally played cardboard instruments and painted their faces to interpret farcical songs characterized by critical and humorous lyrics full of satire and irony related to current happenings in the island as a way to protest and convey the audience the bands’ views on political and social issues. The murgas have evolved considerably, and their participants now wear highly elaborate uniforms. Due to their great success, the female and children versions of these bands have also been created.

The first murga received the name of “Nifú-Nifá,” (Fufa), and it was founded by a group from another murga called “Los Bigotudos.” Because the word “murga” was prohibited at the time just as any other word that had any kind of relationship to the Carnival festivity, this band invented the word “Afilarmónica” by putting the prefix “a-” to the word “filarmónica” (philharmonic) to express that they were exactly the opposite of a philharmonic. However, the true intention behind this new word is found in the first six letters of the expression: “afilar” (Spanish for sharpen), which in other words means that their purpose was to criticize with their songs and lyrics, so the term “Afilarmónica” has become the generic name for murgas nowadays. In addition to these, the “Agrupaciones Musicales” (Spanish for music bands) are also common in Tenerife’s Carnivals. These are typically groups of families; friends or neighbors who wear the same costume with the peculiarity that they are normally inspired in Mexican traditions, and their songs include genres like merengue, bolero and ranchera.

As of the year 1910 contests of rondallas, murgas, comparsas and agrupaciones musicales began, so it wasn’t until that year when a true distinction between the different categories was made. Tenerife’s Carnivals mainly celebrated in the town of Santa Cruz have become the most prestigious carnivals in Europe and the most safe and participative ones in the world. In Santa Cruz people take the streets and everyone joins the crowd wearing a costume. Multitudinous dances are performed with orchestras until dawn as different shows are offered in different points and stages throughout the city. All islanders gather during these festivities, and the celebration usually lasts 27 days in which different important galas take place such as the election of the Carnival Queen, the election of the Drag-Queen, competitions of street bands, processions, parades and the cavalcade, all of which make Tenerife’s Carnival a season of true party and fun not to be missed by both residents and visitors. This year Carnivals started on January 30th and they will last until the 25th of February.

The gala to elect the Carnival’s Queen is a yearly event that represents a main entertainment of Tenerife’s Carnival. During this gala hundreds of journalists are present to broadcast the show and different TV stations compete against each other to capture each minute of the event while transmitting it through national and international TV stations in an array of countries. This gala accounts for the exaltation of beauty of female islanders. During this show candidates show up on a stage of about 4,000 squared feet sponsored by different companies, financial and commercial institutions, recreational organizations, and casinos. The gala is characterized by the majesty of the queen’s dresses, which usually are of great dimensions as they can be over 16 feet high by 13 feet long and weigh over 220 and up to 450 pounds. Queens display these garments with such elegance that often makes people overlook the effort required to actually wear these outfits.

Moreover, every year each municipality organizing Carnival festivities prepares a Carnival poster. This tradition entails the use of colorful proposals usually designed by famous and well-known artists from which the event managers pick the most attractive one. By the same token, the Carnival Song is selected each year as the anthem of the festivities. Finally, the “Entierro de la Sardina” (Spanish for Sardine Funeral) typically celebrated on Ash Wednesday gives closure to the Carnival’s festivities, and this procession is considered the most profane and uninhibited one of all Carnival celebration. The tradition is for people to wear black clothes, go bury and later set on fire a giant sardine made of cardboard, rags and cloths by the Island’s prisoners. The fish symbolizes the Carnival spirit so people go to its burial singing but at the same time crying because the festivity is over. During the parade widows shout desperately because of the dead of the sardine and bullies to the Catholic Church are made by participants who go dress as popes, nuns and bishops blessing people and at many occasions carrying with them objects that hold sexual undertones. The ultimate conclusion, however, takes place over the following weekend during the first Saturday and Sunday of Lent in what is known as the celebration of “Piñata Chica” (Piñata Weekend) with more shows, dances and parades.

Temporary funfairs and amusement parks are also installed during this celebration while the city hall typically disables some parking lots in order to set the Carnival Fair. Young people usually celebrate the festivities by doing a “botellón” (Spanish for big bottle), which is a practice that brings people together mainly to smoke and drink during nighttime. This custom typically takes place at a public area where different groups of people meet while bringing their own liquor and beverages, typically rum, whisky and vodka with ice and sodas to share with friends. This tradition is not exclusive to Carnival’s festivities, but it is without a doubt one of the main events for youngsters, the only difference is that during Carnival they do the botellón wearing costumes, and more people flood the street than at other occasions. The botellón usually lasts between two to four hours but they typically extend until sunrise during the Carnival festivities. The amount of alcohol consumed largely depends on each individual although for most people the idea is to get wasted. Although this custom has been banned in many Spaniard cities it is still allowed in Tenerife and regardless of the many problems associated with it, young people turn to ‘big bottle’ because it is much cheaper to buy drinks at the supermarket than at clubs or drinking holes.

Tenerife’s Carnivals are not only well known in Spain but also worldwide, and although it has been widely said that the island’s celebrations have become the second most famous Carnival in the world after those held in Rio de Janeiro (Brazil), Tenerife’s Carnival recently received an award as the “Best Carnival in The World” because it’s said to be the most safe and spectacular one out of all celebrated. The recognition was awarded by ‘Fama’ Magazine, which is a Spanish monthly publication edited in New York, which distributes over 1M copies in the States. Despite different public opinion, these two regions are still disputing the first place when it comes to best Carnivals. What it is for sure is that Tenerife’s Carnival is one of the biggest in the world, and that the massive participation of people together with the sophisticated preparation of this festival makes the city of Santa Cruz the most famous one of the Canary archipelago. This already popular destination, with its year-round blast of sun and beautiful beaches is in even greater demand during carnivals, so make sure to make your arrangements well in advance if you’re up for joining the Tenerife’s crowd during the festivities.

Image by: Carnaval de Tenerife

 
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Posted by on February 20, 2007 in días como hoy

 

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A Venezuelan Christmas

The blend of the African, European and native traditions give way to the multicultural outcome of what it is today the Venezuelan society. Because of the culture’s joyful people and the traditions that characterize our country throughout the year, Christmas holidays represent the perfect occasion for native and non-native residents to reveal their own traditions and share them with their family, neighbors and friends. The array of Venezuelan religious and traditional customs during Christmas is rich and endless because each region and family celebrates it in a different way; Venezuelan Christmas therefore embraces not only the food, as I’ve discussed in a previous post, but also the music, décor, family reunions and other practices that define this season in the country. Some of the aspects of the Venezuelan customs during Christmas are briefly explained below with the intention to provide an idea of how we celebrate.Duration: The Christmas season in Venezuela is usually celebrated from mid- to late-November until the end of January. Christmas officially starts on November 18th, “Día de la Virgen de Chiquinquirá” (Virgin of Chiquinquira Day) also known as “La Chinita,” and it customarily ends on February 2nd, “Día de Candelaria” (Candelaria Day) when the trees and Nativities are disassembled.

Christmas Tree: Most houses are decorated with the typical Christmas tree and the Nativity scene. Even though the Christmas tree is originally from Nordic countries, this custom has been adopted by the Venezuelan society, and it represents today a typical tradition. To commemorate the Christmas season, Christmas trees are decorated with ornaments, lights and presents. A five-point star is also placed in the highest branch at the tip of the tree. Unlike many other countries, Christmas trees in Venezuela are rarely evergreen but instead they’re usually artificial. The family typically gathers to put up the tree and children participate placing ornaments.

Nativity: Because the Venezuelan population is mostly Catholic, “pesebres” or “nacimientos” (Nativity scenes) are protagonist during Christmas, and the birth of Baby Jesus is celebrated during this season. The Nativity is often displayed in a visible area of the living room so that visitors and family members can be delighted with its glory. The portrayal of the Nativity scene can range from simple to complex. Some families become artists when it comes to putting together the Nativity and the most sophisticated scenes are put up to represent an entire region with mountains, hills, plains, lakes, valleys and the manger at Bethlehem. This is a very important tradition in most Venezuelan dwellings as the entire family generally gathers to put up the Nativity scene. The figures used are the typical shepherds, the Magi, Mary, Joseph and Jesus. Sheep and camels are also protagonist together with the Bethlehem Star and Angel Gabriel. Baby Jesus usually remains covered for most of the month of December until the stroke of 12am on Christmas Eve when he’s symbolically born.

Christmas Spirit: This is a very unique tradition dictating that every year on December 21st; when the winter season officially stars, the Christmas Spirit comes down to Earth to physically bring everything we wish for. This is another Nordic tradition that has been instilled in the Venezuelan culture, and although the myths behind this ritual are various; it is said that the Christmas Spirit is the energy within us that brings peace, love, harmony, joy and all the non-tangible things that we long for. The ritual consists of having the family gather around a table between 10pm and 12am while celebrating with wine, “ponche” or champagne and cake or nougat. Each individual around the table must prepare a list of what are much like resolutions for the year or have it done before midnight. The old list of resolutions is tore apart and tossed at the time, and the new lists are put in a container or basket in the center of the table. Each member then grabs his or her list and saves it until the following year. The celebration of this tradition varies widely from family to family, and some people don’t even celebrate it. There are people who believe in cleaning the house the night before the Christmas Spirit comes, so that they can be released from all bad energies. Other people celebrate by lighting blue candles during the ritual for the Spirit to come pleasantly.

Music: During Christmas, music plays a very important part in Venezuela. “Gaitas” are the main popular music during this season and this kind of music was originally created as a way for citizens to protest. These songs started in the city of Maracaibo in Zulia State, although the tradition has extended throughout the Venezuelan geography. Even though there are different kinds of Gaitas, the most traditional type is called “Gaita del Furro.” When Venezuelans speak about “Gaitas” they are mainly speaking about “Gaita del Furro,” and this kind of Gaita is named after the leading instrument “furro” or “furruco” used to play Gaitas. This kind of Gaita is very catchy because of the musical rhythm and its lyrics. It is therefore the most commercial kind of Gaita played and known by the Venezuelan culture. Venezuelan Gaitas usually start on middle-September and they last until the end of Christmastime.

Besides Gaitas, the “Aguinaldos” or “Villancicos” are also typical Venezuelan songs sung during Christmas. It is customary to gather groups of people who go door-to-door singing “Aguinaldos” to Virgin Mary and Baby Jesus while playing traditional instruments such as the “cuatro”, “furruco” and “maracas” (discussed below.) After Aguinaldo performances, people living in the visited houses usually give out candy, cake or any kind of drink to thank the group of singers. Because of this tradition, the term “aguinaldo” is usually associated with gifts. As time has gone by, this custom has developed into what is today the “Aguinaldo Navideño,” which is typically a monetary present or extra pay given to and received by employees and companies during Christmas time. Some other people prefer to give a “Cesta Navideña” (Christmas Basket), containing bottles of champagne or wine, nougat, cookies and any other kind of non-perishable food that the individual or family wishes to offer during Christmas time.

Instruments: The instruments used for playing Gaitas and Aguinaldos are usually customary to the Venezuelan culture. The main instrument used for Aguinaldos and Gaitas is the “cuatro,” which is a guitar-like instrument but smaller and with four strings only. For Gaitas, the “charrasca” and “tambora” are also used. The “charrasca” is a traditional steel tube-shaped instrument that’s usually 12 inches in length by 3 inches in diameter. It is a relatively small instrument normally hand-held played. This instrument is stroked in an upward and downward motion with a metal rod that produces different sounds upon contact to the steel tube. The “tambora” was originally a horizontal drum, although vertical barrel-drums are also typical. These drums are beat with two wooden sticks to produce diverse sounds on the tightly stretched leather membrane and on the sides. The “maracas” are rattle-like instruments used mainly for the Aguinaldos. Finally, the “furruco” is another important instrument used in both Gaitas and Aguinaldos. The “furruco” or “furro” is a friction drum with a wooden stick slightly pierced into the middle of the drum and whose movement in the leather produces a unique and characteristic sound much like that of the bass.

Food: Regarding the culinary aspect of the Venezuelan Christmas, the food is also an important part of these festivities. The range of Christmas food is diverse, and it includes “hallacas”, “pan de jamón” (ham bread), “torta negra” (dark or black cake), “dulce de lechoza” (green papaya dessert), “ponche crema” (eggnog), “ensalada de gallina” (chicken salad) and stuffed “pernil” or “pavo” (pork thigh or turkey). I’ve dedicated a separate post to the typical Venezuelan food during Christmas, so you can refer to it for an extended explanation of what each dish is made of. Even though these are some of the typical dishes eaten on Christmas/New Year’s Eve, each family has its own tradition, so regardless of what they eat, what’s important is that the meal is plentiful, special, and usually out of the ordinary when compared to daily life menus.

Fireworks: The burning of fireworks is one the characteristic traditions of Venezuelan Christmas. Fireworks in Venezuela are exploded ever since the start of the season until the New Year. The noises and brilliant lighting effects produced by firecrackers, rockets and sparkles, among others, are children’s and some adults’ favorite. A huge display of fireworks follows the Christmas and New Year’s dinner although the biggest display occurs after the New Year is received. The fireworks are seen and heard throughout the entire season, and they are by far one of the most special entertainments of the night during December 24th and 31st. Regardless of the danger of these explosive items, parents rarely seem to hesitate when buying a few bags of fireworks to be burned during Christmas. I’ve celebrated Christmas in Venezuela, America and Spain; and I can tell you for sure, that I’ve never seen and heard so many fireworks in my life as I have in Venezuela. They are simply a must.

Christmas Eve: It is called “Noche Buena” in Spanish, and it is celebrated on December 24th when Venezuelans usually prepare a Christmas dinner for the entire family and gather at the grandparents’, an uncle’s or aunt’s house. This dinner usually includes any or all of the typical Venezuelan Christmas dishes although the time at which family members actually dine depends on the customs of each family. The typical time to have dinner is around 9 to 10pm after all guests have arrived and people have had a chance to catch up and chat for a while. Then dinner is served and a Champagne toast is usually given to celebrate the evening. Dessert follows together with typical Christmas nougats and dry fruits such as nuts, almonds and hazelnut. Following dinner, the entire family goes out to the street or backyard to explode firecrackers, rockets and all kinds of fireworks. Later on during the night and frequently around midnight, the family gathers once more but this time around the Christmas tree to exchange presents. In extended families the “Amigo Secreto” (Secret Santa) is typical among adults. Children typically receive toys and gifts from all of their relatives and spend what’s left of the night playing with their new presents until they go to bed. Some children make sure to leave cookies and milk for Baby Jesus’ stop. In Venezuela, Baby Jesus is the one to bring the presents rather than Santa Claus, although Santa is also well known. Overnight, Baby Jesus stops by the house to leave children some more presents, generally the presents listed in the letter that children wrote and left on the tree for Baby Jesus at the beginning of the month.

Misa de Gallo: As the religious celebrations begin in Venezuela on December 16th, masses are held every morning until the 24th, when the religious service is held at midnight in what is known as “Misa de Gallo” or “Misa de Aguinaldo.” This is the last mass of the year and many families rush to the Church after Christmas dinner although many other Catholics don’t follow this tradition.

Amigo Secreto: The “Amigo Secreto” (Secret Santa) is not necessarily a Christmas tradition, but simply a ritual that most Venezuelans participate in during Christmas and other times of the year. It is a game that consists of exchanging gifts between groups of people. The participants can be family members, friends and co-workers, as this tradition is usually held at the workplace, between groups of friends and even within the family. The name of the participants are written in pieces of paper of the same color and size, the pieces of paper are folded so that the names can’t be read, and they’re mixed in a container or plastic bag. Then each person grabs a piece of paper and opens it secretly so that nobody else can read it. The one who grabs is the “secret Santa” of the person whose name is written on the paper. This is done so that large groups of people don’t have to buy a present for each person but still ensure that each person receives at least a gift. The group of people sets a day to exchange presents and they usually pick a price range or even specify the kind of gift that one must give. For example, school friends can agree to exchange homemade cakes or cookies, or co-workers can agree to exchange music CD’s. In any case, the idea is to offer family and friends a little something during Christmas.

A variant of this tradition consists of secret Santas giving a little something to their friend every day and then a bigger gift at the end. In school, friends usually give each other candy but always making sure to send the presents with somebody else or to leave them secretly at the friend’s desk or locker so that nobody discovers who’s secret friend is who until the very end. This is a fun ritual that brings people closer and gives them a chance to express their love through cards and/or gifts during Christmastime.

Christmas Day: On December the 25th, children wake up early and run to the Christmas tree to see what Baby Jesus has left them. They open their presents and spend the day playing with them. Christmas day is a national holiday, so families spend the day together at their houses and they usually prepare a special lunch with leftovers from the night before.

New Year’s Eve: On December 31st, the custom is to prepare dinner following more or less the same pattern of Christmas Eve. However, before the stroke of midnight the family gathers around the table to receive the New Year. Each individual is provided with twelve grapes, which have been pre- counted and wrapped in foil paper or little plastic bags by one of the hosts. This tradition started in the 1920’s by a Catalonian vineyard farmer. Music accompanies the celebration while popular radio or TV stations are on to pronounce the bell rings. When the bells start striking, individuals start eating their grapes, one for each stroke while making a wish for the New Year. At the end of the 12th bell stroke family members start warmly hugging while wishing each other a “Feliz Año” (Happy New Year.) A toast is given and the party goes on with some more music and fireworks.

Many other smaller traditions/superstitions are also followed before, during and after the New Year. For example, it is supposed to bring good luck to go out to the streets after 12am and take with you a suitcase if you wish to travel during the New Year. It is also said that a serving of lentils during New Year’s dinner will bring good look and prosperity on the upcoming year. Some people also think that wearing red clothing items and yellow underwear can bring good luck, or that having a bill or two in one’s pocket at the stroke of midnight will bring financial fortune throughout the year that’s about to start. There are many traditions that in a way or another people do on this night, so it is hard to make a complete list of the many customs of Venezuelans during this night, but these are a few of the most common ones for those of you who are curious about how it is that we celebrate our Christmastime.

Epiphany: The Epiphany or Twelfth day, “Día de Reyes” in Spanish, is a holiday celebrated on January 6th by Catholics in Venezuela and many other geographical regions of the world. This yearly festivity commemorates “both the revealing of Jesus as the Christ to the Gentiles in the persons of the Magi and the baptism of Jesus.” The name “Día de Reyes” (Magi) follows the three wise kings who came to visit Virgin Mary bearing gifts to the newborn Baby Jesus. In Spanish, these kings are called “Reyes Magos,” and although this tradition is not celebrated in Venezuela as much as other Christmas customs, it is still a ritual that many families rejoice; especially those with European roots. During the Día de Reyes, children usually receive some toys and candy again. The tradition dictates that they need to leave a pair of shoes either under the tree or by their room’s door for the Reyes Magos to drop presents. The end of the Christmas season is usually celebrated on this day although in Venezuela the festivities extend until the first days of February.

Looking back at the list of Christmas customs, it can be said that Venezuela has a very rich and diverse range of traditions that define the spirit and the essence that characterize people during this time of the year. Although not every Venezuelan commemorates this holiday in the same way, some of these traditions are unique to the Venezuelan culture. No matter what your culture is, the important thing is that you spend this special time with the people you most care about.

Image composition by: Coraline

 
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Posted by on December 29, 2006 in días como hoy

 

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Venezuelan Christmas Dinner

Embracing the language, moral codes, rituals, religion and norms within different societies, culture involves the elements that are passed on through generations and define the attitudes and behaviors adopted within specific geographical regions. Different activities and beliefs reflect the elements of specific cultures; elements that are understood and shared by individuals who act in ways previously established by tradition.

Have you ever wondered about the typical traditions of other cultures during Christmas time? Being the most special time of the year, Venezuelan Christmas traditions are very rich because of the variety of cultures that have been assimilated into its society. There are many Venezuelan traditions during Christmas and also many traditional meals prepared and devoured during this time, and as much as I would like to talk about them all, I’ll focus today on the food since I love eating so much, and since I’m at my house anxiously waiting for our Christmas dinner to be ready.

I’ll tell you about some of the main Christmas dishes prepared in Venezuela during this time of the year, which are also Christmas dishes that you are not likely to find in any other culture. The Hallaca, Pan de Jamón, Torta Negra, Dulce de Lechosa and Ponche Crema are the main protagonist dishes that conform the classic Venezuelan Christmas dinner.

The most traditional Venezuelan-Christmas-dinner dish is the Hallaca. The Hallaca is a savory pastry made of a yellow-color cornmeal dough filled with stew, wrapped with banana leaves and cooked to mix the flavors. This sole dish has the influence of three cultures. The white one, because of the European ingredients such as raisins, nuts, and olives that the Hallacas contain; the native one, because of the cornmeal colored with onoto seeds, and the black one from which we obtain the banana leaves used to cook the food. There are different types of Hallaca depending on each region of the country. The original Hallacas are made with different kinds of chopped meat such as pork, poultry, and beef as well as different condiments including green pepper, onion, garlic, tomatoes and spices. Hallacas require hours of preparation and the whole family usually reaunites to make them.

The Hallaca dough is prepared with the cornmeal and colored with the onoto seeds; then, portions of the dough are extended over squared pieces of banana leaves previously cleaned. The pre-cooked stew, that is usually made the night before preparation of Hallacas, is then added, and the banana leaves are finally folded to form rectangular bags that are tied with kitchen string and boiled in huge pots for approximately an hour. The Hallacas can be kept in the refrigerator for two or three weeks and they are boiled for a few minutes and removed from the banana leaves before serving. The flavors are unique and this dish is a personal favorite during Christmas. Although the Hallacas are usually prepared on Christmas, they could be prepared during any time of the year. Some people like to prepare them and freeze them so that they can have Hallacas throughout the year, and this exquisite dish is typically served with chicken salad and ham bread.

In addition to the Hallacas, Venezuelan Christmas are inconceivable without the Pan de Jamón or ham bread. I can guarantee that all Venezuelans living far way from their homeland, dream with their Christmas Hallacas and Pan de Jamón. Fortunately, there are some specialized Venezuelan bakeries scattered throughout the world such as those found in South Florida or The Canary Islands in which the prized Venezuelan Christmas food can be found. The Pan de Jamón is a long, jellyroll-like bread filled with ham, olives, and raisins. This kind of bread dates back to the 1900’s. It doesn’t seem to have an ancient history, but it has become an essential dish in the Venezuelan Christmas dinner.

Today, every family has its own recipe, and every bakery in the country assures that its ham bread is the best. The ham bread can be made with the original flour dough or puffy pastry. As I mentioned before, it is made with olives, raisins, ham and sometimes bacon. For its preparation, the dough is made with regular flour and once ready, it is extended in rectangular portions of approximately 12 by 15 inches. A layer of ham is then placed over the dough pieces and the olives and raisins are then added. The dough pieces are finally rolled and placed on metal trays into the oven for cooking during 25 to 30 minutes. After the ham breads are ready, you can store them in plastic bags for a few days and slice them before serving.

Of course no meal is complete without dessert and drinks, so besides the Hallacas and the ham bread, another main traditional Venezuelan Christmas dish is the Dulce de Lechosa or green papaya dessert. Even though I’m not a big fan of this dessert and although not every family prepares it, it still is a typical dessert frequently prepared for Christmas. The green papaya dessert consists of slim strips of green papaya that are cooked with a previously prepared brown sugar syrup combined with cinnamon and cloves. It is a very easy-to-make dessert usually preserved on glass jars and that serves as a delicious gift for friends and family members during Christmas.

Another typical dish is the Torta Negra (dark or black cake). Although this cake is not originally from Venezuela, it has however become one of the traditional desserts in our tables during this time of the year. The original recipe has been adapted to include some of the unique Venezuelan ingredients that yield this delicious and traditional recipe. Its delicate taste comes from the maceration process that characterizes the preparation of this cake. A variety of dry fruits such as nuts, almonds, and raisins are put to maceration for over a month before this recipe can actually be prepared and this is key to the dark cake. The fruits are left macerating in rum within a glass container stored at a place that receives no direct sunlight. After the month, these fruits are added to the recipe whose ingredients are the same as those used for preparing a typical cake: flour, sugar, butter, eggs, milk and vanilla.

Unlike the dishes mentioned above, the Ponche Crema is actually the typical drink consumed in Venezuela during Christmas time, and it is a beverage that has over 100 years of tradition in the country. It is said to have a “secret formula” that combines four main natural ingredients to obtain a fine and delicious eggnog-like drink, which today represents the heritage of most Venezuelans. The Ponche Crema is a cream-based liquor whose recipe can also vary from region to region, but that is usually prepared with ingredients such as milk, rum, eggs, vanilla and condensate milk. This beverage resembles the American eggnog, and unlike the rest of the Venezuelan dishes except for the dark cake, it is today produced at the industrial level. The Ponche Crema can be stored for long periods of time at room temperature; temperature at which this drink can be served other than fridge cold. Its texture is soft and creamy with a sweet taste. This drink can also serve as the base for cocktails and other drinks when blended with different juices and ice.

The Hallaca, Pan de Jamón, Torta Negra, Dulce de Lechosa and Ponche Crema are some of the most important dishes of the Venezuelan Crhistmas dinner. They are part of the tradition of this culture and they provide a warm and great environment that all Venezuelans enjoy during this time of the year. It doesn’t matter where we are, we keep these traditions alive from one generation to another as Christmas dinner is a great moment of familiar union that everyone enjoys sharing with their loved ones in every place around the world.

 
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Posted by on December 24, 2006 in todo lo demás

 

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