Castillo San Marcos

Castillo San Marcos
13th-century castle, El Puerto de Santa Maria. That WAS our house to the left and behind the tree!

Tuesday, December 31, 2013


Jerez guitarist at a zambomba
Christmas in Spain is yet another great reason to have a party.   The holiday remains staunchly rooted in the Catholic traditions with a charming twist and wicked sense of humor provided by Andalucia’s flamenco culture.  We spent time this year melding our German and American traditions with our newly-acquired Spanish villancicos in an attempt to throw our very own zambomba.
Tuning up for Christmas
A zambomba is an instrument used mostly during December to accompany the villancicos (or Spanish Christmas carols).  People gather at bars, restaurants, private homes, out in the street, parking lots, shopping malls, and anywhere else the Spanish hang out.  Many of these gatherings are planned and sponsored by bars and restaurants (a great way to sell a drink), but some also occur spontaneously in the streets or neighborhoods.  Since the zambomba (the musical instrument) is not the easiest to carry around, they tend to be a local phenomenon.  Here is a video from my friend Carolina’s zambomba-maker friend:

Me playing a zambomba at a zambomba

Also common to a zambomba (the party) aside from a zambomba (the instrument) is one or several singers, and people who know how to clap (this might sound simple, but believe me, I’ve spend the last two years learning how to do it!).  Guitars, tambourines, and anis liqueur bottles scraped by a spoon round out the sound, but are not required.   Throw in a bonfire, and you’ve got yourself a zambomba.  Now all that’s missing would be friends to share it with!

Dancing around the fire at our first-ever zambomba

I invited everyone I knew for my first zambomba attempt in early December.  And, given the highly social nature of southern Spain, most everyone showed up, the most delightful people you could imagine.  My flamenco teacher, Lola de Cai, came to sing along with her guitarist Alejandro, and we spent the evening way into the morning hours singing, dancing, eating the Christmas potluck dishes everyone brought, and generally making a lot of noise, as Todd wanted to show off our amplification system.  Lucky we live next to two discos—no one complained.


The rest of December was marked by zambomba after zambomba, most of which we didn’t attend.  Every corner bar had their own zambomba schedule, and I tried to drop by those I might have a chance to dance at.  Finally, at the zambomba in Vista Hermosa, with my family arriving just in time to videotape me, I got my chance, having practiced for hours and my courage bolstered by my friend Charo dancing first:

Click here to see me dance!

So where is the wicked sense of humor (aside from the goofy dancing)?  In the villancicos, of course.  They have been "flamenquized" in both their rhythm and words.  Here is a translation of one of my favorites; I had to check to make sure I was understanding the words correctly!

The Virgin, since she's a gypsy,
Is loved by the gypsy men
St. Joseph, since he's not a gypsy
rebels against all this attention

We don't give madroños to the Child
Because they could make him drunk!
Oh yes!  Oh no!  Rocio is the name of the mother of God

Here’s a link to the song, as well as several others that we’ve learned to love:

Wise Guy Griffin Gaspar

Another zambomba we attended was at the kids’ school, Nuestra Señora de la Merced.  Adrian had a cameo as a shepherd boy, Griffin was the second of the Reyes Magos, Gaspar, and Tia and Sasha spearheaded their Christmas Dance presentations.  I came in to help the 5th and 6th grade sing “The Little Drummer Boy” and “The Friendly Beasts” in English as part of our conversation classes I’ve started there!   We finished it off by dancing swing to a Christmas remake of “In the Mood.” 

cameo appearance

In a word:  Christmas in Spain is FUN!

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