CHRISTMAS SHOPPING IN ANDALUCIA
An important part of the lead-up to Christmas for Andalucians involves one of their favourite pastimes - shopping. This isn't just about making purchases, whether gifts or food for one of the big family meals; it's about browsing, wandering through stores looking at things, discussing them - at length and in detail - with friends and family (jamon, decorations, belen figures, shoes, kitchen equipment) over coffee; it's about admiring the shop window displays, complete with their belenes (link to Christmas 5 facts). It's about having a stroll through the town or city centre with family and friends on a Sunday afternoon, to absorb the festive atmosphere and look at the lights. A few nodding reindeer and dancing Santas to marvel at don't go amiss, either.
The Three Kings (Los Reyes Magos) still play an important role in the Christmas season in Andalucia but it's the whole festive excitement and visual changes to streets, shopfronts and buildings which create the wonderful atmosphere.
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Those living in Spain who miss their favourite UK stores will be delighted to know that many major international names such as Marks & Spencer and Amazon ship products directly to your home address in Spain - you can browse and order online in minutes. Here is our page on Shopping online for Spain.
DECK THE HALLS
Each year, there is a new trend in Christmas adornos (decorations), for the tree and the house. For 2010, it is all bright colours - perhaps to brush away the ubiquitous dark grey gloom of the crisis? - purple, green, orange and yellow (though not all at the same time, please). White and gold - chic, classic and classy - are always popular too. Fairy lights have their own tendencias too, don't you know. Plain white or coloured? Fixed, moving or flashing? Round or tear-shaped? Check out all the seasonal offerings at the international range of home stores around Andalucia: English Habitat (Marbella only), Spanish Casa (branches all around Andalucia) and Portuguese A Loja do Gato Preto (ditto). IKEA (Seville and Malaga) has gone for a blue and red theme this year, with some jolly bags and wrapping paper.
As well as the obvious places like El Corte Ingles, whose gift-wrapping service has longer and longer queues as December goes on, look out for the special Christmas markets which abound in towns and cities around Andalucia at this time of year. In the centre, usually the main square, you'll find book markets, belen markets, handicraft (artesania) markets, fair-trade markets (commercio justo) and charity sales, you name it. These are great for one-off, hard-to-find, often hand-made presents for those who appreciate something a bit different and quirky, as opposed to a tie in a smart, gold-coloured El Corte Ingles gift packet (yes, I confess, that's what I gave my Dad a few years ago. Total lack of imagination, I know.)
Other people may prefer the convenience of large American-style shopping malls (centros comerciales, or CC), which are popping up all over the place - they have a wide variety of shops, big car parks, stay open late and you can eat there too. One of the largest in Andalucia is the vast La Cañada, just outside Marbella, with over 150 retail outlets, including the aforementioned Habitat and also a rather diminutive Marks&Spencers.
Traditional shops can be fun to look in too, especially candle shops. Great ceramics can be found in many towns around Andalucia - each area has its own style - as well as esparto grass products. Andalucia has many local speciality arts and crafts. Other local products worth looking out for are glass from Almeria, guitars from Granada, and leatherwork from Cordoba. Embroidered Mantones (shawls) make ideal presents for female relatives.
LET THERE BE LIGHT
The festive atmosphere is towns and cities all over Andalucia really gets going when the street lights are switched on, with their colourful themed messages and displays of stars, baubles, bells and angels. The alumbrado, turning on of the lights, takes place at the beginning of December.
Malaga, for example, had around 3.7 million lights in its Christmas display in 2009, at a cost of several million euros, while an average town will spend around 130,000 euros between the light bulbs and electricity bill. Most larger cities have new designs each year, and seeing this year's display is all part of the fun.
|Festive lights and Christmas shoppers on bustling Calle Marques de Larios in Malaga .|
El Corte Ingles always has amazing light displays - the whole storefront is illuminated with reindeer, snowflakes and other seasonal characters. Especially beautiful and atmospheric are the fairy lights which are threaded through the branches of the orange trees in some city streets (Mateos Gago in Seville leading to the Giralda, is a personal favourite), and the lights wound round the trunks of palm trees - they look very glam and lend the place a party feel. Every Sunday, families come into the nearest big town or city and walk round looking at all the Christmas shop window displays - especially the big department stores - and the street lights. Buying a little paper bag of roast chestnuts from a street vendor and sitting down for a hot chocolate or coffee is all part of the fun.
CRISIS AT CHRISTMAS
Many charity organisations in Andalucia, including numerous hermandades, run Christmas campaigns, whereby you donate some food or toys for children from disadvantaged backgrounds, to ensure that everyone receives a present and a special meal at Christmas (and Reyes too).