ON the run up to New Year I was in front of an Arabic television set watching Christmas TV, which, as the years pass, I’ve found less and less entertaining, and not in the slightest bit Christmassy (since when did Chicken Run count as a ‘Christmas film’?)
I attempted the sales, the most depressing annual obligation inflicted on me as a direct result of various family members presenting me with vouchers for Christmas. As tradition dictates, the only sizes you find on the crowded racks are 8 or 18. They also bring out all the tat from summer, all that colourful bold cotton that is only acceptable, and worthwhile, on a beach. The people are so depressed, so glum, traipsing up the sleety highstreet, they’ll never sell that gaudy happy stuff. So, I sat there in front an Arabic television, which I can’t plug the DVD player into in order to watch Chitty Chitty Bang Bang instead of Chicken Run. The reason for this being only my dad knows how to work the Arabic television. The reason why my dad bought an Arabic television is unfathomable.
At my parents’ house in Essex, England, I anticipated a New Year’s Eve knees-up with friends. Maybe we’d light a bonfire in the crisp night air or hide under a tarpaulin because of the pelting rain (the second option seemed more likely.) We might attempt fireworks, but at an appropriate moment during the early evening as soon as the blanket of night coats all surfaces and reaches pitch black concentration by 4pm. At this hour relative sobriety will allow for controlled and safe “ooooos” and “aaahhhhs.”
Quite a lot of drinks later and a jolly slurring of Old Lang Syne would follow. We’d watch those Londoners do fireworks so much better than us. Then there’d be the inevitable kissing and hugging of everyone in the vicinity. We’d sit down in the warmth of the living room with Jools Holland in the background and throw around selections of nuts that nobody really appreciates. Next comes a blurry emotional reminisce about 2011, and an expression of bleak hope for a better 2012. I looked forward to this personal ritual.
Then I realised I was going to miss a massive carnival in Pamplona.
La Nochevieja across Spain is traditionally something of finesse, family and frocks. Most see the New Year in with family. Some dress up and attend sophisticated gala balls. The more saucy invitees may wear a pair of red knickers for good luck. Of course everyone must stuff 12 grapes in their mouth, coinciding with the 12 chimes of the Puerta del Sol clock in Madrid at midnight, and using an annually perfected technique that ensures nobody chokes (you swallow them whole.) * The barmen were promising a line of free shots on the bar and everyone was asking me who my character will be for New Year’s Eve in Pamplona’s main square. I kicked myself for having missed a massive carnival.
Dressing up for New Year is a recent addition to Pamplona’s ‘tradition calendar.’ Legend has it people construct fully functioning Trojan horses with parties of Greeks spilling out from within it, or become Vikings for the night in warrior ships made of cardboard that are consistently and realistically rowed from bar to bar, or a festively poncho-clad Mexican will cross your path giving out free sombreros. There’s also a strong idea of caricature, they dress as the year’s dummy politician or nonsense celeb. A playful, and therapeutic, mock of a difficult year is just what you need to begin a new one. I wondered who would be the most common costume this year? Unpopular Zapatero, the almighty Angela Merkel, last goodbyes to Harry Potter. It sounded like a blast. But I wouldn’t know, would I? So, sour grapes to you.
* Sources have told me the reason this grape eating tradition began is the Catalonians produced a huge grape harvest one year and gave them to communities proclaiming the rules of this new ritual, which would consequently make them large profits every December 31st as families stock up on grapes for every member. Pretty clever.