VISITORS taking a yuletide evening stroll through Jerez de la Frontera’s cobbled streets are sure to stumble on one of Andalucia’s most joyous Christmas secrets: a zambomba.
An authentic Jerezano celebration, these Christmas gatherings blend flamenco, irreverence, Catholicism and sherry in a unique taste of Andaluz cultura.
“This is our way to celebrate,” says Alejandro Abrio Maraver, manager of La Fonda Barranco hotel.
“I promise everyone can join the party and everyone who comes always wants to return.”
Originating in the 18th century in Jerez’s patios de vecinos, zambombas draw crowds to street corners, plazas and raucous bars throughout December to perform villancicos – flamenco Christmas carols.
All the way from Plaza de la Asunsion, up into Calle Consitorio, in particular around restaurant Albores, you are bound to find any number of groups plying their trade.
Soulful gypsy voices are complemented by zambombas, the instrument the festival takes its name from – clay pots covered in leather, played by rubbing a wet stick against the hide.
Further musical accompaniment is provided by tambourines, bells and makeshift zambombas – usually empty bottles of anis which are rubbed with spoons or forks to produce a crystalline sound.
Onlookers fortify themselves with local sherry by the skinful and pestinos, a traditional Jerez Christmas pastry, while warming themselves around roaring bonfires.
David Fraser-Luckie’s authentic ‘tabanco’ bar/restaurant Las Cuadras is one of the best spots to experience this Jerez tradition.
“I grew up with zambombas,” says Jerez-born David, who is steeped in sherry history. “But there’s been an explosion of them in recent years and there are zambombas everywhere, around every corner. Jerez people like to party.”
Once the stables of the emblematic Countess of Casares’ palace, Las Cuadras’ whitewashed stone walls echo to zambombas every Friday and Saturday afternoon from November 20 onwards.
Hundreds more zambombas bring visitors and Jerezanos together over Christmas as their popularity continues to swell.
The city’s Semana Santa brotherhood and flamenco penas organise impressive performances and impromptu outdoor zambombas stretch long into the night.
Crowds swell into the hundreds, but the bawdy content of some villancicos probably wouldn’t make it onto Songs Of Praise.
“In my square, the Hermandad del Mayor Dolor have had 1,000 people converging,” says David. “Jerez folk know the songs by heart. Everyone sings along.
“In theory it’s all praising the Virgin Mary and Jesus – very Catholic. But some songs are quite explicit and talk about putting hands where they shouldn’t be.”
And with Jerez Town Hall hoping to have zambombas recognised as part of Spain’s national heritage, this vibrant Christmas celebration continues to grow.