CHRISTMAS on the CAMINO

Christmas Camino

Walking El Camino de Santiago in winter – and giving Camino gifts at Christmas

The gift of Christmas on the Camino? To many, Christmas and Camino are two separate entities: No one in their right mind would consider walking El Camino at Christmas, right? “Bueno” . . as they say in Spain, “nada es imposible”. No doubt, the most popular time of year to walk the Camino de Santiago is between Spring to Autumn. But winter walkers are on the up and increasingly we see people asking about walking El Camino at Christmas . . and even planning to arrive in Santiago de Compostela on Christmas Day (or Christmas Eve).

But Christmas also means gifts – for friends, family / loved-ones. And what better gift to give a fan of the Camino than a little present from Galicia, Santiago, Asturias . . or somewhere else along this famous route: Perhaps a little memento or souvenir relating to this epic journey / pilgrimage – or simply a “good luck and best wishes” type of present.

See our  CAMINO de SANTIAGO  gift shop online

A winter trip on Spain’s Camino over the Christmas period can be an exhilarating experience . . especially if you plan to arrive in Santiago de Compostela on Christmas Eve (or Christmas Day). But there are things to consider that are different from planning a normal Camino trip:

The weather in winter on El Camino:

This is the most important factor: Weather in Northern Spain, particularly in Galicia, is uncertain even in summer! The dreaded rain which can dampen the spirits of even the most ardent Camino traveller is quite common in Galicia and Asturias.

Having said that, travelling in winter can have its advantages in this respect too: Some of the landscapes can be spectacular in their winter shroud: The Meseta in particular can make for a stunning and enthralling backdrop at any time of year, but in winter it can be dramatic and breathtaking.

Winter weather on Camino
Cortesia Rodelar – La Meseta en invierno: Not for the faint-hearted walker!

The Meseta or Inner Plateau of Spain is the high plain of central Spain – it is large and expansive, flat and vast: It’s in the heart of the Iberian peninsular, and ranges from 610 to 760m in height and is surrounded by mountains. From the Camino point of view, the Meseta is always an “experience”. The Camino Frances traverses the northern part of the Meseta for over 200km, and in winter it can be windswept and cold, wet and miserable for walkers.

So this leads on to the next consideration:

The route – which Camino to choose (after all, there are several):

People considering travelling the famous Way of Saint James are aware of the different routes that make up the so-called “Camino”: They have to choose one to suit themselves, and through which parts of Spain, France and/or Portugal they want to walk, hike or bike into Santiago de Compostela. We have 7 or 8 main options: Camino Frances, Camino Portuguese, Camino del Norte, Camino Primitivo (the original or Primitive Way), Via de Plata (the Silver Way), Camino Finisterre-Muxía, Camino Inglés (the English Way), and Camino Invierno (the Winter Camino).

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Courtesy CORREOS (see below)

But which is going to be most suitable Camino to do in winter?

The Via de la Plata route travels through the western part of the Meseta for around 180km. In winter, it can be snowy. Yes . . snow! In winter you will encounter snow on many of the Camino routes and/or stages of those routes. Perhaps a small amount of snow is acceptable, but there can be danger too after heavy snow falls or when it drifts in the wind. At the very least, you will need to avoid any mountainous areas like the Pyrenees or O Cebreiro. In fact, for this reason alone, many of the ‘etápas’ (sections or stages) of the various Caminos are actually CLOSED in the winter. In fact, a great many things along the Camino route are closed in winter.

So this leads to another factor to consider:

Accommodation along the Camino de Santiago in winter

Spain’s Post Office ( CORREOS ) has a great website to help travellers along El Camino – offering advice on accommodation, safety and their own services to help transport extra luggage and backpacks which can be especially helpful in the somewhat rougher winter months.

They say that when the number of pilgrims fall in the winter months (and especially around Christmas), many hostels on the Camino decide to close their doors. And, as ‘Navidad’ in Spain is celebrated through until Los Reyes Magos (The Kings) on 6th January, the Christmas inactivity can be extensive. This might be a problem for those winter pilgrims who, not planning ahead or without prior knowledge, are not prepared, especially considering that they will be facing the cold, rain and, at many times, snow. Luckily, Correos keeps an updated list of hostels that remain open during this period. Of course, however prepared you are, it is always recommended to contact the hostels first, to avoid any problems. You can find the telephone numbers of each hostel at each stage of every Camino on the  CORREOS WEBSITE  . There is little problem finding accommodation in the bigger towns like Santiago de Compostela, Ferrol or Vigo, but in the small rural and isolated areas, where accommodation is limited, yes, it can be tricky.

So this brings us to:

The sheer feasibility of doing the Camino in winter as regards personal fitness, carrying your stuff and avoiding the mud!

It can be lonely and at times bleak in northern Spain in winter: In Bierzo, for example, it can be very harsh. But in general, winter walkers are not out to punish themselves . . and so during this time of year it is acceptable to get help along the way. For example,  CORREOS  offer a service to transfer your luggage / rucksack day by day at all times of year. This costs around 4 Euros per stage.

This has not always been the case: In years gone by, devout pilgrims would set out to travel the Camino as a form of penance or atonement. Some were even sent to do just that, as punishment for their sins. But these days, there are other ways to lessen the burden of a winter Camino – like occasionally catching a bus!!! (past the really bad bits), or getting Correos to transport some of your luggage from place to place at the start of each day. In general, their services continue as usual, except that in some cases they are limited in terms of geographical coverage or hours open to the public. Once again, the website has details.

They also offer a locker service in Santiago de Compostela (the ideal location to leave your backpack before visiting because of its proximity to the Cathedral). This remains open from Monday to Friday with the same hours as the rest of the year. The only change to this service is that Saturdays it will be open from 9:30 to 13:00, while closing on Sundays and holidays.

So, in conclusion . .

Which Camino de Santiago route is best in Winter?

The general consensus is that travelling from Sarria into Santiago de Compostela would be a good option. It is about 100km into the capital. You could walk a few of the sections before Sarria but you would have to avoid the most mountainous area around O Cebreiro. This is part of the Winter Way (or Camino de Invierno) from Ponferrada which used to be used in centuries past by those seeking to escape the ‘real’ world. It is also part of the French Way. You will probably experience a very quiet trip at this time of year – but with amazing landscapes, especially as you enter Galicia through the winter vineyards of the Ribeira Sacra. Alternatively, you could start a bit further south at Monforte de Lemos.

Christmas in Santiago Cathedral
Christmas in Santiago Cathedral with the great botafumeiro, marked with the cross of St James

Either way, at Christmas time, this will be a special experience and you will be able to spot many wonderful Nativity scenes or Beléns in the villages, hostels and bars that you encounter.

Finally, we come to OUR part in this whole story:

Camino Christmas gifts

At this time of year we start to see enquiries and orders for Christmas Camino gifts. Although we cannot offer gifts of a trip on the Camino (or even gift tokens), we can certainly offer great suggestions for Camino Christmas presents.

See some Joyas del  CAMINO de SANTIAGO JEWELLERY  in our gift shop online

Every year we see what is popular, and we see some of the special messages people send to each other relating to their Caminos – or wishing them well on a future trip. Many people like to give Camino-related Christmas gifts to friends and loved-ones for a journey that they are planning in the forthcoming year: And the journey is not always related to El Camino de Santiago itself. We find people giving Camino gifts (particularly Camino Jewellery – Joyas del Camino) for loved-ones going on a Gap Year for example, a holiday trekking in the Far East, or even to someone going on a business trip. The fame of Spain’s Camino is worldwide and the related souvenirs have significance to travellers the world over . . especially to wish safe travels. In particular, jewellery that features the Cross of St James, la vieira concha Scallop Shell symbol, the Waymarker sign and the Tau Cross (all available in our shop online), are the most popular.

Clearly, no self-respecting Camino travellers (especially walkers and bikers) want to be burdened on their actual Camino de Santiago with anything large or heavy or difficult to carry, but we can offer small items (especially Camino jewellery like earrings, necklaces and bracelets) that are suitable. Failing that, we can also supply items that are meant as souvenirs or mementos of someone’s actual Camino trip / journey – a reminder perhaps of the journey they undertook. We also stock a range of other items that are suitable as Christmas presents for someone who is PLANNING to walk the Camino de Santiago in the future – in particular, gifts that have a “Safe Travels” theme, religious and Christian items that say “Have a good trip”, Good luck on your journey”, “Buen Camino” and so on, even if only in a symbolic way. These are Camino Christmas gifts with real meaning and many are actually hand-crafted by goldsmiths and silver-working artisans in Galicia and Asturias.

Our gift shop was established in Spain over 10 years ago (and we now have an online store based in the UK too) . . .

See our gift shop for Camino CHRISTMAS PRESENTS  .

Looking for a Christmas gift for a fan of el Camino de Santiago?  Please look in our Christmas Camino shop online.

 

Santiago de Compostela and Feast of St James

Santiago_de_Compostela_Cathedral

Tonight’s the night . . in Santiago de Compostela! Ten interesting facts you didn’t know about Camino de Santiago and St James

On the evening of 24th July, in the Plaza del Obradoiro (the main square of Santiago de Compostela old town, to the west of the Cathedral), there is a mass display of fireworks (Fuegos del Apóstol) to mark the start of the main part of the fiesta dedicated to Saint James in, Galicia, Spain.

Camino de Santiago symbols

Santiago or Saint James, is the Patron Saint of all Spain. The annual Feast of Saint James (Día de Santiago) takes places in Santiago de Compostela on 25th July and is a public holiday in Galicia. The city is one of the most symbolic in Spain and, whenever you visit, you can be sure to see many pilgrims – religious ones as well as those who simply enjoy the scenic journey along the Camino de Santiago (mostly across northern Spain).

Many of the walkers or journeymen (or women) will carry the traditional walking staff and/or one of the three main symbols of “El Camino” – the St James Cross (Cruz de Santiago), the Scallop Shell (la Concha de Vieira) or the yellow Waymarker symbol).

See some of the symbols on  CAMINO de SANTIAGO JEWELLERY – JOYAS del CAMINO  in our store online

Each year, some 200,000 people travel the Camino from all over the world: Some walk, others travel by bike. Many travellers choose to do the Camino for personal, rather than any spiritual or religious reasons – taking time out from their busy modern lives and perhaps finding inspiration along the way, whilst reflecting on their life in a supportive environment. Everyone experiences the journey in a different way.

Souvenir of Camino Santiago and Jewellery with meaning

At the journey’s end, when they arrive in the capital city of Santiago de Compostela (and more especially, at the Cathedral) most will hope receive their “Compostela” – the official recognition from the Pilgrim’s Office in Santiago that they have successfully completed the Camino.

See some  JEWELLRY with MEANING and SOUVENIRS of El CAMINO de SANTIAGO  in our online shop

Many visitors will try to arrive in Santiago in the days leading up to 25th July, which is both the Día de Santiago and the Día de Galica, Galicia’s regional day.

Saint James is believed to have visited Spain to preach Christianity and, when he was martyred in the Middle East, his body was thought to have been transported by boat to the Galician coast. His remains were discovered around 800AD, by a hermit following the path of star into a field – thereby giving us the name ‘Compostela’ (literally, the field of the star).

So, if you are lucky enough to be in Santiago today or some time soon, don’t forget to look out for the “Botafumeiro” – a huge incense burner that is swung back and forth down the Cathedral aisle during official masses like the one today which is usually attended by members of the Spanish Royal family and the Galician government. It weighs around 80kg and it takes eight people to swing it!

Souvenir of Spain

If you are unable to bring back a souvenir of this great experience (both a souvenir of Spain as well as a souvenir of Camino de Santiago), or perhaps you would like to give a little memento of Camino de Santiago to a friend or loved-one, we have many such gifts in our shop online: See some  CAMINO de SANTIAGO GIFTS  in our store.

¡Buen Camino! Ultreia, suseia, Santiago

 

The CAMINO PILGRIM Family

What is it about the Camino de Santiago that brings people together? What is it that inspires writers and artists? We are grateful to Camino Artist, Kate . .

. . for describing some of her experience as a ‘Camino pilgrim’ that drove her to change her life priorities and concentrate on her art, and who is now producing wonderful Camino art / paintings. These are her words:

” Life is full of many ups and downs, some controllable and others not. We have no choice but to accept the good with the bad. After all, does one without the other even mean anything?

A few years ago, I went on a journey, a solo adventure, time just for me. (Selfish?)

Unbeknownst to me then it was an opportunity to really look at what is good and bad in life, to really put perspective on those things. Initially I decided to walk the Camino to ‘just see if I could do it’… and well, I could! Aha! I just didn’t expect the rest that came with it.

Camino de Santiago
Camino de Santiago – painting in alcohol inks

The Camino takes you through mountains, flat lands and forests and each is as beautiful as the last. Make sure you have plenty of room on your phones as you’ll be taking lots of pictures!

The Camino is more than the beauty of your surroundings though, it has an energy that’s unlike anywhere else. I think part of this comes from the sense of community on the Camino, which is amazing, and I love being a part of the pilgrim family; this is true even after the Camino as there are pilgrim family members all around the world that love to connect after walking it! More importantly it seems no matter our differences and backgrounds pilgrims come together and want to learn and help one another more than I’ve ever felt before. (Well, most pilgrims!)

There is also respect for those that want to walk a quiet day without chat and interruption, to be with your own thoughts but with the knowledge of knowing any one you meet would offer a helping hand if you were in need. I feel the Camino gives us permission to be who we are, to be true to ourselves, and to truly be in the moment. Life gets so chaotic sometimes and we don’t often get the time to truly think and be.

Meseta on the Camino de Santiago
Meseta on the Camino, painting by Kate

Don’t get me wrong, the Camino is full of challenges and frustrations, from blisters to achy muscles, or cold showers and snorers in the albergues, but all these things are what ‘make’ the Camino what it is. It’s amazing to challenge yourself to walk 800km! I know my friends thought I was crazy when I went the first time but like in life you just take one day at a time, and if you want it badly enough and you push through the difficult days, you’ll get there. That sense of achievement when you realise what you’ve done outweighs all the days you’ve struggled and had to push through the aches and pains.

Before the Camino I was a hairdresser and artist. After the Camino I was an artist first then hairdresser. I transitioned and changed my life to focus it around what I love; painting…and the Camino. Now I’m no longer a hairdresser and just an artist that paints the Camino. It really has changed my life and has made me realise I need to follow my dreams. My dreams may not happen overnight, but if I want it badly enough and push each day towards achieving my goal, I will get there. Another dream is to walk and paint the Camino as I go, to capture each painting in real time. But! Until I’m able to return, for now I’ll be happy painting my photos and memories and to have fellow pilgrims connect and commission me to paint theirs. What else makes such a unique experience even more special but an original and unique piece of art?

Paths of the Camino de Santiago
Kate takes commissions from fellow pilgrims

”  It’s been difficult to sum up the Camino in a relatively small amount of words as there are so many things to talk about! So, I guess the only real way you can know what it is truly like, is to walk yourself. Go on, I give you permission, now give yourself the permission 😊 ”

www.spencermillanart.com
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Also see jewellery celebrating Camino de Santiago in this shop

If you’re interested in buying Camino paintings or commissioning Kate, or simply just want to see her version of the Camino in paint, please check out her work on her website and follow her on Instagram and Facebook. All her links are shown above:

GIFTS for someone WALKING the CAMINO

What is it about gifting? Why do we gift? Why is gifting important? And why is Camino de Santiago jewellery often given as a present for someone walking El Camino?

You could say that we give gifts to each other because we’re supposed to, and this is often true – particularly on special well-known occasions like birthdays, anniversaries, Christmas, and so on. And we also give people presents when someone has achieved something – as a form of recognition (eg, acknowledgement of an achievement, or goal attainment). So, for example, we could give a friend or loved-one a gift for having walked the Camino de Santiago because we are recognising something they have done or achieved – an accomplishment; or, because they are a fan of El Camino.

And we have a lot of gifts like that in our Good Luck Gift Shop store.

Camino gift
Camino gift for fan of El Camino

But, giving someone a gift because they are ABOUT to do something? Is this normal? (For example, giving a present to someone who WILL be walking the Camino in the future?) What does such a gift represent?

Camino de Santiago jewelry
Camino de Santiago jewellery

It is quite normal to wish someone well with their challenges and adventures – verbally, or perhaps with a quick WhatsAp message. But how often does this translate into a gift?

good luck gift

In our Good Luck Gift  Shop  we actually see this quite a lot, particularly with Camino gifts. We can tell, because people often include a short message with a gift when they buy it, and we ship the present direct to the recipient with the message as requested. These messages often refer to the meaning of the gift – whether as a piece of Camino de Santiago memorabilia or souvenir, or because the recipient is a fan of the Camino, or more often than not, as an inspirational piece of Santiago de Compostela jewelry because they are about to walk the Camino.

And we have a lot of Camino de Santiago jewellery too, in our online shop!

gift card for fan of camino
Gift card for fan of El Camino

So, Camino de Santiago jewelry is being gifted to someone walking the Camino in Spain, France or Portugal, as a way of offering encouragement, and willing them to succeed and have a successful journey, and a safe trip.

But, returning to the original question: Did you know that one of the main reasons for giving and receiving presents at Christmas time, is to remind us of the presents baby Jesus received from the three Wise Men: Frankincense, Gold and Myrrh? Yes, we all know that gifts are important at Christmas – but probably not for that reason nowadays!

There are of course many reasons for giving a gift. For example, we sometimes give people gifts to show them that we are grateful, and that we value the role they play in our lives. In this case, we give a present willingly without wanting anything in return: So, making someone feel special is as important a reason as any to bestow a gift.

And then there are Birthdays: As regards Birthdays (another of the traditional gifting occasions), history tells us that originally it had something to do with offering protection to the recipient.

People have always believed in good and evil spirits, and folklore has it that spirits gather around a person who is celebrating his or her birthday – dating back to the time when they were born. Years ago (and even nowadays in some parts of the world) everyone was afraid of these spirits, thinking that they would cause harm to the birthday boy or girl. And so, friends and relatives would gather around and wish them “Happy Birthday” so that their good wishes would protect them. In fact, in the UK, many years ago, when Britain was ruled by Rome, there was a God known as Apis (originally from Egypt and also pronounced as Hap-Hapi-Hapy), and it is believed that the word ‘happy’ in the birthday greeting Happy Birthday, dates back to this word ‘Hapi’ in Old English. For this reason, when you wish someone ‘happy’ birthday, you are actually wishing the God Apis to bring them protection and good fortune.

Gift for protection and good fortune

It appears therefore that, as in many things, it is tradition and folklore that lie behind a lot of today’s celebrations and commemorations and, in the case of Birthdays, it is probably because of yesteryear in ancient Britain when giving a birthday present was believed to bring protection, that the concept of the birthday party (and of giving birthday presents in general) has developed.

In very early days, only kings or prominent men were thought important enough to celebrate their birthdays in this way. But as time has gone on, us ordinary folks now celebrate birthdays too.

But perhaps we just want to give somone a present to say something special . .

gift saying I love you

. . like “I love you”!

Overall, hardly a day goes by without us wanting to pass on our best wishes for one event or another to a friend or loved one, and a symbolic gift is a good way of doing this. And seeing that walking El Camino is viewed as such a big event, people often give a little present such as a Camino de Santiago bracelet, necklace or earrings to send their friends or relatives on their way.

We have all grown up with various traditions, superstitions and beliefs. Whether you choose to believe them or not, it is undeniable that faith influences a lot of people, and much of our modern day gifting has roots in faith and belief.

 

Camino Comfortable

Backpack taxis now available from Roncesvalles

Well this is an interesting bit of news from our Good Luck Gift Shop !

For quite a while it has been possible while walking (or biking) El Camino, to send some of your “luggage” by Correos – the Post Office. But in the past, their have been delays, which has prompted the birth of a new Taxi-based system.

Camino Comodo taxi

A group of Taxi drivers have got together to form a chain connection for luggage through France and across the northern part of Spain into Galicia – each one handing over the bags to the next at a particular stage on the route – just like the old stage-coaches.

The phased delivery system guarantees that pilgrims can dispose of their luggage when they depart their lodgings / hostal, confident that it will arrive at their next destination in time for their next nights stay.

Camino Comodo van

The promoter of the initiative says that complaints of the pilgrims for the delay in the delivery of backpacks by Correos was what encouraged him to establish the taxi business. Now there are seven such services operating along the Jacobean route, Der Jakobsweg, including Correos. The cost is three euros per bag, per stage.

Walking the Camino – with the help of a Taxi!