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.

Travellers safety whistle gold
One of our travellers safety whistles – a loud whistle engraved with the Travellers Cross

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.

 

MOJACAR, fiestas and the INDALO SOUVENIR

Travel to Mojacar: 3 feverish days of fiesta to experience southern Spain at its best, and witness the lucky Indalo souvenir

Mojácar’s Festival of Moors and Christians is one of the year’s most anticipated parties in the province of Almería, southeast Spain. People in the surrounding area (and from miles around too) live all year round in expectation of this spectacular event. It’s not that there aren’t other “fiestas de Moros y Cristianos” in the region (for example down the coast at Carboneras – or across the “border” into Murcia, at the famous town of Caravaca de la Cruz. It’s just that the Mojácar fiesta is – well, special.

Moors of Almeria
Courtesy: Adolfo Galache

The people of the town live all year round in anticipation of the event, with much planning, making of costumes, and organisation of the groups and associations called kábilas and barracks. And the many foreigners of the area join in with gusto. But . .

Where is Mojacar? What is the the point of the Fiesta of Moors and Christians? Which part of Spain is Mojacar?

Mojácar is a small town on the coast of Almería in the south east corner of Spain. It is called a “hilltop” town because the large old quarter that sits atop a hill. But nowadays there is a substantial beachside area too with many bars and restaurants, and discos – as well a shops selling souvenirs, jewellery, and ceramics of Andalucía . . as can be seen also in our online Good Luck Gift Shop store .

What part of Spain is Mojacar hilltop village

Mojacar festival

By day, Mojacár is a quiet Andalusian village on the Mediterranean coast, with narrow cobbled streets, and the beach-side resort that stretches for some 7 miles with beautiful sand and warm waters. But at night in the late spring and summer . . the town comes alive with fun and frivolity . . and no more so than during the Fiesta de los Moros y Cristianos in June. People dress up (and the Spanish love “las disfraces” – costumes), either as Arab/Moors or as “Christians”. The reason is that, for around 600 years, Spain was more or less under Muslim control as the Moors moved north through the country. But they never quite succeeded in a complete takeover, being finally thwarted in the north, with areas of Galicia, Asturias and Navarra holding on with their Christian beliefs, and the The Catholic Monarchs (Queen Isabella I of Castile and King Ferdinand II of Aragon) finally beginning the re-establishment of Christian influence that the great El Cid (Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar) had begun 400 years earlier. By then, the country was a melting pot of races and religions (including a large population of Jews) and many lived in complete harmony. But there were endless scirmishes between Moors and Christians as the Moors were pushed back south – and many ‘border’ towns’ like Caravaca and Mojácar had constant battles.

Mojacar fiesta of Moors and Christians

So, the fiesta of Moors and Christians re-enacts these battles with half the people dressing up as Moors – and the other half as Christians – in a delightful display of colour. All is friendly: But it wasn’t always so: And many residents still see themselves as “Moors” despite the country having been “re-united” a long time ago (from the 15th Century under Los Reyes Catolicos) and some still feel very strongly about their history:“I am as Spanish as you”, says one dressed-up ‘Moor’, “but my race has been living in Spain for more than 600 years. I have never raised arms against the Christians. I therefore believe it is fair that you treat me like a brother, not like an enemy, and that you allow us to continue to work our land.” He added: “Before handing myself over like a coward, I will die like a Spaniard” (a reference perhaps to the final exit of the Moors from Spain, after defeat outside Granada, when Boabdil (Abu `Abdallah Muhammad XII (1460 – 1533), the last Nasrid ruler of the Emirate of Granada in Iberia) looked back at the great walled city with its Alhambra . . as he left for the last time – with the words of his mother Aisha ringing in his ears: “‘Weep like a woman for what you could not defend like a man.” This re-capture by the Spanish of the Granada Emirate in 1492 resulted in the final expulsion of “Los Moriscos” from España. It was over . . but not forgotten.

Abandoned Moorish costume

Each year, on the first day (Friday) of La Fiesta de Los Moros y Cristianos there is a gathering of “trabuqueros” outside Mojácar’s Town Hall, followed by an assembly of ‘troops’ at La Fuente (the town water fountain), and subsequent delivery of the keys to the ‘city’ by the “King” of the Moors, to the Christian King.

As this is Spain, where any excuse for a party is heeded, the whole process is re-enacted in the evening, and several times – often late into the night, over the next couple of days (and nights). The participants (and attendant crowd) climb to the top of the town and announce the presence of hostile troops in the vicinity of the city, accompanied by bands of music, fireworks and rifle salvoes. The troops then enter the town and attend a bonfire, with the inevitable party until dawn.

Moors and Christians Mojacar
Courtesia del Ayuntamiento de Mojaacar

On Saturday – everyone heads to the beach – why not?! for a repeat performance and mock battles (with lots of alcohol consumed – as the night before) Why? Because Moorish reinforcements have arrived of course! So they march to the Chiringuitos on the beach, dance and there is another battle and show of fireworks before they return to the hilltop village for more partying “hasta que salga el sol” (until sunrise).

On Sunday (hangover or not) it all starts again – with more riflemen with blunderbusses on the beach and finally an impressive evening parade of Moors and Christians, in full regalia and with weapons drawn, accompanied by numerous bands and fanfares.

Mojacar nightlife

There are no victors nor losers, and the essence of these Muslim, Christian and Jewish believers is one of mutual respect, and to live in peace together for another year in Mojácar.

Mojacar souvenirs, and what is the Indalo man of Mojacar?

In our  SHOP  , we have a range of souvenirs from Mojácar – in particular featuring the local symbol:  Indalo Man , which is said to offer protection and good luck, and be a great gift from Spain. This Mojacar souvenir features on jewellery, ceramics and other giftware.

You can see  Indalo gifts  and souvenirs from Mojácar in our central store.

Some of the   Indalo jewellery   pendants and necklaces in our shop were developed as a souvenir of a great time enjoyed in the clubs of Mojácar. But because Mojacar is a bit of a party town (although by day, a quiet Andalusian village on the Mediterranean coast in the south east corner of Spain), these Indalo gifts can also act as a souvenir of a great time partying . . anywhere! And, because this little lucky charm – the Indalo, can be gifted as a good luck present . . a charm necklace to bring your friend good luck, it is now recognised in many parts of the world for this reason.

For centuries, the so-called “muñeco mojaquero” or Mojácar doll symbol (which later was to be called Indalo Man) was daubed in red clay paint on dwellings in the area as an act of faith to help protect houses from misfortune. The origin of this symbol has been linked to the Neolithic period in the province (and the local cave paintings in Vélez Blanco), although the eventual name “Indalo” comes from a combination of Christian and Latin roots and Almería’s cultural movement during the 1950s. (Indalecio was the local Saint and ‘Patrón’ in Almería, and ‘Indal Eccius’ means Messenger of the Gods in ancient Iberian.) But, in particular, during Almería’s cultural movement during the 1950s, a local archaeologist and painter Juan Cuadrado, (colleague of another artist, and the group leader, Perceval) learnt of the 5,000 year-old paintings in the cave of Los Letreros in nearby Vélez Blanco. The parietal art (or petroglyphs) had been discovered nearly 100 years earlier by a fellow archeologist Antonio Gongorra Martinez, and subsequently daubed on the walls of properties in Vélez as a sort of good luck totem, because they thought the symbols in the cave represented some sort of ancient God of protection. As it turned out, they appeared right in this assumption! because a subsequent series of earthquakes wreaked havoc on the coastal towns, but the villagers of Vélez (a bit to the north) seemed ‘protected’ and suffered little damage.

Indalo Man protecting houses in Mojacar pueblo
Tiled display of Indalo ‘Rainbow Man’ protecting houses in Mojacar

Cuadrado offered his artistic representation of one of the paintings in the cave (Indalo-shaped) to Perceval, to be the logo of the artistic group to which they belonged. The name Indalo too was the inspiration of Cuadrado (since Indalecio was a common local name – after the patron Saint of the area, San Indalecio, a 1st Century missionary and Apostle). Cuadrado then suggested that their group of artists be named ‘Los Indalianos’.

What is the Indalo man
Large Indalo Man symbol see at Cuevas del Almanzora

So the Indalo Man symbol itself is pre-historic in origin but in its modern form (and there are various designs) it is now recognised as a lucky symbol of the whole region of Almería in Andalucía – and it is said to offer protection from misfortune. But its adopted home is really Mojácar and you see the symbol everywhere. Over many years, it has offered its residents the prospect of good luck and even today, it is strongly believed that a lucky Indalo will bring good fortune to the owner. To anyone who visits Mojácar, it is the only souvenir to have – or to send to a friend as good luck gift.

Many of our   Indalo necklaces, pendants and bracelets   have been fashioned and hand-crafted in Andalucía. The Indalo makes a great little gift – both as a celebration of nightlife, like that of Mojacar (and the surrounding areas of Vera Playa and Garrucha), and as a souvenir or memoir of Almería and other such places along this coast.

Mojacar women dress up too
Women dress up too for fiesta

If you can remember that special party or fiesta – especially if you enjoyed it on the warm beaches of the Mediterranean sea – partying until the early hours, and would like a more permanent reminder of the fun time, you could order one of our little Indalo charms. It could be a souvenir of a great time had by all.

You can see some   Indalo lucky charm souvenirs of Mojácar and Almería   in our central shop – as well lovely   inspirational jewellery  from other parts of Spain like the Caravaca Cross  of Murcia, and Camino de Santiago jewellery .

Travel to Mojácar in Spain to see La Fiesta de los Moros y Cristianos and get a lucky Indalo Man souvenir