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.

 

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

 

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!

 

Día de Santiago

25th July 2018 – the Day of St James in Galicia and Spain

The 25th of July is Día de Santiago – the Day of Santiago, in Spain . . and a big fiesta in Galicia in the northwest of the country where St James (Sant Iago) is the Patron Saint – “el Patrón”: 25 julio 2018 es Fiesta de Santiago Apóstol y Día festivo.

It is of great interest to ourselves in our ♥  Gift Shop  because the Saint James cross symbol features on much of our ♥  CAMINO de SANTIAGO JEWELLERY  .

Saint James is actually the Patron Saint of the whole of Spain, but the biggest celebrations take part in Galicia and in particular in the city of Santiago de Compostela – and not solely on this day but during the whole fortnight July 15th-31st.

July 24th and the 25th are the two main days: On the night of July 24th there is an impressive firework display in honour of St James, and there is a large bonfire. Then on July 25th, High Mass is held in the Cathedral, during which the famous (and spectacular) “botafumeiro” (a giant thurible or censer) is set swinging back and forth down the isle enveloping the whole Cathedral in a mystical halo.

There is music, dancing (including open-air dances), and processions through the streets and you can see the colourful regional costumes.

Fiesta in Spain.jpg

Of course, the city is full of Pilgrims who have completed the famous Camino de Santiago – the Way of St James, and there is a general party atmosphere.

The symbol of St James is the St James Cross – la Cruz de Santiago, a distinct-shaped cross with flourished arms and one of the traditional symbols of El Camino – along with the Concha Scallop shell, and both feature strongly on ♥ Camino de Santiago jewellery .

On El Camino de Santiago

See the shell on this person’s back-pack?

Many people walking El Camino into Santiago de Compostela carry a symbolic concha shell or St James cross