Editor’s Note: Below is an email I received from Fiona whom I have known since I was 18 years old when we attended undergraduate studies at Glendon Hall, Toronto. She has always distinguished herself as independent and unique. Her talents are numerous. In the event you are unfamiliar with the Canary Islands, below is a snap of the general location. It is so small that one must adopt the astronomic view to get a remote sense of where it is. I felt this account by Fiona was too precious not to be shared.
January 2, 2024.
First of all, Happy New Year and I hope you had a good Christmas. We’ve now been here in Tenerife in the Canary Islands with Paul’s brother and his family for almost 2 weeks and as always, we are enjoying ourselves hugely. Besides being with all our Canarios familia, it has been wonderful to meet the newest member of the clan, 2 month-old Sofia who is our nephew’s little baby. She is a very sweet and easy baby and the new parents are adjusting well to the demands of having an infant in their lives.
Because both our niece and nephew were staying in their parent’s house over Christmas (Oliver and his wife Gloria live on Gran Canaria, the largest of the Canary islands, and Dahlia with her husband and 2 1/2 year-old Julia live in the north of Tenerife), so we stayed our first 5 nights in a beautiful BnB which was a 3-minute walk from their house. In a way, with 2 little ones & 6 adults all under one roof, Paul and I enjoyed some extra peace and quiet!!
Now, before I describe how Christmas is celebrated here, I’d like to tell you about the adjustment we had to make to the Spanish meal schedule. Nothing starts early here; breakfast in our BnB was from 8.30am to 11am (fortunately we had a small fridge and there was a fully equipped, small guest kitchen in case one needed a pre-breakfast snack as well as coffee). Lunch, which is the main meal of the day happens between 3 and 4pm, and then a light supper (soups, salads and fruit mostly) is eaten between 9 and 10pm. It took a few days for our stomachs to catch on, but we are well adjusted now.
Christmas here is celebrated in two parts; the first is on Dec. 24th when Papa Noel arrives at night and brings the equivalent of Christmas stocking-sized presents. This is then followed by a special supper. On Dec. 25th, people visit friends and family but no gifts are exchanged until the night of January 5th which is eve of The Day of the Three Kings or the Magi as we’d call them.
Because we were all together during the 24th/25th/26th, we celebrated opening all our presents on the 24th rather than just stockings. Paul was designated to play the part of Papa Noel and he was led through the house by Gabi, our sister-in-law, who rang a bell, while he ho, ho, ho’d with great enthusiasm. Julia along with her parents were in another room and she got very excited hearing Papa Noel arrive. After he ‘left’, they came into the living room and there under the tree (lit with real candles!) were presents but only for Julia.
Once she was in bed, we had dinner around 10pm; a feast of home-made tomato soup, a roast leg of lamb served with red cabbage and poached pears and lots of vino, and then finally, all the presents for the rest of us were put under the tree. We didn’t finish opening them all until well after midnight! However, it didn’t end there because there was still dessert and chocolates to be consumed. A wonderful, memorable and very long night!!
On Christmas morning when Paul and I went for breakfast at the BnB, there, on the buffet, was an enormous tiramisu – what!! Tiramisu, my all-time favourite Italian dessert, for breakfast! Now that’s a tradition I could get seriously used to👍. The rest of the day was quite leisurely, after all, we didn’t get to bed much before 2am, and we spent most of it at their club down by the sea plus had at a very good Japanese lunch. We also had a long walk along the boardwalk through one of the main tourist areas which was packed with visitors; mostly British, Swedish and German. Everyone was wearing Santa hats, even those who were swimming, as well as having sing-alongs in the many outdoor pubs – mostly Brits, needless to say!
After that, life returned to some semblance of a normal routine. We moved from the BnB on the 27th into Peter and Gabi’s gorgeous house – it sits high up in the hills, looking west where only 40km away is the island of La Gomera (the last point of Spanish territory that Columbus sailed from in 1492), and in the far distance the islands of El Hierro and to the southeast, La Palma. We’ve also been up to the north end of the island to visit other members of Gabi’s very large family, as well as spend time with Dahlia in her home. And, of course, we’ve done some wonderful walks, the most memorable one so far, being up into the caldera of El Tiede, a volcanic mountain that towers over everything and is the highest mountain in Spain.
Then came New Year’s Eve and again, some different traditions to enjoy. We had a wonderful feast of avocado and fresh shrimp, followed by a marinated loin of pork that was rolled in prunes, bacon and pastry which was delicious (did I mention that Peter and Gabi are wonderful chefs, having both attended, years ago, the famous hotel school in Lausanne, Switzerland). For the grand finale, Gabi made an apple and nut fool which is a very light cream and egg white whip and is so good, I’ve asked for the recipe!! At midnight, we each were given a bowl containing 12 small grapes and as the clock struck 12, and bonged out the first 12 seconds of the New Year, one is supposed to eat a grape each second while making a wish. Not as easy as it sounds and I managed to get 9 down me with wishes before the clock stopped chiming. Then, we grabbed our champagne, put on warm sweaters (it goes down to about 12C at this altitude which by Canadian standards is balmy but as it is up to 24-25C here during the day, that’s quite a drop in temperature) and watched an amazing fireworks display. From their terrace garden we could see fireworks going off all up and down the south coast and could even see flashes of light from La Gomera. It lasted for about 20 minutes and was truly magical. Impossible to photograph though (I only have my phone this trip to take pics with and it wasn’t up to the task!). You could certainly say we started off 2024 with a ‘bang’!
On New Year’s Day we drove north to the ancient town of La Laguna with it’s 14th Century architecture to enjoy the Festival of Lights. We had a late lunch at an ancient inn, eating tapas (small Spanish dishes) before meeting up with our niece and nephew and their families in the centre of the town. Here, all the streets are pedestrian and were packed with people. As it got dark, the most wonderful display of lights came on (pictures to follow once I’m home). We finished up our excursion indulging in another Canario tradition – churros in hot chocolate. For those not familiar with churros, these are deep-fried sticks of pastry which you then dip in hot chocolate. The chocolate was thick enough that you could stand a spoon up in it and it wasn’t particularly sweet which was a bit of a surprise because everyone here has a very sweet tooth. However, it was beyond delicious but while everyone else ate at least 4 churros, I managed only two and Paul one.
So, a brief picture of lots of interesting and different ways of celebrating, and still more to come with Paul’s birthday tomorrow plus I’m sure there’ll be some kind of entertainment on the Day of the Three Kings. By then, though, we will be on the island of La Palma where we’ve rented a house with Peter and Gabi for 5 days. I shall send an email towards the end of our stay there but in the meantime, again Happy New Year to you all – Feliz Ano Nuevo and Besos (kisses) – Fiona & Paul