Galician Christmas

Two years ago, I wrote about some of the different Spanish customs. As I haven’t travelled much to Galicia, I was completely unaware about their traditions. This calls for investigation! Ya hace dos años, escribí de algunas tradiciones españolas de Navidad. Como no he viajado mucho por Galicia, no sabía nada de sus tradiciones. Por eso…¡he de investigar! 

Before Santa Claus’s influence arrived to Spain as Papá Noel, Galicia had their own Apaldador, somewhat similar to the Basque Olentzero.  The Apaldador is a giant miner who lives in the mountains. Every Christmas, he visits the villages and touches the belly of children to see if they were well fed and leaves them with a handful of roasted nuts. He wears green, smokes a pipe and has a beret. The tradition is becoming popular once again. Antes de la influencia de Papá Noel en España, Galicia tenía su propio Apaldador, algo parecido al Olentzero vasco. O Apaldador es un carbonero y gigante. Vive en las montañas. Todas las Navidades visita los pueblos y toca la barriga de los niños para saber si se alimentan bien y les deja un puñado de castañas asadas. Se vista en verde, fuma una pipa y lleva una boina. La tradición está haciéndose popular otra vez. 

The Cepo de Nadal/Tizón de Nadal: It is also traditional to burn a log slowly, which represents the birth of a new sun (new year?) and whose ashes are thrown on the fire afterwards to protect from lightning. El Cepo de Nadal o Tizón es otra tradición gallega. Se quema un tronco lentamente, que representa el nacimiento de un año nuevo. Las cenizas se echan al fuego para proteger la casa de rayos. 

Galicia is a region that I hope to spend a lot of time next year when I finish el Camino del Norte. I’ll be able to write more authentically once I know the region better! Galicia es una región donde espero poder pasar mucho tiempo el año que viene cuando acabe el Camino del Norte. Ya podré escribir más auténticamente cuando conozca la zona mejor. 

No matter where you are in the world right now, Happy Holidays (Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Winter Solstice, and Happy New Year!), ¡Felices fiestas! Bones festes! Boas festas! Zorionak eta urte berri on! No importa donde estás en estas fechas, os deseo Felicies fiestas, bones festes, boas festas, zorionak eta urte berri on.

May your 2017 be better than 2016! ¡Qué vuestro 2017 sea mejor que vuestro 2016!

Thank you, gracias y graças to the following sources of information/a los siguentes fuentes de información.

Gastronomía de Galicia
La Morada del Búho

Pontevedra. Mondays and most days in the rain.

LisboaDia3 284In 2006, a Spanish friend sent me a photo of a bridge in Galicia via MSN messenger, telling me that Galicia had really cool summers. I had the oppertunity to learn Spanish from a professor  from Galicia who was one of the nicest people ever, and the bridge was one of coolest ones I had ever seen. I made it my desktop photo. I think it is still the desktop photo as that computer died, but that is neither here nor there.

Three years later, as I was taking the train from Vigo to Santiago de Compostela in A Coruña, I was looking at the incredible beauty before me and feeling that somehow it looked familiar when it suddenly dawned to me that the train was going by the bridge my friend had sent to me.

And with my luck, I wasn’t able to take a “real” picture of it.

Galicia, along with the Islas Canarias, remains one of my least traveled comunidades autónomas. I am going to have to change that, but even with living in Bilbao, Galicia is just as far as it was when I lived in Madrid. As I am slowly but surely walking my way to Galicia, I have more or less planned to stay exploring the comunidad whenever I reach Santiago. Still, I am dying to go back there once I have recovered from the “This seriously is less rainy than Galicia or anywhere?” Bilbao.  Maybe if I’d stop going to Barcelona (three times this academic year…)

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My time in Pontevedra was all too brief, a few mere hours. I saw Tui from the train from Oporto that Easter Holiday of 2009, the town that greets visitors to Spain. Vigo, featured in the Spanish film Los lunes al sol (Mondays in the Sun), is a rainy fisherman and industrial city of about 294,000. I didn’t have the time to explore as I would, and I was planning to go back (but that was the disaster trip where my bank card disappeared). I hesitated writing about it, but I have officially been there. Whenever I return, and I *will* return, I’ll return to writing about it. But I gotta give Galicia some love, as the Gallegos are some of the most friendly people I have encountered (Unless they enter politics.)

Set Meravelles


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Vigo is the largest city in Galicia with 294,000 people and the 14th largest metropolitan area in Spain with nearly 482,000 folks calling the greater Vigo area home. It has an attractive Casco Vello (Viejo or Old Town), the Castro fortress and ruins, a port, beaches, museums and churches. The 2002 film Los lunes al sol was filmed here, and the Bay of Vigo appears in Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.

Rías Baixas

The “Lower Rivers” are a series of four rivers (estatuaries to be exact) that begin on the coast. The northern most is just south of Finisterre and the southern one borders Portugal. This area is rich in marine life and attracts many tourists. There are many islands in the mouths of them river, making them a bit calmer than the Rías Altas and the “Costa de Muerte”, the Death Coast. They form the only national park in Galicia, Parque Nacional Marítimo Terrestre das Illas Atlánticas de Galicia.

Islas Cíes 

The Cíes Islands are the aforementioned islands. The British newspaper The Guardian chose the Rodas Beach on the island of Monteagudo as the best beach in the world in 2007. The islands have a lot of cliffs and caves and a ton of spectacular scenery. There is a ferry from Vigo to the Islands. I want to go, now.

La Casa do Barón

One of my goals, once I’ve finished the Camino de Santiago del Norte and have visited each of Spain’s provinces, is to visit all the “paradores” of Spain. The Paradores are old castles converted into hotels. The Casa do Barón is located in Pontevedra capital in the heart of the casco antiguo. The restaurant there offers typical Galician dishes. Pontevedra capital boasts 82,000 people by the way.


Baiona, which constantly comes up when I’m checking out Bla Bla Car to Bayonne (Bayona in Spanish), goes from 11,000 habitants in the winter to over 40,000 in the summer, thanks to the tourists, the medieval centre and the proximity to Vigo and the Rias Baixas. The photos are amazing.

O Grove 

Another place along the Rías Baixas, O Grove is a peninsula with beaches and views. There are churches, sculptures and many protected areas.


A “Bien de Interés Cultural”, Combarro is another fishermen’s village located 7 kilometres from Pontevedra capital. The Rias Baixas dominates the Seven Wonders (Set Meravelles) of the province. What can I say? I’m a sucker for coastal places and have a lot to explore whenever I get to return to Galicia.

A Coruña. Yes, Virginia, a place rainier than Euskadi.


I’ve hesitated writing about Galicia until now because of my hazy memory and my desire to return to do the SetMeravelles justice. I have only been there once, for three days, six years ago. I keep hoping for a return visit to spend more time and visit the two provinces I didn’t make it too, but things keep coming up. It’s not that I don’t love Galicia, as I do. However, Galicia is in the northwest corner of Spain, chock full of winding roads. Even in Bilbao on the Cantabrian Coast, I’m a full 5-6 hours away, and the world is big. I know I’m on a personal pilgrimage to Santiago, but that’s going to take a while in itself.

On my first Semana Santa in Spain, I went to Portugal and took a train north to Galicia (and caught Ryan Air back to Madrid to catch the bus back to Linares in Jaén, where I was living at the time.) After a too brief stop in Vigo, I went ahead to Santiago de Compostela where I was staying. It was raining, of course. I checked into a non-pilgrim hostel and saw tourist shops full of Camino de Santiago stuff. I was in awe of the pilgrims arriving to town and made the decision to do the Camino one day myself. (Six days later, I’ve done…40 kilometres! Go me. I’m picking it back up in March or April whenever the monsoon stops). I walked around the Cathedral of St. James in awe. And while the city is small for its fame (only 95,000 people), it didn’t feel small. I kept walking through the small streets, loving the gallego I saw everywhere. Due to my aversion to all things related to seafood, I did not try pulpo (octopus), the speciality of Galicia. (In fact, I’m going to have a nightmare about an octopus attacking me now due to having typed this up).

I did try a piece of tarta de Santiago, though. And two more on my next two days there.

I digress. The next morning, when I was getting ready to go to A Coruña (the province capital. Santiago is the capital of the autonomous community), I discovered that my debit card was missing. I remember getting money out from the BBVA next door to the hostel, but I don’t remember what I did with it after that. And to make matters worse, it was Semana Santa, which meant all the banks were closed. I frantically emailed my mom and took off to A Coruña. It was raining. A lot. And I remember beautiful scenery and listening to Wynonna’s Revelation, but I was so freaked about not having much money that I didn’t really enjoy the city. The rain stopped for the return to Santiago, and I ended up going out for drinks with a guy from the hostel.

The third day was spent in plan tranquilo, seeing one of the coolest staircases in the Museo de Pobo Galego (Musuem of the Galician people) and heading out to the airport to catch a much-delayed flight to Madrid.

I am dying to return to Galicia, and even more dying to be out on the most famous road to get there later this year.

Set Meravelles

Torre de Hércules 

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No, this is not the Hércules Tower! However, in my fuzzy memory, when I later read about the Hércules Tower, I assumed this was it and that I had visited it. I still haven’t actually been there. Kicking myself. I blame the stress from the missing debit card that trip. You live and you learn, like Alanis Morissette sings. The actual Roman Torre de Hércules is a lighthouse dating back to the second century AD. It is UNESCO World Heritage site.

Catedral de Santiago y su camino


The Casco Viejo (Old Quarter) of Santiago is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The Cathedral is one of the most important in Spain, and it’s on good authority that the remains of the apostle James are buried here. In 813, legend has it that a bright light lead a shepherd here, and the shepherd told the bishop who told King Alfonso II of Oviedo, who had the Cathedral built in that spot. For that reason, over the centuries, many people made a pilgrimage across Spain to the cathedral. The original cathedral was destroyed by a Moorish leader, Al-Mansur Ibn Abi Aamar. Alfonso VI of Castilla had the current one constructed in the 11th century.

Praza do Obradoiro


The main plaza of Santiago is amazing in its own right. Located next to the Catedral de Santiago, the Praza houses a hotel that was originally an albergue for pilgrims founded by Catholic Kings Ferdinand and Isabel, the ayuntamiento (City Hall) and a school.

Museo de Pobo Galego


In the convent of San Domingo lies the Museum of the Galician People (Museo de Pobo Galego). It has artifacts through Galicia history and tells the story of the Galicians. It also has some of the coolest staircases ever, just as twisty and windy as the Galician roads.

Muxía (to be discovered)

A Galician village of 6000 people, Muxía is part of the Costa de Muerte, where many shipwrecks happened over the years. It is also the end of the Camino de Santiago for those pilgrims wanting to make it to the coast. (It is close to Muxía where the ending scene of The Way was filmed.) The 2002 oil spill from The Prestige unfortunately took place near here, but it quickly recovered, thankfully.

Finisterre (to be discovered)

Finisterre means “The End of the World”, and until certain people “discovered” lands that were already discovered, it was believed to be the very end of the world. The cape boasts a lighthouse and several beaches, and along with Muxía, is the true end of the Camino de Santiago.

Betanzos (to be discovered)

Betanzos is a small city of 14,000 habitants located near the Atlantic Ocean. It has one of the most famous Casco Viejos of Galicia. The walls still have 3 of their 4 original gates, and there are many palaces and a clock tower to visit.

Galicia, I want to go back soon!

Also, a bit of “galego” for anyone interested. “Como estás hoxe?”

Also, a bit of a note to say that I am travelling today (unfortuantely not to Galicia) but will reply to any comments and likes and typo corrections as soon as possible, just be patient! The destination will be revealed soon…