Christmas History Snippets

Gold_aureus coin_of_Augustus  (c) Joseph H Durkee (1899)
Gold_aureus coin_of_Augustus (c) Joseph H Durkee (1899)

Turkey Titbits: 

During Christmas 1945, many British newspapers carried references to the unusual treasure trove discovered by a Murcian cook, during her work at a household in Tarragona. The unnamed cook was engaged in stuffing a turkey for her employer’s family Christmas Eve feast when she noticed something small and shiny in the turkey’s stomach. Upon further investigation, the object discovered by the Murcian cook turned out to be a valuable Roman coin, minted at some point between 1 BCE and 13 CE, during the reign of Ancient Rome’s first emperor, Augustus. Such coins were valuable in 1945 and even more valuable today, where they can fetch thousands of Pounds/Euros/Dollars on the open market. It’s unclear from the newspaper accounts of the time, whether the cook was allowed to keep her unusual find or not. No rapid sale of the coin was reported, so perhaps the Augustan find was simply kept as an heirloom by either the cook or the family concerned.

Christmas Lottery Frenzy, 1929:

Early 20th century peseta notes_(c)Berlin George
Early 20th century peseta notes (c)Berlin George

British newspapers, including The Scotsman, were keen to highlight the frenzied excitement which engulfed Murcia and the rest of Spain, in the run up to the drawing of the Christmas National Lottery numbers, in December 1929. More Spaniards than ever before bought lottery tickets for the national draw, which took place in Madrid’s government mint office. Perhaps as a reaction to the recent Wall Street Crash of October 1929, which was enveloping the world in a catastrophic economic depression, masses of Spaniards dreamed of acquiring vast wealth as a result of winning the lottery. People travelled to watch the draw in person, from all over Murcia and the rest of Spain. Hundreds of poor people (who couldn’t even afford a lottery ticket) camped overnight outside the mint office, in sub-zero temperatures, in order to reserve a place for themselves at the actual draw ceremony. These poor people were warmed by hot braziers and coffee supplied by the Madrid municipal authorities. According to the Reuters news outlet, many of the poor who camped outside the mint office only did so in the hope that better-off Spaniards would buy their places in the queue, so that they could watch the draw instead. The Christmas 1929 Draw Ceremony, when it finally took place, seems to have been a memorable one. A total of 41 prizes were on offer and the 1st prize was worth a staggering 15 million pesetas (then nearly £430,000). This sum would be the equivalent of over £28 million in 2021 – a huge sum now and one which was largely beyond the financial comprehension of ordinary Spaniards and Britons back in 1929.

Christmas Differences:

Turrón Cake (c)Tamorian
Turrón Cake c)Tamorian

Modern Christmas celebrations in Murcia, the rest of Spain and the UK are probably about as similar as they’ve ever been – perhaps as a result of the internet, globalisation and the Americanisation of much of popular culture. However, differences do remain, such as the ubiquity of Belen Nativity Scenes across Murcia and Spain, the emphasis on Christmas Eve (rather than Christmas Day) feasting and the traditional Spanish stress on the Twelve Days of Christmas, the Three Kings, and Epiphany on January 6th. The differences between a traditional Spanish and a traditional British Christmas have been reported upon in British newspapers and journals for nearly 150 years. For example, a London Times correspondent of 1876 referred to Murcia as being part of ‘semi-tropic’ Spain, which was very different from what the journalist referred to as ‘frigid’ Spain in the north. According to The Times correspondent, the turron (almond rock), along with almond soup, was one of the staple ingredients of a Murcian ‘semi-tropic’ Christmas feast – a feast which could be added to by the tasty-sounding ‘truffled turkey’ and copious quantities of roasted chestnuts. The almond has never held such a central place in British Christmas diets, although turkey – even if it isn’t with truffles – remains a core requirement. 

The Buckingham Advertiser, of December 23rd 1933, also devoted many column inches to the Spanish tradition of Christmas gift-giving on January 6th (courtesy of Balthazar and the Three Kings) rather than on Christmas Day via Santa Claus and his reindeers. According to the Advertiser, a Murcian child had to be particularly patient as he or she awaited their main gifts (traditionally left in a shoe rather than a Christmas stocking) in early January, rather than on Christmas Day.

Adrian & Dawn L Bridge