Driving into work through Malvern Link, Worcestershire Beacon, the highest point on the hills at 425m, sits proudly over the town of Great Malvern and The Abbey Hotel. Much of the beauty of the hills comes from the way they dramatically rise out of the landscape, particularly at this time of year, with frost covered peaks.
Seeing the hills like this reminds me of a ski resort and quite randomly my thoughts quickly turn to our staff at The Abbey, from overseas, who may not have celebrated Christmas with roast turkey and Brussels sprouts followed by Christmas pudding and brandy sauce. To those who don’t watch the Queen’s speech, whilst eating Christmas cake. And, finally, to those who haven’t booed and hissed at this years pantomime!
I took the time to speak with a few of our staff who will be away from family and friends this year and these are their recollections…
Spain – Feliz Navidad!
Christmas is very much a family occasion for Laura, one of our food and beverage team memebers at The Abbey. The Christmas holiday season in Spain is a truly magical affair and begins with the Spanish national lottery draw, held on December 22. “El Gordo” or The Fat One, as it is called, is one of the largest national lotteries in the world, with the prize fund running into billions.
Laura and her family always gather together on Christmas Eve or “Noche Buena” and celebrate with a festive dinner of traditional roast lamb accompanied by Cava. Once the meal is over, and those that have attended midnight mass have returned home, each person will receive just a small gift. One of the most important days in the Spanish Christmas calendar is Three Kings Day on January 6. While the rest of us may be packing away our decorations, Spanish children everywhere are awaiting the arrival of the Three Kings, rather than Father Christmas, who will bring their Christmas gifts. January 6 is a national holiday when children awake to find their presents in and around their shoes that they have left out overnight.
The typical dessert of the day is called “Rosca de los Reyes” and is a home baked ring of bread decorated with coloured jellies to symbolise the jewels worn by the Kings. A small gift is hidden inside the dessert and the person lucky enough to find the surprise may be crowned King or Queen for the day and in Laura’s family, it also means paying for the dessert next year!
Poland – Wesoly Boze Narodzenie!
The Christmas Eve supper or “Wiligia,” is one of many important rituals celebrated on this day by families in Poland. The family of our Head Housekeeper, Beata, will be thinking of her, this year, when they start their meal, in accordance with tradition, at dusk when the first star appears. Children watch eagerly for the star to rise and when at last it twinkles in the sky, the signal is given for supper to begin.
The table is always laid with an even number of places and a spare place is set for an unexpected visitor. Supper begins with hymns and prayers and the sharing of the “Oplatek” or Christmas wafer, specially prepared and blessed by the parish priest. This sacred bread, made of unleavened dough, is shared amongst guests and is accompanied by mutual wishes of health and prosperity for the coming year. Absent family and friends are not forgotten as it is also sent to those who are far away from home, so that they also feel these blessings at this time of year.
The traditional supper is the first meal of the day as Christmas Eve is a strict fast in Poland. The meal consists of twelve dishes, representing the twelve months of the year, and will include dishes prepared from the products of fields, orchards, woods and water but will not include any meat.
After supper all of the family gathers around the Christmas tree to sing carols, although Beata insists she doesn’t sing well and leaves this tradition to her father and sister! Beautifully decked Christmas trees will be adorned all houses and children will happily open presents until being safely packed off to bed, whilst other members of the family listen for the midnight bells, calling them to make their way, perhaps through deep snow, to mass.
Finland – Hyvää Joulua!
In Finland, everyone cleans their house in readiness for Christmas and many hours are spent in the kitchen cooking and baking special treats for the festive season. This will be very much the same for Jukka, a commis chef at The Abbey, who will be travelling home to Finland on 20 December, after spending six months working at the hotel.
Finnish people, including Jukka I hope, believe that Father Christmas lives in the north part of Finland called Korvatunturi, north of the Arctic Circle. This means that Santa doesn’t have far to travel to leave presents under the tree!
Rice porridge and a sweet soup of dried fruits are eaten in the morning or at lunchtime before a spruce tree is cut and bought into the home to be decorated.
It seems as if everything stops in Finland on December 24 when restaurants close and public transport comes to a halt. Traditionally, since the Middle Ages, the Christmas break is proclaimed from Turku, the ancient capital, in a symbolic ceremony that holds great importance for the Finns, where the City Mayor of Turku broadcasts the “peace of Christmas” on TV and radio.
Between 5-7pm on Christmas Eve, dinner is served, consisting of oven-baked ham, rutabaga casserole and beetroot salad. Christmas presents are usually given out in the evening during a personal visit from the local Santa Claus.
Written by Lisa Chambers, Personnel & Training Manager at The Abbey