Topics you should avoid

Topics you should avoid

Topics you should avoid |

You’ve been dreaming for ages about walking the Camino. You’ve planned,  packed, trained… and you’re finally in Spain. Of course, you want to make the most of this amazing experience and hope that the time spent in Spain will go as smoothly as possible.


That can include a wide range of things, such as your flights not being delayed, not suffering any injuries or ampollas (blisters) and making meaningful connections with both fellow peregrinos and locals.


Some of these things are beyond your control, so we’ll not discuss them now. Others, however, you have power over.


It’s surprising how different things can be in another country, even one that is in theory close to ours: you say or do something that is perfectly OK in your homeland, and all of a sudden you can sense the mood changing. For the worse.


So, what should you do?

In order to minimise potential problems or awkward situations with Spaniards, there are certain behaviours and topics you’d better avoid.


Don’t criticise

As mentioned in this previous post, avoid criticising our customs; whether it’s mealtimes, siesta, bullfighting or something else. We may privately agree with you. But the fact that you, a foreigner, just came into our country and “have the nerve” to tell us how we should be doing things will not be welcome.


I mean, you wouldn’t like it if we went to your country and told you how to run it, would you?


Topics you should avoid

You should tread carefully if discussing política (politics) and religión (religion). In fact, my advice would be to stay away from those 2 as much as possible.


Politics is maybe an obvious subject to avoid. People can be very passionate about their political ideas and things can easily get heated when we don’t agree.


And I’m not just talking about current affair issues like the latest election results or the independence of Cataluña (Catalonia). Other “older” topics like the Spanish Civil War can also be very touchy and nobody will appreciate you, a foreigner, sharing your thoughts about it and “coming to teach us lessons”. That’s how most Spaniards would see it and that’s also one of the most polite replies you will get. So, stay away from it.


Oh! And please don’t even suggest that the Catalan, Basque and Galician languages are dialects, especially if you are talking to someone from one of those regions! They ARE languages and, in fact, they are co-official with Spanish in their respective territories. It really upsets many of us when you call them dialects.


Religion, on the other hand, is considered a private matter in Spain. You don’t ask someone you just met about their religious beliefs or practices. Of course, some walk the Camino for religious reasons, but some others don’t. So, unless they bring it up, I would also stay away from it. You’re just going to make people uncomfortable if you ask.


Bursting stereotypes

While I’m on this topic, I’d like to clarify some common misconceptions people tend to have about Spain and religion.

  • First of all, Spain has no official religion. After Franco’s dictatorship, Catholicism was abolished as the country’s official religion. Our current Constitution, adopted in 1978, establishes the right to religious freedom.


  • Secondly, Spain is not a deeply Catholic country, at least not in the way many foreigners think it is. According to the latest surveys, 2 thirds of Spaniards consider themselves Catholic, but only 22% of them attend church on a regular basis. Almost 30% of Spaniards identify as atheist, agnostic or non-believers.


You should avoid this, too

Before we finish for today, let me give you one final tip:


Please, don’t tell us we have a lisp because of some king or another a few centuries ago!


It’s not true; actually, it’s quite a ludicrous theory and all it shows is that you don’t know what a lisp is.


A lisp is a speech disorder characterised by  the inability to correctly pronounce the S sounds. People with a lisp typically pronounce S sounds as TH.


In Spain, there is a difference in pronunciation (and meaning) between the words seta (mushroom) and zeta (the letter z), or cocer (to boil) and coser (to sew), just to mention a couple of examples. Just the same way that an English speaker pronounces sink & think differently. So, if we have a lisp, I guess you do, too!

You’ve been warned. Now you know what topics you should avoid, so it’s up to you to stay out of trouble.


Today’s words

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¡Buen Camino!



This time of the year is the end of the harvest season; the days start getting shorter, the weather gets colder… In short, the end of octubre (October)-beginning of noviembre (November) marks the transition into otoño (autumn) and invierno (winter). It’s time for Samaín and other celebrations.

 We don’t celebrate Halloween as such in Spain, although in recent years it’s common to see both kids and adults dressing up on October 31 and Halloween parties being advertised. This is not a traditional celebration, though; but I guess any excuse is good to party! There are, however, some traditional celebrations:



Día de Todos los Santos (All Saints Day) & Día de Difuntos (Day of the Dead)- 1 & 2 de noviembre

These two days are all about remembering those who passed away. Most of the activity takes place on November 1, which is a national festivo (public holiday). On this day, people visit their loved ones in cemeteries and take flowers to them. Christianity has been honouring the dead on these dates from the 9th century, but there are older traditions…

Samaín (from the Irish Samhain)

It’s an old Celtic celebration marking the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter. It was a time when the limits between this world and the next one got blurred, meaning that spirits could cross over to this world more easily. In Galicia there was a tradition of carving calabazas (pumpkins) and leaving them on the roads in order to scare passers by. People would also leave fires on all night, as well as food, for the spirits. Since 1990 there have been attempts to recover this old tradition.

Samaín pumpkin carving workshop

Pumpkin carving workshop.

Magosto (chestnut party)

Linked to the end of the harvest season, magosto is celebrated mostly in northern Spain, as well as Portugal. The main elements of a magosto are castañas (chestnuts) and fire to roast them. People would gather around a bonfire, roast castañas (other foods too, but chestnuts are essential), sing and dance. It was also the perfect opportunity to taste the new vino (wine). There is not fixed date to hold a magosto. It could be any time between mid-October and mid-November. Usually, the last day to celebrate a magosto is November 11, festivity of St. Martin. Magostos apart, it’s common to see chestnut sellers on the streets once autumn starts. So, when you are out for a walk you can just buy a cone full of warm, freshly-roasted chestnuts. Delicious and a great way to warm your hands on cold days!


Samaín - roasted chestnuts

You can buy roasted chestnuts on the street.

Today’s Spanish words

Would you like to know about other Spanish celebrations? Check these posts:

El Carnaval, about the Carnival celebrations that usually take place around the end of February or beginning of March.

Feliz Navidad, about the celebration of Christmas in Spain.

Semana Santa, about the Easter celebrations.


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¡Buen Camino!

Santiago de Compostela

Santiago de Compostela

Santiago de Compostela |

Maybe you’ve been walking for weeks. Or days.

Maybe you’ve walked 800km to get to Santiago de Compostela. Or 100.

Maybe you’ve done your Camino in one go. Or you’ve done it over a few years, a section at a time.


It doesn’t really matter. Arriving in Santiago, entering the Plaza del Obradoiro and finally seeing the catedral is always a very special moment.

There are several rituals and traditions that pilgrims generally follow, such as greeting fellow pilgrims with ¡Buen Camino! or Ultreia; getting your credencial stamped at least once a day; drinking Rioja from the wine fountain outside Estella or leaving a stone at Cruz de Ferro, on the Camino Francés, to name just a few.

So, of course, Santiago and its catedral have their own rituals too. The Cathedral’s webiste lists them:


El Pórtico de la Gloria 

As you access the catedral from Plaza del Obradoiro, the first thing you see is the wonderful Pórtico de la Gloria, built by Maestro Mateo in the 12th century. Well, that’s the way it used to be. The Pórtico de la Gloria was closed for almost 10 years for restoration. It has reopened now and it can be visited, but you can no longer enter the cathedral through here.

So, if you’ve already done a Camino in the past 10 years, you missed it and you need an excuse to come back, this is it! The Pórtico de la Gloria was beautiful before, but it’s just amazing now.

There used to be a couple of rituals attached to the Pórtico de la Gloria, but they were causing damage to this work of art, so it’s not possible to do these anymore. One of them, which you can see in the movie The Way, was to place your hand on the centre pillar, under the statue of St. James.

At the back of this, there’s another little statue known as Santo dos Croques (literally the saint of the bumps). This is not really the image of a saint, but that of Maestro Mateo. According to tradition, you had to bump your head against the head of this “saint” in order to get wisdom and intelligence.


La cripta

Once inside the catedral, you should visit the cripta (crypt). There is a one-way system to access it, with stairs going down at one side of the main altar and going up the other way. The cripta is where the sepulchre of St. James is kept. On your way up, you can also embrace the image of the Apostle.


El Botafumeiro

Botafumeiro Santiago de Compostela

 El Botafumeiro, I’m sure you already know, is this big censer that gets used during special occasions. It weighs over 50kg (over 100 pounds) and measures around 1.5 metres in height (5ft). It hangs from the main dome of the cathedral and it takes 8 men to swing it.

When can you see it? It has some fixed dates you can check in advance: You can also request it by contacting the Cathedral (and paying around €400). Groups do this all the time, so you might be lucky and be able to see the Botafumeiro in action outside of those fixed dates.


During Holy Years, the Botafumeiro is swung daily during the Pilgrim’s Mass or Misa del Peregrino.

La Puerta Santa

You can only enter the cathedral through the Puerta Santa (Holy Door) during Año Santo or Holy Year (it can also be referred to as Xacobeo, in Galician), i.e. those years when July 25 falls on a Sunday.

The day before an Año Santo begins,  the Puerta Santa is opened in a ceremony performed by the Archbishop. At the end of the year, this door will be closed again and remain so until the next Año Santo. Access to the Puerta Santa is from Plaza de la Quintana.

Puerta Santa in Santiago, opens during Holy years.

La Semana Santa

La Semana Santa

La Semana Santa (Holy Week) is one of the main religious celebrations in Spain. Unlike la Navidad (or other holidays, religious or not), it doesn’t have fixed dates. Instead, la Semana Santa is celebrated on the Sunday after the first full moon of spring (between 22 de marzo (March 22) and 25 de abril (April 25)).

Each Spanish region, or even town, has its own particular Easter customs. But they all have some elements in common:

  • One of the most characteristic features of la Semana Santa is procesiones (processions).


  • Cofradías (brotherhoods) are religious groups devoted to Jesus Christ or Mary. Among other things, they carry out charity work throughout the year. During Easter, they take their pasos out in a procesión. 


  • Pasos are large floats with religious statues of Jesus or Mary, lavishly decorated with flowers and candles. The members of the cofradía carry these pasos on their shoulders.

Many cofradías date back to the Middle Ages and they have owned and cared for their pasos for centuries.


The best known and intense Easter celebration in Spain takes place in Sevilla, starting point for the Vía de la Plata. There are more than 70 cofradías in Sevilla. This schedule of all the processions for 2018 will you give an idea of the extent of it:


On the Camino Francés, we can highlight El Encuentro, in León, the solemn moment when the pasos of Saint John and La Dolorosa meet in Plaza Mayor.


So, what happens during Semana Santa? 


  • Celebrations begin on Domingo de Ramos (Palm Sunday). There’s a procesión reenacting the arrival of Jesus in Jerusalem. People carry a palm or olive branch to be blessed.


  • Although there are procesiones all week, the most important ones take place on Jueves Santo (Maundy Thursday) and Viernes Santo (Good Friday).

Both jueves and viernes santo are festivos (public holidays), so make sure you plan your shopping ahead.


  • Domingo de Resurrección (Easter Sunday). The procesiones on this day are less solemn and more festive than those on Thursday and Friday, as people celebrate Jesus’ resurrection.


  • Lunes de Pascua (Easter Monday) is the last day of Easter. It is a public holiday in some regions, including Navarra, on the Camino Francés. So keep it in mind if you are in that area.

Semana Santa in Ferrol


What else?

But not all is about procesiones. Most Spanish people get at least a few days off work, so many use this opportunity to travel and enjoy their holidays. And, of course, food is part of the enjoyment.

There are several Easter treats that may tempt you; they vary from one region to another, but there is one you will find everywhere during Semana Santa:  torrijas.

Torrijas are similar to French toast. They were traditionally made with leftover stale bread. You slice the bread, soak it in milk and egg and fry it in olive oil. You then sprinkle it with sugar and cinnamon.

So, if you are in Spain doing your Camino during Semana Santa, I would advise you to take some time off and enjoy the celebrations. You don’t have to be religious to appreciate the culture, the art, the music… all that Easter involves.


Today’s Spanish words


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¡Buen Camino!

¡Feliz Navidad!

¡Feliz Navidad!

The winter months are typically a quieter period on the Camino de Santiago. There are few pilgrims walking and many albergues are closed. However, some people prefer to walk around this time of the year. For them, and for those who would like to know how we celebrate la Navidad (Christmas) in Spain, I wrote this post. ¡Feliz Navidad!

First of all, you should be aware that there are a few festivos (public holidays). Shops will be closed those days; you should keep it in mind, in case you need to buy something. I’ll list the important dates and explain a bit about them:


In December

  • 22 de diciembre – La lotería de Navidad (Christmas lottery) also known as “el gordo” (the fat one!). This is the unofficial start of Christmas celebrations. Almost everyone in Spain plays this lottery and it’s a huge event: TV, radio, people on the street… all you’ll hear about is lotería!


  • 24 de diciembre – Nochebuena (Christmas Eve; literally “the good night”). It’s not festivo, although shops will close earlier than usual in the evening. This is because families get together for a big, special dinner. Traditionally, this is the time to be with family, at home, so make sure you plan your dinner ahead: expect everything, including restaurants, to be closed from 7.00pm.


  • 25 de diciembre – Navidad (Christmas Day). It’s festivo and everything will be closed. Family will gather again, for lunch on this occasion. Both Nochebuena and Navidad are days spent mostly with family, at home. People don’t go out much, although things are changing a bit. Again, you’ll need to plan ahead what you’re going to eat throughout the day, as it will be hard to find anything open.


We don’t have just one typical Christmas dish for these days. What people eat for Nochebuena and Navidad differs a lot from one region to another. But we have sweets in common: it doesn’t matter where you are, you can expect to find turrón (almond nougat), mazapán (marzipan) and polvorón (some sort of crumbly shortbread), the three main Christmas treats.




  • 28 de diciembre – día de los Inocentes. It’s the Spanish version of April Fools’ Day. So watch out for pranks and funny news. Otherwise, a regular day.


New Year’s Eve

  • 31 de diciembre – Nochevieja (New Year’s Eve; literally, “the old night”). Similarly to Nochebuena, this is not festivo, but shops will close early again. There’s another big, special dinner. But Nochevieja is more about partying and celebrating. It’s common for people to go out for dinner, with family or friends and then party into the next day.


At midnight, you can go to the town main square and eat 12 uvas (grapes), one with each campanada (stroke) of the clock. You can also do this at home, as all TV channels will show a clock striking 12 (traditionally, they show Puerta del Sol in Madrid). If you manage it, you will have good luck in the new year.


Another widespread tradition to bring you luck in the new year is to wear red underwear. That’s why you will see a lot of it displayed in shops for a couple of weeks before the New Year.


The New Year

  • 1 de enero – día de Año Nuevo (New year). If you went out partying after your uvas, chances are you won’t go to sleep until the morning (9.00am at least). Año Nuevo is usually a very quiet day, because many people will be sleeping most of the day and it’s also festivo, so everything is closed.


  • 6 de enero – día de Reyes (Epiphany or the day of the Wise Men). Traditionally, Spanish children get their presents from the three Wise Men. They arrive on January 5, when they parade around Spanish towns. Then, during the night, they leave their presents. So, January 5 is not festivo, but there will be parades in most towns. January 6 is festivo and shops will be closed. A typical treat for this day is roscón, a special cake.


You can watch some short clips of the lottery draw, the campanadas and the Wise Men parade in this presentation:

And that’s it! What do you think?



Today’s Spanish words


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¡Buen Camino & Feliz Navidad!