Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Short Stories to learn about Christmas in Spanish speaking countries

In a previous post I spoke about three short novels for children which introduce the topic of The three Wise Men. It is a tradition that is worth teaching in high schools too.

In the website Albalearning there is a section dedicated to short stories related to Christmas celebrations. Besides, there is a mp3 file for each story so students can listen to the short story while they read.

Navidad en los Andes, a short story by Peruvian writer Ciro Alegria, depicts how Christmas was and probably still is in a small community in the Andes. The writer remembers his return from school to his parents' house for the Christmas vacations. He describes the preparations for the big meal with very traditional Peruvian products and  shared by all the members of the community. Then he enumerates some of the rituals for that special day such as the carols and the dances. It is surprising to me to see that some of the carols that appear in the story have exactly the same lyrics as the traditional carols in Spain. Another tradition where all the family got involved was the layout of the Nativity Set. He tells us about the gathering of the different plants to ornate it, something I used to do when I was a child in Northern Spain.

Ciro Alegria was a writer who showed the situation of the native Peruvians in his works. The oppression they suffered from the elite Peruvian class, most of them descendants of Europeans, was the main theme in his works. In this short story, he points out that Christmas was the only time of the year when the white leading class mingled with the "indios" and the "cholos", the mixture of native American and European who were the servants in the farms. In the story the author describes the dances and songs performed by all the young girls in the community together, regardless of their race or social class.

AttributionSome rights reserved by Municipalidad de Miraflores

In the same website there are more Christmas stories available, some are classics most of us are familiar with but we can also find some quite unknown stories in Spanish. They are  good readings to learn about the vision of the tradition of the Three Wise Men which some famous writers in Spanish had. I particularly like El Regalo de Inocencia by Concha Espina. Concha Espina was one of the first female writers in Spain who had great success in her time, she was even proposed for the Literature Nobel prize. She was born in Northern Spain and she shows the customs and traditions of the people from the countryside in that part of Spain very accurately in her works.

Inocencia, the main character in the short story, is an 18-year-old girl who works as a maid in a mansion. She is pretty but simple and she lived in a small village all her life before starting with her job. On the eve of January the sixth, she is asked to set a table with coffee ready for the the Three Wise Men, who are coming to bring presents and are tired and cold. Everyone goes to bed except for the house masters and when Inocencia gets up after a sleepless night she discovers that the kings had drunk her coffee and left a handkerchief for her as a present. Everyone keeps quiet so she does not find out what really happened. The short story shows the life of the young peasant girls in Spain at the end of the 19th century and the kind of life they had while they worked for rich families, their tasks and duties. Inocencia embodies this hard-working but innocent people who still believed the Three Wise Men were real.

AttributionSome rights reserved by M. Martin Vicente via Flickr

My third choice, El Partido de Reyes by Manuel Rivas, is a beautiful short story written by a master of the genre. The story takes place in the 60's in La Coruña, a middle-sized city in Northern Spain. The narrator tells us about Félix, one of his school mates who suffers Down syndrome. Félix always does his best in any activity he takes part in. He loves football and despite his unlimited effort he is just accepted in the role of ball carrier by the rest of students, a task he does with complete dedication. On January the sixth, a holiday for schools in Spain, the students have their big match against the tough boys from another neighbourhood. The big day comes but they are one player short, their captain has deserted the team out of fear. However, Félix has followed the team like he always does and he is brings his new ball, a present brought by the Three Wise Men. After some hesitation, he is asked to join the team. He takes his position, does an outstanding job and even scores the goal for the equalizer after a tough game. To his team mates he becomes the hero that, without knowing, has always been.
This is a beautiful short story full of tenderness and realism and which depicts very accurately the life of young boys in a small city in Spain. It also includes plenty of themes that we can discuss in our classes: the role of religion, how to integrate students with learning difficulties in a school and in society, what it means to be brave and support your team, etc. On a personal note, the story brings memories of my childhood in Northern Spain and the football games in the rain in winter when we played against boys from another neighbourhood, in many cases on January the sixth.
The short story is part of a book called "Cuentos de un Invierno", published by Alfaguara serie Roja, which contains 7 more short stories, all of them linked by the recurrent theme of winter. All these short stories can be used for one of our classes and I will write about them soon.