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Billy Bunter would like it

Christmas in Spain is a time for hampers and the box, basket or packaging says as much about the quality of the gift as do the actual contents.

Christmas is a time for draws and lotteries too. I've written before about the big Christmas lottery - the event that really marks the beginning of Christmas for most Spanish families. So, as you may imagine loads and loads of bars have a big christmas basket behind the bar and they sell tickets to give you the chance to win it. Schools do it, neighbourhood associations do it, political parties do it - lotteries and hampers and Christmas go together.

The Christmas baskets are usually based around a ham. Having a proper ham at home for Christmas is along the same lines as mince pies or Christmas trees or sprouts in the UK. They're Christmassey and Christmas wouldn't be Christmas without them. You may not like "Eat Me Dates" but there they are on the table. The hampers can contain anything though the essentials are booze, marzipan shapes, "dust cakes", a sort of nougat, chocolate, "lardy cakes" and pig products.

Bribery is another big tradition in Spain. It's now probably less effective and more risky than it was a few years ago to try and bribe someone. On an everyday basis ordinary people don't need to bribe anyone for anything. In the International rankings Spain is usually listed as being about as corrupt as the United States. Giving a succulent ham has always been something to oil the wheels of beauracracy. Sometimes the ham takes the form of a new Audi, a watch that costs more than an Audi or, for the less sophisticated, wads of 500€ notes. The shorthand though is ham.

Today, in El Corte Inglés we were passing the gourmet food section. They had some presentation boxes with the usual range of Christmas goodies. I was a bit shocked when I realised that there was a basket costing 1,230€ but the most expensive "trunk" they do is 2,075€. Not the sort of thing they raffle down most local bars but maybe lots of property developers buy them for the councillors on the planning committee.


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