The Season of Warmth

Donald B. Harris | December 2019

This is a reprint of one of Don's favorite stories, we will be back next month with a new article.

Many of us hardly give the cycles of nature a second thought – spring, summer, autumn and winter are little more than markers of passing time. We blissfully eat food from all corners of the earth: grapefruits in July, raspberries in December and cranberries in May! But in Spain many people spend their whole lives in one area and the changing seasons directly affect their lives.

Once a year in the United States we recall our agricultural heritage by setting a bountiful harvest table on Thanksgiving Day – I think of a verse from the old English hymn: "all is safely gathered in ‘ere the winter storms begin." We Americans are an amazingly mobile society. This is not more obvious than on Thanksgiving Day when our airports are full and our trains and highways are swollen with people who want to be with their families.

On my travels to Spain, I notice the strong connection that many in Spain still have to their region and the changing of the seasons. If you travel the byways of Spain during the autumn, you sense that harvest is in the air. In the wine regions across Spain, the people are joining in festive wine celebrations called vendimias, now that the grapes have been picked, pressed and are now on their way to becoming wine. 

In the La Vera valley, farmers have already gathered, dried, smoked and milled the autumn pepper crop to make the pungent pimentón, or smoked paprika, we enjoy in our chorizos and stews. In La Mancha, our friends María Angeles, Juan Antonio and their neighbors in the village of Minaya have concluded another labor-intensive harvest of crocuses, toasting the stamens in a special way to make the very best saffron. As you read this, olive growers are harvesting olives by hand much as they have for over two thousand years.

Winter is here and Christmas is nearly upon us. Days are getting shorter, the leaves have fallen to the ground and the bare branches of the trees remind us that the winter season is appreciably different from the rest of the year. The cycle of the Earth continues on its way unmindful of how important we may think our human events may be.

It is a time of dormancy and refreshment. And there seems to be a natural yearning for us to be closer together – to share each other’s warmth and hopes. That is why it is the season for children. Children are pure life – as any grandparent understands most fully. In their exuberant play and spontaneous activity, they dispel the lengthening shadows.

This, then, is the essence of Christmas: in the depth of winter we dwell on the tender image of a mother cradling her newborn child. It elicits hope and recalls the joy of families surrounded by love. Christians celebrate the light of God’s love coming into the world in the person of a newborn child. For all of us a new baby and the laughter of children elicit universal feelings of joy and hope common to us all.

In many a store window in Spain is a crèche or manger scene called a Belén (“Bethlehem”) so that shoppers will see small figures of the Holy Family seeking shelter in a stable, surrounded by animals and shepherds. Many years ago, we were ‘window shopping’ in a village in Cáceres, and saw small hand carved Belén perched in a Samsonite cosmetic case in a travel agency window!

This yuletide is a time for caring: touching others with our warmth. For all of the hustle and bustle of holiday preparations in which we may find ourselves involved – cooking our favorite recipes, dropping off some special plate of baked goods for our neighbor, contacting old friends – our motivation is to bring joy to one another.

Our family, as well as our extended La Tienda family who are working so hard to serve you, extend to you best wishes for a joyful holiday season.

¡Feliz Navidad!