Traditional Spanish Culture

January 2005

Experiencing the values of traditional Spain has taught me so much about what is important in life. From the first time a Spanish colleague shared a leisurely lunch with me, to the time when an old friend invited me to enjoy a siesta in his parlor after a hearty mid-day meal; I could see how this traditional Spanish approach nurtures hospitality and healthy relationships.

In traditional Spain, close family ties are paramount. Their approach to New Year's Eve is especially appealing to me. I remember standing in a central plaza in Córdoba many years ago with my wife Ruth and our three little boys. It was the last night of the year. As the hands of the clock progressed toward midnight we expected to be engulfed by merry-makers eagerly anticipating the advent of the New Year. If we were in America we would have felt from the crowd an air of expectant optimism that is typical of the American spirit: The New Year will always be a better day, which will bring new opportunities for those who are ready to claim them. The atmosphere in Córdoba was quite different.

As the clock struck midnight the people were only just beginning to assemble in the plaza. I wondered: 'Where are all the people?' Then I chuckled to myself, thinking: 'I should have remembered that Andalucíans are hardly ever 'on time'.' But the sparse gathering at the stroke of midnight had nothing to do with wrist-watches! It was because traditional Spaniards choose to be home with their families on New Year's Eve, rather than in the streets with strangers. 

Continuity of life within the family is highly prized in Spain. For this reason acknowledging the passing year is integral to welcoming the new. During the first part of the evening the family is apt to reminisce about the events of the past year -- you might term that time Old Year's Eve - Año Viejo. Then as midnight approaches the family welcomes the New Year, Año Nuevo, with a glass of sparkling cava while eating individual grapes, one for each toll from the bell tower. It is after this time that they go out into the streets to celebrate with their neighbors. This way of celebrating makes much more sense to me. So, in the vein of remembering and celebrating the year that has passed, let me share with you some of my recollections of 2004. 

Last March my wife Ruth and I attended the Alimentaria, a vast Spanish food fair, which traces its roots back to medieval times. While there we shared our love for Spanish cuisine by gathering with friends - American and Spanish - in lively tapas bars. I remember admiring the skill of the agile waiters weaving through the crowded bar ferrying plates of jamón and the freshest of shellfish.

An unexpected bonus during our visit to Catalunya was the opportunity to meet a warm and generous couple recommended to us by a member of the La Tienda community. They invited us to their centuries-old stone house near Girona, which they had beautifully renovated. Out the side door we noticed their own grove of arbequina olive trees. They work together to make artisan olive oil and olive oil soap from a medieval recipe! We formed an immediate bond with each other and I anticipate we will be life-long friends. As fate would have it, the four of us were together we heard the news of the terrorist bombing in Madrid. For Ruth and me it was an eerie echo of the 9/11 attacks in America. For our new friends it was a disturbing new feeling.

When we returned home to Virginia I was greeted with a wonderful outpouring of e-mail messages filled with empathy for the Spaniards who had suffered. They came from all parts of the Tienda community - Spaniards and Americans alike. A bond was formed between those of us in America who experienced the sorrow of the 9/11 attack and those in Spain who mourning the 3/11 attack in Madrid.

Six months later I had the privilege of visiting Andalucía along with my eldest son, Tim. He and I will long remember our drive through the hills and fields of Andalucía. Unlike those who live in rural Spain, opportunities for a father and son to spend time together are rare in our American culture, where families become scattered due to economic necessity. 

As our family reflects upon the past year, Año Viejo, we are deeply appreciative of our many loyal customers and friends who have been with us through our years of remarkable growth. We are no less grateful for the hundreds of new members of the La Tienda community who recently discovered us for the first time. In 2005 we hope to bring you an ever-higher level of quality and service as we work closely with our colleagues in Spain.

Happy New Year to you! ¡Prospero Año Nuevo! 

We look forward to hearing from you in the year ahead.