Christmas In Spain

A brief look at some of the Christmas customs in Spain …

In Spain, Christmas begins on 22 December, the day of the fat lottery known as ‘el gordo’. It is a day of great hope, because most Spaniards play for a number or share thereof, and then wait with impatience for the outcome of ‘el gordo’ which can yield an enormous cash prize.

On Christmas Eve family members gather around the table to dine on seafood, meat, sweets … the most typical Christmas sweets being nougat, marzipan and shortbreads, which are placed in containers for offering to visitors. After dinner they sing Christmas carols and chat, the latter being something Spaniards are very good at! The most religious families usually attend the ‘Misa del Gallo’ or midnight mass.

Christmas Day on 25 December is celebrated with a special meal, as on Christmas Eve. After the meal, there is a toast with traditional Cava and the rest of the day is spent with family. Boxing Day or St Stephen’s Day is not an official holiday in most of Spain. However, 28 December is the day of Innocent Saints, a day of jokes, false news reporting and general fun. Think of April Fools’ Day but with more gusto!

Dinner on New Year’s Eve is a popular event but not as family-orientated as on Christmas Eve, being a time to spend with friends. A superstition followed by many people is the wearing of red underwear, because they believe it will bring them luck throughout the following year. People usually watch television, since at a quarter to midnight, broadcasts connect with the Puerta del Sol in Madrid where a clock strikes the twelve bells announcing the new year. With each stroke, a grape is eaten and when finished, revellers celebrate with Cava.  Afterwards, friends usually hold parties or gatherings that last all night, only ending as the first dawn of the new year breaks, at which point they eat chocolate and churros (a deep-fried choux pastry).

Onc again, New Year’s Day is a time for family gatherings and more food but so many suffer from hangovers from the night before that the occasion is often subdued. On the night of 5 January, the Three Wise Men arrive  It’s the day for children’s parties, who on the preceding days, have written letters saying what gifts they would like to receive. When the children wake up on the morning of 6 January, the Three Kings have already left all their gifts. Breakfast that morning is traditionally Roscón de Reyes, a ring-shaped sweet pastry cake with a small gift inside.

Although the tradition is for children to receive their presents on the feast of the Epiphany, more families are now giving their offspring some gifts at Christmas in line with the more common practice around the world.

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The SUV Explosion

It’s hard to realise that the first SUV as we now know it was the Nissan Qashqai, launched way back in 2006 …

Almost certainly, Nissan took something of a gamble when they launched their first SUV on to the market. The model effectively replaced their Primera and Almera models, sitting somewhere in between the two in terms of size. At the time, the car market was primarily still dominated by the traditional hatchback, saloon and estate although the so-called people carrier, more correctly known as a Multi Purpose Vehicle (MPV), was making inroads. Eleven years later, and the SUV is now accounting for about 25% of total new car sales throughout most of Europe, with the Qashqai still very much in demand.

In the last two to three years, there has been a plethora of new SUV models launched by mainstream manufacturers. Things have now started to become silly with prestige marques such as Bentley offering an extremely ungainly Bentayga SUV with rumours of a smaller model to follow. Rolls Royce will be launching a competitor to the Bentley and Jaguar has launched two SUV models recently with a range-topper planned before 2020. Believe it or not Lamborghini are also rumoured to be entering the fray! Seeing as the basic purpose of a Sport Utility Vehicle is some off-road capability, it is highly unlikely that owners of such prestige models would ever take them off the main highway for fear of causing damage.

Manufacturers such as Audi and BMW already offer a full SUV model range catering for all segments of the market. Other mainstream manufacturers have more limited ranges but are quickly catching up as they all want a slice of the action. One such new model which will appear on roads in early 2018 is the newly-launched Volkswagen T-Roc and something of a variant from the design normally offered by this company. In appearance, it does have similarities to the Q2 from its sister company Audi, so in keeping with my penchant for models from the VW Group, this blog is going to compare the two vehicles.

For those in the know, Volkswagen already offer two SUVs in their model line-up, namely the Tiguan and the upmarket Touareg. Depending upon which motoring press you read, the Tiguan is described as both a medium and small model when compared with SUVs from other manufacturers. The same can be said of other makes too so the marketplace becomes rather confusing to the buyer of such models. Personally, I think it’s fair to describe the Tiguan as a medium-sized model, especially in light of the new T-Roc but doubts may well arise in the foreseeable future if a rumoured SUV based on the VW Polo sees the light of day. However one chooses to look at things, there is no doubt whatsoever that most vehicle manufacturers now want to cover every segment of the market with SUV derivatives of their model ranges. When I was growing up, most car makers offered four or five different models at most so it was relatively easy to make a choice. Today, selecting the right vehicle at the right price is bamboozling to say the least!

Looking at the T-Roc, it’s obvious that VW are deviating from their generic style. The car is somewhat avant-garde in appearance although nothing like the questionable styling cues of the Nissan Juke or Toyota C-HR, both of which are direct competitors. The T-Roc embraces new design emotion for the brand sporting a more aggressive stance, offering many personalisation options and shares its wheelbase and VW Group modular MQB platform with the Audi Q2. As its appearance suggests, the T-Roc is a fun car to drive with responsive, reactionary steering and precision road holding. It will be offered with a popular range of engines in due course although the precise selection of units will depend upon the country in which the car is sourced. Trim levels will also vary but there should be sufficient options to meet the demands of most buyers. Subject to availability, it is envisaged that the new 1.5 150PS petrol engine will be pick of the bunch especially as diesel engines are fast losing popularity but the proven 1.6 115PS and 2.0 150PS diesels will be offered.

The sporty-looking body will be offered in eleven colours and four contrasting roof colours as part of the personalisation options. Some of the exterior colours can be carried across to the interior dashboard and seat trimmings adding a little pizzazz to proceedings. The infotainment system is dominated by an 8 inch touch sensitive display featuring Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, Bluetooth, DAB radio and USB connectivity. Satellite navigation will be included in higher spec models. As is to be expected from VW Group cars, everything is extremely well put together and overall exudes an element of quality. However, a surprising factor is the hard plastic used across the top of the dashboard which also resonates when tapped. This is one negative aspect of the vehicle and it seems strange that VW should try and cut costs in what is hardly a budget level model.

The T-Roc is of a similar size to the VW Golf, albeit slightly wider and higher, but offers more interior space. The raised seating position offers excellent all round visibility plus there is increased headroom for driver and up to four passengers. With 445 litres of luggage space, this far exceeds the Golf and the square shape of the boot with its level lip makes loading easy. Rear seats are configured 60:40 for practicality and convenience. Overall, it’s another vehicle that will serve a typical family well but with premium prices above the Golf and other competitors, it remains to be seen whether it will lose to its sister cars or gain from competitors.

Cue the Audi Q2 if you’ll pardon the pun. In my eyes, the Audi, which has been on the market for over a year, is the car on which the T-Roc has been modelled as there are numerous design similarities. This is currently the smallest SUV from the Audi stable but offered at a premium price for its size, and for the same money, one could buy a larger SEAT Ateca, Skoda Karoq or Nissan Qashqai. The Q2 shares the same MQB platform on which the A3, Golf, Leon and Octavia are built. This gives the car good roadholding characteristics although the suspension settings mean the ride is somewhat firmer than the A3 hatchback. Engine wise, expect to find the 1.0 115PS petrol and other engines that feature in the T-Roc, subject to individual country specifications.

The dashboard will be familiar to A3 aficionados but that is no bad thing as Audi has a reputation for first class build quality giving an air of opulence. Colour customisation strips to the dashboard are also available. Infotainment is by means of a smaller 7 inch display with Bluetooth, USB, DAB radio, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto as standard. Higher spec models also come equipped with sat nav. Unlike the T-Roc, the upper dashboard is finished in soft material which adds to the premium feel. Front head and legroom are perfectly adequate but the sloping roofline and rear seat layout mean conditions are cramped for taller passengers. The rear seats have a 60:40 split and the boot is relatively square and lacking a load lip as in the T-Roc. This model is being offered in twelve exterior colours.

Prices for the base Q2 start at around €22250 (£20230) to €33670 (£30610) for the S-line model. Strangely, the T-Roc has a slightly higher starting price of circa €22470 (£20425), no doubt representing better basic spec, rising to €34630 (£31480) for a sport derivative. If a small SUV is your cup of tea, there is now an array of options available, but between these two very similar products, I would opt for the T-Roc as it has the edge on design and looks more SUV-like than the Audi..