Christmas in Mallorca is different from elsewhere, at least, it used to be. For a start, Christmas in Spain is, or used to be, a religious affair. It was traditionally celebrated as a family get-together with an opulent meal shared with friends on Noche Buena (Christmas Eve) and another meal shared with the extended family on Christmas Day. Even though religious allegiances have taken a bit of a decline over recent years in Spain, certainly here in Mallorca Christmas would not be complete without attending a church service on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. The Chant of the Sibil.la is an important part of the Christmas service here in Mallorca.
Children in Spain will normally receive their presents from the Reyes (January 6th, Three Kings) but, as a matter of pampering, they now seem to be given presents at both, Navidad as well as Reyes. Turróns, Polvorones, Churros and hot castanyas form other unmissable ingredients of Christmas in Spain, albeit, without any religious connotations.
Nativity scenes are an essential feature of Christmas celebrations here on the island as are neules (paper doilies). These delicately cut-out paper disks are a Mallorcan Christmas tradition going back perhaps 200 years. They are a sort of doily cut out of white paper. Some of these decorations are outright beautiful due to their intricate motives. You can see for yourself, for instance in the churches of Sant Nicolau, Sant Francesc, Sant Miquel, or Sant Jaume, all of which are in Palma. Or try your local parish church.
Originally – a hundred years ago or so – neules were giant communion wafers that hung above church altars, to be given to the children of the parish as a sweet treat after the Christmas church service. The wafers were ultimately replaced by white, mostly round paper disks of perhaps 20 cm in diameter, carefully decorated by means of scissors or a sharp knife with geometric patterns or figurative scenes. Traditionally the local parish churches were decorated with a quantity of these paper cut-outs, mostly made by nuns. Often the nuns or novices created neules year after year, thus developing a particular skill in their artistic perfections.
In the past this was thought of as a good way for families to create decorations for the windows of their homes. Today, some people in the villages of Mallorca still continue this endearing tradition, although many Mallorcans are now moving towards more contemporary Christmas decorations, mainly from China, mostly machine made, and mainly made of plastic.
The prettiest neules were often, and still are, sold for charitable means. The craft of the doily making is often taught to the younger ones by their parents or grandparents. Some village nurseries or primary schools also maintain this tradition, but I dare say, on a declining scale. In Palma you can still find a stationery shop or two that will sell you traditionally made neules. Or try one of the Christmas markets that are open now in Palma, either in Plaza España, in Plaza Mayor or in the Rambla, until January 6th.