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December 3, 2015

C. W. Gortner: A Spanish Christmas

Posted by emily

As a former fashion executive, C. W. Gortner has a unique talent for bringing a certain panache to his bestselling historical fiction. His upcoming book, THE VATICAN PRINCESS --- which releases on February 9th --- is set in Renaissance Italy and tells the story of the much-vilified Lucrezia Borgia, beloved daughter of the pope, who was at the center of her glamorous, predatory family’s ambitions. Here, C. W. tells a tale set in more recent history --- of the Christmases of his boyhood in southern Spain, of his family’s beautiful traditions, and of the delightful way his father always made sure his son received the gift he wanted.

Because I grew up in southern Spain, Christmas was a unique experience. Instead of Santa Claus and trees, the celebration was imbued with holy significance, with midnight mass, singing and the creation of miniature mangers at home, as well as wonderful food. Children in Spain at the time did not expect horns of plenty when it came to gifts. The traditional day for presents was January 6th, the Day of the Magi, when the Three Wise Men, or Magi, traveled over many miles, legend tells us, to find the newborn baby Jesus.

The Magi had arrived bearing gifts, and so we filled our shoes with straw or barley for the tired camels that had carried the magi through the night. In the morning, the camel food was gone and replaced with gifts. Balthazar, who rode a donkey, was the one we revered and eagerly awaited, because he was the one who left gifts for children.

I worried during my first Christmas in Spain that books could not fit in shoes. Even as a child, I was a voracious reader, as my parents were, and I always wanted books as presents. I especially liked big picture books on history, about queens and knights and tales of valor. Fortunately, my parents found a way to appease my worries. On January 6th, I found my shoes empty of the camel food, but beside them was a wrapped package with the imprint of a camel foot on the paper. My father had employed our dog Rowdy’s paw-print in clay. I was so excited at this evidence of the Magi visit, I saved that wrapping paper for months, showing it off to all my friends. My present was an illustrated history of Spain. To this day I still have it, battered and with its pages falling out, but beloved, nevertheless.

Every year until the day he died, my father gave me a history book for Christmas. These books inspired me to write my own stories. I learned history through reading, as well as from the places all around me; I found the past both in pages and in the stones of Spain. It’s no surprise to those who knew me as a child that I became a writer; it was innate for me. Books remain my most treasured possessions --- friends who have traveled with me, taught me lessons and encouraged me to reach for my dreams. I still get books for Christmas, and I also give them. Nothing else contains more joy for me.

This Christmas, I wish you Feliz Navidad. May you enjoy health, love and peace --- and read!