The Christmas tradition of Zambombas
22 December 2020 | By The Andalusian Agency of Cultural Institutions
Image | Zambomba de la Hermandad de la Yedra y AAVV de San Miguel. Jerez de la Frontera. Eva Cote Montes • ©Fondo gráfico IAPH
One of the intangible heritage assets that identify Christmas in Jerez and Arcos de la Frontera are the Zambombas that are celebrated in neighbourhoods, districts and rural population centres in its countryside before Christmas Eve. These are meetings of family, friends and/or neighbours around a fire to enjoy an evening of Christmas carols and songs, the feasting of pestiños and buñuelos, as well as other traditional dishes, and local wine or aniseed.
Zambombas can be organized by families, neighbourhoods, institutions, local brotherhoods and guilds, flamenco clubs, bars, etc. Its popularity is such that it has gone beyond its geographical scope from Jerez countryside to El Puerto de Santa Maria, Puerto Real, Cadiz, Seville and even Madrid, being used in some cases as a commercial or promotional claim for heritage and tourist attraction.
The origins of ritual activity are interwoven with an important part of Andalusia’s oral repertoire. Although it is not possible to date their appearance exactly, it is believed that these gatherings have been characteristic, at least since the 18th century, both in the urban and rural areas of the vast Jerez region.
The Zambomba is named after the most characteristic percussion instrument used in these celebrations, made from a clay recipient. Previously, these gatherings were known as Christmas Eve celebrations, during which Christmas songs and old romances belonging to the collective memory were sung and danced. In the case of the Christmas choirs, the rehearsals of the songs and carols begin, approximately, in the month of September. The choirs are usually made up of women, most of whom are elderly, although there are also middle-aged and children’s choirs. On the other hand, there are the flamenco groups, which have a special repertoire for Christmas.
The Zambombas are included in the Atlas of the Intangible Heritage of Andalusia elaborated by the Andalusian Institute of Historical Heritage since 2009. In 2015, the Andalusian Regional Government declared the Zambomba of Jerez and Arcos to be an Asset of Cultural Interest. It did so by highlighting their anthropological, cultural and social characteristics, representative of a large part of Andalusia, whose values go deep into the history of the lands where they were born and which have been passed on since ancient times.
Images: Fondo gráfico IAPH
Video: Agencia Andaluza de Instituciones Culturales – AAIICC