Why you should visit Jerez in December: Zambombas!
There are many reasons for us to believe that late Autumn is an ideal time to travel to Andalusia: the sun is nice and gentle, the blue of the sky is especially bright and vivid, the countless orange and olive trees that fill the cobbled streets and rolling hills of the region are loaded with colourful fruit, tasty plates of comfort food come out of the kitchens of homes and restaurants and the sherry grape juice that was pressed and fermented at harvest becomes a delicious, fresh and fruity mosto.
However, the main reason why visiting Andalusia in late Autumn is magical are the unique, traditional and incredibly festive celebrations that the city of Jerez hosts before Christmas: the Zambombas!
A zambomba is technically a friction drum. Its architecture is fairly simple. It consists of a clay vase open on both ends, one of which is covered with a tight animal skin. At this point you are probably picturing a regular drum, right?
However there’s one more element that is essential in the construction of zambombas and that influences their snoring and low-end sound: a reed cane.
This reed cane is attached to the middle of the animal skin, perpendicular to it and the sound is produced by rubbing the reed cane with one or two hands. (This is exactly what the two men at the bottom right of the ensemble above are doing). The rubbing transmits vibrations onto the animal skin and these vibrations resonate inside the vase, creating a very distinctive sound that accompanies the singing of Christmas carols in Spain.
Everybody in Spain would think of this musical instrument if you mentioned the word Zambomba to them. Nevertheless, people in Jerez would start thinking of all the fun they have every year with relatives and friends during the first three weeks of December in the streets, squares, courtyards and bars of their hometown.
This is because in Jerez, Zambombas are the joyous celebrations in which people of all ages gather to sing and dance to flamenco Christmas carols!
There are many reasons why Zambombas are unique. First of all, there’s not a clear separation between the performers and the audience.
In Zambombas, everybody becomes a performer as soon as they join the celebration by singing, dancing, clapping and/or playing an instrument along with the rest.
The lyrics are catchy and easy. The beat is not hard to follow by clapping and any basic percussion instruments (such as tambourines and claves) are always welcome. This makes it easy for anybody to join a Zambomba and become a performer!
Also, there’s something very special about how the various groups of people singing, clapping and dancing along in different quarters of Jerez contribute in a collective way to creating an atmosphere of joy, peace and friendliness that fills the whole city.
Another beautiful thing about Zambombas is the presence of people of different generations. Seniors have a very important role in these traditional celebrations. They know the most about them and they are responsible for transmitting them to younger generations.
Children in Jerez are always welcome in Zambombas too. They learn the lyrics and melodies of flamenco Christmas carols at a very early stage and they get to enjoy the arrival of Christmas in a warm and festive social environment.
The season of Zambombas begins with the arrival of the month of December and it lasts until Christmas eve. The celebrations take place mostly during the weekend. They start from around midday and they can last until the early hours.
Many Zambombas are planned in advance and are announced in local culture magazines. Others are more spontaneous and they will surprise you in the streets of Jerez while you walk from one of the announced ones to the next one.
The best way to experience Zambombas is to spend a weekend in December (prior to Christmas eve) in Jerez old town. Upon arrival to the city, the next step would be to find a leaflet with the program of Zambombas and then go from one to the next one, starting Friday afternoon, enjoying the music, the atmosphere and the interaction with the local people along the way. It is also recommended to take a few stops at the iconic tabancos of Jerez to enjoy the many food and wine treats that the city has to offer. Then, after a surely memorable weekend, you may want to extend your stay in the city to take some day trips from there.
If you’d like a personal local host to share the magic of Jerez with you and your travel party in December or any other time of the year, contact us! We are based in Jerez and we specialise in connecting travellers with the essence of our homeland through bespoke local experiences.