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Seven great ways to celebrate 400 years of Cervantes

It's been 400 years since the death of Spain's beloved literary star and Spain has a seemingly unending schedule of celebrations. We take a look at some of the best ways to join in the fun.

Seven great ways to celebrate 400 years of Cervantes
Celebrate Cervantes' masterpiece this year. Photo: Portrait by Juan de Jauregui y Aguilar/Wikimedia

He is one of Spain's most famous writers and rivals William Shakespeare for the influence he has had on literature. So it's no surprise that Spain is now getting into gear to celebrate 400 years since Miguel de Cervantes died on April 23rd 1616.

There are parties, concerts, exhibits and more planned all around the world throughout the year, so we bring you a glimpse of the best ways to get into the literary spirit.

1. Read Don Quixote


Photo: Fiona Govan

The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha is regarded as the first modern novel and has had much influence on the literary world beyond Spanish class reading lists.

The two-volume book, about a man who loses his sanity and embarks on a knightly quest to restore chivalry, pioneered techniques such as realism, metatheatre (theatre which draws attention to its unreality, like a play within a play) and intertextuality (the shaping of a text's meaning by another text).

READ: Nine reasons why Cervantes is better than Shakespeare

It even coined a new word, quixotic, which means extremely idealistic, or unrealistically impractical.

Sure, a poll last summer found that most Spaniards had never read the novel all the way through, but what better time to take a stab at the classic work than during all the Cervantes hullabaloo this year?

2. Visit his town 


The statue of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza outside Cervantes' birthplace in Alcalá de Henares. Photo: AWa/Wikimedia

Cervantes was born in the Castilian city of Alcalá de Henares, located 35km northeast of Madrid. The local university and historical centre is a Unesco World Heritage Site, often praised for its beautiful architecture and being the first city to be designed and built solely around a university, becoming a model for unversity towns worldwide.

With such a rich academic tradition, it's no wonder the town is so stoked to celebrate its native son.

3. Do the Cervantes tour


Follow in the footsteps of the great man himself. Photo: Portrait by Juan de Jauregui y Aguilar/Wikimedia

Alcalá de Henares offers visitors a planned route to find the places the author once frequented, like the house where he was born, the church where he was baptized and other real-life places that helped inspire his fictional works. 

4. Take the Cervantes train


Photo: turismomadrid.es

Another way to discover Cervantes' home is by taking the Cervantes train, on which costumed actors will lead you through the city and provide authentic local pastries.

5. See a play (or ballet)

The comedy Cervantina will be performed on a number of different stages around Spain until May 28th.

The National Dance Company of Spain is also performing a “Ballet Don Quixote” in Valencia until May 15th. After Valencia, the dance troupe will also make stops in Sant Cugat del Vallès outside Barcelona, Bilbao, Murcia, Almagro and Valladolid.

6. Analyze cinema


Photo: 400cervantes.es

The Museo Casa Cervantes in Valladolid has a schedule of “cinema Mondays” dedicated to Cervantes and Shakespeare. The museum will be hosting a series of talks discussing various attempts to adapt Cervantes' work for the silver screen. 

Monty Python's Terry GIllam has famously continued to fail to finish a film based on Don Quixote's characters called The Man Who Killed Don Quixote, eventually creating a documentary about his struggle called Lost in La Mancha.

Orson Welles also never finished a feature film on the novel before his death in 1985.

7. Admire some artwork and 'follow Cervantes' footsteps'


Photo: 400cervantes.es

A number of venues around the country are exhibiting artwork inspired by the author, including an exhibit in various cities called Miguel EN Cervantes, featuring illustrated comics based on El Retablo de las Maravillas (The Altarpiece of Wonders) – an interlude Cervantes wrote in 1615 – in Esquivas, Toledo and Valladolid.

Madrid is featuring a gallery of playing cards based on Don Quixote as well as an exhibit of work by a photographer who “followed in Cervantes' footsteps,” visually retracing the writer's steps through places and paths he visited throughout his life.

For all official events celebrating the 400th anniversary of the death of Cervantes check out the website www.400cervantes.es

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CULTURE

Why a mouse called Pérez is Spain’s tooth fairy

When a child loses a milk tooth in Spain, it’s not a magical fairy that comes to collect it in the night, but a little mouse instead.

Why a mouse called Pérez is Spain’s tooth fairy

In countries such as the UK, the US and Australia when kids’ baby teeth fall out, it’s customary for them to put it under their pillow, hoping that a magical fairy will come in the night to take it away. 

The story goes that the fairy wants the tooth for her magic castle, all made out of teeth, and will pay children a reward by leaving a coin or two under the pillow instead. 

But in Spain, there is no fairy or a magic castle, instead, it’s a little mouse called Ratoncito Pérez who comes to collect it instead. Similarly, the mouse will leave a reward for the tooth such as a few coins, some sweets or small gifts. 

Sometimes you will spot toy shops in Spain that have built a tiny house for the Mouse Pérez outside their store. 

How did the story of Ratoncito Pérez come about?

The legend of the Mouse Pérez started out as a character in a story written by Luis Coloma. 

Coloma was commissioned to write the story by Queen María Cristina, for King Alfonso XIII (1886-1941), whom she affectionately called Buby, when he was eight years old and lost one of his milk teeth.

It is said that through the tale, the author wanted to teach the young king about the importance of brotherhood whether a person is rich or poor, good or bad so that he would become a great leader. 

The story goes that Ratoncito Pérez lived in a box of biscuits in a house in Madrid and every night would scour the city for teeth, visiting the homes of children who had recently lost them and leaving a coin under their pillow in exchange. 

READ ALSO: Why do Spanish parents pierce their babies’ ears? 

One night, the mouse meets King Buby when he loses a tooth and together they go on an adventure to meet Pérez’s family and help the poor people around the city. 

The original manuscript of the story was dedicated to D. Alfonso XIII and is dated 1894, but it was not until 1902 when the king was 16 that the story was first published in a book of short stories. 

Another edition was published in 1911, dedicated to the Prince of Asturias D. Alfonso de Borbón y Battenberg, King Alfonso XIII’s son. 

Although Ratoncito Pérez is the most well-known character who collects teeth in Spain, there are regional differences too.

In Catalonia there’s also Angelet or the little angel who comes to collect teeth, in the Basque Country there’s Maritxu Teilatukoa, a little ladybird who lives on the roof and comes down to fetch children’s teeth from under their pillows. And in Cantabria, there’s a tooth squirrel – L`Esquilu de los dientis

The concept of a little mouse who comes for kids’ teeth is in fact not so strange because in many other countries, it’s also a mouse and not a fairy that arrives in the middle of the night too. 

In France, parts of Belgium and Switzerland and some countries in Central and South America there’s also a tooth mouse.

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