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THE LOCAL LIST

CHRISTMAS

12 cracking Christmas gift ideas from Spain for those back home

Wondering what to buy your loved ones at home? The Local has rounded up a dozen of the very Spanish best gift ideas for everyone from foodies to fashionistas.

People buy Christmas gifts in a store of Santa Cruz de Tenerife in 2018. (Photo by DESIREE MARTIN / AFP)
People buy Christmas gifts in a store of Santa Cruz de Tenerife in 2018. (Photo by DESIREE MARTIN / AFP)

For the person who has everything 


Archive photo: Shutterstock

Spanish leather products are generally of excellent quality and great value for money too. With everything from belts and purses to handbags on offer, you’re bound to find something for the man or woman who has it all.

For the joker 


Photo: caganer.com

In one of Spain’s strangest festive traditions, many people decorate their Christmas cribs with the mysterious figure known as caganers, or ‘crappers’. Traditionally the crappers were peasants from one of Spain’s Catalan-speaking areas in red ‘barretina’ caps. But the modern versions feature well-known figures from the world of sports, politics and the movies, including former US president Donald Trump.

READ ALSO: Why Spain’s Catalonia celebrates Christmas with someone having a poo

 
For the foodie 

Archive photo: Shutterstock
 
Saffron, one of the world’s most expensive spices, is a key ingredient in several typical Spanish dishes including paella, and you can pick it up in Spain for roughly half the price of UK supermarkets. The thread-like spice, derived from the flower of the Crocus sativus, is used in dishes around the world, from saffron bread to curries. Soak the threads in hot water before use to release all the flavour.
 
For the fashionista 

Photo: Freejpg/Flickr 
 
Espadrilles have been made in the Pyrenees since the fourteenth century and there are shops in the Basque country than have been selling the rope-soled canvas shoes for well over a century. Recently espadrilles have exploded onto the fashion scene, being made from everyone from designers like Missoni and Valentino to almost every shop on the high street. Why not buy the fashionista in your family the real thing: a pair of Spanish espadrilles that will be much cheaper and more authentic than the designer option. 
 
For the souvenir junkie 

Photo: Gerard Julien/AFP
 
Spain’s king and queen have brought a heavy dose of glamour to the royal palace since King Juan Carlos abdicated in 2014, and a whole new range of royal family merchandise to boot. From mugs and badges to t-shirts and commemorative plates, something is bound to fit the bill. Long live the king!
 
For the carnivore 

Archive photo: Shutterstock
Huge legs of ham are an enduring symbol of Spain, hanging in bars and restaurants around the country. They also make a seriously impressive present for a die-hard carnivore. Jamon Ibérico is one of the finest hams in the world and is cured for at least 12 months. Include a ham stand and extra sharp knife to ensure the slicing of extra thin, melt in the mouth athentic taste of Spain.
 
 
For the footy mad

Photo: RFEF
 
Spain is home to some of the biggest football clubs on the planet and its national team is one of the best in the world. Most football teams have their own shops, but there is football merchandise to be found in every tourist shop across Spain, so popular is the national sport.
 
For party lovers

Photo: cyclonebill/Flickr 
 
Spain is one of the largest three wine producers in the world, along with France and Italy, and has the most land dedicated to winemaking of any country. Famous wine-producing areas include La Rioja, Ribera del Duero and Jerez, home to sherry. Spaniards also love to crack open some cava to celebrate special occasions, so you’ll be spoiled for choice when it comes to choosing which bottle to take home.
 
For the bookworm
What better present for kids than a classic fairy tale like Snow White (Blancanieves) – in Spanish? Not only do they have a beautiful object to enjoy, but they can learn a few words in a foreign language at the same time. If you want to pump up the educational element, there are even bilingual picture dictionaries for kids like My First 100 Words.
 
For those that need cooling off!

Photo: Alex Pascual Guardia/Flickr 
 
Ranging from highly elegant to very kitsch indeed, fans (abanicos) are an essential feature of summer in Spain, and while Christmas might not seem like the ideal moment to give someone a Spanish fan, there’s bound to be someone who could do with some cooling off after a family meal, not least the cook after slaving over a hot stove.
 

For the fruity minded


Photo: Naranjas del Carmen

From a farm in Valencia comes a truly original gift idea, and a much needed boost of vitamin C, in the form of a box of fresh oranges delivered within hours of being picked from the tree. Naranjas del Carmen delivers across Europe. 

For the art lover

Museum shops are a great place to buy a last minute gift and a lasting memento of a favourite masterpiece. Whether it be a tie with emblems taken from Hieronymus Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights from the Prado, a Gaudi-style tiled paperwight, or even a tree decoration inspired by the disastrous restoration job of Ecce Homo

MONEY

Rampant branch closures and job cuts help Spain’s banks post huge earnings

Spain’s biggest banks this week reported huge profits in 2021 and cheered their return to recovery post-Covid, but ruthless cost-cutting in the form of thousands of layoffs, hundreds of branch closures and the removal of many ATMs have left customers in Spain suffering, in this latest example of ‘Capitalismo 2.0’. 

A man withdraws cash from a Santander branch in Madrid.
More than 3,500 Santander workers lost their jobs in Spain in 2021 and a further 2,000 more employees working for Santander across Europe were also laid off. Photo: PHILIPPE DESMAZES / AFP

Spanish banking giant Santander on Wednesday said it has bounced back from the pandemic as it returned to profit last year, beating analyst expectations and exceeding its pre-COVID earnings.

Likewise, Spain’s second-largest bank BBVA said on Thursday that it saw a strong rebound in 2021 following the Covid crisis, tripling its net profits thanks to a recovery in business activity.

It’s a similar story for Unicaja (€137 million profit in 2021), Caixabank (€5.2 billion profit thanks to merge with Bankia), Sabadell (€530 million profit last year), Abanca (€323 million profit) and all of Spain’s other main banks.

This may be promising news for Spain’s banking sector, but their profits have come at a cost for many of their employees and customers. 

In 2021, 19,000 bank employees lost their jobs, almost all through state-approved ERE layoffs, meant for companies struggling financially.

BBVA employees protest against layoffs in May 2021 in Madrid. Spain’s second-largest bank BBVA is looking to shed 3,800 jobs, affecting 16 percent of its staff, in a move denounced by unions as “scandalous”. (Photo by GABRIEL BOUYS / AFP)

Around 11 percent of bank branches in Spain have also been closed down in 2021 as part of Spanish banks’ attempts to cut costs, even though they’ve agreed to pay just under €5 billion in compensation.

Rampant branch closures have in turn resulted in 2,200 ATMs being removed since the Covid-19 pandemic began, even though the use of cajeros automáticos went up by 20 percent in 2021.

There are now 48,300 ATMs in Spain, levels not seen since 2001.

READ MORE:

Apart from losses caused by the coronavirus crisis, Spain’s financial institutions have justified the lay-offs, branch closures and ATM removals under the premise that there was already a shift to online banking taking place among customers. 

But the problem has been around for longer in a country with stark population differences between the cities and so-called ‘Empty Spain’, with rural communities and elderly people bearing the brunt of it. 

 

Caixabank laid off almost 6,500 workers in the first sixth months of 2021. Photo: ANDER GILLENEA/AFP

Just this month, a 78-year-old Valencian man has than collected 400,000+ signatures in an online petition calling for Spanish banks to offer face-to-face customer service that’s “humane” to elderly people, spurring the Bank of Spain and even Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez to publicly say they would address the problem.

READ MORE: ‘I’m old, not stupid’ – How one Spanish senior is demanding face-to-face bank service

It’s worth noting that between 2008 and 2019, Spain had the highest number of branch closures and bank job cuts in Europe, with 48 percent of its branches shuttered compared with a bloc-wide average of 31 percent.

Below is more detailed information on how Santander and BBVA, Spain’s two biggest banks, have reported their huge profits in 2021.

Santander

Driven by a strong performance in the United States and Britain, the bank booked a net profit of €8.1 billion in 2021, close to a 12-year high. 

It was a huge improvement from 2020 when the pandemic hit and the bank suffered a net loss of €8.7 billion after it was forced to write down the value of several of its branches, particularly in the UK. It was also higher than 2019, when the bank posted a net profit of €6.5 billion.

Analysts from FactSet were expecting profits of €7.9 billion. 

“Our 2021 results demonstrate once again the value of our scale and presence across both developed and developing markets, with attributable profit 25 per cent higher than pre-COVID levels in 2019,” said chief executive Ana Botin in a statement.

Net banking income, the equivalent to turnover, also increased, reaching €33.4 billion, compared to €31.9 billion in 2020. This dynamic was made possible by a strong increase in customer numbers, with the group now counting almost 153 million customers worldwide. 

“We have added five million new customers in the last 12 months alone,” said Botin.

Santander performed particularly well in Europe and North America, with profits doubling in constant euros compared to 2020. In the UK, where Santander has a strong presence, current profit even “quadrupled” over the same period to €1.6 billion.

Last year’s net loss was the first in Banco Santander’s history, after having to revise downwards the value of several of its subsidiaries, notably in the UK, because of COVID.

The banking giant, which cut nearly 3,500 jobs at the end of 2020, in September announced an interim shareholder payout of €1.7 billion for its 2021 results. “In the coming weeks, we will announce additional compensation linked to the 2021 results,” it said.

BBVA

The group, which mainly operates in Spain but also in Latin America, Mexico and Turkey, posted profits of €4.65 billion ($5.25 billion), up from €1.3 billion a year earlier.

The result, which followed a solid fourth quarter with profits of €1.34 billion, was higher than expected, with FactSet analysts expecting a figure of €4.32 billion .

Excluding non-recurring items, such as the outcome of a restructuring plan launched last year, it generated profits of 5.07 billion euros in what was the highest figure “in 10 years”, the bank said in a statement.

In 2020, the Spanish bank saw its net profit tumble 63 percent as a result of asset depreciation and provisions taken against an increase in bad loans due to the economic fallout of the virus crisis.

“The economic recovery over the past year has brought with it a marked upturn in banking activity, mainly in the loan portfolio,” the bank explained, pointing to a reduction of the provisions put in place because of Covid.

In 2021, BBVA added a “record” 8.7 million new customers, largely due to the growth of its online activities. It now has 81.7 million customers worldwide.

The group’s net interest margins also rose 6.1 percent year-on-year to €14.7 billion, said the bank, which is undergoing a cost-cutting drive.

So far, it has axed 2,935 jobs and closed down 480 branches as the banking sector undergoes increasing digitalisation and fewer and fewer transactions are carried out over the counter.

At the end of 2020, BBVA sold its US unit to PNC Financial Services for nearly 10 billion euros and decided to reinvest some of the funds in the Turkish market.

In November, it launched a bid to take full control of its Turkish lending subsidiary Garanti, offering €2.25 billion ($2.6 billion) to buy the 50.15 percent stake it does not yet own.

The deal should be finalised in the first quarter of 2022.

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