Sweet bread baked into giant rubber rings with cream and plastic bits masquerading as glazed fruit in bright colours that fruit should never be.
Men in fancy dress, facepaint and beards on floats, throwing sweets at kids. Shoes laid out: presents for those who have been good, lumps of coal for those who haven't. And, all across the country, the return of football. From Iago Aspas for Celta to Pizzi and Deportivo and the appropriately named José Antonio Reyes, whose assist saved his manager at Sevilla and left Osasuna's manager moaning about finding himself "in the s**t again", performances worth waiting for. They call it Reyes, Kings: Twelfth Night, 6 January: the night when the three wise men, the magic kings, arrived bearing gifts for Jesus.
For Jesús and María and Mateo. After a winter break in which everyone cast longing eyes at the English game and wondered why they couldn't have the same football calendar here, when they placed bets on which player wouldn't make it back on time this time and those who had Fabio Coentrao cashed in, when Dani Alves turned up to training in his pyjamas, and when only Catalonia and the Basque Country kept up the Christmas tradition of games for the regional 'national' teams; after a break in which Deportivo de la Coruña sacked their manager and Jorge Mendes brought them another one, and another Saint Innocents' day when no one could tell the joke stories from the real ones, and the queue to leave Spain grew longer, La Liga was back.
Well, most of La Liga: there's still one more game to play, stuck out on a limb as usual, occupying the Monday slot yet again is Rayo Vallecano. Football returned with 28 goals, starting with two more for Betis, now level with fourth-placed Málaga who occupy the final Champions League place. Mallorca did what Mallorca do but hadn't done much of lately, Kevin García scoring a late equaliser in an ugly game against Atlético Madrid.
Raúl García did what Raúl García does when Falcao is not around: score.
Deportivo beat Málaga under Domingos Paciencia. Granada, down to 10 men thanks to a ridiculous red card, were beaten by Valencia. And Levante's miracle ran into another year. For Football's Expendables, 2013 started with a 3-1 walloping of Athletic and fans chanting at Fernando Llorente to join them, failing to see that at 27 he's a good four years too young, but celebrating the fact that another game means an automatic renewal for 37-year-old captain and man-mountain Sergio Ballesteros, with 20 matches to spare. "We handed out the sweets and got three points," grinned their manager, Juan Ignacio Martínez.
Meanwhile, at the Camp Nou, the Catalan derby was over in 29 minutes; a sublime first-half performance saw Barcelona take a 4-0 lead over Espanyol, a wonderful assist from Sergio Busquets finally making people notice the player no one notices. "We were lucky we didn't score: we might have annoyed them and they would have got 12," said Javier Aguirre.
Then there was Madrid. They have never lost the opening game of the new year at home. It's not that long since they won their first game 1-0 despite it only being six minutes long – the last, postponed minutes of a bomb-threat hit match concluded on 6 January. This time their opponents were the same side: Real Sociedad. And this time they won 4-3. But that was not even half the story.
José Mourinho dropped Iker Casillas against Málaga before Christmas. He had 10 days to think about it, 10 days of analysis and campaigns, and he decided to do it again, even though the "technical decision" that no one believed then they believed even less now; even though his team were 16 points behind that "other" team he can't even bring himself to name. Perhaps because they were 16 points behind them. Or perhaps just because he can. His goalkeeper and captain, World Cup winner and icon, the one man he can't drop ... dropped. And then back on again five minutes later.
At the club where the manager who, asked who he thought he was to leave out Original Ronaldo, replied "the manager", promptly became the ex-manager, the knives were out. Before the last home game, the man on the PA spared him, skipping over his name, but this time he was not going to. When he read the team out there were a few timid whistles for Antonio Adán, the goalkeeper he chose ahead of Casillas, as if it's his fault. And when the announcer got to the subs, to Iker Casillas, there was a roar and applause. And then he said it: "And the coach ... José Mourinho." Whistles, lots of whistles.
The message, this time, is unequivocal.
After just one minute, Karim Benzema scored. So maybe it would be a placid afternoon after all. Mourinho could be forgiven for thinking: the decision will be justified; they'll move on to something else, forget it all. But then it happened. The game was only five minutes in when Adán's poor clearance gave Real Sociedad a chance and he brought down Carlos Vela. Penalty. Red card.
The fastest red card the Bernabéu has ever seen. In one game and five minutes Adán has now conceded three — none of which were really his fault, but that doesn't stop people from saying that they were — given away a penalty and been sent off, missing the rest of this game and getting suspended for the next.
He's off, Casillas is on. All that, and now this. Gang aft agley. You couldn't make it up. Happy new year, José.
Rather than bemoan the penalty, or the card; rather than worry about being down to 10 men, the fans seemed delighted. As Casillas ran on the pitch, the stadium chanted his name again: "Iker! Iker! Iker!" It could only happen to Iker Casillas. "He hasn't got a saint looking out for him; he has a whole bunch of them," as one team-mate puts it. "Things happen to Iker than just don't happen to anyone else." In 2002, Casillas became Spain's hero at the World Cup after Santi Canizares dropped an aftershave bottle on his foot, severing tendons. That same summer, he had come on as a late sub in the European Cup final, saving his side after César Sánchez fell awkwardly injuring an ankle. Fate conspires with him. Even Mourinho can't compete with that.
As Juanma Trueba puts it in this morning's AS: "messing with Casillas is like messing with God. On Sunday, the lightening bolt appeared after just six minutes." And so there he was, on the pitch and facing a penalty. Two, three, four minutes it took him to get on; minutes in which everyone was thinking the same thing: and if he saves it?
He didn't. Saving it would have been too much, even for Casillas. Xabi Prieto scored.
So started a weird afternoon. An afternoon in which Xabi Prieto scored a superb hat-trick, only the seventh visitor ever to do so at the Bernabéu, and still lost. In which Ricardo Carvalho — yes, Ricardo Carvalho — was brilliant but Madrid were mostly awful, misplacing over a quarter of their passes, where Real Sociedad let slip what their manager described as "a unique opportunity" to win. In which Casillas gave away the first ball he touched and didn't touch the second ball he should have touched, flapping at a cross. Mourinho had suggested the day before that he wanted to bring Casillas out of his comfort zone; he'd done that all right. Casillas looked nervous. Everyone did.
The victim most of all: "I'm pretty jodido," Adán admitted. Pretty pissed off. He complained of a lack of respect; he was the pawn in someone else's political battle. Mourinho insisted that Adán had been torn apart by the media lions; his critics countered that he had been the one who threw the goalkeeper to the lions. And while Casillas has not had a good season — a fact that has been overlooked as critics have rushed to attack Mourinho — the nerves were far greater this time. There was a stillness, an uneasiness, about the Bernabéu. Madrid never trailed but mostly felt like they did; in the first half, Real Sociedad walked round them, playing at will. Until, that was, Cristiano Ronaldo yet again took control, yet again carried his team, scoring twice in three minutes. He was, said Marca, "brilliant". "Ronaldo never gives in," added AS. "The real special one is the No7" claimed Tomás Roncero.
But although Madrid won 4-3, no one really seemed in the mood to celebrate.
Ronaldo did not appear afterwards, nor did Casillas. Mourinho didn't at the time. He stayed in his dugout the entire game, emerging just once — to demand a red card late in the game. He sat slumped, grey. There was something about him that said: John Major's Spitting Image puppet. Only much, much angrier. When Ronaldo ran to the bench to celebrate his second, vindication spread across his face, Mourinho scowled. He shouted something: he seemed to be telling him to get back out there. Mourinho just sat there.
Six hundred kilometres away, Barcelona's manager sat on the bench too.
That, though, was good news. The best news of all.
Results: Zaragoza 1-2 Betis, Levante 3-1 Athletic, Granada 1-2 Valencia, Deportivo 1-0 Málaga, Sevilla 1-0 Osasuna, Celta 3-1 Valladolid, Real Madrid 4-3 Real Sociedad, Barcelona 4-0 Espanyol, Mallorca 1-1 Atlético, Rayo-Getafe: Monday night.