5 things I learned when I spent Christmas in Spain

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Courses and courses of food. O.M.G.

 

When I was planning on going to Madrid back in July/August 2015, I would often ponder about what the school year ahead had in store for me. I would be a teacher, not the student this time, and I’d be living in a distant country with other people.  I often thought about birthdays and holidays I would be missing out on being with my family, including Christmas.

 

 

I already knew I wouldn’t be going home for the holidays because Chicago isn’t exactly a 3 hour flight away from Madrid, and because yours truly was on a budget.  So? My host parent’s asked me what my Christmas plans were, and that’s how I got to spend a Christmas celebration with a Spanish family.

 

Since being in Madrid beginning early fall, by December I had started to become more familiar with not only my host family, but with the Spanish lifestyle in which I began to notice certain things that were similar to what home was like for me, and things that were completely new and different. It’s pretty weird to explain, but it was really cool to experience.  Spending Christmas in Spain meant going from having tamales and pozole, to ternera con salsa de queso roquefort (steak with blue cheese sauce) and gambas al ajillo (shrimp with garlic) on Christmas Eve for dinner.  However, it also meant celebrating and staying up late on Christmas Eve and attending mass at midnight, just like I’ve experienced in Mexico with my family. Different but equally enjoyable.  Below are just a few things I found interesting, familiar, different, and amazing when I had the experience to spend Christmas in Madrid with my host family.

 

 

Mexican Christmas culture is very similar to Spain’s own

Yes, you may be shaking your head (either physically or mentally) thinking “well of course, we came in part from them!” It’s no surprise considering history of past conquests, which led the way to a transfer of not only DNA, but traditions, food, and beliefs.  My host parents don’t open presents on Christmas day, if they even have presents to give since mostly gifts are given on Reyes Magos day (3 king day) in January.  My host family mostly celebrated Noche Buena (Christmas Eve), and stayed up laaaaate; talking, toasting, and enjoying family. The only difference I noticed was the absence of music, which I must say I missed. A lot.  I don’t really know what I was expecting when I got invited to spend this holiday with my host family, but in general I think I was mostly surprised at how similar and overlapping certain traditions were, and how easy it was to feel comfortable and join in on conversations. Especially over the food. Oh my, the amounts of food.

 

 

 

It’s Christmas wonderland!

Madrid, or really any town/city in Spain during Christmas is taken straight out of a movie. That’s it. Old city streets of Toledo are brightly lit, leading a glowing celling of twinkling lights illuminating the sky and the path to the Cathedral {infinite heart emojis}. I don’t think I’ve ever been that expressive or poetic about Christmas lights, but how can you not after looking at them?  Especially cities and towns where people’s main form of transportation is their own two feet, streets get crowded and there’s more life overall.  Adding to the liveliness of the holiday and the Christmas spirits. Gaaah so pretty to look at!

 

 

La Loteria Navideña (Christmas lottery)

If you start to google Christmas lottery, you will see different versions of it in different Latin American countries. Previous to living in Spain, I had never heard about this lottery, and it was quite interesting, especially walking into classrooms and crashing various Christmas/last day of school parties, and seeing all the kids munching on chuches (junk food) and watching la loteria being drawn. Spain has this annual Christmas lottery called “El Gordo” or the fat one because it’s the lottery with the largest amount of money.  It’s a pretty big deal in all of Spain, and you’ll hear vendors outside of shops throughout December announcing the lottery amount that year, and how many days until you can buy your ticket. It was a big deal with the students that day, as kids watched and didn’t even noticed I had entered their classroom or that I was eating from their party snacks…

 

 

 

 

The Royal Speech

Christmas is the time of rejoice and being nice and wishful towards others, and the King of Spain makes sure that you know that on Christmas Eve.  King Felipe VI of Spain delivers a Christmas speech every Christmas Eve doing just that; spreading holiday joy and wishing all Spaniards felices fiestas. Also, everyone ignores him and criticises his wife, a commoner, and then they all go into a frenzy about the politics, corruption and lack of jobs.  At least my host family did, who more than likely had experienced all of this and were speaking of experience and knowledge.  I on the other hand was so attentive to this experience of watching a King broadcast a Christmas message to all the land he reigned. Yes, that’s how I thought about it. I’m just naturally intrigued by Royalty in general. Also, Spanish politics is a hard concept to wrap my head around, I’d look pretty ridiculous trying to jump into a conversation about it with my host dad’s parents, sounding like if I took a mandatory government class in middle school and because I did that I knew what I’m talking about…which I did but not for Spanish government. I’d also be rambling like I am now.  I’ll stop now.

 

 

 

 

Christmases abroad don’t come often

So take advantage of them!  Truth is, it’s easy to feel sad, lonely, and nervous about spending the holidays away from friends and family, especially if it’s the first time.  I know I felt a few waves of these feelings whenever I overheard students and co-workers at school talk excitedly about holiday plans away in their villages with their family, but that shouldn’t make us feel bad about spending Christmas away from our loved ones.  I think now that it’s about perspective and embracing the opportunity to spend Christmas through different cultural lenses.  It was a beautiful thing to see the hospitality that my host family’s extended family gave me, the kindness, and opening their home and sharing their food with me and wanting to get to know me. Christmas 2015 was teaching my host dad’s sister about how I spend Christmas as a Mexican-American in Chicago, it was about participating in some friendly games that I had never played, but quickly understanding and having fun with my host dad’s nieces. It was about sharing a table, passing food around and having fun conversations with loving people. We can discover that even though we may be miles and miles from our homes and loved ones, spending Christmas abroad will be a unique experience that looking back on one day, I will be sure to remember it as one to stand out in memories of Christmases past.

 

 

 

 

Happy holidays everyone, I hope that you enjoy the pleasure to spend it with the people you will be sharing holiday celebrations with. I’d love to hear about any experiences anyone has had while spending the holidays abroad, so please leave a comment and share your wisdom with us!

 

Hasta la proxima,

 

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