So where will you be unwrapping your socks and chocs this Yuletide? Will yours be a ‘Feliz Navidad’? Or do you think the Brussels sprouts are greener on the other side of the Channel?
CHRISTMAS IN SPAIN – WITH BELÉNS ON
If you’re giving the joys of Squeezyjet a wide swerve this year, be aware that lively Spanish resorts turn into spooky ghost towns on Christmas Eve, the one fiesta the Spanish stay in for.
December 25th is another non-event because, in traditional mañana fashion, they prefer to honour the Three Kings on January 6th (who were, themselves, two years late for the Nativity).
Nor does turkey usually make an appearance on the festive Spanish table (and if you’ve ever tried fitting one into a Spanish oven, you’ll know why). But you’ll find plenty of local fare to get your teeth stuck into – literally so, if it’s turrón, a chewy almond confection that performs extractions more efficiently than any dentist.
And you’ll quickly add new words and phrases to your Spanish vocabulary – like ¡Cállate! when the local kids regale you with villancicos (out-of-tune folk carols) accompanied by zambombas (anis bottles scraped with sticks to produce an excruciating grating sound).
During my very first Christmas here, I couldn’t fathom why people got so excited about the Town Hall Balloon. Only one? A bit stingy, I thought. Until someone took me to see a belén and the céntimo dropped. Aha, a nativity scene! A fantastically intricate creation with real running water, a Virgin Mary with a plunging neckline and a neon halo, and electric sheep!
Another bonus is that they don’t start cranking up Christmas here quite so early as in Britain, where Wizard and Slade are on song from the end of British Summertime and there are santas mugging you for money from every shop doorway. And, of course, the weather’s warmer too. Not necessarily bikini weather, though it can be fun to wear one when making the traditional Christmas Skype call to the folks back home, just to hear the envy…
But a word of advice. If it really is swimsuit weather and you’re planning a Dickensian-style Christmas al fresco, don’t! Because
It’s the joy of being re-united with loved ones, you tell yourself as you emerge into a chill, grey Gatwick dawn, buckling under the weight of their annual standing order: the gin, the brandy, the pungent strings of garlic, the smuggled leg of jamón serrano that caused all that barking in Nothing to Declare. And you’ve forgotten the gifts for the tree! So? It never buys you any.
Never mind! There’s nothing like a last-minute supermarket shop to bring out the peace and goodwill. Tesco is in gridlock with carts the size of dumper-trucks bearing screaming toddlers and mountains of miscellaneous charcuterie. Three people are actually fighting over the last Maize-Fed, Organic, Non-GM turkey, so plump it has cleavage and clearly enjoyed a natural death from obesity.
Later, ye olde village pub promises to provide a warmer welcome. But you had forgotten ye olde British round system and the trauma of converting to Sterling, only to discover that it costs a week’s salary for a quantity of alcohol that wouldn’t get a newt pissed.
And don’t forget that it’s cash up front or the whole bar will hear the foghorn voice of the landlord when you walk away without paying.
But why does everyone stare and whisper when you order a brandy with your mid-morning coffee, or a triple gin and tonic before lunch? We expats can’t be expected to re-adapt to the optic just like that and, in cloudy old England, who’s to know when the sun’s over the yard arm?
Christmas is wet, not white, and dawns too early, 4am always being the time your sister’s kids open their stockings and take the contents on a tour of the guest bedrooms. You receive gift vouchers for shops they don’t have in Spain and electrical appliances with moulded-on, three-pin plugs.
Oh, and a bottle of cream sherry which, your Aunt Madge assures you, is “better than your Spanish rubbish – you can’t beat good old Harvey’s from Bristol”.
After a six-course lunch and a pint of Baileys apiece (“It goshe down juss li’ milshake. Hic!”) you’re sweating like a Sumo wrestler in the cloying and unfamiliar warmth of carpets and central heating and you wish you had brought your bikini – or else would someone please adjust the bloody thermostat!
As the TV flickers into life (“Doesn’t Bruce Forsythe look his age?”), and the assembled company collapses into the sofa in a perfect impersonation of The Royle Family, you shudder to think: “This really does feel like Christmas!”
Wherever you go, have a good one!
The Royle Family Video Clip: You can’t have Christmas without turkey (even if no one likes it)!
What is Christmas?
Do any of us really know? Here are my favourite extracts from Christmas essays by British primary school children who think they do:
“There were diamonds in the sky when Jesus was born and his girlfriend was called Lucy”.
“Father Christmas wasn’t there when Jesus was born. I think he started around August 1785.”
(And perhaps the worst example of modern life being confused with religious history):
“When Jesus was born, Joseph and Mary gave thanks to God by sacrificing a turkey”.
Have you read about the great Spanish experience you can have with some distant relatives of Rudolf’s?