Home or Away for Christmas?

The Expat's Dilemma

Christmas in Spain

Are you celebrating Christmas in Spain, flying off to Britain or sitting on the fence?

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?


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

  • Wrestling with a bird the size of a small albatross on a wonky patio table is no picnic.
  • Where do your guests tuck their festive napkins? (Gravy in the belly button is not an appetising sight).
  • After all your efforts, there will always be someone who comes out with the crass remark: “You know, it doesn’t really feel like Christmas with all this sunshine.

Or will you be trying to have yourself a merry little Christmas back home…?

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”.

expat ChristmasMy Favourite Christmas Cracker Joke
Question: Why is getting Christmas presents for your kids just like a day at the office?
Answer: You do the work and the fat guy in the suit gets all the credit.

Have you read about the great Spanish experience you can have with some distant relatives of Rudolf’s? 

The Stag Party With No Males



  • Mo November 25, 2012 at 10:37 am Reply

    Great laugh! I think this year we´re staying in our wee flat all three of us and the cat so we can do exactly what we like. I am going to Glasgow before Christmas but will happily get out before I have to feign any Christmas cheer! Hope you enjoy yours, Belinda.

    • Belinda November 27, 2012 at 10:38 am Reply

      Thanks Mo. Sounds like a great idea and hope you have a good one. We’ll be at home too – with three cats!

  • Maxine Raynor November 26, 2012 at 12:20 pm Reply

    Also the strict instructions to relatives “back home” to not buy your kids anything heavy / large as you can’t get it back on your low cost flight, only to be met with Bob The Builder’s life-size workbench on Xmas morning. Grandparents answer: well it’ll have to stay here then (to be used twice a year, if lucky!).

    Plus taking over 2 expensive bottles of Rioja to be told that at Tesco’s they have better wine that comes with a screw top too – no messing around with a bottle opener. Good Rioja makes the overcooked turkey so much easier to chew!

    And many more too numerous to mention…

    • Belinda November 27, 2012 at 10:41 am Reply

      I’m empathising Maxine, you have a great post of your own in the making!

  • Molly December 17, 2012 at 5:29 pm Reply

    I agree that Spanish 24th/25th Dec is a non event. Stayed one year and was quite dissapointed. Prefer a grey day in the East Midlands as they have Christmas telly at least & mince pies.
    btw, the more I read your blog the more I get hooked! keep up these great posts Belinda. (no pressure ; )

  • Sue Cross December 28, 2012 at 4:43 pm Reply

    Loved your blog, Belinda. I have cast my vote and decided that Christmas in Spain is the better option. However, last year was an exception as we had unwelcome visitors who stole our presents – see
    This year we escaped both Blighty and Spain and took a last minute cruise. The Bay of Biscay put some passengers off their Christmas turkey but, even though The Azura was the Boat that Rocked, it was worth every moment; no washing up, no shopping and no hassle. Now that we are back on terra firma, sales fever has hit the UK. Shopping is now a hobby it seems and something to be taken seriously and with a certain aggression. I’m staying home as the laundry beckons. Happy New Year!

    • Belinda January 7, 2013 at 3:44 pm Reply

      Sorry to hear about the ‘Grinch’ who stole your Christmas last year but glad to hear 2012’s was a winner!

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