The Spanish Christmas Spirit
I’ve never felt the Christmas spirit more than I do here in Spain. I don’t mean the spirit of giving and good will–although those are completely excellent pursuits–I mean that inexplicable magic, that sort of sparkle in the air. That warmth and cheer and light in a season that might otherwise be dark and harsh and cold.
I was first struck by this two years ago, while living her in Madrid. Here’s the post about that, and it’s one of my all-time favorite posts, when I feel like I first started to develop my style of casual photos and prose on this here blog. So please check it out.
Now, the second time around, I think I get it, that I can explain what makes the holiday season in Spain so special. First, it’s about how everywhere gets decorated. Not people’s houses, so much (although you do see quite a few deep red “Christ Was Born – Merry Christmas” flags with the baby Jesus in his nest hanging from apartment windows, as well as those dangly ladders with a stuffed santa–or the three wise men!–trying to climb up and through the window), but pretty much everywhere else.
I am talking about public spaces–bars, restaurants, cafés, intersections, plazas, etc. Los españoles are, after all, muy de la calle. They live the bulk of their lives outside the house, and with Christmas being a huge social event, it’s only natural that all of these communal gathering places should be strung with tinsel and garland. Of course, we do this in the US, too, but not in the same way, and not to the same extent. I mean, when was the last time you went into a dusty dive bar at Christmastime to find that it was not only be-decorated, but decorated thoroughly and tastefully? Exactly.
The second secret ingredient in the Spanish Holiday Cheer recipe is longevity. So, yes, they’ve got Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, but it doesn’t stop there! After New Year’s, Spaniards celebrate Three Kings Day (Día de los Reyes Magos–the three wise men) on January 6th. If Christmas is more about family and big meals and staying up late drinking and talking, then Reyes is the day more similar to our American Christmas, the day where little kids wake up early and tear through presents. In the end, we’re talking two full weeks of non-stop Christmas-y action, and it’s all considered Christmastime (Navidades). Not to mention the build-up to all this–lights, carols, shopping–which starts in earnest around late November/early December (as opposed to, say, October 31st, and I’m looking and YOU, USA).
And I like it. I mean, I think that in the US we build up SO MUCH for just one day, and then it’s over, and there’s always this huge let-down. When I found out that my friend Eric’s birthday is December 26th, I apologized to him, because that’s pretty much the shittiest day of the year (whereas February is the shittiest month, happy birthday to me). I appreciate that in Spain the Christmas Season is truly a season, a span of time, and although it’s certainly immersed in consumer culture, at least it’s not that awful shopping/decorating/propaganda landslide of Halloween-Thanksgiving-Christmas one right after the other boom boom boom.
But of course I could never leave all of my American Christmas traditions behind.
Because our gingerbread cookies are pretty kick-ass. And our carols are way better.
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!
This post is dedicated to my father, who loves Christmas more than any other Jew I know.