Inhale. Annnnnnd exhale.
Did anyone else breathe an enormous sigh of relief now that the holidays are, dare I say, OVER? Don’t get me wrong, its always bittersweet – I love the preparations and hate how fast it all ends! It’s a genuine mix of emotions that the most anticipated time of year with the parties, the presents, the traditions and the cheer has yet again come and gone.
But here’s the thing…
With anticipation often comes expectation and if you’re a bit of a perfectionist like me, it can be super stressful!! The turkey must be perfectly cooked, the tree lights twinkling just right, the presents meticulously wrapped, each shiny ornament carefully placed (unless your home includes three toddlers like ours does!) and the magic of the season captured uniquely in the hearts of each family member.
Damn, it’s a lot to tackle! And maybe our expectations can run away with us at times, right? Especially this year with our family deciding to stay in Barcelona for the holidays and not travel back to the U.S. – the pressure was really ON. There were many beloved traditions and family past times that we would be missing out on back home. Would we be able to fill those voids this year?
It was up to my husband Tony and I to make this Christmas feel as special and magical for the kids (as well as ourselves, let’s be honest) as any other year. Here’s the good news…
When you live life as an expat, you sort of master (by default) how to honor the familiar and old while embracing the different and new. So naturally we found ways to recreate our holiday favorites from home here in Spain.
We baked sugar cookies, we then ate ALL of those sugar cookies, we danced to Christmas tunes while decorating the apartment, watched favorite films like Frost the Snowman and Its A Wonderful Life. We crafted gingerbread houses (which collapsed moments later)….
Paid a visit to Papa Noel (Santa Claus) at the Christmas train station in Parc de l’Orenata…
And yes, we wore matching Christmas pj’s, currently a fun American trend, while reading The Night Before Christmas.
In as many ways as we could think of, despite our parents and siblings with their children not gathered around our tree, we filled our home with cherished memories of Christmases past.
And interestingly enough, while Christmas is recognized here in Spain it’s not nearly as big as Three Kings Day, or Dia de Los Reyes, on January 6. Imagine a world where December 25 is NOT the biggest celebration of the year!? It’s true! But that only means one more day on the calendar to PAR-TAY well after New Years Eve!
It’s the day that well behaved children in Spain anxiously await while naughty children dread. Slippers are left by bedroom doors the prior evening with hopes of being filled by the kings overnight with treats and toys. The streets of Barcelona are filled with parades, music and candy being thrown from elaborately decorated floats. It’s a BLAST and a cultural affair we simply couldn’t pass up!
One minor hiccup to adopting new yet sometimes conflicting rituals? In our home, where Santa Claus is the king of Christmas, we worried about how these messages might confuse our kids. Who brings the gifts? What day do they come? Where do they come FROM??
I actually LOST sleep over this!
But surprisingly, my kids drew their own conclusions (as kids are so good at doing, right?) and decided that if you live in Spain, Santa lets the Three Kings do all the gifting, but everywhere else in the world is his territory ha! I mean, he can’t possibly cover the entire globe in ONE night anyway…
God, am I grateful for their vivid imaginations!
Their rationale also helped explain why our family has “Joe, the Elf on the Shelf” and not a single other child at school does. Joe visits from the North Pole to spy on the children each day leading up to Christmas. At night, he flies back to Santa and reports on their behavior.
Yes, I know – this genius invention sits right up there with the lightbulb and velcro! When my kids went to school and shared stories of the silly antics performed by our elf, the others listened in amazement and wondered why THEIR family did not have one?
I’ll just leave that explanation up to THOSE parents if I may…ha!
While we’re on the subject of leaving things where they belong, one Catalan tradition at Christmas I just CANNOT see us embracing is Caga Tio. Never heard of it? You’re not missing out on much…
Basically, its a wooden tree trunk or log wearing a Santa hat and a little warm blanket. Cute, right? Each night at the beginning of Advent, children feed him orange peels or wood shavings until December 24 when he (sigh*)…POOPS…yes, POOPS out presents, sweets and treats.
When I first heard about this ritual, I laughed loudly. Maybe a little too loudly, as the Catalan friend explaining it to me looked less than amused at the humor I found. Nonetheless, this is NO joke – rather a sacred tradition that we simply chose to……opt out of!
We did, however, want to respect the culture in which we live and work so promised the kids each a miniature size Caga Tio purchased at the renowned Christmas Market of La Fira de Santa Llucia. (And no, these don’t come bearing bowels of gifts!)
When I think of a European Christmas, this famous market in front of the Barcelona Cathedral is the perfect setting. Rows and rows of vendor stalls donned in warm twinkling lights each selling precious seasonal trinkets. One of my new favorite ornaments came from this market!
A stop at this market in the center of the Gothic Quarter is a must during the holidays in addition to strolling down the majestic narrow alleys of Old City to gaze at the gorgeous tree in Placa de Sant Jaume. This spruce was nowhere near the height and width of the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree in Manhattan, but it still sparkled proudly like it was.
While much of the holiday season centers around children, as it should, I wanted to do something special for just Tony and I. Something that could only be done here in our city of Barcelona that we would look back on and always remember.
So we dressed in our holiday best, scheduled a babysitter and headed downtown. We stopped for drinks and tapas at an amazing little treasure called Tosca in Gothic (can you tell this is my FAVORITE part of the city??). And finally after our bellies were filled, we walked across the street to the famous Catalan theater, Palau de la Musica, for a Christmas Gala Performance.
Check out my Instagram page @theexpatchronicle for live performance videos of favorites like Oh Holy Night, Happy Christmas and Joy to the World. It was a magical and romantic night…
THESE were the things I looked forward to about spending Christmas in Spain. Now….if only we could fly each and every family member out here to experience it along with us. The sights, the smells, the sounds – the celebrations.
It has certainly been a year worth celebrating – with new adventures, a few more stamps on our passports, several exciting accomplishments for the kids, some bumps and bruises along the way and enough memories to fill a photo album.
And with 2019 already in full swing, we have NO clue what lies ahead. But it is with certainty that we welcome the changes and even the challenges.
We are thankful. We are blessed.
And so as the song goes, “Another year over…and a new one just begun.”