December – the most festive time of the year, has been a beauty of a month for me. Celebrations for my 21st, visits from friends (shout out to Becca Reid and Jenny Barnes, much love), Christmas cheer, and I now write this post from the lovely, if a bit chilly, England after 5 months in Spain.
Still double-digit degree weather in Estepona, at least during the day, England’s bitter cold is shocking. But exactly what I expect at Christmas. Sunny days, palm trees and the beach, despite being wonderful, do make Christmas seem months away. Only the odd Christmas advert and Bublé tunes remind you of the time of year when in the Costa del Sol – a sharp contrast to being smothered by the festive season as soon as you step off the plane (though this is one of the things I missed about England). Despite my happiness that Christmas lights began to illuminate the streets of Estepona on my birthday, 8th December, this is somewhat later than lights would begin appearing in England.
And of course, with this festive season comes the office Christmas celebrations (with a Spanish twist). Think less turkey, and more fish – though it was the tastiest sea bass I’d ever eaten! A delicious meal at the Da Bruno restaurant in Marbella, with English touches including crackers – which then led to explaining the bad cracker jokes in Spanish, definitely made the festive cheer more apparent. We replaced the English ‘Secret Santa’ with its Spanish counterpart – ‘el regalo invisible’, where instead of being buying for a specific person, you have to buy a unisex gift which is then passed around the table in a pass the parcel-esque game, accompanied by a story directing the present either “left” or “right”. The meal was then followed by the universal “let’s go for drinks”, taking us around Marbella still wearing our Santa hats.
Despite coming back to England for Christmas, there are certain Spanish traditions that I was able to experience.
1) All over the streets of Estepona, not only are you warmed by the Spanish weather but also the smell of chestnuts roasting on street corners by the street vendors.
2) What you will see as frequently, if not more frequently than Christmas trees in Spain, are traditional nativity scenes
, known as a ‘Belén’, which is the Spanish word for Bethlehem. People put these in their homes, and can be found widely around Spain including El Corte Ingles. Jenny and I stumbled across a huge ‘Belén’ in Estepona. Walking around it, the whole of the Christmas story was depicted on this nativity scene, complete with angels, wise men and the baby Jesus.
3) In terms of food, ‘turron’ is the Christmas speciality, which is a sweet made of almonds and honey. Although I didn’t get a chance to taste it in Spain, there’s a pack sitting in my kitchen to be opened on Christmas day (as if we won’t have enough to eat on Christmas day!) And one thing you can’t escape in Spain is huge legs of ham, which are usually enjoyed by families at Christmas, and range from 50 Euros to about 700!
Another Spanish Christmas tradition is ‘El Dia de los Inocentes’, otherwise known as April Fool’s Day, which takes place on December 28th, and throughout the Christmas season.
Some Christmas traditions are the same everywhere, whether in Spain or England, with lights and decorations and the general Christmas cheer/panic. And unfortunately, even I couldn’t escape Bieber’s destruction of ‘All I Want for Christmas Is You’.
Christmas isn’t even the biggest celebration in Spain; I can look forward to the day of the three kings (‘El Dia de los Reyes’) on 6th January.
But before all of that, whether it’s “Merry Christmas” or “Feliz Navidad” (or nothing at all) enjoy the rest of 2011 and I’ll see you in 2012!