Over 3,000 miles away from the United States and across the Atlantic Ocean, I find myself far from home this Christmas. However, it’s comforting to know that even in Spain there are some things that different cultures can share. After living in this country for the past three months, I’ve come to love the people here, regardless of their stone-cold faces and their pushy nature.
Yet, it’s with the holidays, as the season always manages to warm the coldest of hearts, that I’ve gotten a glimpse of the softer side of Spain. I see it most in the way my city has been preparing for Christmas. The endless rows of wreaths that are strung from building to building, the festive garlands twisted around columns in all the plazas, and the familiar “hustle and bustle” inevitable in any gift-giving atmosphere all melt the boundary between me and the “Spaniard.”
I do miss the little things from home, like actually being able to have a coffee to go, a hot chocolate that’s not pure chocolate, and I’ll even go as far as to say a Starbucks. I also miss going with my family to Steve’s Christmas tree lot and then decorating the tree later with all the best Mickey Mouse and Disney character ornaments from 1989.
It’s these American traditions that are, in essence, wonderfully cheesy and taken for granted, and thus where Spain has taught me to appreciate my own culture while I experience a different one abroad.
For a truly amazing spectacle, nothing was more in the spirit of Christmas than Plaza Mayor at 6 p.m. on Dec. 1. It was the day that the lights finally turned on and I had never seen the plaza or the surrounding streets so crowded.
It’s a known fact that the people here live their lives outside – everyone is always walking and enjoying life through the daily, casual stroll. But the night of Dec. 1 was one that stood out from the rest. The oldest of people, the youngest of people, families, girlfriends, boyfriends, old friends; they all flocked to see the moment the city would sparkle – and then it did.
Millions of lights strewn across the streets began to twinkle, the gigantic Christmas tree, standing tall, radiated. And, of course, strobe lights of red and green skated across the ice rink in the middle of the plaza. To the left was a choir singing “Little Drummer Boy” in Spanish, to the right an immaculately gilded carousel, and bordering the plaza were tiny, snow-capped houses for Santa’s little helpers.
But, perhaps the most popular display of Christmas in Spain would have to be the nativity scenes that are present in the majority of store windows and are numerous in the Spanish household where I live. Another testament to the craze would be the rather grand display of the mechanical Virgin Mary, baby Jesus and farm animals that move their heads and limbs that seems to attract the biggest crowd in Plaza Mayor.
And so, it’s the subtle differences and the emphasis placed on varying aspects of the world-renowned holiday that I can’t help but enjoy in this unique experience. The culture shock of living in a country whose population stays out until 6 or 7 a.m., practices daily “siestas” and whose food consists of “tapas” and gallons of olive oil, all seems radically different when I compare it to my life three months ago.
Yet, as I’ve tried to show through the fact that I’m still that blonde and blatant “Americana” student, I suddenly don’t feel so out of place.
Christmas is coming, and seeing the season, if only at a glance, from this new perspective only makes me appreciate my culture, as well as recognize how it’s similar to others. Feliz Navidad from abroad. Merry Christmas.