Saturday, December 22, 2012

Comparing Winter Holidays

In the U.S. every family has slightly different ways of celebrating Christmas and New Years, but only slightly different.  However, in general, we all share the general idea of how the holidays should be: snow (for most of us), lots of family time, gingerbread houses, a big special meal on Christmas eve and day, opening presents on Christmas morning, Christmas cookies, Christmas tree with family ornaments, Christmas movies, Christmas carols, and maybe a kiss on New Years Eve at midnight.  Here in Spain, their customs are quite different.  I'll start with Christmas.

Spanish Style Waffle!
First of all, the holiday spirit is not quite as abundant here as it is in the U.S.  Sure, there are some lights and holiday decorations, but nothing on the scale of what I'm used to in the U.S.  The biggest changes I've seen in Almería include a giant Christmas tree on the ramblas, Christmas lights lining the main shopping street in the city, and setting up the temporary Christmas market.  The Christmas market is like any average Spanish mercadillo that sells scarves, jewelry, hand crafts, t-shirts, etc.  Also, the Spanish market has quite a few waffle and crepe stands set up for a holiday treat.  Spanish waffles are similar to ours, minus the toppings.  Instead of butter and syrup, they add chocolate, whipped cream, marmalade, etc.  Not exactly what I think of when I think of Christmas treats.  Also, they set up a small ice rink on the ramblas which I found very impressive considering it's still in the 60s here most days.  Moving on to how they celebrate Christmas Eve (noche buena) and Christmas day (navidad).  Families usually gather for these holidays, go to Christmas mass if they're religious and just eat and have a good time.  However, no presents are involved in celebrating Christmas.  Spanish people exchange presents on "Reyes" which is Three Kings Day on the 6th on January.  Although this may seem strange, it makes a lot more sense.  According to the Biblical story, presents didn't occur in the story until the kings arrived many days after Jesus' birth.  So, this is the day the Spaniards choose to celebrate with presents.  When kids are little in Spain, they write to the three kings instead of Santa Claus for their presents.  In addition, "Reyes" is celebrated with parades, family, etc. and is considered a much bigger deal than Christmas around here.  Back tracking to another thing about Christmas Eve, apparently for young adults it's one of the biggest party nights of the year.  After dinner, all of the youngsters go out to the clubs for dancing and drinking!  I don't even think clubs are open on Christmas Eve in the U.S., so this is a strange concept for me.  Something else I learned is that the concept of a Christmas tree is very American/English.  Only in the past 20-30 years have Spaniards begun to decorate their houses with a Christmas tree.  Additionally, the majority of their ornaments are store-bought.  The idea of decorating a tree with handmade or family ornaments is a completely foreign concept.  Instead of Christmas trees, you will be much more likely to find a nativity scene in a Spaniard's house during the holidays. Finally, I found it strange that most Spaniards have never heard of gingerbread men, gingerbread houses, Christmas cookies and other American Christmas norms.  Just a few more cultural differences to add to the list.

The delicious paella we made :)
New Years Eve is generally celebrated with family here in Spain.  Also, when I mentioned the tradition of a New Years Eve kiss to my students, they thought I was crazy.  Their New Years Eve tradition is eating twelve grapes right before midnight, one to represent each month of the year.  Additionally, for women it is a tradition to buy a new pair of red underwear and wear it on New Years Eve.  My friend, Amanda (who I will be traveling with), and I thought this was kind of funny so we bought some to wear this year.

 Some of my personal highlights of the past week included getting together with some friends here and making a holiday meal, paella. Also, my students performed the Christmas Carols we've been working on the past couple of weeks at the holiday celebration on Friday.

Celebrating the holidays in another country really opens your mind to other cultural customs.  However, I wonder what it's like to be in a country that is not dominated by Christianity, like my friends who are currently volunteering in India, Cambodia, Tanzania, and Samoa.  Maybe I'll find out one day, but until then "Feliz navidad y año nuevo" to all of my friends and family :)  Now, I'm off on my own holiday adventure to Milan, Austria, Slovenia and Croatia.  Can't wait!


  1. Totally agree! Christmas celebrations are WAY bigger in N.I. than in Spain, much more fuss and partying. It is traditional for us to go out for a drink on Christmas eve but all the bars are shut by 12 and everyone goes home early anyway because they want to enjoy the Christmas dinner minus the hangover!

  2. Holaaa ¿cómo llevas la Navidad?, espero que muy bien, estado leyendo tu articulo, quiero explicarte algunas cosillas. A ver el hombre de jenjibre no lo conocemos porque es una tradicción vuestra típica de vuestro país y no tenemos porque saberla igual que los Reyes Magos tampoco los conocías hasta llegar aquí, es normal son cosas propias de cada cultura que no tenemos porque saber. Luego después de las uvas aquí en España se le dan dos besos de feliz Año a tod@s tus amigos, familia.... no se quién te ha dicho que no, eso es totalmente incierto, de hecho si sales después a la calle y ves a más gente conocida la paras para desearle Feliz Año y le das dos besos, sobre todo lo que mayormente prima aquí en España en la Navidad es cenar con tu familia y amigos, dejando muy atrás o con menos importancia la decoración, y todo lo material puesto que son épocas donde se debe intentar que el consumo de cosas innecesarias sea lo que prime, bastante tenemos ya con las grandes superficies, las publicidades y todo lo que hace gastar y consumir sin ser necesario. un besitooooo :)))