Beyond Mañana

Real Expat Life in Spain

Christmas Comes But Once a Year (And I’m Fine With That!)


Don’t get me wrong, I am no grumbling Grinch or scowling Scrooge, I’ve always enjoyed Christmas, and since having children it is of course an even more magical time of year

However, in Spain I like it more, and I am sure part of the reason for that is that we only celebrate Christmas here at – Christmastime!  Advent starts in December and that’s when the countdown begins.  Before then, you’d be hard pushed to spot a single twinkly light or bit of tinsel (other than in Costa Expatville)… then suddenly it all happens.

All very different to the UK, and on a business trip in October I found a brief shopping trip on Oxford Street soon left me bauble-blind and numb to the lot, months before the actual date.  Of course the street displays weren’t up yet, but all the shops were getting out not just seasonal decorations and displays but those awful kinds of merchandise-for-its-own sake ‘gifts’, generally the stuff they usually sell but presented in an easily wrappable box with clear plastic over the top at double the price – clearly declaring, normal things people may need or want are just not good enough to give and receive these days and you must instead pay extra to dress it up in more non-biodegradable tat so that it is correctly presented… eurgh.

Sorry, I clearly do have a bit of inner Grinch being channelled here, but that’s in the UK, in October.  Here in October, we’re still on the beach!  We are not shopping for ‘gift sets’ of any darned thing, except possibly reduced to clear sunscreen.  Because, it’s not Christmas yet.  And I don’t want emails from every online store I’ve ever visited alternately threatening me with deadlines and trying do seduce me with discounts for a quarter of the year… the unsubscribe buttons have been busily banged.  Thank you yes I am aware of the date and associated festivities, and should I require any of your wares I can find you via my browser like I did last year – unless you really wind me up first with a deluge of timed emails I don’t want in November.

Pile ’em high, it’s CHRISTMAS

Then suddenly December and – bang – Christmas comes to Spain! Christmas music blaring out of really crackly supermarket PAs. Entire towns brought to a standstill by municipal lorries and platforms performing essential works stringing up lights across the main road in the middle of the day.  Christmas markets, fayres and festivities – yes, a lot of which is aimed at encouraging us to buy stuff, but at least we don’t have to do it weeks and weeks before the event.

Town Centres become shrines not to the Gods of Retail, but to huge elaborate Belens – nativity scenes, but often with casts of thousands of figurines, (including some guy pooping in the corner that the kids love to find and point out to any visiting relatives).  Many schools and offices boast their own Belens, and Spanish homes too – the shops fill not just with gifts but complex craft materials for creating the perfect nativity at home, with expensive figurines lovingly packed away and collected for use year after year.

And just like back in the UK the school performances become the focus of huge time and attention, the parental crafting of costumes, the studious memorising of lines and songs, the carol concerts where the English parents know the tunes if not the words.  But in Spain the default assumption is that most parents are NOT incipient paedophiles, and as such are welcome to photograph or video their little angel’s moment of glory.  I would much rather have my own photos focussed and centred on my own kids doing their thing, than an ‘official’ recording issued in January – even if my shots are framed with the back of everyone else’s smartphones glowing (some innate Englishness sometimes stops me throwing myself wholeheartedly into the surge for good seats at the front)

Of course the only way Christmas in Spain does get a bit sneaky on is, rather than starting in September or October it does however go on a bit in to January.  The Three Kings do not appear until Epiphany on the 6th, and round these parts these are the guys who bring the presents.  So naturally our kids like to try it on and suggest that if we really want them to integrate then actually, they should get more new stuff then, two weeks after opening their stockings!

Nice try girls, being expat kids very often means the best of both worlds, but don’t push your luck.  You can chase the Kings down the road when the boat comes in, and I will try to stop you actually throwing yourselves under the wheels of the floats to grab the sweets they hurl into the crowd, but if you leave your shoes out hopefully on the doorstep all you can expect is a lump of coal.  Maybe the supermarket Kings Candy coal, which is slightly blacker and messier than the real thing.

(This unusually seasonal post was brought to you as part of a Christmas Blog Hop… if you enjoyed reading it, why not check out some of the other festive postings from other expat bloggers below!)

  • Steve Bichard

    I had a job to find your blog hop post, but I sussed that you had a static landing page.

    Just doing the rounds of the blog hop.
    Christmas greetings for festive France

  • miranda

    Hurray – the same sentiments. christmas at christmas – and thank god! Feeling relieved that her husband is not a paedophile because he takes a photo at the school play, and also with kids trying to milk being expats!! I admit to trying to grab the seat in the front row though (blimey – maybe there’s nothing British about me left) Well save for liking Christmas pudding. Great post!

  • Leslie

    Hola! Reading the “Flamingo in Utrecht” blog tipped me off to this festive hop affair, which led me here last week.

    I really enjoyed your post, and no sooner had I learned about the “Belen” phenomenon in your adopted country, one of our papers here in the Netherlands printed a giant photo of an underwater nativity scene at the Madrid Aquarium…even the captive sharks get to enjoy the season! Brilliant. I immediately thought of your post. To me, this is blogging at its best: when a personal account of everyday life helps me feel more connected to the world, and become more than just a passive observer. Thanks!

    PS: I’m delighted to add that after voting for your post in Jive Turkish’s Christmas blog hop poll, I was randomly selected as the winner 🙂

  • Christine

    It is rather refreshing being in a country that celebrates Christmas in the right month, isn’t it?