It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas!

Lucia’s car thermometer read 2º celcius by the time we arrived to Olivares. I said out loud to no one, “Shit, if it’s this cold, I want to see snow!” This, of course, was not really true. One of the best thing about Spain is it´s LACK of snow. The last time it snowed in Sevilla, Kike wasn´t yet born (he´s a ripe 29) and the majority of my kids haven´t seen it.

That´s the theme this Christmas – tons of cold gusts and sales on winter coats. I finally gave in to my repulsion of ugg boots and had my parents send me a pair. They saved my life the day my school turned off the heat to conserve costs. And María del Mar and Irene, two of my 12-year-olds, think they´re chulas. It´s often warmer in my house than on the street and our electricity bills are through the roof because we´ve all had our space heaters on. I even bought a rug in an attempt to conserve some heat in my teeny little cuarto.

I´m reveling in christmas time here. Walking down Avenida de la Costitución, the main tourist strip, people are selling chestnuts and the trees glitter with tiny blue lights. There´s a huge Christmas tree right next to the town hall and the escapartes at the shops on Sierpes and Velazquez are full of Christmas promotions and holiday-themed set-ups. The shops open on Sunday for a few hours and the streets are always full. Yesterday, in walking around Triana running errands, I saw little kids dressed as angels and shepherds after acting out the story of Jesus´s birth.

One of my favorite holiday traditions in Spain is the belén, or the nativity set. Every barrio has a nativity depicting Christ´s birth in a stable, complete with an ox and a mule. Many also have living nativities, acted by kids and with real animals. After the huge nativity in Plaza del Duque next to El Corte Inglés, there is a man representing Balthazar, one of the wise men, and the kids sit on his lap and ask for presents like they would from Santa Claus.

Every family sets up a nativity set in their home. I´m Catholic, so my family sets up a little wooden stable with plastic figurines every year under the tree. But Spanish families get elaborate. They start with “El Misterio” or the Holy Family and gradually add the shepherds, the three wise men (yikes, got flashbacks of freshman year and those nasty shots!) and the animals. They even add the caganer, a Catalonian export that depicts a man mid-squat who resides in the corner of the stable. But it doesn´t stop there – people add the entire town of Bethlehem. The nativity at my school, for example, is full of camels, shops, people. Many huge belenes that I´ve seen have rivers, thieves and things I would have never expected. It´s kind of like those winter villages we put up in the living room and put lights on.

I´m the first to admit I really don´t like Chritsmas, but in Spain it´s really different and more about family and remembering why we celebrate. That said, Christmas is simply Christ´s birth and nothing more. Families have a huge dinner on the 24th and go to mass on the 25th. Kids don’t receive presents until January 6th, El día de los Reyes Magos. Santa Claus exists in TV ads, but the kids ask the wise men to bring them gifts and go to a parade on the 6th. This is called a Cabalgata, and floats in the shape of everything from the president to animals pelt candy at the kids. It´s been really fun seeing my eight-year-old student Manuel get all excited and eat lots of polverones during class. He told me all the crazy stuff he wanted for Reyes and I told him they were going to bring him carbon because he was naughty and looked at my cards during “go fish” One interesting similarity is that kids receieve coal if their naughty!

It’s also tradition every year to have a Comida de Navidad with coworkers or social groups. Last year, Kike invited me to a comida with his Arabic class at a Moroccan restaurant. Everyone gathers once before the holidays to eat and drink and usually get drunk. My school has one, and I didn´t go last year. This year I went to school on thursday all dresses up to get my check and wish my coworkers happy holidays. We let the kids go an hour early and sat around in the teacher´s lounge drinking anise and bottles of Cruzcampo . I hitched a ride with some of the younger teachers to Valencina de la Concepción, a town halfway between Olivares and Sevilla, to a restaurant. As we sat down in our own private room, the 35 of us were treated to a spread of meats and shrimp and cheese. The wine was never-ending and neither was the food. It was hilarious to see my coworkers getting hammered and expressing their surprise that I was still with Kike. Many of them are so professional at work that it was completely unexpected! Towards the end of the meal, the one overworked waiter brought out a dozen bottles of champagne and the headmistress and various teachers made toasts. One of them stood up and said, “Que la guira diga algo!” and I thought for a minute, my head swimming a bit, and stood up and raised my glass. They told me to say it in English to test how well all of the English students could understand. I said, “This Christmas, I´m going to set fire to the school and I think Ignacio looks like a horse.” The response was, “CHIN CHIN! gulp, gulp, gulp” and very few people understood until I translated into Spanish. Everyone laughed except for the headmistress, the scariest lady on earth.

We continued on to a bar de copas where we not only took over the bar but the laptop full of music. As everyone got drunker and María José hung onto me for support, we busted out songs from Mama Mia! and a techno version of “I did it my way” in Spanish. Serafín thought it would be funny to grab a broomstick from the utility closet and start a limbo contest. I had to sit down before I split my tights and Nieves was crying so hard (I love her laugh because her whole body shakes and then she starts crying). I am seriously kicking myself for having a broken camera and a disposable without a flash.

I’ve since recovered my cell phone and bought a nice new camera for only 129€. Tomorrow Kike is taking me and his mama to the base to see their airplanes and his brothers come home on Monday. I’ve got lots of sightseeing in Seville and writing planned, along with studying French and getting some ideas together for the summer. Camino de Santiago? Perú? Backpacking over here? I love having possibilities!

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About Cat Gaa

As a beef-loving Chicago girl living amongst pigs, bullfighters, and a whole lotta canis, Cat Gaa writes about expat life in Seville, Spain. When not cavorting with adorable Spanish grandpas or struggling with Spanish prepositions, she works in higher education at an American university in Madrid and freelances with other publications, like Rough Guides and The Spain Scoop.

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