From Barcelona: Mix-mash Navidad

From Barcelona: Mix-mash Navidad

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Christmas for the new Holland family promises to be a fusion of Spanish, American, Catalonian customs and family traditions.

The arrival of a baby this year has added something special to the holiday season, although she's still too young to know who Santa Claus or the Magic Kings are and prefers boxes to toys.

Still, it's never too early to revive old traditions and start new ones drawing on customs from her American dad and Spanish mom.

The holiday season in Spain lasts a month and the main gift-giving day has traditionally been el Dia de Los Reyes Magos in January.

In general, I've found the whole approach to presents quite different between Spain and the States. Back home, I remember feeling an intense pressure to buy and build the pile under the tree, rushing from store to store in a packed mall in a desperate search to find something for someone who seems to have everything.

Here, the number of presents tends to be singular maxing out at three or four. They are generally lower in monetary value, but more personal in nature, speaking to the recipient's personality rather than the latest it item according to all the magazines. The Spanish call it un detalle.

Meanwhile, many shops are located in the old medieval part of the city whose tiny squares are full of merchant tents selling arts, crafts and food and whose stone churches might be housing a string quartet playing Bach. It almost makes shopping and the crowds bearable.

I am glad, though, that the kid will be able to spend every other Christmas in the States. The holiday season there seems to be more festive than it is here and there's something infectious about the tacky decorations, catchy carols and bright lights.

Perhaps it’s because of Catholicism and the fact that Christmas is first a religious ceremony, but the Spanish seem to be more restrained and sombre in their celebrations that us enthusiastic Americans.

As a kid, the picking and decorating of the tree was what I enjoyed most about Christmas (after the presents of course!) One family tradition was buying a new ornament each year from somewhere off the beaten path and when I look at the tree now, it's so full of memories. It's definitely something I'm looking forward to sharing with the kid.

My wife also has equally fond memories of building the belén, or nativity scene, and placing the various figurines around the manger. That will definitely be something for us to do and I can't wait to visit the Christmas markets and have our daughter pick out her first Jesus, Mary and caganer. And since we live in Catalonia, she'll also have the caga tio adding a new tradition to the season.

As for when to give presents, Christmas or King's day, isn't much of an issue. More and more Spanish parents are spreading out the gift-giving so their children will have something to play with over the holiday break and I imagine we'll do the same.

Still, I am looking forward to putting this growing belly and white hair to use and donning the red suit on Christmas Eve, shouting: Ho, ho, ho.

I also promise to try not to be one of those bullish parents on the night of 5 January when the Kings parade through the city who knocks over granny for that piece of candy.

Christmas crib Photo Flickr © Titanas
Christmas crib

The only one area that's impossible to find compromise is the food. My Spanish in-laws prefer fish, lobster and jamon iberico for Christmas dinner while my family back in the States sticks to the turkey, honey glazed ham and yams. Neither are adventurous enough to add new items to their menus.

So far so good, the baby's not picky when it comes to food nor are her parents. The one tradition that we are able to introduce this year here, however, is Christmas crackers which comes from neither America nor Spain but England thanks to her paternal grandfather's side of the family.


18 December 2009
Jeremy Holland / Expatica

Written by an American expat, From Barcelona, is a blog dedicated to the city, the life and the people of the capital of Catalunya (Catalonia).

Photo credit: Titanas

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