It’s been a very different experience this year as we are building up to Christmas. I’m used to lots of drinks and Christmas dinners throughout December, both work-related and with family and friends. As we are still settling in here in Spain, we weren’t quite sure what to expect or what to do. But actually, some things are the same wherever you are in the world, and the feeling of Christmas is definitely around.
We’ve seen some truly amazing Christmas decorations all around the streets when visiting Madrid. They must have spent a fortune on the displays, and many thousands of people are around every single night to admire the amazingly colourful spectacle. And every area of Madrid seems to have slightly different types of decorations, so that you walk from one amazing display to another. The shopping was really good fun too, with quirky and unusual shops selling one-offs that you really couldn’t get anywhere else. And in addition, wherever we went, the food was outstanding. So our 2-night stay really put us in the Christmas spirit!
Christmas flu jab
In preparation for the festive season, we thought we might treat ourselves to a flu jab. Not a straightforward business, this. Hilary was fine, as he has reached the magic age of 65, when as a jubilado (pensioner) you can get almost anything done in the Spanish health system straight away. In fact, without asking, he also got a pneumonia jab at the same time.
But because I’m younger, I was required to make an appointment and see the doctor first. She spent less than one minute with me, and wrote out a note for the receptionist to make an appointment with the nurse, who could see me 8 minutes later. The handwritten doctor’s note to the nurse was amazing, because she started her request to the nurse with ‘por favor’ – you wouldn’t get that in many places! But flu jab now done, and it gave us the opportunity to walk around Iznajar and admire the fountain turned into a tree, and the Xmas tree made out of poinsettias outside the health centre.
Instead of Christmas trees, many Spanish families will spend a lot of time and creating a Belen, a nativity scene, that becomes increasingly elaborate over the years. The main Christmas market in Madrid on the Plaza Mayor was totally dedicated to Belen decorations, and not a tree in sight. And we found a chocolate museum near to where we live that has a full nativity scene, all in chocolate, and people come by the busload from all over Spain to see this (as well as a Pope made out of white chocolate!)
Last week, we went to the official opening of the Belen nativity scene in Iznajar, which was fabulous. Lots of people there, a nativity scene that included live chickens and local produce, and lots of singing, made better – and louder – by the free drinks on offer. The Spanish create a great sense of occasion for these types of things, and it is wonderful to feel part of it.
Christmas dinner in the sun
It wouldn’t be Christmas without a British Christmas dinner, and so we organized the full works for our local neighbours. Thank goodness for the Iceland shop near the coast that sells everything from Xmas crackers to stuffing to mince pies. I even managed to get most of the ingredients for Christmas cakes, though with some improvisation – let’s see what they taste like when they’ve matured….
I’ve certainly never had Christmas dinner in the sunshine before, with sunglasses and sunscreen to hand. And our house looked really festive with candles and flowers from the garden, and a Christmas tree built by Hilary. Very cool!
Spanish Christmas drinks
Together with our Swedish friends down the road, we invited our Spanish neighbours from our street (dirt track) over for drinks last night. We took round a printed invitation by hand, and these were very warmly received, though also with a hint of puzzlement – as this is not something they normally do and I guess they didn’t know what to expect. But it was a great do last night, and we learnt a lot more about how they celebrate Christmas (yes, they also have turkeys, but no presents – these come on 5th January when they celebrate Three Kings), about their families, and their lives as farmers. We talked, and laughed, and drank, and ate – it was a lovely occasion.
Now this may sound as if suddenly, overnight, I’ve become fluent in Spanish, but this is far from the truth. But there is a willingness to communicate, and to make friends, and we really appreciate the very warm welcome we’ve received from all of our neighbours. A great start to Christmas!