Category Archives: Holidays in Spain

The Never-ending Spanish Holiday Season

One of the great things about the holiday season in Spain is that it goes on forever. And it’s all about family (and food).

It starts off with Christmas eve with a big family dinner and get-together. That’s followed by Christmas day when Santa leaves his presents (or Christmas eve in the case of my family). The kids then have almost a week to play with toys before the next holiday – New Years.

New Years Eve is a family tradition with a large meal and the traditional “campanadas”, the countdown at midnight which involves a countdown with a bell ringing pretty quickly 12 times while you choke back 12 grapes (or try) with each ding. In the US, New Years Eve is all about going out with friends and finding a party where you’ll be guaranteed a midnight kiss. In Spain it’s all about family (and then partying afterwards). Back before kids I remember going out until the early morning to celebrate New Years eve, leaving the house around 1am.

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And last but not least we have King’s Day. This is on January 6th and is when the Three Wise Men or Kings come overnight with their camels and leave presents for the kids. But it isn’t just this day alone: the night before before most towns have a “cabalgata”, a large parade with floats, camels, ducks, you name it (details and specific parade parts depend upon the city). During the parade the floats throw tons of candy out to the kids who anxiously wait on the sidewalks.

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Cabalgata image (candy not included)

So basically you have a sugar high followed by brand new toys the following morning. It’s kind of like Halloween + US xmas.

Not a bad deal for kids, if you ask me! And not a bad deal for me here in Spain to have such a long holiday season and over two weeks off from school. I’m already looking forward to the next holiday (Easter break) – just three months to go…

 

Vacation time! Spanish style.

I remember working in the US, and I remember taking vacation during the summer, but  I definitely DO NOT remember ever taking or having a full month off to disconnect and relax (that’s because I never did).

This is definitely one of the big pros of living and working here in Spain. I may not have a stellar salary like I would back in the US, and I may complain about different things from time to time, but I can’t say I had many complaints today as I closed my office door and said goodbye until September. Hasta luego!

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Black Friday makes it back to Spain. All week.

Last week as I was driving into work I heard a number of ads on the radio announcing big Black Friday sales. Sales lasting all week or the whole weekend. Since when did Friday turn into a full week? (last year I also touched upon this topic, although this year it’s been much bigger)

Since then it’s been nonstop emails, TV ads, radio ads, signs, all about Black Friday. Back in the US Black Friday has always been the crazy day — and I emphasize the word “day” – right after you’ve eaten too much turkey and spent too much time with the family to run off to the stores and fight with crowds of people to get special deals. For me I’d rather pay a few more dollars any day than fight with crowds on Black Friday. Now, however, this whole “Black Friday” concept doesn’t seem so horrible – a full week or longer, online sales…

I mean, I’m all for sales, but I do find it a bit funny. I’ve seen signs with Black Week, Black Weekend (slightly racist perhaps??), Crazy Friday … But where’s the turkey?? I’m almost afraid to say it, but I have a feeling Thanksgiving might start invading the land of cañas and tapas at some point in the near future as well.

Below is an image of the multitudes of turkeys at Costco the other day on sale since Thanksgiving has already passed. They were on sale with a 3€ discount — interestingly (or maybe on purpose) there was no sign that said the discount was for Black Friday … Poor turkeys 🙂

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Living in Spain vs. the US: 12 years later, do I see myself moving back?

If I had a nickel (or euro) for every time I’ve been asked this question I could buy myself quite a few cases of my beloved pumpkin-flavored beer (worth an image. See below).

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The short answer is no, at least not in the short-term.

Here are my thoughts on four topics that make an impact in this decision: commercial culture (aka shopping), weather, salary/working conditions, being a parent.

Do I miss the US? (that’s another question I get a lot). Of course. I miss my family first and foremost, friends, the ease of communicating in my native language, my hometown of Boston (not during the winter), some specific food items (lobsters are not the same over here), etc. So of course there are a lot of things that I miss about living in the United States of America. Typically when I’m back in the US for a trip I come back to Spain with my suitcase filled with the result of serious shopping expeditions.

The commercial culture is something I miss – there’s so much variety and just so much to choose from. And generally at lower prices than here in Spain. Having said that though, sometimes I wonder how much is too much.

The last time I was in the supermarket in the US I found it a bit overwhelming just looking at the endless lineup of salad dressing options. And don’t get me wrong, I love going to the malls. In fact during my last trip to the US last week I dragged my mom to the mall on the way home from the airport. However, I think that would get a bit old after some time. The US is a huge mall culture. Spain has started copying this over the years, but it hasn’t reached the same intensity yet (surely the weather helps).

Speaking of weather… this is always one of my main points. I love Boston, but I “strongly dislike” the Northeastern climate. I have some nice memories of being little and making snow angels in the snow with my big, puffy snowsuit on. But I also have many memories later on of being so cold that my fingers turned white and lost all sensation. I was back in the US for 9 days last week (between Boston and New York), and I would venture to guess that I saw the sun for about 10-15% of that time. Here in Madrid I really am used to having the sun shine every day, and even on cloudy or rainy days (that are few and far between) there’s always some point when the sun jumps out to say “hola”. It definitely puts me in a better mood to have this climate and be able to do things outside, which I love.

From a work perspective I have some mixed feelings: during probably the first half of my time in Spain I often complained that I would earn a much higher salary in the US. Even after completing my MBA at IESE Business School and earning significantly more than pre-MBA days, I’m still sure that I would make double or more back in the US. But…at what cost? I’ve done a lot of weighing of pros and cons thinking about this topic, and my conclusion has been that I prefer Spain, at least for now. One reason is the vacation time. At my current job I have the whole month of August off plus two weeks at Christmas, plus Easter week off, plus a number of other national and local holidays. In the US maybe I’d have three weeks, but never taken at the same time. I can’t see that working to visit family. My plan this year is to be in Boston with the kids for the whole month of August.

Speaking of the kids… since becoming a mother of two young children, I’ve thought a lot about the differences between bringing up children in the US vs. Spain. I’ve had both of my kids while living in Spain, so, to be honest, I can’t fully compare the experience. What I can share, however, is what I’ve seen raising my kids so far here in Madrid vs. what I remember when I was younger or hear from friends back home. I’m planning to write another post about this, but just a tidbit to highlight: we live in an apartment-complex with its own park, common play areas, pool, etc. where the kids can be out playing easily until 8 or 9pm+ (in summer). And it never really gets so cold that you can’t go outside. That for me, is a huge point in favor of being here (at least vs. the east coast of the US as a comparison). TBC…

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This isn’t the park at our house, but it’s an example of one closeby that we frequent. Notice the sun…

To summarize, for now I couldn’t really imagine myself back in the US, but we’ll see what happens in the future. Right now my children are both still below five years old, but I would love them to have the experience of studying in the US when they’re older (assuming they get a massive college scholarship). For now I’ll stick with the sun and take it day by day.

It’s January 5th, and the holidays continue…

The fall came and went quickly over here in Madrid. By the time mid-October rolled around I was starting to wonder whether it was ever going to get cold. This seems to happen every year at the end of the long, hot summer  and continued heat in the fall. But eventually, it does get cold for a few months. I’m not talking Boston cold, but a few days it’s been around 30ºF/0ºC in the morning, so not too bad. That’s where we are at the moment, and I must say that I actually enjoy the brisk weather as a change from the stifling summer heat (even though the cold is one big reason why I would never go back to the US East coast).

On another note, I’m ashamed to admit that I once again skipped an important American holiday and tradition this year and did not celebrate Thanksgiving. Although I had planned to finally cook a turkey (this would be the first time), I ended up leaving it a bit to the last minute and didn’t even have chicken that day 😦 At least I did make an effort to call the extremely overpriced little American supermarket called “Taste of America”, only to be told that they were selling turkeys for the fantastic price of 80 euros (gasp!). Call it a New Years resolution if you want, but next year I’m going to cook a turkey, pre-purchased from the local carnicería.

Aside from the Turkey Day mishap, I think one of the best things about this time of year here in Spain is the way the holiday season seems to continue forever. We start in early December with national holidays on December 6th and 8th. If these fall during the week you’re in luck and can usually get a long “puente” with time off from work. Then we have Christmas, New Years and finally “Reyes” (King’s Day) on January 6th. (see my post from last year for more details about the holidays: https://spanishized.com/2016/01/02/holiday-season-in-spain-some-spanishized-thoughts/). Unfortunately, after Reyes it’s time to get serious again…but only until Semana Santa (Easter week) comes around in March/April. Let the countdown begin.

Holiday season in Spain – some Spanishized thoughts

When I was recently in Barcelona with my sister and walking around a Christmas market downtown, we stumbled across a stand with some interesting items… As I had lived in Barcelona for a couple years during my MBA I remembered seeing this, but it was tough to explain to my sister why there were stands full of little figurines pooping – literally. The caga tio. (wikipedia explanation). To make a long story short, this basically comes from a Catalan tale of a log that poops presents. Yes, you read that correctly. Over time, this has transformed into cute little figurines defecating. (I’ll leave out the aforementioned figurine image here for the more traditional log one).

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Hey, whatever brings holiday cheer, right?  Granted, we Americans have our strange traditions as well, like stuffing a turkey full of bread and eating him once a year in November or running around half-naked in speedos with Santa hats in the freezing cold during the Santa Speedo Run (Santa Speedo Run) (I’m “proud” to say by the way that the latter originated in my hometown of Boston). So, who am I to judge?

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(Note: No, I do not know these people in the photo).

As an American living here in Spain for quite some time now, what I would  say stands out the most to be about the holidays here is the amount of family events (and of course accompanying food) and the overall length of the festivities. Back in the US we pretty much have Christmas Eve and Christmas Day where the family gets together for food, drinks and presents. Here in Spain everything starts with a big family dinner on Christmas Eve, followed by a lunch on Christmas Day. Some presents may be given on Christmas (this is becoming more popular over the years as the idea of Santa Claus is growing and it makes sense to give kids their presents earlier so they have time to play before going back to school on January 7th), but it’s still not by an means the big gift day.

Next up is a family dinner on New Years Eve. This usually includes the typical grape-eating campanas at midnight where you watch the countdown and then eat 12 grapes to go along with 12 church bell rings. Usually a bit after the countdown is when people will go out to bars to celebrate NYE and stay out until whatever time the next morning. Definitely different than my memories of Boston where you almost always celebrate the countdown at a party and hope to have someone to kiss at midnight. (The good thing about the Spain version is if you don’t have a significant other for the end of the countdown you don’t have to worry as you can always count on your grandparent or pet for a two-cheek peck…!

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Next, on New Year’s Day you can expect another big family meal.

But it’s not over here. The bigger gift-exchanging day in Spain falls on January 6th, Three King’s Day. This is similar to the idea of Santa Claus coming down the chimney and leaving gifts, but instead there are three kings who come during the night and leave presents alongside shoes that each family member leaves out before going to bed. And, similar to Santa, the kids usually leave something to eat and drink for the kings. (I remember leaving milk and cookies for Santa, but I must admit it seems more exciting to be leaving a shot of whiskey for the kings. I’m sure they appreciate that much more than a cookie after a long night’s work…). The night before the 6th there’s also usually a big parade with floats organized in cities throughout Spain. The kings and helpers go around the city in floats and throw candy out to all the kids watching the procession and waiting. Fortunately, it seems that this year they are now no longer using a white person painted with black face paint to represent the black king, Baltasar. We’re making progress.

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And, last, but not least, January 6th is celebrated with another big family get together and lunch. For kids, I must admit that it’s not at all a bad deal to have so many celebrations and get togethers, especially if you have a large family with a lot of cousins. And for adults, compared to what we’re used to in the States, it’s nice to see more of a mix with family throughout the extended holiday, even when you don’t think you possibly have room for another five-course meal.

One more thing: don’t be surprised to walk around the city center and see people dressed up with Halloween-like wigs all over the place. Usually these are sold in the Christmas markets and people wear them around town.

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Getting dressed up with wigs and costumes even makes it into the annual 10k San Silvestre races that are organized in big cities around the country. I ran my first one this year (one word: superanimada. ok, maybe that’s two). In any case I loved it and will definitely be repeating again next year, maybe not with a full costume, but definitely with at least a Santa hat in tow. (I think I’ll leave the Boston speedo tradition for Boston).

Tired (and/or full) yet? Hopefully not. Reyes is just around the corner…

Happy New Year!