in Spain
The fairy-lights are up in the city The fairy-lights are up in the city Alasdair Baverstock

With my first Christmas abroad just around the corner, as well as away from my family, it's odd to feel as 'Christmassy' in Spain as I usually do around this time of year in Australia.

To me, Christmas is a duplicitous period, half family-based, with drunk grandparents and infighting, half atmospheric; as people dress up in scarves and coats to wander the fairy-lit streets.

For me, one half (my family) is absent, and as for the other half, the locals start to feel the cold in Madrid around mid-September, so the sight of mittened kids and pets in woolen jackets is not as seasonal as it would be back home.

But it's not for a lack of trying; 'Navidad' (Christmas in Spanish) is as characteristic as it gets, it's simply a matter of adapting. The fairy-lights are up in the city, and the enormous conical tree that illuminates the square on Spain's geographical centre (Puerta del Sol) makes the beating heart of Madrid more lively than ever. Teenagers lurk under the lights, their woolly hats a giveaway of the intervention of coddling Spanish matriarchs.

As we all know, the Spanish are good at enjoying themselves. Many of the quirks and traditions of the culture, at which the rest of the world takes pleasure in bewilderingly gawking at, still exist simply because Spain turns them into parties. If dressing up in a wizard's hat and tying two cowbells around your neck (as they do at La Vijanera in northern Spain) involved a guaranteed ripper of a party afterwards, wouldn't you be more inclined join the herd of Dumbledores?

The Spanish traditionally eat seafood on Christmas, and plenty of it. So while anglophile cultures struggle with turkey sandwiches well into January, the Spanish are stuffing grapes into their mouths (a new year tradition) and receiving their presents on King's Day, the 6th of January. The holidays not only sound easier in Spain, but last a lot longer too.

Family is important at Christmas, and Spain is no exception. Every Spanish friend I have here is returning home (few are actually from Madrid) for the holidays, some to a small nucleus of kin, others to gatherings of forty extended family members, and none seem daunted by the prospect. Papá Noel is on his way, the shrimp are on the grill and Christmas songs known the world over blast from every shop front, except for during siesta; some day-to-day customs take precedence.

The main focus is on the kids' enjoyment, so whether it involves hitting a smiling log named 'Uncle Poo' in Catalonia or jumping over open fires in Granada, sanity and sanidad (health) are the orders of the season.

Christmas seems much the same here as it does in England, the mentality of giving and fellowship is cut from the same cloth; it just has that essential, unashamed Spanish twist which makes life here such a delight.

Alasdair Baverstock, freelance journalist

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