Boy am I glad to be heading back to London for Christmas. Last year I spent Christmas in Seville, not really through choice, but we’d just had a baby and decided it would be better not to fly back, mainly because of Mr Jack Frost, but also because the only airline with free flights was Ryanair. It was the third year I’d been away from my homeland for Christmas, and the third year I’d come to the conclusion that you can’t beat spending the festive period in your own country, with your own kind.
I’m not saying that Christmas in Seville wasn’t special, most holiday periods are excellent here and Spanish people know how to have a fiesta. However, given the choice, I’d prefer to be back in England, mainly because that’s where I have all my childhood memories.Why Christmas in Spain can be special
I’ll never forget last Christmas in Seville though, especially as it was our first as a family. Here are a few reasons why I know I’ll enjoy it again in the future.
I’m a massive fan of Spanish food. I definitely miss grub from back home, especially at Christmas, but the quality and range of cuisine available during the festive period is quite astounding. Spanish families usually celebrate with a main meal on the 24th of December, at about 10pm, normally when most people in England are down the pub on their fifth pint, or second jager bomb.
The type of food that you might find on the table on the 24th will include, fresh prawns or crayfish, delicious Serrano ham, and fine cold meats such as pork or ham served with huevo hilado – candied egg yolk. I craved the usual turkey and all the trimmings on Christmas Day, but at least I didn’t have to put up with the smell of sprouts, before, during, and after the meal.
You can’t beat a bit of Christmas pud or fruit cake for desert, but Spanish sweets are just as tasty. Thick bars of chocolate known as turron, marzipan sweets, and mantecados – addictive powdered lard cakes (taste better than they sound) are normally plonked on the table alongside shot glasses filled with anis – a sambuca style drink. I was in my element, especially as I managed to find a supermarket LIDL, which sold mince pies.
Sunny Christmas days
A snowy white Christmas has to be the ultimate perfect weather, but I can’t remember the last time that happened in London. Spending Christmas Day last year walking about with clear blue skies while the sun shone was a gift. My cousins live out in South Africa and it’s always funny to see photos of them on the beach at Christmas. One year I was in Bangkok which was better than I’d expected. Considering it was a Buddist country they’d adopted a lot of European culture and it did actually feel like Christmas. It was blooming hot though and felt strange tucking into a roast in an expat bar with my back drenched in sweat.
I hate the Christmas sales. I don’t know why, but I always end up shopping the day after Boxing Day, normally to spend the voucher that my Nan has given me. That’s one reason why it’s great in Seville, because the sales don’t start until I’m back at work, on the 7th of January. This is especially appealing after seeing the latest riots during Black Friday. I guess this year I’ll end up getting dragged round Primark at some point, cursing and moaning like a proper scrooge.
Great for kids, in a way
I was surprised with the amount of things to see and do for kids during Christmas here. They normally set up a Father Christmas Grotto and an ice-rink for the kids up in Nervion, just round the back from the Sevilla stadium, or in the park by the Prado. Sometimes they have a big wheel too. Last year we went up round the Alameda and there were a few fairground rides for the kids, as well as trips round the square on ponies and camels. The most popular day out seems to be the tour of nativity displays in shops and churches. Massive queues form as families gather to have a look at the various attractions, and shut their hypo children up with a balloon.
There’s an excellent Christmas parade on the 5th of January, where huge decorated processions tour round the city with kids on throwing sweets and presents to all the spectators. I’m not a big fan of it though, mainly because in my first year I was happily watching the parade when a vicious little kid threw a sweet straight in my eye.
I feel sorry for the kids here at Christmas though. The main day in Spain is actually celebrated on the 6th of January, which was when the three wise men arrived with gifts for baby Jesus. The thing is, baby Jesus didn’t have to go back to school the day after. I think it’s quite cruel, making your children wait almost three weeks for their presents and then when they finally get their new bike, wooden doll set, or Play Station 5, they have only an afternoon to play with it before heading back to school. It’s great for me though because if we do go back home for Christmas then that means I get two Christmas Days.
One of the best aspects of Christmas here is the lights. Some years I think they are prettier than the ones up London. Most main streets have them up, but Avenida Constitucion is the best place to wander about to get that Christmas feeling. There’s also a light show round the back of the town hall in plaza San Francisco. The show and music are entertaining, but because we lived there last year the noise and crowds became a pain in the arse.
But it will never be the same…
Like I said initially, there’s nothing like Christmas in your own country. For me the Christmas celebrations are too short here, it’s only really the 24th of December because they don’t give presents on the 25th. Boxing Day, one of the best days of the year, especially as there’s a full Premiership fixture list, doesn’t even exist (at the moment, but Spain tend to be adopting other countries traditions, so I wouldn’t be surprised if they do in a few years time).
Last year no carol singers knocked on our door either. The only Christmas songs, known as villancicos, are mainly sung by kids with annoying high pitches voices. Some even have a flamenco feel, which, even though I like flamenco, I just can’t get into.
I get on with my wife’s family, especially when they ply me with mantecados and anis, but Christmas is all about seeing your own crazy bunch. This year I can’t wait to get back and wake up in my old bed and run downstairs to see the big pile of presents waiting, even if they are for the grandkids. That’s another reason why I’ll go back every other year, so my kids can get a feel for what it’s like in England and have the same childhood memories that I have.
What about you? Are you heading back to your own country for Christmas? Do you prefer it in your expat country?
Barry O’Leary has been an expat in Seville for nearly ten years. When he’s not teaching English, he writes a blog A Novel Spain which is about how he sees life in Spain. He has also lived and taught English in Brazil, Ecuador, Australia and Thailand and travelled around the world in the meantime. His non-fiction travel literature book, Teaching English in a Foreign Land, about his adventure as a TEFL teacher has sold over 2,500 copies.