Much to my shock, the holiday season is suddenly upon us once again. And as every parent of a young child knows, Christmas is not just a day in December. It’s a marathon of sugar-fueled, sideswipes of the toy aisle and endless conversations about what might be under the tree. So much for holidaying!
Christmas is front and center in Spain for weeks. Even though the biggest gift-giving day actually arrives the first week of January, that doesn’t stop the retail crowd from marching out the mistletoe and jingle bells well in advance. With no Thanksgiving celebration to get in the way, store aisles are already clogged with all the trimmings.
Sweets are a key feature, although they are a real mixed bag in my opinion. Familiar chocolate names like Lindt and Nestle have lots of options at the ready, but the fixture of the displays are more traditional Spanish treats.
If the level of sugar on display in Spain is a good indicator, it seems fair to assume that Santa is an addict. With the mounds of sweets as far as the eye can see, the jolly, old fat guy has to be as hopped up as a pint-sized Spider-man working his 12th street on Halloween. There are literally piles of the local favorite turrones, which are brick-like bars of candy that must have the dentistry association dancing in the streets. Honestly, I have no idea how to bite into one of these things. I could construct a brick walkway from a spare box of them.
Then there are the endless bins of individually-wrapped sweets in countless flavors. Some are small chocolates that are tempting. Then there are the ones that are similar to a spongy cake with a buttery or fruity taste – a little rich, but okay. Finally, there are the biscuits. These are the toughest to describe. The best analogy I have is picking up a cup of sand from the Sahara for a little nibble. They are a tad dry and dusty. But judging by how many are in view, the locals like ‘em.
Of course, the holidays also mean the return of some of Catalunya’s most interesting traditions. The famous pooping log full of toys and treats has made its first appearance of the season in the stores here, and Liam has made his annual request to obtain one, although I’m not sure I’m real keen on the tradition. Of course, filling the shelves near the pooping log is the famous squatting fellow also doing his business, known as a caganer.
To demonstrate just how much the caganer is ingrained in the local culture, stores even have picture and sticker books aimed at small kids with the caganer’s unique Christmas story. The tale is not everyone’s cup of tea, but I have to admit it’s pretty funny to think of a child peeling off the sticker of the squatting caganer and deciding where he should be placed in the nativity scene. Just try and blame that on the dog.
The school break for Christmas this year is more than three weeks long. Even though we’ll be getting outta dodge for a good chunk of it, that’s still quite the lengthy break. Keep in mind, the break also means that only two of the four weeks in December are full school weeks, coming on the heels of November where only one of the four weeks had five days of school. It truly is remarkable how many holidays fill the calendar. I guess the holiday season snuck up so fast because I was too busy trying to fill all the other holidays!
RANDOM THOUGHTS: Advent calendars all also a big thing for kids here. It’s a cheap investment to try and entice good behavior for 24 days straight. Liam has agreed to the deal that he gets the chocolate every night that he’s good, but I get the chocolate every night when he falls short. I’m taking bets on who puts on more weight by the time Christmas rolls around. Over/under starts at 12… I have to admit to enjoying a climate where it isn’t necessary to turn on the furnace until Nov. 22. Of course, the flipside is the cost of utilities almost makes it mandatory to wait as long as possible. Those lucky few with big country houses here (especially in the mountains) must have some whopping bills for gas and electric… But even though the weather is mild, it is still funny to see the locals drinking a cold beer on a chilly day while sitting on a metal chair outside – all at 10 in the morning. They are still hardy folks despite the warm climes…