Where’s Midnight Mass?
This was an unusual Christmas. For a start, this is the first year that I have not spent Christmas with my family - either with my parents or my children. It was just me and Andrew. In many respects, it felt just like another day whereas in previous years there has always been the huge build-up, and preparing food for 5,000, meeting friends for pre-Christmas drinks, meeting friends for post-Christmas drinks, fitting in visits to relatives in other parts of the UK. This year we had none of that. It is also the first time that Andrew and I have spent Christmas in a foreign country (apart from my 2 years in Cyprus when I was about 5!), so how was it?
Different. I loved it; I think Andrew felt the lack of build-up more than I did. I loved it because I had got fed up with the commercial hype that surrounds Christmas in the UK. I have always loved this time of the year, and I still do, but the pressure for it to be all things to all people has got slightly out of hand. It took me years to realise that I didn’t have to buy enough food to sink a battleship, and that I only needed to plan for Christmas Day and Boxing Day only. I was always excited by the build up to Christmas and that did encourage me to spend, spend, spend. I’d look at Christmas presents that I had bought, and realise that one person had more than another so would whizz out to spend again to redress the balance. I thought nothing of getting in the car at 8pm at night to drive to Bluewater Shopping Centre in Kent to buy another set of Christmas tree lights just because the ones on the tree looked faded. I wanted Christmas to be perfect and to look perfect, and I was seduced by the sumptuous Marks and Spencer adverts for every festive treat under the sun.
In more recent years, Christmas for me has changed, and it has become much more about simply being with those people I really love, and enjoying good food and wine and their company. I could only relax once the shops had finally closed on Christmas Eve and there was nothing else that I could do.
So, for me, Christmas in Spain has taken me back to a UK that I remembered from my own childhood. A childhood during which I always wanted a Nativity Scene, and where a pillowcase appeared at the end of my bd on Christmas morning, and I believed that Father Christmas had delivered it. It reminds me of the traditional values, where commercialism has not obliterated the fact that this time of the year is about family, despite growing consumerism in Spain. When you ask anyone in Spain what happens at Nochebuena, Navidad, Nochevieja or Los Reyes Magos, the answer is always the same: dinner with family.
Andrew and I have sat in bars in Granada and watched families numbering some 10 or 12 people come in for lunch, and share stories, laugh and catch up and there is something lovely about this sense of real family closeness. I am sure this comes with its own set of problems, but it almost goes without question that these religious holidays are for the family. What it did bring home to me was the fact that this was the first Christmas Day without my children, when all around us were surrounded, so it seemed, by theirs. At the centre of these family gatherings sits the matriarch, and this also brought it home that Andrew and I are both without our mothers for the first time; Andrew’s Mum died in August and my own Mum found herself in hospital following a fall, and is now needing an ever-increasing level of care.
So, our first Christmas together on our own.
For as long as I can remember, I had this romantic idea that I’d love to go to a midnight service in church on Christmas Eve. Music represents Christmas for me, and I thought that here, in Spain, at least I’d get to go to a midnight mass. Sadly not…the church doors remained resolutely shut at 11:30pm on Christmas Eve, and I am still non the wiser as to when traditional Christmas service might be held. A good job that I have an increasingly large Christmas Choral playlist.
Our Christmas Day was spent together, and it was lovely; everything we hoped it would be. We unwrapped our stocking presents in bed before breakfast, and unwrapped our main presents by the tree. We walked into the mountains and enjoyed a delicious picnic in the sun, against a backdrop of snow-capped mountains. We returned home to have a Christmas Dinner of slow-roasted leg of lamb before watching a Christmas DVD.
On Boxing Day, we enjoyed much of the same: another stunning walk, despite our legs protesting slightly, and good food accompanied by plenty of delicious wine. Boxing Day is not observed here in Spain, but as Navidad fell on a Sunday, so Monday was a public holiday. On Tuesday, we ventured into Granada to meet one of our intercambio friends for a coffee and the city was heaving with people. We have never seen the place so busy - families out enjoying the time off together, and, presumably, still shopping for the main present-giving date on 6th January.
For us, we had a quiet time, but was it any less special? Do we need the commercial hype for us to mark this lovely time of the year? I don’t think we do, despite this year being very different. Personally, I was relieved to get back to some sense of proportion. We bought our Belén - the Nativity Scene that I have wanted since childhood. We have our Christmas tree, and music and presents, and lovely food, and we have each other. My children will be here for New Year and at the end of January we get to catch up with Andrew’s family and our friends, so our ‘Christmas’ is just protracted.
I feel ready to tackle all the adventures in the New Year and still would not want to be anywhere else other than here. Mind you, it is VERY cold at night and first thing in the morning, and we are both rather looking forward to spring.