Sunday, May 3, 2015

Christmas with the In-Laws

Like most couples, we have to divide up holidays for visiting family. However in our case, the situation is slightly more complicated as we have family living on different continents.

Last year, my husband (then boyfriend) came to the U.S. to spend Christmas and New Year's Eve with my family. It was the first time he missed Christmas at home. This year it was our turn to go to Spain for Christmas. I had spent already one Christmas in Spain, my first year in Madrid, but my parents and brother had been there to visit. We had Christmas in Madrid and then went skiing in the Alps in northern Spain (the highlight of my brother's trip). We concluded the trip in Barcelona.

The Christmas season in Spain is great, but it's hard to beat your own family traditions. We decorate the house with lights, we listen to Christmas music all month long, we host neighborhood parties, we bake a ton of cookies... These are the kinds of things that make you nostalgic when living abroad.

I didn't really know what to expect about Christmas with my husband's family. Traditionally, Christmas is not as big as a celebration in Spain as the Three Kings' Day (January 6), or Epiphany as English speakers know it. Plus, New Year's Eve has a reputation for being one the biggest party nights in Spain, which is really saying something because the average weekend can see partiers until 6:00 or 7:00 AM.  One thing's for sure: there would be no tacky Christmas sweater parties. Spaniards in general don't have a lot of costume parties nor do they understand the reasoning behind willingly making yourself look silly. If you're going to put so much effort into an outfit, shouldn't it be stylish?

We arrived a few days before Christmas and I was happy to see the "Boas Festas" (Galician for Merry Christmas) lights around my husband's hometown. On Christmas Eve, the town council organized a visit from Santa, or Papa Noel. Among older generations, Papa Noel was not celebrated, but, like Halloween, this is an American custom that is slowly being adapted into popular culture in Spain. Some lucky children might get a small present from Papa Noel and from the Three Kings on January 6!

The town welcomed Papa Noel in the city hall and children and their families lined up to meet him. One by one the children came to sit on Papa Noel's lap as I did as a child. My husband's wife has two young girls and they were excited for their chance to reach the front of the line. Apparently a few years ago, when the city had more resources for holiday budgeting, Papa Noel arrived by helicopter drop. This must have been quite a sight.

Santa!! I know him!!
The big family meal is on Christmas Eve. In the coastal region of Galicia where my husband is from, seafood is the traditional dinner. Much to the dismay of my in-laws, I am not a big seafood eater. Each time I visit, I try to be a little more adventurous about tasting new things they prepare. This Christmas Eve dinner began with shrimp and stuffed clams, leading up to the main dish of baked bream. The bream is cooked many hours in a sauce of potatoes, tomatoes, and onions. The fish is cooked whole: tail, head, and everything. No room for wimps at this dinner.

Seafood Christmas was definitely a first for me. I can't say I'm a converted fan, but I did eat enough to satisfy my Spanish family. Give it a few more years and maybe I'll be embracing my coastal side like a pro. My favorite part of the meal was the free-for-all turrón fest. Turrón is a Spanish sweet only served during the Christmas holidays. Traditional turrón resembles an almond brittle; a hard consistency with nuts, honey, and sugar. The more modern kinds also include chocolate or krispies. We purchased all kinds of turrón to last us until the end of the Christmas holidays on January 6. If turrón is something you like, you have to buy it before January 7 because they stop stocking the stores immediately after the Three Kings.

The size of these shrimp!
Contemplating the besugo (bream).


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