Holidays and life on both sides of the lawn

I spent my holiday season the only way I can possibly imagine it: with my family. I flew home to California for my two week break, spending a total of about 48 hours in transit, but it was worth every minute.

The holiday season started long before my December 23 departure date, so I was still able to experience and learn a great deal about how Spain celebrates Christmas. Being a Catholic country (Wikipedia puts it at 76% Catholic), the politically correct mentality of the U.S. that acknowledges all religious holidays of the season does not exist in Spain. My class of teenagers had never heard of Hanukkah, and I didn’t even try Kwanzaa or Ramadan.

Spain does Christmas, and they do it well. Take a look at Málaga:

Poinsettias, or flores de pascua, are all over the city

Spain celebrates with traditions closer to the original story of Christmas than the commercialized holiday in the U.S.. Children get presents from the three wisemen on Día de los Reyes (January 6) rather than from Santa Claus on December 25. Instead of leaving out carrots for the reindeer they leave water for the camels (The wisemen are on the same cookie diet as Santa). Most children are familiar with both traditions and some celebrate a hybrid of the two, receiving some presents on December 25 and some on January 6.

Some of the highlights of my holiday season in Spain:

  • Teaching lessons using my favorite Christmas movie: the original How the Grinch Stole Christmas. I stopped the movie every few minutes to ask questions and make sure the class was comprehending. I knew I got through to them when, in the scene when the Grinch realizes the true meaning of Christmas, one of my kids exclaimed “¡Él tiene corazón!”
  • Teaching my first grade classes to sing “White Christmas.” (Sorry for the horrible picture quality, I had to save it in a smaller file size to upload. I’ll try a different one later)
  • The staff Christmas lunch at work, and all the teachers singing “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” to me when I had to leave. Hardly any of them speak English, but they all know the song.

Just two days shy of Christmas I finally worked my last day and went home (after a few nerve-wracking days worrying about flights and whether or not I would ever make it through the blizzards in Europe and on the east coast). I spent two lovely weeks at home visiting friends and family and eating copious amounts of the food and I deprived of in Spain. The number one item on the menu: Mexican food. My Christmas dinner consisted of homemade salsa, enchiladas, re-fried beans, and Mexican rice. When left-overs disappeared a few days later my Mom and I made more.

Going home for that short visit was just what I needed. When any little thing made me homesick the last few months, having that trip to look forward to put my mind at ease. It was a little pick-me-up, but coming back to Spain was still bittersweet.

Rolling my suitcase from the bus stop to my apartment felt like coming back home, but I was also leaving home. I didn’t realize until leaving Málaga that this feels like home too. I have friends, a job, and an apartment here. I have two different places, a world away from each other, that I call home. When I am in Spain, I sometimes long for California. But when I was back there, I found myself missing Spain. I just finished reading a book called All Over the Map by Laura Fraser (which I highly recommend) and she sums it up pretty well: “It’s not that the grass is greener, it’s that you can never be on both sides of the lawn.”

I may get frustrated sometimes at not being able to be on both sides of the lawn at the same time, but I asked for this, and I got it. I took great measures to make this happen, to come to Spain, get a job, and start a life here, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I’m just learning that there are prices to be paid for getting exactly what you wanted.

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