Archive for the 'Christmas' Category

Happy Thanksgiving

preciadosAnd happy start of the craziness. The annual holiday shopping rites that began this weekend are not limited to the United States. In Spain, where stores are usually closed on Sundays, this weekend marks the first of a month of Sundays with stores open.

abiertoI was in a supermarket on Friday and the woman in front of me was asking the cashier if they were open the following day. The cashier said yes (supermarkets always open on Saturdays), “and the following day as well,” she added with a sigh. “They might as well give us a bed in the store,” she said. I gave her a sympathetic look.

But I’m not going to deny that this is a convenient time of year. For a few short weeks I need not fret about getting everything done on Saturday. In a way, it ruins the loveliness that Sunday is in this laid-back country. That’s life, I guess.

Though the shpieopping frenzy in the U.S. may be similar here, Thanksgiving itself certainly isn’t. After refusing a request from my [Spanish] roommates to cook a turkey in our pint-sized oven, I decided to attempt an apple pie. Our oven is so uneven that the top crust started burning, but the inside hadn’t started bubbling yet. I turned off the top heating element and let it cook for a little longer with the bottom element on. The result was that the inside didn’t really cook all the way. But what difference did it make to my roommates who’d never eaten an apple pie in their lives? We ate it happily.

La lotería

But perhaps the biggest deal about Christmas in Spain is el gordo. The national Christmas lottery. Last year I couldn’t wrap my mind around people’s obsession with this dang lotería. I’m understanding more and more.

The way it works is that there are lots and lots of numbers to be sold. And schools, companies, bars, stores, et cetera, have numbers–the same number every year. My association with the lottery, of course, is through my school. Number 41975 is ours and all the teachers buy a part of it. Last year, under pressure from my colleagues, I bought a décimo (a tenth) for 20 euros and played. We didn’t win. But we did get our 20 euros back because the big winner shared the same final digit as ours.

The idea of the lottery is nice, I’ve decided. You play as a group and it’s a whole camaraderie thing. People’s favorite words to utter this season are, “¿Y si nos toca?” (“And if we win?”) And they are also the words you think when you find out that the school’s number is agotado (sold out) and you don’t have your décimo.

That’s what happened this year. They ran out of our number! Oh, the scandal! If we win and a quarter of the staff didn’t get a chance to buy their part? The principal, herself, was left without a lottery ticket for our number.

It was the talk of coffee break.

Knowing that surely our number would win this year, the year in which a number of us don’t have it, the assistant principal took action. She asked those who already had their décimo to sell half of it to we poor souls and bought us décimos in another number to sell half to the people who’d shared with us. So now six of us have 10 euros in the school’s number and 10 in another number, which we’re hoping will be lucky.

The drawing is December 22nd. ¿Y si nos toca?

La cesta

Christmas has hit Madrid in a big way. Lights are everywhere (Madrid apparently has spent several times the money on lights as any other Spanish city), the belén (nativity) has been constructed in the entrance of my school, stores are open on Sundays, Papa Noel climbs store fronts and dangles from apartment windows. (The other day I witnessed a three-year old boy yelling up to a stuffed Santa perched above a store awning. He was telling him what he wanted for Christmas. His mother looked on patiently.)

Even in workplaces the joys are many. Yesterday I lugged home my cesta de navidad (“Christmas basket”) from the security company where I teach classes three hours a week. For my three hours, I get the same cesta as the full-time employees. Not a bad deal.

It was so heavy, however, that I almost expired carrying it through the metro and the four blocks to my apartment. Thankfully one of my students gave me a ride to a metro station just a couple stops (and the same line) from where I live (normally it’s a 45-minute trip with a long walk between two different lines). But Oh. My. God. Said basket contains six bottles of various libations: 3 wines (two red, one white), 2 bottles of cava (Catalán champagne), and one of whiskey. Then you’ve got four tablets of turrón–a typical Spanish Christmas sweet made out of almonds–, cookies, chocolate covered almonds, and cans of olives, hearts of palm, pineapple, and peaches.

The cesta is tradition here in almost every company. My roommate got one too: with a jamón (that is, a cured pig’s leg) and cheese, among other things. My students at the security company, though, were complaining about the one we received. One of them said, “Well, the wine is drinkable.”

I don’t care. I’m thrilled.


And the Christmas season officially begins.

This morning I awoke to the sound of something heavy being dropped down a hole. When I got downstairs for my run the building entrance was a mess. The floor was covered in sawdust and a metal track, along which two men were wheeling enormous wheelbarrows heaped with coal. Of course: we’d been without heat all weekend, and these guys were delivering coal to get our smelly heating system started again. In and out they went, carefully monitored by our diminutive doorman, dressed in the blue coverall he dons every morning to mop the entrance.

I’m now showered and breakfasted, and I think they’re finally getting ready to leave. We should have enough coal to last the month.

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