We didn't spend Christmas in Spain this year - we took off just two days before the big day to spend a few weeks in Colorado - but we did try to take advantage of the season as much as possible before we left. Without Thanksgiving to break up the time between Halloween and Christmas, the Christmas season seems to begin earlier in Spain; decorations start going up and sweets show up in stores pretty much beginning on November 1st. We tried to hold off on poinsettia-buying until after Turkey Day, but we couldn't help but get into the Christmas spirit with all the tunes playing in the grocery store and nativity scenes being erected around town.
A few festive things we did to celebrate this year...
The weekend before Christmas, we went to a market (more of what we might call a craft fair in the US) held in my school's gym. There was pizza and hot dogs, and also homemade cookies, cake pops, and turrón (a Spanish sweet similar to fudge or nougat, typically eaten at Christmastime), and tables lining the edges of the room with homemade pillows, clothes, crafts, and more for sale. It was a nice opportunity to introduce Danny to some of the teachers at my school and also for him to meet the girls I watch four days a week after school. We picked up some of the turrón for a dinner we were having with friends that evening and, to be honest, I've had it on the brain ever since. Simple, but oh so good.
We also had a low-key Christmas party at our place with some friends. We decorated (store bought) gingerbread cookies, listened to our lone Christmas CD on repeat, and had a white elephant gift exchange with some surprisingly good gifts - we ended up with an oven mitt and some child-sized Star Wars utensils (the latter of which was Danny's contribution to the exchange). Told you it was low-key.
Close to every spare moment that weekend before Christmas that we weren't having our Christmas party or checking out my school's Christmas market we were Christmas shopping for our upcoming trip back to the US. I don't think I knew what we were in for when we decided to bring gifts back with us for each of our siblings and their spouses, as well as our parents, and while we were happy to do it...it was a task. I'm just not all that familiar with the shopping scene in Madrid as I've never bought clothes or souvenirs (or, okay, much of anything besides food and a few household items like pots and pans and utensils from Ikea) for myself or anyone else in Madrid. Add in the facts that both Danny and I can be rather indecisive and we really want people to like their gifts, and we had trouble on our hands.
A new addition to our Christmas calendar mix this year was a ride on the Navibus. On weekends, and on days close to Christmas, tickets get booked up pretty quickly. However, if you plan ahead and are in Madrid in December or the beginning of January, I'd definitely recommend it as this €2, 30ish minute double-decker bus tour of the Christmas lights in the city center is pretty neat. We bundled up (we've gotten a bit wimpy with 'cold' or even actual cold weather) and enjoyed the views.
The Navibus starts and ends at Plaza Colón, which this year was home to an ice rink and a few food stalls. Yes, they were all made out of plywood, but it was a start, especially for a city that, at least in our minds, doesn't rank too high for its Christmas decor, markets, and general festivities.
I can't speak for other schools in Spain, but I can say that in the schools that Danny and I teach in, nativity scenes are a big deal. At one point I told someone that I think my school put up 1,000 nativity sets in the lead up to Christmas and I was not joking but I am also not great at estimating. Every grade level (1st, 2nd, 3rd, etc) made their own nativity scene at the end of their hallway that each student was responsible for contributing to, and they all were made out of a different material, which made each one unique and fun. I took photos of a few - naturally my favorite was the one created entirely out of candy (don't mind the popcorn sheep).
Just a few days before we left Spain for 2016 we squeezed in a trip to a few more Christmasy stops around the city. Last year we felt like the best Christmas market in Madrid was Dulce Navidad, which is located in Opera, so it was definitely on my list this year, and when we stopped by this year, it had been revamped and beautified but unfortunately there were fewer stalls too. We walked from Opera to the Palacio Real, and from there to Plaza de España, where we found what I think is the best Christmas market in Madrid. The way the market is set up it hardly feels like you're outside, and it features 168 artisans from throughout Spain. We saw some really beautiful and impressive goods, and I'm certain that if we're in Madrid next year in December, I'll make it a first stop for Christmas shopping.
Christmas may not look the same in Madrid as it does in America, but it's growing on me the more time we spend in the city. It's really fun as we discover new things each year and start to develop some traditions. So, until next year!
P.S. Check out last year's Christmas in Madrid post here.