It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas

One of the great benefits of living abroad is that we have the opportunity to witness, firsthand, how other people live… how they REALLY live. As a devoted (and only slightly crazed) fan of the entire Christmas season, I am fascinated by the similarities and differences in how this holiday is celebrated in different countries and cultures. I am always delighted to observe these traditions and to participate in yet another kind of Christmas.

Enter Spain. No… enter Barcelona.

Baby, it’s cold outside…
I have signs on both sides of my classroom door (one that leads directly outside) that declare, “It’s winter in BCN and it is cold. Not as cold as in Canada but still cold. Please close this door as you enter or leave.” Yup… cold. Today’s high is 13 degrees and the low is 5 degrees Celsius. As was the case in Mexico, we have no central heating in our apartment so that low of 5 degrees feels much colder when we get home at night. We bought duvets at Ikea so we are actually toasty warm at night; we also have French doors between our bedroom and the living/dining room so our little bedroom stays warmer than the rest of the apartment. Finally, we have an electric space heater… but we are waiting to use it. You know… until it gets REALLY cold!

Strings of street lights, even stop lights, blink a bright red and green…
On our street, strings of tiny light-blue Christmas lights stretch between the third floor balconies on our side of the street (the third floor is actually known as the first floor here but that’s another blog) and the balconies directly across from those. The wire that stretches across the street supports many shorter strands of lights that hang vertically… these lights became really popular in North America a few years ago and I most often see them adorned with white lights. Coming home from school about a week ago, DP and I and turned onto our street to behold, for the first time, a sea of aqua blue Christmas lights sweeping down towards our apartment building and the sea… and up towards Tibadobo mountain and the Sagrat Cor (sacred heart) church at its peak. Our street winds gently through much of the city and the lights look like the neon waves of a narrow river bordered by modernist apartment buildings.

The hanging of the lights began in the middle of November and this monumental task was accomplished mysteriously in the middle of the night like so much of the work that occurs on the streets of Barcelona. These lights were hung in grids, neighbourhood by neighbourhood, and a local friend tells me that this is how it is done each year… how it has always been done. I remember the morning, a few weeks ago, when the school bus turned onto Carrer Balmes, a major street, which had just been decorated with lights. Ahhh… and so it begins.

Although the entire city was decorated methodically by city workers over the month of November, the lights were not turned on until the first day of December. The street lights up at 6:00 p.m. (at exactly 6:00 p.m… like Switzerland) and then the Christmas lights are extinguished at 9:30 p.m. for three and a half hours each night, the entire street is transformed into an extraordinary winter wonderland. The justification for three and a half hours, of course, is that electricity is VERY expensive in Spain; most people seem to agree with this thinking, finding it sound financially and environmentally. There are those ex-pats who take exception with the short hours citing a scarcity of Christmas spirit but they are not paying the electricity bill. And i am feeling excessively Christmassy!

City sidewalks, busy sidewalks dressed in holiday style…
Elsewhere in the city, streets are adorned with lights in the shape of Christmas wreaths and camels, reindeer and holly. Each time we get off the metro and come up into the city, I am eager to see how that district has been decorated. Most of the designs are very traditional and seem, to me, timeless.

In the air there’s a feeling of Christmas…
There is some commercialism here but it cannot hold a candle to the fervor that grips Canada and the U.S.A. after Hallowe’en. Barcelona saves its Christmas lights until Christmas time… there is no danger here of “peaking” too early, of blowing all ones Christmas cheer long before the season arrives. I am glad of it… and DP is dee-lighted.

More Christmas traditions over the next few days…


  1. Oh YAAAAYYYYYYY!!!!!!! Somehow I had lost track of your other blog address. I just had the delightful experience of reading ALL of your entries in one big gulp. I LOVE reading about your adventures, McD. Keep 'em coming! I miss you very much… Love, Sarah

  2. monna, i love reading your blog. it makes me want to move to barcelona! (well, the part about it being a really noisy city is a little off-putting, but the rest…WOW!). you and dee sound happy. i am glad.jenny

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