Christmastime in the City

We don’t go home at Christmas. While most of the other foreign teachers at our school were scrambling for the exit at 1:00 p.m. on Friday, suitcases in tow, DP and I made our way back to our offices where we spent Friday afternoon quietly finishing up our work for the semester.

It’s not that I don’t want to be with my family. I am, in fact, wild about them and about Christmas! But the reality of a 1200 (Canadian) dollar plane ticket and the rush-rush-rush of the North American Christmas season makes staying in Europe far more appealing.

Today was the first day of our Christmas break. I must confess that I don’t feel at all Christmassy yet. After a decadent pajama morning, I headed out into the hectic Saturday afternoon to run some errands. Five to be precise. When I emerged from the metro in Plaza Catalunya, the heart of the city was pounding with tourists and Christmas shoppers. I made my way to the third floor of FNAC to the far corner of the book section where the English book collection is located and found, much to my delight, a book called The Last Watch for DP (it is the only thing for he has asked in months) and a copy of Toni Morrison’s A Mercy for our trip to Central Europe. I also found a copy of Eckart Tole’s A New Earth and decided to find out, for myself, exactly what all the fuss is about. After waiting in the check-out line for 25 minutes, I was told that the machines that accept their gift cards were not functioning (and that they had no idea when they would be working) so I put my gift card back in my purse, paid for all three of my books and then headed back out to the plaza. People have a lot of pre-conceived notions about what it means to live in a first world or developing nation… and I’m here to say that ALL nation states are great at some things and lousy at others. Spain is lousy at gift cards and not so terrific at using lovely manners with strangers. I have identified these as areas of growth for my current home country.

Portal del Angel, a pedestrian street and my route to the Barri Gotic, was packed with buskers and clowns and shoppers and tourists. Posh clothing boutiques for the young and insanely hip pumped techno music onto the street so that the people traveling along this vast river of humanity were assaulted by a surreal mix of bam bam bam-christmas carol-bam bam bam-christmas carol. There were a number of Mossos (police) vans parked in the middle of the street and serious-looking police officers kept a watchful eye on… I’m actually not quite sure what. At the end of Potrtal del Angel, the human mass was dumped out on the bottom steps of the Gothic Cathedral at the annual outdoor Christmas Fair, the Fira de Santa Llúcia de Barcelona. Since 1786, this has been the place that los Barceloneses (people of Barcelona) come to buy pieces for their nativity scene (known as navideñas), their trees, and their mistletoe. I had, of course, chosen the busiest shopping day of the year to visit the Christmas Fair so the market was crazy-packed. I actually felt relieved that DP had stayed at the apartment; he is an endlessly kind sort who endures Christmas for my sake. So there we were, packed in like sardines, and as usual, people were totally fixated on their own errands or family members or partner. A fascinating/challenging part about Catalan culture is that no one ever says, “Sorry” or “Excuse me” or “I’d like to get by, please” so you have all of these people pushing and jostling each other about. I had to stop a couple of times, breathe deeply and repeat my mantra, “It’s not personal. It’s not personal.” (It’s really not personal. It is, however, deeply annoying.)

First, I set out to buy two traditional Catalan caganers (translates roughly to “little shitter”). You can read more about these fertile little additions to my nativity scene here. They also make these caganers in the image of famous people and the man who served me said that the most popular caganer this year is Obama. Last year, when my mom visited, I gave her our Caga Tio (translates to “shit log”) so I needed to replace him as well. Learn more about Caga Tio here.

I rode the gigantic people-wave down to Plaza Jaume where a political demonstration was in full swing, the pounding of the drums echoing against the 500 year-old stone walls. I joined the line to see the city’s nativity scene, which was far more traditional than last year’s, and then slowly made my way to my favourite purse store, walking along a medieval street lit up with tiny white Christmas lights. With the help of a lovely woman from the shop, I tried on a number of beautiful leather knapsacks but, in the end, decided to defer my decision until tomorrow. Barcelona shops are normally closed on Sundays but even in Spain, Christmas is a powerful incentive for shops to open on the Sunday before Christmas day.

On Monday we leave for Budapest. I’m hoping for snow.

What are you hoping for?


  1. I'm hoping for heat, actually.The furnace in my fine red brick apartment building has chosen the coldest days of the year to require some attention. My landlord and I are taking it in turns to keep the heat flowing by manually turning the reluctant beast on at regular intervals, whilst waiting for an integral part to arrive from places unknown. What I am hoping for this solstice, Christmas & New Year, is peace, comfort and joy, for all…Merry Christmas and have a lovely time in Budapest…CJ

  2. @CJOttawa has taken such a whopping this year. As you know, my mother gives me weather updates on a regular basis.Did you get the heating in your place sorted out? I do hope your snuggly and warm now.It's noon on a Sunday here and we have just had yet another meeting with our landlady about the state of our apartment's deficient heating system and hot water (or lack thereof). Even more fun in Spanish!

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