Four days until Christmas, and Spain is ready to celebrate. But the country has been ready since mid-October, it seems, when all the typical Christmas candies appeared in the stores just days after the día de la hispanidad, on October 12. I was flabbergasted. So early and so much! Turrones of every kind and flavor, candied fruit, polverones and mantecados, candied almonds called almendras garrapiñadas, delicious roscos de vino, and more. Surely it wasn’t so blatant last year—the need to be on to the next eating and spending spree? It seemed very nervy of business interests to push forward so relentlessly toward the year’s biggest extravaganza. And the Christmas season in Spain, with family dinners, workplace dinners, reunions of friends and clubs and classes, is extravagant indeed. The festivities last through January 6, which is Reyes, the traditional day of gift-giving. In the States, long ago, I was dismayed to hear Christmas carols the day after Thanksgiving. But worse is Spain, without Thanksgiving to lock Christmas into December, and by mid-November, stores were advertising huge selections of toys, tools, snuggly pjs for the whole family, and perfume, as if these things weren’t available all year round. It was still mild fall weather, but snowmen and red-cheeked Santas decorated displays of all manner of useful and useless goods. It was not putting me in the Christmas spirit at all. It was too much too soon.
What was missing was a white space of ordinary life between the holidays, a space such as you have in stories or articles separating one part from another, a time when nothing was in the offing. A gap. Instead, with día del Pilar followed by Halloween followed by todos los santos, then el magüestu followed by the twin holidays in early December of día de la Constitución and the fiesta de la Inmaculada Concepción, half a dozen celebrations were piled into one season, crowned by the medley of eating and drinking and spending known collectively as las navidades.
So yes, a sort of frame to keep occasions separate. To contain them and to set them off. What was wanted for Christmas was not ornate, however, but plain, even humdrum, in contrast to the holiday. No, no gilded frame for Christmas, which is all glitter, and both overstimulating and tiring, without a clear beginning and with an ending that, coming so late in Spain, after Reyes, is more fizzle than closing.
For everything a time. But when, exactly, is the season? This year, my first Christmas in my new house, is a year for establishing a sensible tradition. What do I want, of course, but also when?
A wreath for the door, though the door, within a patio, is visible only to the neighbors. Lights all around the windows onto the street. A very modest Christmas tree. And for the first time in my adult life, the stockings hanging from a real mantelpiece. They will be the stockings I made for my children years ago on the model of the ones my grandmother had sewn in red and green felt for my older brother and me, another added later for my younger brother. Mine are not nearly as nice as my grandmother’s. I made them under some stress one Christmas when I decided my children needed decorative stockings, not just oversized socks. How strange to think of the haphazard attempts to lead an adult life. To do things right. Some things I insisted on, some I let go. Some I believed I’d have time in the future to focus on. Some I thought I’d make a stab at, and if the results were unsatisfactory, I’d try again in the future, and do them differently, why not? Why not constantly revise? “Next year,” I must have told myself countless times. Well, I am not saying it this year about Christmas. This is the first Christmas of the rest of my life. Whatever happens will start the tradition. I have a new, pretty wreath on the door, the same three stockings as always, hung by the chimney, lights around the window, the Christmas cards from past years arrayed on the mantel, a small, shining tree, and candies in a glass candy dish. Peace. And just to give the holiday a start and finish, I even decided to buy for the first time ever an advent calendar, this one with a candy behind each flap, and advance day by day, sweet by sweet, to the goal. The last window is marked 24. Perhaps it will be apparent on the following day that the glitter of Christmas is the frame, and the very small and almost imperceptible treasure at the center is the Christmas spirit, even if it is just remembering to tell yourself to breathe deeply, now, and for the future, before you make ready for another new day.
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