How We Celebrated an American Christmas in Spain

Inhale. Annnnnnd exhale.

Did anyone else breathe an enormous sigh of relief now that the holidays are OVER? Don’t get me wrong, I love the preparations and hate how fast it all ends! It’s a mix of emotions that the most anticipated time of year with the parties, the presents, the traditions and the cheer has come and gone.

But here’s the thing…

With anticipation often comes expectation and if you’re a bit of a perfectionist like me, it can be super stressful!! The turkey must be perfectly cooked, the tree lights twinkling just right, the presents meticulously wrapped and the magic of the season captured uniquely in the hearts of family.

This year with our family deciding to stay in Barcelona for the holidays and not travel back to the U.S. – the pressure was really ON. It was up to my husband Tony and I to make this Christmas feel as magical as any other year. Here’s how we did it…

Christmas Traditions from Home

We baked sugar cookies, we then ate ALL of those sugar cookies! We danced to Christmas tunes while decorating the apartment. We watched favorite classics like Frost the Snowman and Its A Wonderful Life. We crafted gingerbread houses (which collapsed moments later)….

Family sugar cookie recipe, always a favorite!

Paid a visit to Papa Noel (Santa Claus) at the Christmas train station in Parc de l’Orenata…

And yes, we wore matching Christmas pj’s while reading The Night Before Christmas.

My husband loves reading this to the kids every Christmas Eve

In as many ways as we could we filled our home with cherished memories.

Christmas Traditions in Spain

Christmas is recognized here in Spain but it’s not nearly as big as Three Kings Day, or Dia de Los Reyes, on January 6.

Children’s slippers are left by bedroom doors the prior evening with hopes of being filled with treats/toys by the kings. The streets of Barcelona are filled with parades, music and candy being thrown from elaborately decorated floats. It’s a BLAST and a cultural affair we simply couldn’t pass up!

Three Kings – Balthasar of Arabia, Melchior of Persia and Gaspar of India
Chocolate filled slippers from the Kings!

One minor hiccup to adopting new yet sometimes conflicting rituals? In our home, where Santa Claus is the king of Christmas, we worried about how these messages might confuse our kids. Who brings the gifts? What day do they come? Where do they come FROM??

I actually LOST sleep over this!

But surprisingly, my kids drew their own conclusions (as kids are so good at doing, right?) and decided that if you live in Spain, Santa lets the Three Kings do all the gifting, but everywhere else in the world is his territory ha! I mean, he can’t possibly cover the entire globe in ONE night anyway…

God, am I grateful for their vivid imaginations!

One Catalan tradition at Christmas I just CANNOT see us embracing is the Caga Tio. Never heard of it?

Basically, its a wooden tree trunk or log wearing a Santa hat and a little warm blanket. Cute, right? Each night at the beginning of Advent, children feed him orange peels or wood shavings until December 24 when he (sigh*)…POOPS…yes, POOPS out presents, sweets and treats.

Thrilling, right?

Meet Caga Tio himself!

When I first heard about this ritual, I laughed loudly. Maybe a little too loudly, as the Catalan friend explaining it to me looked less than amused. This is NO joke, rather a sacred tradition that we simply chose to……opt out of!

When I think of a European Christmas, this famous market in front of the Barcelona Cathedral is the perfect setting. Rows of artesian stalls donned in warm twinkling lights selling precious seasonal trinkets. One of my new favorite ornaments came from this market!

La Fira de Santa Llucia at the Barcelona Cathedral

In addition, strolling down the majestic narrow alleys of Old City is a must – to gaze at the gorgeous tree in Placa de Sant Jaume. This spruce was nowhere near the height and width of the Rockefeller Center Tree in Manhattan, but it still sparkled proudly like it was.

The magic of Christmas at Placa de Sant Jaume

This Christmas I wanted to do something special for just Tony and I. Something that could only be done here in Barcelona that we would look back on and always remember.

So we dressed in our holiday best, scheduled a babysitter and headed downtown. We stopped for drinks and tapas at an amazing little treasure called Tosca in Gothic (can you tell this is my FAVORITE part of the city??). And finally after our bellies were filled, we walked across the street to the famous Catalan theater, Palau de la Musica, for a Christmas Gala Performance.

Check out my Instagram page @theexpatchronicle for live performance videos of favorites like Oh Holy Night, Happy Christmas and Joy to the World. It was a magical and romantic night…

THESE were the things I looked forward to about spending Christmas in Spain. Now….if only we could fly each and every family member out here to experience it along with us.

It has certainly been a year worth celebrating! New adventures, more stamps on our passports, several exciting accomplishments for the kids, some bumps and bruises along the way and enough memories to fill a photo album.

And with 2019 already in full swing, we have NO clue what lies ahead. But it is with certainty that we welcome the changes and even the challenges.

We are thankful. We are blessed.

As the song goes, “Another year over…and a new one just begun.”