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Celebrating Las Navidades in Madrid

I’ll never forget the moment on the evening of my first Thanksgiving away from home, when I emerged from the metro onto Gran Vía. Brights lights beamed down upon a bustling street, where in unison we all shared that beginning-of-the-season enchantment.

Gran Vía looking all festive

Gran Vía looking all festive

Two days later, my mom flew standby in to Madrid.  It was perfect timing to walk her around the city, dressed to impress in its dazzling lights.  We strolled through Sol and Plaza Mayor and lingered in festive Christmas markets, the smell of churros and chestnuts wafting through the air.

Mom posing with the Christmas tree in Sol (no pine trees here)

Mom posing with the Christmas tree in Sol (no pine trees here)

IMG_5788 Within days though after my mom’s departure, the Christmas abroad buzz had faded a bit.  Christmas in Madrid was certainly bold and bright, but it lacked the class and cozy charm of real Christmas trees, white lights, garland, and window candles.  I longed for the scent of pine and the always anticipated moment of decorating the tree with my prized souvenir possessions— Christmas ornaments from my world travels.

Plaza Mayor Christmas Market

Plaza Mayor Christmas Market

Months into my life abroad I was beginning to feel those pangs of loss. Although the longing for the comforts of home wasn’t enough to get me down, it did gently remind me that expat life would be a constant tug-of-war between adventure and ordinary comfort.

Christmas bus through Madrid to see the lights

Christmas bus through Madrid to see the lights

Beauty began to fill in the cracks when the kids I tutor, Marta and Jesús responded sweetly to my yearning to have a Christmas tree at home.  When I arrived to their home, they were busy putting the finishing touches on their tree, complete with the Belén, Nativity scene.  It certainly looked as if a 10 and 11-year-old had put it up all by themselves, but I loved its chaotic charm and loved their thoughtful gesture even more.

The kids posing with their tree

The kids posing with their tree

I, too, loved the fact that the city lights didn’t immediately dim after New Year’s.  The Spanish have as much anticipation for January 6th, as December 25th, if not more.  I was happy to arrive back from Rome, with still another holiday to celebrate, The Feast of the Epiphany, or Día de los Reyes.  Here in Spain, more traditionally it is the Three Kings who bring gifts to the children. My Alaskan amigos and I attempted to partake in the Tres Reyes activities by eating a nice dinner together and finishing with the traditional Roscón.  Hidden in this pastry are a small figurine and a bean.  Finding the toy brings good luck for the year, while the person who finds the bean has to buy next year’s Roscón.  Somehow I managed to find both.

Roscón de Reyes, complete with the crown for the person who finds the toy

Roscón de Reyes, complete with the crown for the person who finds the toy

Aften finishing the bottle of Rioja, we jumped on a quite comical hydrogen-powered mini bus towards Plaza Cibeles for the Three Kings parade. We managed to catch the end of the Cabalgata, when the Wiseman addressed the excited kids in the crowd with an uplifting speech calling on them to read a lot, study hard, and learn from the wisdom of their elders.  I couldn’t help but feel the magic of the evening right along with them. And when the event ended in a burst of fireworks, I remembered not what I had missed in not being home for the holidays, but all I had gained.

Crowd trying to catch a  glimpse of the Cabalgata

Crowd trying to catch a glimpse of the Cabalgata

The Three Kings have arrived!

The Three Kings have arrived!

One Comment Post a comment
  1. Judy Shumaker #

    Thanks again Kara for sharing the beautiful pictures! I would say you gained more than more than you lost by not being here for Christmas this year. You can’t trade them because you will have those memories forever. As I say, what an adventure. Have you ever been to Austria? I think that will be my fall trip abroad. I am sad that I can do the Spain trip in March, but I hope to get there someday! Keep the pictures coming😊

    January 17, 2015

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