Not a creature was stirring. Caramba! Que pasa?
Pues, I'll tell you what's que pasa. I'm in a little bit of a crisis and it's getting pretty serious. The situation is getting graver and graver by the day and I'm not sure how I am going to handle it over the next few weeks.
No, I'm not sick. I'm not hungry. I'm not financially insecure. But I am dying a little bit.
Well....being deprived of my normal this time of year traditions is well....a kind of dying. (Someone please sing me "Soft Kitty." Oh wait...that's for when you're sick. Well, deprivation and dying is a kind of sick. ........Say haha if you got that, Big Bang fans.)
You see, it's now December and this time of year is generally classified by cold weather, pine trees, an annual Advent shindig in Apartment 2, and my usual Thursday study day pilgrimage to Christmas Village at City Hall in Philadelphia where I can purchase my obnoxiously German-themed Tannenbaum ornament. Two years ago it was a pickle. Last year it was an overflowing beer stein. Seeing as I am unable to attend this year, I have no choice other than to entrust my handy American sidekick to go and procure a "brezen" and then walk across the street to check out my annual viewing of a Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol in the Wanamaker Building before fighting the crowds of ridiculous overprotective yuppie mothers who have brought their at worst screaming and at best blatantly uninterested toddlers to see the Julie Andrews narrated light show.
But for me, all of those incredibly fond memories are simply glimpses from the Ghost of Two Weeks Before Christmas Past. And seeing as the Ghost of Two Weeks Before Christmas Future has not shined his (or her) bright light in my life yet, I will have to settle with my experiences hanging out with my Ghost of Two Weeks Before Christmas Present.
And quite an interesting Present it is.
Sometime circa World War II, a man named Irving Berlin wrote a musical entitled White Christmas, which ironically is previewed at the Walnut Street Theatre every year (and going there just happens to be another little Philadelphia Christmas tradition that is rearing its ugly head in my face right now.) The main song in said musical happens to begin a little like this:
"The sun is shining, the grass is green,
The orange and palm trees sway.
There's never been such a day
in Beverly Hills, L.A.
in Beverly Hills, L.A.
But it's December the twenty-fourth,—And I am longing to be up North—"
So, ummm, yeah. Change the location from Beverly Hills to Valencia, Spain, and you've pretty much read the story of my life right now. This is Christmas Present for me.
I know a bunch of you are probably reading this and thinking, "Sure, warm weather and sunny skies in December? Weather where you don't have to wear a jacket every day and a city in which it hasn't snowed since 2007? Hurt me. Sounds realllllllllyyyyyyyyy difficult living there." Truth is that it's not. Generally, it's quite nice and I absolutely cannot and will not complain about not having to deal with the post-snow slush that sticks around until April. But that being said, just hear me out.
An advertisement at El Corte Ingles urges people to get into the Christmas spirit. For native Valencianos, that is easy- this is what they are used to every single year. But for Valenciamericanos (a new term I've dubbed my cohorts and myself), it is a little difficult. It boils down to a simple formula. Here's how it works:
There are a eleven Fulbrighters in the region of Valencia. Two are placed in Castellon de la Plana to the North. Three are placed in Alicante and Javea to the South. The other six, including myself, are placed in the actual city of Valencia. Nine of us (Brittni, Lisa, Natalie, Sara K., Bobbi, LaTasha, Ted, Christine, and myself) are what I like to call the Christmas time rule. That pretty much means that we are from parts of the United States (Pennsylvania, New Jersey, South Dakota, Michigan, Ohio, New York, and Oregon) that fall into the typical Christmas time stereotypes of cold weather, snow, jackets, and having moms that pretending that the black lab actually sings "Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire." One person, my other roommate from Austin, is the Christmas time exception, which basically means that growing up in Texas and being a total wuss when it comes to cold weather and snow has prepared him for this relatively "normal" Christmas in Valencia. Finally, one other person, Peter, is what I like to think of as the Exceptional Christmas Rule as he lived in Detroit for ten years until his family relocated to central Florida, thus meaning he has experienced the best of both Christmas worlds. (That makes 11.)
That being said, the majority of us are used to a more Frosty the Snowman environment than Christmas in July. And despite El Corte Ingles's best attempts, it is just a little bit difficult to get into "the Christmas Spirit" when you are surrounded by swaying palm trees that look fairly odd when covered in LED lights. We're used to Christmas trees in the middle of town that feebly resemble the one at 30 Rock versus thirty foot white cones in the main Plaza that are supposed to pass as trees but really look like large teepees with stars on top. But this is how it works here, and we might as well get used to it because the opinions of what Christmas should look like to a group of sometimes legal immigrants pales in comparison to the opinion of the always legal general public. Which raises another question in general: What should Christmas look like?
We all have our ideas based on what we have experienced in our lives. For me, I expect to do the things I discussed earlier because that is where I have lived my life and what I know. Christmas to my friend Lisa looks like going to New York City to see a Broadway show with her family every year. For Peter and Neima, it is spent in a warmer environment that is often sans snow. And for the Spanish, this is normal. However, the one thing that has always stayed constant for all of us, no matter what we used to know, is that we have been fortunate enough to share our memories of Navidad with the people we love. It doesn't matter if you're going to do the same things you always do or have relocated to a new place and need to adjust: Christmas is iconized by being with the people you care about and the people who care about you. That's what it should look like.
One major thing we've learned since being in Fulbright can be summed up by a quote from Robert Frost. Mr. Frost proclaims that "Everything I have learned in life can be summed up in three words: it goes on." Just because we are here in Spain, far away from literally everything we know as we try to assimilate into our new home and culture, doesn't mean that life at home stops. We have continued to live here and our loved ones have continued to live at home. Situations change sometimes, which is a natural phase in life that we all have to experience at some point. It's not exactly easy and definitely uncomfortable and different at times, but we'll be better for it in the end. And all of that means that if Christmas environmentally doesn't look like what we are used to with snow and cold weather, it can still look how it is supposed to look with the people we care about, despite the changes in life.
Maybe I would like to be on Market Street to see and do the things I love, but being on Calle de Colon isn't so bad either. And quite frankly, I'd rather have a Christmas tree in Plaza del Ayuntamiento that looks like a cone that none at all. But those aren't the important things. What is important is that I get to wake up everyday and be with the people who have become some of my best friends and surrogate family and am blessed to see my real family and American friends in a few weeks. So yes, El Corte Ingles, it is beginning to look a lot like Christmas.