Saturday, December 28, 2013

American Christmas vs. Spanish Christmas

The Christmas season is my favorite time of the year. I love the cold weather, the decorations and the general happy feeling everyone has. I have been lucky enough to be able to spend Christmas in 3 different countries. My first year abroad I was in Bologna, Italy and last year I was in Bethlehem, Palestine. Both very different and very enjoyable! This year, I decided it was time I spent my favorite holiday with my own family. Since I haven't been home in such a long time it made me start to really look at the differences between Spain and the US in regards to Christmas.

My family and me, together after many years apart!


One of my family’s traditions is going to look at Christmas lights. There is a house close to mine in Colorado that has SO many decorations outside. Dolls, lights, trains, music. Literally, their entire yard is covered with lights and moving pieces. Just driving around you can see some incredible house decorations. And what would Christmas be without the tree? Everyone here has a tree that they decorate. We have always had a live one which adds a great smell to the room!

Our tree in Colorado
A house in our neighborhood
A very decorated house
Decorations in Spain, while very pretty, don’t compare to decorations in the US. The center of every city is nicely decorated and often has a tree. Some of the side streets might have lights as well. But, people generally don’t decorate the outside of their houses. Inside decorations are different, too. The most popular decoration in Spain is a nativity scene. Months before the holiday season the stores fill with little parts to build your belen. Some of them are really intricate and include a real river! The trees are not as important here.

The center in Valencia
In Valencia
A nativity scene in my school in Almeria


This is a big part for both countries. In the United States people usually have a huge meal on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day resembling Thanksgiving. Typically, it is a turkey or a ham. One of my favorite things to do around this holiday is bake A LOT and decorate cookies. I think this is why people generally gain a lot of weight during the holidays. Winking smile

Yummy cookies
The holiday food in Spain is not that different than the US. Turkeys are becoming more popular, so a lot of people eat turkey dinners. My favorite part is the sweets! Starting mid November the grocery stores clear their shelves for the holiday treats. Polvorones, a sweet crumbly almond cookie and turron de almendras, a hard or soft nougat with marcona almonds are my favorite. (Click the links for recipes). The king’s cake is also a really fun and delicious part of Christmas in Spain.


Turron de almendras
Bringer of the presents:

Weird title I know. But, it was the easiest way to explain the difference. Everyone knows it’s all about Santa in the US. Kids start making lists for him early in the year. All the decorations include a Santa and lots of arts and crafts are about him.

This is starting to change a little in Spain. But, for them the Reyes Magos (The Three Wise men) bring the presents! Working in the elementary school in Almeria was always fun to go back after winter break and hear what different gifts the kids got from which king. This is also an added bonus for an American expat, because the Christmas break doesn’t end until after 3 King’s Day!

So, who is the winner? Maybe it’s because I grew up in the US, but I am going to have to stick with my mother land on this one. I just love the whole atmosphere of Christmas in the US a lot better than Spain. But of course you be the judge.

Monday, December 16, 2013

It's Contest Time!

Hello! Remember my post about being interviewed for ExpatBlog? Well, they are having a contest now. And I need your help to win!

Here's my entry, just read it and leave a comment of at least 10 words (on the contest page, not here for it to count) and then confirm your email (it will not sign you up for any email lists, don't worry!) That's it! Also, if you would like to share the link on your social media I would be very grateful!

Sunday, December 8, 2013

A Super Expat Thanksgiving

When I was growing up Thanksgiving was never a holiday I really understood why people got excited for. My family is full of good cooks, so we had gourmet meals practically every day. So, for us Thanksgiving was just a day to eat dinner at 3pm and in the dining room instead of the kitchen.

My feelings on Thanksgiving took a 180 turn once I moved abroad. Suddenly, I was very excited to share this American holiday with all my new friends! I have been lucky enough to be able to celebrate my 3 years here with people from all over the world. Here is the story of my first Spanish Thanksgiving 2 years ago, a very eclectic mix of food. Last year was a small celebration with my good friend, Roisin, who was visiting from England.

My vegetarian Thanksgiving with Roisin
This year I wanted to make Thanksgiving as traditional as possible. Since we don’t have a break here, we had to celebrate the Saturday after Thanksgiving. I spent the week preparing the menu and gathering the ingredients. Going off tradition, I didn’t get a turkey because I didn’t order it in time (oops!) So, we ended up with 2 chickens instead. The funny thing about poultry here, is it isn't as clean as it would be in the US. Sometimes there are still big feathers in the skin and little feathers that need to be burned off. Friday night, I went through each bird with a pair of pliers to take out the rest of the big feathers. Then, to get the small feathers off, Mo made a blow torch with the stove. I was a little worried we would explode, but it all worked out in the end. Winking smile


Saturday morning I woke up early to start preparing everything. First thing to hit the oven was a pumpkin pie made from homemade pumpkin puree (actually a butternut squash.) Thanks to King Arthur Flour for the amazing recipe.

Beautiful color!
Mashed potatoes are my specialty, and something I always have been in charge of for Thanksgiving back home. I FINALLY found “my” secret ingredient (I stole the idea from my mom, who has been nice enough to let me claim it as my own. Thanks mom!) so I was very excited to be able to make the perfect potatoes. I forgot how much time they take to peel! Well worth the time though.


After the potatoes were done I started on the stuffings. There were two vegetarians at the meal so I made one for the chickens and one with a watered down cream of mushroom soup for the base. Man, it turned out good! The stuffings were both flavored with rosemary, thyme and sage. We were very lucky to have some dried sage in the house all the way from Palestine! Although sage grows in the mountains near Valencia, I have, unfortunately, never seen it in the stores here.


After all those dishes were done, I took a quick nap and went out for a coffee to try to get ride of a headache that was bothering me all day. A side effect of some antibiotics for strep throat. Sad smile

When I was ready for the kitchen again, my roommate was finally awake to help me with the chickens. To keep with the flavors of the stuffing we made a butter, fresh rosemary, fresh thyme and dried sage rub for under the skin of the chickens. We had a little too much fun listening to Christmas carols and dancing with the chickens while they were sitting on beer cans to let the rest of the blood drain.

Notice the green twine....
A few hours before our guests arrived we finished the stuffing the chickens. I realized then that we didn’t have any butchers twine! Luckily, she had some string from a craft project that worked just fine. It was colored though, so the only thing that was going through my head while we were tying the legs together was the scene from the movie Bridget Jones’s Diary where she uses blue Christmas ribbon to tie some herbs for a soup and the soup comes out blue! Luckily, our chickens came out a perfect toasty brown color and not green.

The spread!
The desserts! Homemade pumpkin and apple pies
This was probably my favorite of all the Thanksgivings I have had here. It was full of great people and great food. Did I mention we had 4 countries represented?? Talk about a true expat party!

American, Palestinian, Egyptian, Spanish, American, American. A very international Thanksgiving!