Christmas Time in Madrid
Let's talk Christmas. Okay, so this might be late, but at least in Spain it's only 2 weeks late, not 3 or 4 as it would be in the U.S! This late post might come in handy though if you are thinking about teaching in Spain next year and are wondering about the holidays here.
While it's of course going to be different from home, I still love Christmas in Spain. I love the lights strung up all over the streets, the giant Christmas trees in the plazas made out of lights, the Christmas markets that pop up, and chestnuts roasting on the streets. I also love that Christmas lasts at least a whole week longer with the celebration of 3 Kings Day on January 6th.
For those of you not familiar, 3 Kings Day is like their Christmas Day (although they also celebrate that sometimes with a gift or two from Santa Claus). The 3 wise men leave presents for the children and put candy in their shoes. The children leave out water for the camels and treats for the wise men. There is also typically a parade the night before with the 3 wise men "arriving" to the city and throwing candy to the children watching giddily in the crowds.
This is my second Christmas in Spain, but my first in Madrid, which is a whole other ball game. For the month of December and the first week of January, tourists pour into the city and swarm the more popular locations. As teaching assistants, we get almost two and a half weeks off from school between Christmas and 3 Kings Day, as well as almost a week off at the beginning of December for a Madrid holiday, so I spent a fair amount of time traveling (to Austria for the Christmas markets and Thailand to spend Christmas with my sister who lives there) in order to take advantage my time and avoid the craziness of the crowds in Madrid. I did, however, enjoy the Christmas-y things in Madrid while here and even made it back for the 3 Kings parade.
At school, all of us assistants did Christmas activities with all of our classes, which ranged from making origami stars in Art to watching The Grinch and doing Secret Santa gift exchanges with the students. On Wednesday before Christmas, the teachers invited us to a nice lunch with them in celebration of the holiday and on Thursday, a half day at school, the students took on the parents, teachers, and assistants in volleyball and basketball matches. If you are thinking about traveling early and making up some of the days ahead of time at school, be sure to check with your coordinator to make sure first that it's okay, but second, that you aren't going to miss out on all of the fun there.
For those of you planning on being here in Madrid in the near future for the Christmas season, here are some suggestions for surviving and enjoying your time:
1. If you feel averse to crowds, avoid Sol and Plaza Mayor.
2. Watch your belongings. Pickpockets are out and about in excess during this time.
3. If you plan on traveling or going home for break, buy your tickets several months in advance. You'll get better prices and better choices of flights.
4. Buy tickets online ahead of time for the Navibus. For only 2 euros, you can go on a bus tour of all the Christmas lights in the city. Just don't make the mistake I did of thinking you could buy a ticket once you got to the bus or of thinking that you could buy a ticket last minute as they sell out really quickly.
5. Have fun exploring the Christmas markets, shops, and nativity scenes around the city. Don't get your hopes up too high for the Christmas market in Plaza Mayor, but it's still fun to go and people watch.
6. Europe has some pretty amazing Christmas markets in other countries as well, which I highly recommend checking out.
7. To put yourself more in the Christmas mood, go ice skating in one of the temporary rinks they have set up for the season, grab some hot chocolate from Starbucks, or get churros y chocolote from San Gines (note: hot cocoa and chocolate are two VERY different things here in Spain! Think hot cocoa vs. drinkable warm chocolate pudding).
8. Eat 12 grapes, as is tradition here, with the strokes of the clock at midnight for New Year's.
9. Go see the 3 Kings parade. There's quite a crowd, but you can go early or go further up the parade route for a better view. It's worth seeing at least once. Plus, there's free candy being thrown at you. =)
10. Spend time with loved ones and family. It's Christmas, after all.
Until next time,