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Holidays come with Spanish flair

Photo by Vicki Harris

Photo by Vicki Harris

The holidays really are my favorite time of year. I love the happiness, the joy, and of course, the decorations! My family and I have always had our traditions that we typically carry out every year. We go to the beach for Thanksgiving, share a pre/post Christmas with my mom's side of the family, a big Christmas dinner with my dad's side, and our own Christmas brunch, and have a party for New Year's Eve.

It was very hard not having the ability to be with them on those special days. It is not only the first time I've been away from Georgia this long, but also the longest I've been away from everyone I love. But thank goodness for Skype! Even though it was different from actually being there, at least I could see and talk to my family during these times!

Halloween is Halloween anywhere you go, most likely. Even though it is a newer tradition, the basics are still present: Little kids dressed up asking for candy, teenagers hanging out in houses or in the street (some in costumes, some not), and adults handing out candy (and who knows, maybe they were dressed up too!). Not as many houses were decorated as I'm used to and not as many people participated, but it was still fun!

Since Thanksgiving is an American holiday, I did not get to properly celebrate it this year. It was an odd feeling waking up on Thanksgiving and realizing it was just a normal day here in Spain.

I must say Christmas is my favorite holiday of the year! I love everything about it. The decorated trees and houses, the carols, eggnog and hot chocolate, nightly fires. Just the whole feel of it. Even though it's not as old of a tradition, it's still more or less the same in Spain.

There are two Christmas-ish like holidays in Spain, Christmas and Los Tres Reyes Magos. Some families give presents for both of the holidays, split the gifts between each holiday, or celebrate only one! Instead of having a big brunch or dinner on Christmas like I am used to, there is a formal dinner of "Noche Buena" (Christmas Eve), normally with family. On Christmas day, after opening presents and relaxing, we went to another family member's house to eat a big lunch.

The tradition for New Year's Eve is very different than what I'm used to. After a nice dinner and not too long before 12, everyone gets 12 grapes and gathers around the television. For each time the clock strikes, you eat a grape. Afterwards, you give the people around you a kiss on each cheek and drink a little champagne.

About an hour after that, I went out with my friends, like most people my age, to a local. A local is a building or store that rents out for parties or other occasions. Our local happened to be at a hairdresser and about 50 people split the cost of it. It isn't unheard of that parents let their older kids stay out the whole night in their local. There is a lot of music, dancing and socializing.

After the parties are over (mine was done at about 8 in the morning), everyone goes for churros and hot chocolate. Churros are fried-dough pastries coated with cinnamon and sugar. The hot chocolate here is very thick, almost as if the chocolate was just melted off of a chocolate bar! It was all very exciting and fun for me -- not to mention that New Year's Eve is also my birthday, thus making it even better!

Los Tres Reyes Magos, or The Three Wisemen, takes place on Jan. 6. It is a beloved holiday and tradition among the people of Spain that recognizes los Reyes (the Kings), who were the three kings that followed a star to baby Jesus and brought gifts of gold, myrrh and frankincense. When the time comes, the children write a letter to the kings telling them about the things they want to receive on the 6th. If they've been good, they get the presents, but if they've been bad, they get coal.

On the 5th of January, there is a big parade in which most everybody in the town watches. From each float, people throw out candy to the crowd, which is actually more dangerous than it sounds.. Thank goodness I had an umbrella! The three Wisemen are the finale and on the three last floats. That same night, the kids put their shoes by the door and food and drink for the Wisemen and their camels. The next morning the kids find presents in and around their shoes and the food and drinks gone!

All in all my holidays were eventful and fun! The day after Christmas, we went to Sevilla until the 30th. If I had to describe that city with one word it would be "Wow." There were so many beautiful things to see and fun things to do! We went to many different places and saw a lot of interesting things; however, my favorite place we went has to be the old Islamic palace, EL Alcazar. It was stunning and the gardens were absolutely beautiful! It also has a lot of interesting history. My second favorite was the Sevilla Cathedral, its bell tower, the Giralda, and it's Orange Tree Courtyard. Its architecture is simply amazing and the view from the Giralda Tower is breathtaking. Sevilla is definitely one of the cities I would love to see again before I die!

Darby Calhoun, 17, is the daughter of Bill and Laura Calhoun of Albany. During her year of study in Spain, she is contributing a periodic column to The Albany Herald on her experiences. You can also keep up with Darby's columns at www.albanyherald.com.