Christmas, Catharsis, and the Anti-Whine


I am here in Madrid by myself for the night, and tomorrow morning I will go back to the airport to meet a dear friend who is coming to visit me (and Spain, for the first time!) I arrived earlier today, and now I am in the cocoon of light and warmth and wifi that is the the bar of my hostel. It is Nochebuena – Christmas Eve in Spain. This is when Spaniards get together with their families to eat a gigantic meal of American Thanksgiving proportions, and later go to la misa del gallo – the rooster´s mass, at Christmas eve (because the rooster was traditionally the first to announce the birth of Christ.) The streets are not as busy as they usually would be at this hour, with most stores and restaurants shuttered up. People on the street are dressed up (with the occasional Santa hat or reindeer antlers) and hurrying to various festive destinations – carrying covered dishes or gifts or children. A few foreigners wander aimlesslyperhaps baffled by the way the bustling Spanish streets can empty themselves up so quickly and completely: shutters pulled down over storefronts, the slamming shut of old doors. My basic Spain Survival Skills have given me enough foresight to find a panadaría and frutería for some rations for later when everyone has retreated to their family meals, and I found a small empty cafe to satiate my ever growing addiction to café con leche. 


It is an easy time to feel orphaned and melancholy (alone! expat! homesick! Christmas!) but I am determined to make it more than that.
Living in a new country always teaches you even more about yourself than about the new culture. And a few months in, the things that have surfaced have not all been very pretty. I have found that especially in new and stressful situations, it is far too easy to let myself feel victimized. After the initial glow fades, you are beaten down by a country whose customs you don’t understand, full of people who don’t understand you. Daily tasks are baffling. Simple objectives become nearly impossible. Small talk during lunch break is terrifyingly trilingual.
Overwhelmed people shut down, or hide, or avoid… or whine. Slog through doggedly and sullenly. This is what I have been doing a bit too much lately. On a conscious level, I want to live outside my comfort zone. I want to be challenged because I want to grow. But not if I can’t whine about it. Not if I don’t get to maintain a steady stream of angst.
Is Catholicism is to blame? (Blaming Catholicism For Things has been another fun hobby, but isn’t always fair.) A steady diet of martyrs in halos and sacrificial lambs raises selfless folk whose sacrifices are repaid by gold halos and eyes cast heavenwards. Longsuffering. I think a lot of people* get lost in the sacrifice part and lose the thread of what really matters – what is worth the sacrifice, worth stepping out of the lines.
(*Obviously, I am just referring to myself)
I have always been one to push forward to new horizons – but then I get bogged down in anxiety, making me whiny and sullen and reclusive. I think this year will be a crash course in Being Joyful and Living In The Moment and Being Happy Alone – because often my alone times traveling are my favorite times. (I relate to Anna here and to the article she mentioned here.) Then the moment comes and it’s Christmas and I feel lonely, but I’m shaking it off. I don’t want to squander the joyfulness of adventure; I don’t want to lose the lightness of walking alone down an unfamiliar street in a beautiful city. I will see loved ones tomorrow (in person and via Skype) but for now I am listening to Villancicos (you can too, here!) and eating a mandarina and soon I am going to wander off to find out what Christmas in Madrid looks and smells and tastes like.
Felíz Navidad a todos. / Molt Bon Nadal a tots. 
(In case you wanted to know what a Mediterranean Christmas Eve looks like.)
(Sneak preview for family back home; due to mailing delays – mostly my fault – these presents will hopefully be brought by Los Reyes in early January… in true Spanish style.)

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