It’s the Season to be Jolly…

Merry XmasIt is indeed the Season to be Jolly for those who celebrate Christmas. But of course as every year, I feel that cultural differences are at their peak here. I still find it strange to talk about cultural differences between two European countries so close in space and with so much history in common, but Christmas is lived differently in England and Spain.

I feel that Christmas in England is played long before the actual holidays, with weeks and weeks of shopping and preparation for it to suddenly be over in just one day. While in Spain it’s the opposite, the 24th, Christmas Eve is the beginning of the festivities that go on till he 6th of January, the Epiphany or the Reyes Magos (The day of the Three Wise Men).

Some will say that it’s just a mere difference of dates and that it doesn’t matter so much. I supposed that’s what I thought before I had kids. It’s not just really about pushing one or other culture, trying to be the “top culture” of the month, it has to do with more practical and down to earth questions. For instance, while most English people of my acquaintance would summarise their Christmas experience in two words “food and presents” (probably alcohol, lots of it, as well), their Spanish counterparts would find it hard to summarise it, but there is one main difference there are no presents! Christmas is about family, eating, alcohol (of course), fireworks (usually Christmas Eve it’s a bit noise and dangerous)… and so on. For me growing as a child Christmas was about all of this and then waiting for the Three Wise Men to bring presents in January.

Once I had children, and once these children grow to understand about Santa and the Three Wise Men, the fantasy gets harder and harder to maintain. It’s hard enough to pretend there is Santa when people around you ask about where you found that great present! And your daughter replies, mum didn’t find it, Santa brought it! Can you imagine doing the same thing for two sets of imaginary beings?

Then there is the questions of values, personally I still think that it’s quite weird to equate Christmas with presents, but so bit it! Now the thing is how to maintain the magic of the Season, while everybody is flooding everybody else with presents. I imagine it must be even more difficult for people from other religions, or maybe not, I had a Moroccan-French friend who had a Christmas tree and presents every year. She said that it would have been quite hard for her little brothers or sisters if they hadn’t had it when the children at school did. That is debatable and it’s how her family dealt with it, I am sure different people do different things. Personally, as my friend, I don’t feel I can deny them presents for Christmas as that is the culture where we live. But at the same time, I also want to maintain alive our tradition.

So, our kids don’t get even more presents, we just divide them in three chunks: Christmas morning, the 6th of January and then the Sunday after the Epiphany when we celebrate it with the Spanish speaking community and 3 parents dress up as the Three Wise Men!

So, bilingualism is not just about language but about culture and values. I suppose you don’t really appreciate the differences until you have children. To finish with, I will just like to tell you a little story about our little bilingual. My almost 4 year old girl speaks Spanish quite fluently now, and she always speaks in Spanish with my sister over Skype. The other day however, while we were showing her our Christmas tree on the camera, aunty asked about Santa and how was he going to bring the presents. My daughter who had been happily speaking in Spanish till then, excitedly launched herself into an explanation, in English!, of how Santa came down the chimney. I am not sure if that was because she actually didn’t know the word “chimney” in Spanish, or because they had been doing some activity about Santa in her English time at French school. Or maybe it was because when we talk in Spanish we tend to talk about the Three Wise Men and all the Santa stuff she’s been hearing has been in English. Or maybe it was just a short-circuit!

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