For a few years now we’ve spoken about going away for Christmas. There was always talk of a rural house with a fireplace. And beautiful views of the Catalan mountains, and maybe even a sprinkling of snow.
Finally this year we made it happen. And, after spending several Christmases away from my home country, it felt perfect to be somewhere completely new, surrounded by the natural beauty that makes me certain that this is where I belong at any time of the year.
Christmas Away From Home
For those of you who live abroad, Christmastime is probably when you most want go home. It’s understandable to want to see your family and friends, and enjoy the traditions of your home country. But for me, spending Christmas in the UK doesn’t have the same kind of appeal.
When I was growing up it was only ever the four of us – my mum, dad, younger brother and me. Christmas wasn’t all that different to other days of the year but we made it special in our own quiet way.
But now my brother is living in the US and my mum usually has to work. I prefer to save my trips back to the UK for when the weather is better and my friends and family have more free time.
And so, since 2014 I’ve decided to stay in Barcelona and celebrate with my husband Gastón and his mum Mirta. I miss seeing my parents, but I feel lucky and grateful to be so welcomed into another family’s celebrations.
Adjusting to New Christmas Traditions
Although I’ve spent Christmas in Barcelona by choice, I’ve still found it hard at times to adjust to the traditions of my new country. Turrón is fine but it’s no replacement for Quality Street (for the record, the orange creme, green triangle and toffee deluxe are my favourites). And I do miss watching films like It’s a Wonderful Life and A Christmas Carol. However, the hardest part for me to get used to is that everyone opens their presents at midnight on Christmas Eve. It’s the same in Argentina, so for Gastón and Mirta it’s normal, but for me it just feels wrong.
Of course, living in a foreign country means adjusting to new traditions like these. This was something the three of us talked about a lot while we were away for Christmas in the mountains.
For Gastón and Mirta, Christmas here in Spain is completely different to Christmas in Argentina. For them, Christmas back home was always in summer. And unlike me, they had a big family to celebrate with. But now, their family isn’t as close as it used to be. And they admit that they’d find the heat of a Christmas in Buenos Aires unbearable. So, they also find that the traditions of their Christmases past are very much in the past now.
Away for Christmas in the mountains
And so, the three of us, a family of foreigners in Spain, decided to go away for Christmas this year. And since Barcelona’s close proximity to beautiful natural surroundings is something that we all appreciate about living here, it felt right to be in the midst of nature to celebrate.
Our options were restricted due to there being just three of us. So, we settled for a flat in Mont-ros, Lleida instead of the country house we had hoped for. But, we got our fireplace and the surrounding area of La Vall Fosca looked nice in the photos. We arrived late on Friday night, the 22nd of December. After settling in, we ate dinner and enjoyed the heat from the fireplace that Gastón happily filled with firewood, toasting with cava to our Christmas mountain hideaway.
But on Saturday morning we got a better surprise than we could have dreamt of when we decided to go away for Christmas.
I woke up around 10 am to the bright mountain sunshine pouring in, warming the whole flat. Then I hurried to the living room to draw the curtains and take in the beautiful views; mountains stretching into the valley below, punctuated with traditional stone buildings and the village’s church tower.
Stepping onto the balcony I peered round the corner of our building, excited to see mountains with snow-covered peaks. Mirta woke up soon after and had the same reaction as me. She shouted to Gastón that we could see snow from our window but he didn’t believe us. When he came to see for himself, he was equally surprised to be in the middle of such beautiful views. He commented that he had never expected the photos we saw of the flat to be the views we got to see every day, but here they were.
After breakfast we got in the car and headed towards the snow. We stopped off on the way to take photos of a roadside waterfall and small villages decorating the landscape.
Then we stopped at Estany de Sallente, where the clear reservoir water reflected a perfect image of the snowy peaks.
From there we set off up the mountain, warmed by the bright sunshine despite the cold snow around us. However, the snow-covered mountain pass became steep and slippery. We didn’t have the right equipment and there were fewer footprints to put our feet into for balance. So, we decided to turn back and enjoy a glass of red wine beside the water before the sun hid behind one of the snowy mountains.
We headed home around 4.30 pm, and sipped Ratafia on the balcony as the last light traced the mountains with a golden glow against the deep blue sky.
On Sunday, Christmas Eve, we visited several small villages in the area. Mont-ros, the village we were staying in, is home to just four families. This gives you some idea of just how small the villages in the area are. We found a town called La Pobla de Segur with a small supermarket to buy bread and other supplies. Then we stopped off for a glass of vermouth and walked by the river in Gerri de la Sal. And we finished our village tour at Aguiró, the village we could see from our balcony, perched on the mountains just before the snowy peaks.
That night for our Christmas Eve meal we ate barbecued calçots, a typical Catalan dish and then opened our presents just after midnight. As well as presents from Mirta and Gastón, I received a new diary, something I ask my parents for every year. And of course my mum had wrapped it in our Christmas theme colours,, purple and silver. So I suppose even when you’re away for Christmas you can still keep small traditions alive. Then, as I could never imagine my parents doing, the three of us stayed up until about 5 am, talking, laughing and playing games.
We were sad to leave the next day as we woke up to yet another beautiful morning. I wanted to see the snow one last time, but we had to clean up and pack the car. Not long into our journey home, we happened to see another reservoir, Pantano de Sant Antoni. Here, we wlked down to the edge of the water and felt the sun on our faces as the tide lapped at the stony shore. One last look at nature and we were off. But we’ll be back in the Catalan countryside soon, as there are always new waterfalls and mountains to visit.
make Christmas special in your own way
Sometimes when we live away from our home country we can get confused between homesickness and nostalgia for the past. And at Christmas, that nostalgia can reach new highs. But if you’re not able to go home for Christmas, then celebrating with the new friends and family you make away from home can be part of a new tradition. And, as we discovered this year, going away for Christmas can make it special too.
Have you ever been away for Christmas, or would you consider it in the future? Let me know your thoughts by commenting below.