Guest Post by Yvonne Schnoor
Three years ago, my husband and I left Germany to run a bed & breakfast in Andalusia. We opened Cortijo El Sarmiento in late spring and had a good, but exhausting, first season.
When the last of our guests had left, we had to face our first Christmas and New Year’s Eve away from home. My parents, Reiner and Marlene, came over to join us. It was not the best time: we couldn’t find any of the food we were used to eating at Christmas; the weather was far too warm for us back then; and the only Christmas tree we could find was puny and quite ugly.
We decided we needed to embrace the Spanish way of life.
For our New Year’s dinner, we all went to a restaurant. It was nice enough, but it was full of expats, who, although very friendly, couldn’t offer us the new Spanish lifestyle we craved. Our first Christmas and New Year’s felt like a bit of a let down.
We decided that we would have to plan the holidays much better for the following year. But, as you can imagine, with all the work at the B&B during the summer, we completely forgot about the disaster of 2014/15! The season ended, the holidays drew near, and we had nothing planned.
Then something fantastic happened. Apparently, some of our new Spanish friends had felt sorry that we had spent such a miserable first Christmas in their country. So, they invited us to join their News Year’s Eve party! We were happy to accept, but had no idea what to expect. We were informed that traditionally everyone brought food, but that we didn’t have to, because we were their guests. However, we just couldn’t go empty handed, so together we prepared some Spanish food and a very typical German dessert. We all got dressed up for the occasion.
When we arrived at our friends’ house it was a lovely surprise. We were greeted by their relatives, all thirty-six of them, which turned out to be less then half of their family. There aren’t that many family members between my husband’s and my family combined!
Related: Christmas in Stockholm
At first, we felt quite alien, especially as my parents spoke very little Spanish. But everyone welcomed us warmly and made us feel completely at home. One couple had lived in Germany, which was great, because they were seated beside Mum and Dad! The table was crammed with all sorts of wonderful food and they put our dishes right in the middle.
The evening started out typically Andalusian: tons of food and wine and very noisy conversation. I worried my eardrums might not survive the night. There was lots of laughter and tempered discussion, which never got out of hand. It’s just the Spanish way; they are so passionate about everything.
Midnight drew near and our friends’ daughters set a champagne glass in front of each person and filled them with Cava – Champagne is never drunk in Andalusia; there’s too much local pride. There was also a small bowl for each person containing twelve grapes.
At the countdown on TV – Oh, by the way, I should mention that the TV is always on in Spanish houses; they are mad about their TV – for the twelve strokes to midnight, everyone has to eat a grape and make a wish. It sounds easy, doesn’t it? But you try chewing, wishing and swallowing between the strokes of a church bell! We all felt really stupid, but it was great fun. It is very important to the Spanish people to eat the Uvas de la suerte (lucky grapes) and wish Feliz Año Nuevo (Happy New Year) before the completion of the twelfth chime. Then come the three kisses for everyone in the room. By the end of it, your Cava is flat and warm, but no one cares.
When everyone eventually returns to their seat, they find a bag filled with confetti, paper-streamers and hats. Then someone puts a wig on your head – so if you weren’t embarrassed choking on the grapes, you are now. Replete with wig and paper hat, the serious drinking can begin.
Most of the youngsters head off to meet their friends to celebrate, away from the oldies, in the local bars or at a disco.
Another, more recent custom, to bring luck for the coming year, is for a man to buy the love of his life red lingerie. The woman should never buy this for herself; it has to be a gift to her. It’s the reason there is so much red lingerie for sale in Spain from the beginning of December.
When I inquired about the tradition of taking a dip in the sea on New Year’s Day, my Spanish friends looked at me as if I were mad. “Only the strange foreigners do this”, they said. “The water would be far too cold!”
So we didn’t.
My name is Yvonne and I’m what you would probably call a true European. I was born in Gemany, grew up in Belgium, and, after a long journey through several other European countries, decided to live in Spain, where I run, together with my family, a beautiful, luxury bed and breakfast in Mojácar, a lesser known part of Andalusia’s Costa de Almeria. The B&B is dedicated to adults only, especially those who are looking for peace and tranquility. As I’ve owned a wine shop in Germany for over 13 years and have done endless tastings to become a Sommelière, you can be sure that you will always be served the right wine wherever you meet me. Living in Spain supports my hobby (for now, at least!) a lot – everything here is about eating and drinking!