Celebrating Like a Local: New Year’s Eve in Andalusia

Guest Post by Yvonne Schnoor

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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.

Related: Free Downloadable German Language Cheat Sheet

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

Celebrating Like a Local: Christmas in Stockholm

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Guest Post by Susann Aavanen from The Biveros Effect!

December is here and it is time to get ready for a typically Swedish Christmas. In Sweden Christmas is celebrated on the 24th of December. However, the whole month of December is a time for preparation. These preparations often start on the first weekend of Advent and they include decorations, baking, and get-togethers. However, let’s put aside the crazy shopping sprees and glittering Christmas parties. Here are three things that you should not miss if you are in Stockholm or Sweden in December. These experiences are incredibly popular among both residents and visitors and will give you a feel for what a traditional Swedish Christmas is like.

1. Glöggfika

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Fika is a great Swedish tradition. It usually refers to “having a cup of coffee” but it entails so much more that. It’s something of a cultural institution. The fika does not require coffee and usually comes with pastries, sandwiches, or other types of food. Come December, the typical fika becomes more Christmassy with glögg (mulled wine) instead of coffee and sweet treats for those with a sweet tooth. These treats include pepparkaka (gingerbread) and lussebulle (saffron bun). Add some traditional Christmas music and you’re guaranteed a cheerful atmosphere. The great thing about the glöggfika is that it happens everywhere: from at home with friends to in the workplace!

The glöggfika is especially popular on Lucia (Saint Lucy’s Day), the 13th of December.

2. Christmas Markets

There are several Christmas markets in Stockholm, which means that there is something for everyone! The most famous Christmas market is the one in Gamla stan (the Old Town). From the 19th of November until the 23rd of December, Stortorget square near the Royal Palace is filled with little red stalls selling scrumptious traditional Swedish sweets, cheese, glögg, handicrafts, and much more.

Other great places to enjoy a cozy Christmas market and get a taste of Swedish Christmas are Skansen, Rosendal, and Drottningholm Castle.

3. Julbord

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Food is probably an important aspect of Christmas no matter where you are. Sweden is no exception. As it is a country that is very fond of buffets, it should come as no surprise that the julbord or Christmas buffet is a big thing in restaurants around Stockholm. Even IKEA has one! The best food is, of course, the food that is served at home on Christmas Eve, but it’s difficult to escape all the Christmas food before the big day. So, what can you expect when it comes to traditional Swedish Christmas food? You never get away from the meatballs and Jansson’s Temptation (a casserole with pickled sprats among other things). A wide variety of fish, sausages, ham, potatoes, boiled cabbage, beetroot salad, and cheeses will also tickle your taste buds and have you queue for one more serving. After a successful Christmas meal, you might promise yourself not to eat anything ever again!

December is a month when all the streets and people brighten up. It is a cheerful time with lights, food and parties. With some luck, the city and its surroundings turn into a white wonderland where locals and tourists alike get to find their inner child as they play in the snow. Welcome to Stockholm!


What happens when a Swede and a Finn meet in Slovakia, fall in love, and move to Stockholm? The result is a story of travels, mishaps, and adventures around the world. Check out Jesper and Susann’s awesome blog here!