12/26/2005

I Got That 'Christmas Spirit' [DECEMBER 26, 2005]

My girlfriend and I never go to church – we’re both atheists – but we have developed a kind of Christmas tradition whilst here in Spain. For the past two Christmas Eves, we’ve stuffed our faces with a feast and, after the plates have been cleared and a few drinks had, headed off to this one local church that has a wonderful female choir, accompanied by three Spanish guitars, that chant and sing carols throughout Midnight Mass. This Christmas Eve was no different and last night we found ourselves sitting in the pews of that same ancient church on a dimly lit side street of Cádiz.


Christmastime in Cádiz!!!

"I forgot how lovely they sound," my girlfriend whispered in my ear as the priests sat down in their thrones and the choir embarked upon the first carol of the evening.
"Yeah, just like last year I guess. And the guitar... I love it. It’s just so... so... Spanish," I whispered back.
We fell silent and soon realized this would be another Merry Christmas together as the cheerful melody bounced off the old stone masonry and its harmony filled the near empty nave. (Most Spanish people never step foot in a church unless it’s for a baptism, confirmation, wedding, or funeral – and Christmas is no exception.)
"What’s that smell?" she broke the silence a minute or so later.
"What do you mean? The incense?"
"No, no, no..."
"Well then... Maybe it’s some frankincense or myrrh? After all, it is Christmas!"
"Yeah, I’ll show you Christmas. It’s you, isn’t it? You pig!"
"I got that ‘Christmas Spirit’, baby. The Holy Spirit! The Lord has filled me with His grace. Testify!"
"Disgusting..."
"Besides, it’s your fault... all that potato salad you stuffed me with at dinner... Testify!" as some more of the Holy Ghost escaped my temple from below and entered the Lord’s.

The moment may have now passed, but I still stand by my accusations. The reason why I had that ‘Christmas Spirit’ on the night of the 24th was because of my girlfriend’s insistence on having a Czech Christmas. She was homesick and, seeing as she kindly obliged me last year and made that delicious roast bird with stuffing, mash, and loads of gravy, we decided to do it her way this time around in 2005.

That’s where the potato salad comes in. While our neighbors and Spaniards all over the Iberian Peninsula were gathering with family and friends for a traditional turkey, lamb, or rabbit feast, I was sitting down to a traditional fried chicken fillet and potato salad feast. And I was lucky to have the fried chicken too – Czechs usually have fried carp for Christmas. That’s right. Carp. The crappiest of bottom-feeding fish. We tried to find some of the wretched creature here in Cádiz but, when we asked at the fish market, we were greeted with shock and surprise as the fishmongers answered our question with a question of their own: Why on Earth would anyone want to eat carp?


A Christmas Feast awaits! Behold: potato salad, fried chicken, and square pumpkin pie!

But I tell you what, that fried chicken and Czech potato salad weren’t half bad. In fact, I ate so much of it the other night that I even had to loosen my belt one notch mid-meal. And by the time dessert came round – my girlfriend made pumpkin pie for the first time in her life yesterday and, I dare say, it was the best damn pumpkin pie I’ve ever eaten – by the time dessert came round, my belt had come off completely.

When the meal was over and the last glass of wine had been poured, we got down to business and opened our presents. That, for your information, is another Czech Christmas tradition. The kids open their presents on the night of the 24th after the last person at the dinner table has finished their meal. Oh, and Santa doesn’t deliver the loot either. That’s Baby Jesus’ job. He flies through the living room window while everyone is eating Christmas Eve dinner in the other room and places those eagerly-awaited presents under the decorated, glowing tree. And He doesn’t even need Rudolph... Baby Jesus can find His way around town and fly on His own, thank you very much.


Unlike Santa Claus, Baby Jesus doesn't forget anyone

Well, after my girlfriend found out that Baby Jesus got her some of her favorite perfume and a gift certificate, I found out what the little rascal had brought me. He sent me this hilarious t-shirt I’ve been asking for (with the words "Pedophiles are fucking immature assholes" written across the front) and an all-in-one mechanical shave-o-matic. I can shave my beard, nose-hair, unibrow, and any unsightly growth behind, or inside for that matter, the ear all in one go. (The only thing is I got a little carried away with my new deluxe shave-o-matic on Christmas morning and, well, let’s just leave it at I’ve been scratching my groin every ten seconds as I type up this article.) Wherever you are, thank you Baby Jesus! You really know how to make a lonely expat smile at Christmastime!


NO COMMENT

And so, as the gifts were exchanged and our digestive juices got started on the long work ahead, my girlfriend and I buttoned up and headed out to church for the first time since last Christmas. We even did our good deed of the evening on the way there and gave a homeless man some left over pumpkin pie, potato salad, wine, and a few cigarettes. As we wished him a Merry Christmas, we walked through the deserted streets of Cádiz and entered our little church. There were only about ten other people in there.

There was one thing that really struck me when we left the church. It must have been at about half past one in the morning. When we had entered at midnight, there wasn’t a soul on the streets. Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse. When we left an hour and a half later, the streets were absolutely thronged with people. Most of them were either older teenagers or people in their twenties or early thirties like us. They must have had the obligatory Christmas meal at home and, seeing as it was still a Saturday night, quickly made for the streets and clubs. The booze was flowing freely and the girls were wearing ridiculously short miniskirts just like any other Saturday night.


2:00 AM, the morning of the 25th, on the busy streets of Cádiz

I know it’s a different culture, but this kind of thing really did shock me. Not a single person under the age of forty (except for me and my girlfriend – and we don’t even believe in God!) were in church that night, listening to beautiful carols and enjoying the season’s greetings. The yuletide music, no matter in what language or form, always carries the same message of hope and love. It can fill anyone with the ‘Christmas Spirit’. This time of year is about something more than just getting presents from Baby Jesus or going out to get drunk. It’s about spreading cheer and joy. It’s about being with the ones you love. And it’s not just for religious people, but for all of us. Every man, woman, and child. After all, we are all one big family on this tiny little planet we call home... no matter what your creed or beliefs. That’s what this time of year means to me. I guess the Spanish just aren’t filled with that same ‘Christmas Spirit’ that I’ve had this Holiday Season. Then again, they haven’t been stuffing themselves with potato salad all night long either. Testify!

5 comments:

hippo_pepperpot said...

I'm glad to know that I'm not the only woman who's wonderful man farts in church. Yes... it always has to do w/ my cooking etc. Great shirt... glad Baby Jesus delivered nice gifts for you and your honey. Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

christina said...

God you're funny! This post made me laugh out loud.

Czech Christmas sounds similar to German with the potato salad and carp and presents on the 24th.

You know, I'm an atheist too (or pretty darn close anyway) but we were in Spain once for the Semana Santa at Easter and watching those processions move through the streets in the middle of the night and hearing the music was proabably about as close to a religious experience as I'm ever going to have. It was so moving.

Not sure whether to laugh or cry about the t-shirt! :-)

And your girlfriend is lovely, but I'm sure she knows that already.

Lori said...

Sounds like you had a great Christmas!!!

Cheers to the New Year!!!!

Buzzurro said...

I wish you and your girlfriend a happy 2006.

Thomas H. Clemens said...

dude....


didn't you use to be a vegimatarian?