One of the hardships of being a foreigner is that, sometimes, you have to spend the holidays away from home. I have heard a thousand times that home is where you want it to be, that it is not a place, etc. I even used to repeat that like a mantra. And you know what? That is bullshit. As much as I try to convince myself otherwise, for me home is a rustic house built by my father in a little village in the mountains of northern Spain. It is the trees that surround it, the landscape that I see from the window, the smell of clean laundry in there, the apple tree that my dad covers in twinkle lights, the cloudy winters and pinecones burning on a fireplace, and, above it all, the people who live there. Nothing, absolutely nothing will make up for the craziness that takes over my parents’ house around Christmas. It has gone down as they age, but people still stop without notice to bring wine, or presents, or to just say “Feliz Navidad”.
Family comes and goes, and we argue, and someone cooks, or ruins dinner (that was my brother and I when our mom was unable to cook one year). I insist on playing Christmas music that no one else wants to listen to, villancicos in Spanish. Every single one of us buys the presents last minute for the Reyes Magos, and that way we spend too much money on them. I try to keep everyone on track so they don’t ruin the magic of Christmas for my kids. It is busy, and loud, and exhausting, and I love it.
So, as much as I love Chicago, staying here for Christmas sucks.
In my 13 years in here I have only done it four times. The first three were for medical reasons. This one is a mix of a nasty holiday calendar, too many tickets to buy and pure exhaustion. Which is making it a bit harder, because it was a conscious decision. But one that is breaking my heart.Especially if I look through my window and see that our street is empty, that you could park anywhere. In freaking Lincoln Park (if you are from out of town, saying that parking here is hard is an understatement). And there is no phone, Skype or Whatsapp that is going to make it any better.
However, the sadness is somewhat offset when you have your own family to celebrate with. Even if I am sad, I will pretend I am not, so the kids have a great Christmas. I will wear my new Christmas apron, cook a few meals, still annoy everyone with the music, make ambitious plans with the kids that sometimes will backfire, plan too many outings, or dinners, or events and still spend too much money. I will try to be as busy as possible so I don’t have time to think, or to miss my loved ones.
I will go from being one of the seasonal guests to being the host, no grandma or mom around to take over the reigns of the kitchen. I am, indeed, the mom here.
We will make our new own traditions, often as a result of a mistake. That is the case of the tronco de Navidad or Yule Log, which I had to improvise one year because the turrón, a typical Spanish Christmas sweet, that my mom had sent in November didn’t arrive until March. And of all the things, I decided to make this overtly complicated cake, that all of my guys loved so much that it has made it into our permanent Christmas Eve menu, to the point that I even make it if I am in Spain, despite the fact that my mom hates it.
One of the weird Spanish traditions is that you have to eat 12 grapes in the last 12 seconds of the year. Yes, you can do it. You can also choke, spit, stop halfway through and hate grapes for your entire childhood due to this tradition.
We will ring in the new year twice. Once at 5:00 pm CT, with Spain, and then at midnight with everyone else in here.
I will decorate an obnoxiously big Christmas tree with ornaments brought from every single trip we have taken, stolen from my mom’s collection, or made by the kids. I will let my husband go all Tim Allen and put as many lights as he wants in our patio because it makes him happy, and I am tremendously amused by the fact that this serious looking guy goes nuts with Halloween and Christmas decorations. I also do insane things as deciding to send homemade Christmas cards, which I insist on cutting, gluing and writing. With my kids. If you receive one in January, I apologize. Now you know why. At least it will get there on time to wish you a happy new year.
I will, hopefully, try to fill the void of our blood relatives with the family of friends that we have made over the years. And that is the only thing that will actually work. Because, at the end of the day, what is true is that home is made out of people. And although Chicago will never be my home, it is starting to feel pretty damn close.
¡Feliz Navidad a todos!
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