Spending the Holidays Abroad in Spain

Spending the Holidays Abroad in Spain

In the eight years that I’ve been in Madrid, I’ve never fully loved spending the holidays abroad without my family. Many people have told me some horror stories about their families and why they don’t get along with them. However, that’s never been my experience. Although I come from a single-parent home, my mother’s family is extremely close. It didn’t occur to me that my family was a little different than others until I got older. My mother’s four brothers protected, guided, and spoiled me rotten. Instead of a “daddy’s girl,” you could definitely call me an “uncle’s girl.” Anyone that has known me for a significant amount of time can tell you that I can go on and on about my uncles and the bond that I have with all six of them at length, my dad’s two brothers included.  

Uncle Ricky

I especially love celebrating Christmas with my uncle Ricky. He’s my favorite of all my uncles and always has been. We’ve been close since I came into this world. It’s no family secret that Uncle Ricky has a favorite niece whom he affectionately refers to as Baby Love (and that’s definitely a reference to the song by the Supremes). 

A teddy bear in front of a Christmas Tree branch

I feel like the real reason I’m such a jet setter is that I constantly saw my uncle packing his things into a suitcase and traveling all around the world when I was a kid.  He did a semester abroad and has sung at so many places in Europe. Uncle Ricky has never truly revealed how many places he has been to and performed at, and I suspect he never will. He always brought me back something from his travels, whether a memory or a souvenir. I most remember admiring a teddy bear that wore a London T-shirt that used to sit in his bedroom. It really didn’t belong to me, but he never minded if I played with it when I visited. 

The Holiday Season

Christmases with Uncle Ricky were always the best because he’s the most cheerful of my grandmother’s seven children. He’d always stop by my grandmother’s house and put on the Christmas music. I remember the year that SWV came out with their Christmas album and he put on Coko’s rendition of Give Love on Christmas Day. It’s been one of my favorite Christmas carols ever since. 

Once Uncle Ricky purchased his home, he went all out and bought everyone stockings. He took special care to make the house, which is always well decorated, nice and cozy. All the art in my uncle’s home has a very special meaning. We would pick out a different piece at street festivals or cultural events. He’d always ask me for my opinion before he bought something. At eight and nine years old, it made me feel important. 

Family Dinner

Christmas at Uncle Ricky’s always has a full spread of southern soul food made by my mom, aunts, uncles, and grandmother. My mom’s mac and cheese and collard greens never fails to steal the show. My Uncle Bill is always responsible for the turkeys. He fries one and jerks and seasons the other to perfection. We all get together at Uncle Ricky’s in the evening because my Uncle Pierre and Aunt Belinda are both police officers and often have to work the holiday. After dinner, dessert, and cocktails, we open presents and share stories, memories, and laughs.

Some friends of the family sometimes join the immediate family. Even if a random person stops by, uncle Ricky makes sure that there is something under the tree for them to unwrap. We never discuss rules about gifting in my family. My grandmother and her children are very close. We buy a present for each person, no matter how big or small it needs to be. Because the immediate family is so large, each person walks away with at least six or seven gifts. I have brought friends home with me on occasion who have expressed the fact that their Christmas experiences hadn’t been the greatest. I have never failed to create a magical experience for them. Well, not me… but my family and our genuine love we have for each other. 

Holidays Abroad

Since moving abroad, every Christmas — except for my first two years — hasn’t lived up to the magic of Uncle Ricky’s house. I have since lost both of my grandfathers during December, a year apart from one another, eerily enough on the same day. It has never truly felt like the holidays without my family. I have always heard of the term ”Holiday Blues,” but had no idea what it truly meant. 

The Christmas Tree at Puerta del Sol, in Madrid Spain, a beautiful part of celebrating holidays abroad

In my experience, it just comes over you without warning. I believe it strikes as you watch people celebrate the holidays and talk about their holiday plans. The depression, or blues, comes about because you cannot relate. There is no dinner for you to attend, no relatives to expect. Even if someone chooses to take pity on you and invite you to spend the day with their family, spending the holidays abroad isn’t quite the same as being home with your family. 

Holiday Blues

I have been invited to Christmas and New Year’s celebrations with groups of friends and even friends’ families. There always seems to be a portion of the evening or day’s festivities where I’m just overcome with sadness. It’s inexplicable and has always happened to me suddenly. I had always excitedly anticipated these invitations, gotten myself all dressed up, only to feel so very empty inside the day of. It’s a very embarrassing experience to have to excuse your feelings. I always feel the need to put on the appearance of being content and grateful to be present. 

The Christmas Tree at Puerta del Sol, in Madrid Spain, a beautiful part of celebrating holidays abroad

At the beginning of this year, I lost my father’s mother, Grandma Linda, to cancer. Words cannot express the grief I have endured over the past few months. She was such an important figure in my life. We had a special bond because she never had daughters. I was the only girl she could pass on her legacy to. We shared so many special memories together. 

Making My Own Traditions During the Holidays Abroad

I was having a conversation with one of my colleagues, and I came to the realization that the reason the holidays have always been so pleasant before is that there were people making sure that I had memories to look back on. My mother, grandmothers, aunts, and uncles have had the reins for so long. I think this year should be my turn. I’m in my mid-thirties now and it is time to start making some of my own traditions. I have even decorated my house a little for the holidays, which I have NEVER done. 

making new traditions is the start of celebrating holidays abroad

This holiday season will represent reciprocity. I have been so fortunate to have the love and support of so many people who cared enough about me to keep the magic of Christmas alive. I think it’s high time that I return the favor. Although I’m unable to travel home this year, I’m going to make my presence felt by letting each one of my loved ones know how much they mean to me, even if it is just a small gesture or a hand-written card. This year, I’m making the most of the holidays abroad.

Interested in learning more about what the holiday season is like in Spain? Check out this guide to Christmas in Madrid!

25 thoughts on “Spending the Holidays Abroad in Spain

  1. It is wonderful you had such great family experiences and you are keeping the holiday alive even if you can’t go home this year.

  2. I’ve seen kids spoiled by their uncles but the term uncle’s girl didn’t come to my mind. That’s a cute term. 😘

  3. Having a great support system and a family who understands us truly help in making our lives easier. I’ve spent holidays abroad twice and that was in Dubai. Thanks for sharing your story!

  4. I have been very spoiled over the years by my grandparents, aunts, uncles, and older cousins. It wasn’t until I met my husband that I found out most families aren’t like this. I love this article and I would love to spend the holidays abroad. Maybe someday!

  5. I’m glad that you are decorating this year and starting your own traditions. Even though I have grown children, I still remember the holidays from my childhood as some of my most special memories.

  6. I totally understand getting the blues around the holidays, even when everything else seems so perfect. When such a joyous season comes around, and the people we love aren’t there, it’s very hard.

  7. Oh my goodness! Spain for the holidays sounds amazing! My SIL used to live in Spain and I always wanted to visit.

  8. Such a beautiful place to spend the holiday, especially with the family!
    I always want to have a chance to visit Spain but not yet, unfortunately. =(

  9. I have never tried to celebrate holidays in another country but that is one on my lists, it’s not gonna happen now but maybe in the future. I really admire you for having a strong relationship with your family. Happy Holidays to you!

  10. Even though you may not with your family for the holidays, you are in a special place, Spain. Great advice to start creating your own holiday traditions. Even though you may not be physically together, you are in each other’s hearts. Happy Holiday’s!!

  11. I am glad that you are starting your own traditions this year. I just wrote a post about holiday traditions and change. These traditions are important and since they are yours, you can change them or incorporate whatever you want! I think that’s kind of exciting!

  12. Holidays abroad can be both fun and sad experience. Ive experienced it once and i soo can relate with how you felt. Well i hope you enjoy your holidays! Cheers!!

  13. Decorating and remembering the Christmas season nowadays keeps the Christmas spirit and somehow makes us feel positive more about the ongoing situation. I wish I can revisit Spain again, ohhh how I miss travelling.

  14. I’m getting the holiday blues right now. I’m in Canada but my whole family is in Czech republic and I really wish I was home. Thanks for giving me a different perspective on this though. It’s all just an awesome experience and a privilege to experience something new!

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