HAVING arrived in Andalucia, via Catalonia and Russia, and with a Danish husband to boot, Christmas can sometimes become confusing.
As far as children are concerned a tradition that involves a present is not just for one Christmas, but for life. And as we have lived around the world in our jobs as journalists, it has left us with a holiday mash-up that beggars belief.
Although it threatens to bleed us dry each year, the children are great lovers of tradition.
It all starts on the afternoon of December 24, Christmas Eve, with presents from the Danish ‘Julemanden’ (or Yule man), which somehow magically appear under the tree.
We then sing a song, hold hands and dance around a Christmas tree which has been decorated with lit candles. Actually Dad and the children hold hands, while I tend to hold a festive-red fire extinguisher.
This is followed by a big dinner and a rice-pudding-choking-on-an-almond game – it’s Danish, I don’t ask why.
On Christmas morning, Father Christmas dutifully fills the stockings hanging by the chimney. I suspect one of the kids is too old for this when I note that one of the stockings now has a garter.
After gorging on sausage rolls and mince pies all morning we sit down to a traditionally English turkey dinner – pre-carved, as a whole turkey would never fit in my bijoux Andaluz oven.
This is followed by a Chrismas pudding, which masquerades as a choking-on-a-sixpence game – it’s English, my husband doesn’t ask.
Then Christmas Day evening is spent whacking the Caga Tio (Catalan for ‘Uncle Poo’). This is a fat log with a face drawn on it, that traditionally ‘poos’ presents when Catalan children beat it with a stick – after having been ‘fattened up’ on scraps for two weeks.
The whacking is accompanied by a lovely little ditty, the final triumphant verse ending ‘If you can’t poo some money, pine nuts or almonds, you get the stick’.
This must be sung with the feverish pitch of a child already eyeing the presents under the conspicuously placed blanket that now covers the Caga Tio.
After a few day’s reprieve it sets off again on New Year’s Eve when Ded Moroz (Grandfather Frost) finally arrives from Ukraine, where we worked for many years.
These – the fourth set of presents – tend to have an educational theme. And they are inevitably quickly dumped for the previous week’s hoard that have a more battery-operated theme.
Meanwhile the adults prepare for an evening of merry-making, auld lang syne, and choking on a dozen grapes gobbled at midnight.
Then, of course, we have the excruciating six day wait until los reyes (three kings) arrive in Spain… and yet more presents… lest we run the risk of our children being teased at school!
So fraught is the Christmas period, that I have even written my own carol to calm myself.
Wendy’s Ode to Christmas
On the last day of Christmas my true love gave to me:
Twelve days of eating,
Eleven days of rowing,
Ten burnt fingers (from Dad putting out a flaming Christmas tree);
Nine urgent stitches (after toddler’s attempt to carve dinner);
Eight popped eardrums (from the exploding home-made crackers);
Seven panic attacks (during the power cuts whilst cooking poultry);
Six friction burns (as Yuleman, Ded Moroz and Santa squeezed passed each other in the chimney);
FIVE LAAARGE GINS;
Four hungover grandparents (after five large gins);
Three choking children (thanks to the pudding games);
Two strained eyeballs (from reading badly translated instruction manuals);
One twisted ankle (from tripping over the Caga Tio); and a week left until the Three Kings….