Monday, December 31, 2012

Birthdays and Christmas almost forgotten!

Hello World!

It's been a great few weeks with  many new adventures. (Get ready for a long post with many pictures) The first thing that happened since I last wrote was my BIRTHDAY! Yes. I am now 26. I am closer to 30 than I am to twenty. Somehow I thought if I had a few life goals checked off of my list (graduate college, get married, etc) I would feel better about getting older. But I don't. Its actually weird to think that I am 26. But I have my health and much happiness. I can only imagine it will get better.

My birthday started out with me leaving for work at 6:30 AM ( like every  morning) I gave ulises a kiss and he said goodbye. Work went as normal. Ulises sent me a text message and email about random things. Pretty  normal day, right? So when I got home for lunch and wanted a kiss he was a little surprised that I was upset. I then said " You haven't said 'Happy Birthday!'" And then he gasped! Yes-- the husband forgot my birthday. He said Happy Birthday and Sorry a million times but it didn't make up for it. I have to be kind though, his brain was fried. He was studying for his final exams and was runnin on 3 hours of sleep. But it was rather dissapointing.

Luckily a few of my students remembered my birthday! Look at the cute cake they made me. And they got me a present too!

 And then a few members of our church were thoughtful enough to make a huge cake and gather together at the church to celebrate my birthday! They went out of their way to make the new (foreign) girl feel loved and welcome!

My in-laws even came over. My parents-in-law, Abuela, and my sisters in law. They gave me a hand mixer! and a sweater!

My sister Rachel sent me a package full of home- spa treatments. She is amazing at gift giving. She knows what people love and appreciate most and always comes through! She got me nail polishes and facial creams and makeup and it was lovely.
My mom sent me some cash and some sentimental items from home ( spoons hehe).

SO  aside from Ulises forgetting my birthday, everyone else came through big time! I felt loved and remembered and appreciated. I missed my family a lot and it was difficult for them to call me, but they connected with me and it as great.

And Ulises? Well he gave me a present ( A curling iron) and then took me out for dinner the following weekend. He took me to a Mexican restaurant. mmmmm. That's true love!

Then Christmas came!

In Ulises family (remember they are Uruguayan, not Catalan  so the previous post doesn't apply to their family and their traditions  they eat a chilled pork dinner and lots of tapas. Then Santa comes at midnight and presents are opened that night. It was a big party and Santa visited everyone! There is only one little girl in the family so everyone played it up for her benefit. But it was cute to see how excited she got. I can't wait to have kids and see their excitement over Christmas.

Santa brought me and Ulises some wonderful things-- decorations, kitchen items, and my favorite-- a rice bag to heat in the microwave.

And my favorite picture of the night?

This one of my mother in law
After a long night of partying Ulises and I went back home to sleep. We had to sleep cause we were going to a church service the next morning.

So When Christmas morning came I made sure Santa visited our home in the way he did when I was a child--opening Christmas presents in the morning!

This is Ulises opening his Christmas present from Santa and one from me. ( I can see the benefit of opening Christmas presents the night before-- no bed head!)

It was a cake from his childhood. Delicious little thing called Panet tone

And this is what my parents got us! T-shirts with our family name! Ulises LOVED them!!!

Then........ Ulises took this picture of me..........
.... But in this picture I am actually holding his present. He didn't get me anything! Neither did "Santa." How disappointing!  I asked if I was a bad girl this year. Ulises said  no and that Santa must have forgotten I moved to Spain. I accepted that answer but asked what HIS excuse was!

..My husband forgot to get me a Christmas present....................

I must not have been clear enough when he forgot my Birthday.....

Birthday forgotten- strike one
Christmas forgotten- Strike two

Kings day......... He has until January 6th to get it right!

But lest you think my husband is a horrible man, I must let you know much I love and admire him for working so hard to finish his masters degree. Right now life is tough. I work a lot and odd hours. We go without many things. But our future is bright because my husband is an honest, hard working man and the sacrifices we go through now to get him through school will bless our family in the future. So if he forgets ( or more accurately, is too sleep deprived and doesn't have time) to plan for birthdays and Christmas, I can forgive him ( well, as long as it doesn't become a habit). And anyway, he does all those cute unexpected little things for me all the time. He made me heart shaped eggs for breakfast yesterday!

So--What else have we done this Christmas season?
We have watched A Muppet Christmas Carol, It's a Wonderful Life, and A Christmas Story, ( And Ulises loved them all!)
We attended an Anglican Christmas service in English and got to sing Carols in English! The service was sweet but the singing-- the reason we went-- was better!
I sang a solo in our church-- in Spanish. And I was so nervous. I did quite horribly because of my nerves. Oh well. I checked it off my bucket list. Maybe with time I will get more courage to actually be able to sign without trembling. I didn't think it would be that scary.. hmp. Oh well!
We also went with the youth to deliver meals and blankets to the poor.
We made dozens of gingerbread men!!! I did them with most of my students and also gave some away. It has been so much fun decorating! And all my students and family loved it! Its a very different and American thing.

Aunt Raquel and Abuela

This is Penelope (Ulises cousin) , Jose Luis and their little girl-- Sabrina
We also read the Christmas story from a wonderful decorative book my sister Rachel made for me last year ( see, I told you she always gives the best gifts) It's easily one of my most prized possessions. It has Luke 2 and also various Christmas songs in both English and Spanish. So we read that and sing the songs every Christmas. It really brings the spirit and helps me remember Jesus Christ. It had been difficult this year to really FEEL Christmas. But through MUSIC I have been able to feel closer to Christ. Just the other day on the bus I was singing ( in my head, hehe) "Once in Royal Davids City" and began to cry when I thought about the great gift of Jesus Christ to the world. I want to share that joy with everyone!

This is another song that touched me this season.

Ulises and I also made a Nativity!! Here in spain its a huge deal to create BETHLEHEM CITY out of cardboard and craft supplies. Each year you can buy a new item to add to the city. This is Ulises and my first year so ours is small, but we went to a market to look at the items and were amazed!! 

Take a look at ours and what we saw at the market

this is ours. Notice "Muppet Christmas Carol" in the background

the stuff you can buy for the nativity is crazy! 

Beautiful Figurines

I wanted to buy everything here!

Its like a big doll house market!

In the vineyard

I hope you had a very Merry Christmas full of the love of God. I know that because Jesus Christ came to earth that we really can rejoice! Jesus Christ has bought mankind. And he has prepared a way for us to return to him. I Love mys savior Jesus Christ and am so grateful for the beautiful plan of God that brought him to the earth as a babe in a manger.

Merry Christmas, everyone!

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Poop, Log! Poop! a/k/a Merry Christmas!

This month I have really started to learn about Catalan Christmas Traditions. I was here in Barcelona for a week at Christmastime in 2010 but I spent the entire time with Ulises' family and then in Madrid where the traditions are similar to those I grew up with. But this year as I have been working with Catalan children in their homes and adults at school I have learned so much more about their Christmas traditions....

and they are... unique!

For example, take a look at this photo:

Your first reaction night be-- how disgusting! What does this guy have to do with Christmas?! Well  friends, let me introduce you to the Caganer. You place him in the nativity set! He is present with the wise men, shepherds and holy family! He celebrates the birth of the Christ child. Now, according to Wikipedia and the Catalan people I speak with, they don't know where he came from. But there are a few ideas of his purpose in the nativity set. None are meant to be disrespectful. Here are a few of my favorites: (The extensive list can be found under Caganer on Wikipedia.)

  • A fun spectacle, especially for children.
  • The Caganer, by creating feces, is fertilizing the Earth. Its a customary figure in  nativity scenes because people believe that this deposit [symbolically] fertilizes the ground of the nativity which becomes fertile and ensures the nativity for the following year. Placing this figurine in the nativity brings good luck and joy and not doing so brings adversity."[6]
  • The Caganer represents the equality of all people: regardless of status, race, or gender, everyone defecates.
  • Increased naturalism of an otherwise archetypal (thus idealised) story, so that it is more believable, more real and can be taken more seriously.
  • The idea that God will manifest himself when he is ready, without regard for whether we human beings are ready or not.
  • The Caganer reinforces the belief that the infant Jesus is God in human form, with all that being human implies.
  • The character introduces a healthy amount of religious doubt to test one's faith.
  • A humorous allusion to the Spanish proverb (in translation), "Dung is no saint, but where it falls it works miracles."
And Look-- Many other characters past and present real and unreal can be found in the Caganer's squatting position. Take a look at this Obama! I have also recently seen Michael Jackson, the pope, and athletes. 

And look-- The world's largest Caganer... woohoo!

So you think that Caganer guy is a little strange, eh? A little bit of poop in your holiday celebrations is healthy, right? But what about a WHOLE LOT of poop?

Take a look at this Christmas tradition......

The Text is in Catalan. It reads: 
Hello family!
I'm your Caga Tio!
The street was very cold and so I entered your house without making any noise.
Can I stay here with you?
I just need a bit of food and a blanket.
thank you very much!

this is a family I work for. They have the Caga Tio

Where is the poop you say? Well let me tell you. This little guy is cared for by Catalan children in their homes. Each home has a Caga Tio. They keep him warm, feed him and love him. He can't talk but he can see you and hear you. If you are behaving badly he takes note. He also notices when you are behaving well! Every morning Catalan children are excited to see that Caga Tio has eaten his food. They know for certain, just as I knew with Santa, that these things are accomplished through belief and MAGIC!
So after a month of feeding, warming, caring for and doting upon dear Tio, on Christmas Eve the children gently approach him and WACK HIM WITH A STICK!!!

They hit him and recite this song ( sorry for the colorful language, but it is an accurate translation) :

Caga tió song:
"Caga tió,
caga torró,
avellanes i mató,
si no cagues bé
et daré un cop de bastó.
caga tió!"
Shit log,
shit nougats (turrón),
hazelnuts and cottage cheese,
if you don't shit well,
I'll hit you with a stick,
shit log!
An alternate version goes something like this:
"Caga tió,
tió de Nadal,
no caguis arengades,
que són massa salades
caga torrons
que són més bons!"
Shit log,
log of Christmas,
don't shit herrings,
which are too salty,
shit nougats (turrón)
which are much better!

At this point the kids wack Tio SUPER hard and he poops out small gifts. (The blanket that has been covering him is removed to reveal his feces these joyful gifts) They are usually communal gifts to share. Things that I would say are stocking stuffers-- Candies and gadgets. HOW EXCITING IS THAT? Look at these books I found int he store. They tell the story of Caga Tio. It's kinda like your "The Night Before Christmas" book you grew up with. 

This is a book with CD. We mustn't neglect to pass on these songs to the new generations of children, who anxiously await Tio's deification.

This is a picture of me with Caga Tio. He is kinda cute, right?

 This is the more commercialized Caga tio. You can buy him in any store here. I took this picture at the mall the other day.

Oh... and you know when you went to the mall as a kid at Christmas time that you got to go to Santa's workshop and stand in line and then sit on his lap! You could get your pictures taken as you whispered in the ear of Saint Nick all of your heart's desires! He would of course listen, and if you promised him to behave well, he would bring you a gift from your list!

Well.... While at the mall the other day, my eye caught hold of his little area..... This is Caga tio! Notice the backdrop and the cameras. Yes-- YOU CAN SIT ON CAGA TIO! You can whisper in his ear your heart's desires, and if you are a good boy or girl, he will poop them for you! (only after you beat him with a stick--naturally!). I will have to return to the Mall when Caga Tio is open for pictures.
 So with all these crazy traditions, what are the Techera's doing?

Well, we are pretty boring. We bought a traditional Christmas tree (mini) and decorated it with  blue and silver. Ulises didn't want too much red and green because it clashes with our house (......yeah.....) Then I was informed by my sister that silver and blue are Chanukkah colors. But Jesus was a Jew so we think its ok.

I will get a better picture once we have lights. This picture was taken with my flash and so it isn't as 'magical'. We will buy lights next week.

And look, our first nativity set! It's plastic...... But it's complete! Someday we will get a really nice set but this does it for now. And look at how spacious that stable is. Jesus had vaulted ceilings!

I also made lots of snow flakes ( again the silver and blue) and hung them on our naked walls. After Christmas we might actually paint our Apartment.

 This is our heater ( think fireplace) with our stockings hanging there ( how appropriate). Now these are Red. But I was tired of just silver and blue so red it was! They are fashioned out of an old travel blanket I found in the closet. DIY christmas! hehehe. These babies will be precious to us years from now when we look back on our first Christmas together. (Also, notice Ulises red snowflake. I taught him now to make a snowflake and this is how it turned out. Cute, right? Please congratulate him)

So Merry Christmas, Friends! I hope you are enjoying this season. I am missing home and all things familiar ( Neighbors bringing sugary treats,Choirs on temple square, service projects galore, the salvation army bell ringers, stores actually playing Christmas music instead of Lady Gaga, hearing "Merry Christmas", all the old Christmas TV specials, and the list goes on) but am enjoying making memories with my husband on our first Christmas together. It's really beautiful to do things together just the two of us, and establish some traditions! I think Ulises is already getting sick of the amount of Christmas music I play here. It will be a humble, but beautiful and wonderful Christmas! Maybe Ulises will cook me 'ham' again....but that's another story for another day.....