Archives for posts with tag: Holidays

Semana Santa, the week before Easter, is a really big deal in southern Spain. The kind of big deal that is talked up starting in Fall by all of the teachers as one of the must-see events of the year. The kind of big deal that has churches preparing their religious floats and the city preparing the procession routes months in advance. The kind of big deal that is reflected in astronomical price jumps in plane ticket and hotel room rates during the days its celebrated.

What I had gathered beforehand was that Semana Santa consisted in a continuous succession of religious processions throughout the city of Sevilla. The processions consist of elaborate religious floats bearing sculptures of Jesus and Mary, accompanied by musicians and people who belong to religious associations affiliated with the particular churches and floats. These people are called “Nazarenos,” and they wear an outfit that for Americans makes a frightening and disturbing first impression, because it is the outfit that the KKK borrowed since it grants anonymity to the wearer.

Nazarenos in procession

Julia and I returned from a trip to France on the Wednesday evening of Holy Week, and were invited out to see the processions, or pasos, by one of Julia’s teachers and his family. We almost didn’t go due to being tired from our trip, but decided to at the last minute. We got to see a couple of processions and they were so unique from anything I’ve seen in the States.

Nazareno holding a standard

The floats are all extremely beautiful artistically, and are decorated with candles and flowers. And they’re extremely heavy, usually weighing more than a metric ton! The floats are carried by teams of men called costaleros. Though the work is brutal, they consider it an honor to carry the floats, and the crowds love how the human movement gives the statues life.

Pentitentes are characterized by the crosses they carry and their non-pointy hats, and are marching to make public penance.

I was surprised by the universally reverent attitude that the watching crowds held for the processions. Without fail, the crowd became totally silent when one of the floats passed by. Whispered conversations and cell phone rings were hushed by other onlookers. A chaotic complement to this quietness were the children who ran around to the Nazarenos when the procession paused to ask for candy and wax from the Nazarenos’ long candles. Apparently, the kids form the wax into a ball which they save as a kind of Semana Santa souvenir.

A young Nazareno

People in Sevilla also told us that it always rains during Semana Santa, so we weren’t too worried when a couple of rain drops fell on Thursday morning since this seemed to comply with the superstition. However, a couple turned into a torrent, and a series of violent storms settled over Sevilla inundating the city most of Thursday, Friday and Saturday. As the floats are extremely valuable, the processions are always canceled when there is the threat of rain, and so as of Thursday, not one procession took to the street! The last time that the Thursday night processions didn’t take place was 1933, for political reasons. So Julia and I witnessed a very historical non-event. What we thought was a preview on Wednesday night turned out to be the whole show for us!

I wish I had more pictures and experiences of Semana Santa to share with you all, but the weather dictated otherwise. The next big celebration in Sevilla is the Feria de Abril, which takes place in two weeks. It is also said that it always rains during Feria too, but I’m hoping that we’ve filled our quota of rain and canceled events!

The Easter message is all about hope, love and joy- wishing everyone all three this Easter!




Julia (on the right) and I in the lobby of the beautiful Alfonso XIII Hotel

I hope you all had a joyful Christmas!

Thanks for reading!



Sevilla, food, and travels have been the A-list stars in this blog, and I’ve thoroughly neglected Jerez, the city I actually work in! I suppose it is the commuter’s curse to only know the confines of their workspace, and in my case, the train station, in the place they commute to.

Two weeks ago, Julia and I staged our own Bring Your Friend to Work Day, and she accompanied me along the marathon of 2 hours of train rides, 1 hour of walking, 10 minutes of Metro-ing, and the 7 hours of working that is my typical Tuesday.

Here are some pictures from our day…

This is the beautiful Jerez train station. It is about a 20 minute walk from the station to my school, and about 15 minutes from the station to the city center.

This slightly frightening statue welcomes visitors- I’m not sure what his story is.

Julia snapped this picture as we were leaving school. This is the gate to I.E.S. Fernando Savater, the secondary school where I work. This gate is always locked, and there is another locked door beyond this to get inside the building- maximum security- those kids aren’t escaping!

I gave my first test last week! I think was about as nervous as the students posing questions and striving to give them fair grades! When Julia visited, we gave some class presentations about Christmas in the U.S. The kids were horrified that we don’t have turrón and polvorones (a popular Spanish Christmas cookie). I assured them we had our own share of delicious ways to celebrate the season! I don’t think we sold them on eggnog though…

After school, we strolled over to the city center with Helen, the other language assistant at my school .As Jerez is known for its sherry wine production, it was fitting that they were constructing a Christmas tree of sherry bottles in this plaza.

I’ve posted before about the popularity of belenes (nativity scenes) in Spain. Here is Jerez’s main belén. The people figures in the photograph are life-size.

Another perspective of the belén

I have to take the Sevilla metro to get to and from my train station in Sevilla. On our way home we checked out this 3 Wise Men light display…

…and Christmas tree complete with flamingos and Sevilla-themed ornaments. It seems as if no corner of Sevilla has been neglected in decorating for the holidays!

On Saturday, I took a much longer 25-hour journey home to California! I have a couple of back-posts about sweets (surprise!) that I intend to put up while I’m home, so I won’t completely disappear during my break from Spain. I hope you enjoyed this sliver of a look into my daily grind in Jerez!



Peppermint candy canes, eggnog, and Christmas cookies…these are the flavors that conjure up Christmas to me. It has been a revelatory experience to discover that they don’t for the rest of the world! So, for purely cultural research reasons, I have been tasting and testing the sweets that Spanish people wait for all year long to eat at the most wonderful time of the year.

Boxes of turrón stacked up in Francisco’s shop La Oliva in Granada

Turrón is unquestionably the king of Christmas sweets here. It has been a part of Spanish Christmas celebrations since the 16th century! Boxes upon boxes (and in fact, aisles upon aisles) of turrón pop up in the major grocery stores towards the end of November (without Thanksgiving to officially mark the beginning of the Christmas season, Spanish retailers begin stocking for Christmas as early as the beginning of November).

Prettily decorated slabs of turrón in a bakery window. The shop owners slice pieces off the end.

More turrón in another shop window

What is turrón exactly? One of the most traditional kinds of turrón, turrón de jijona, is made of chopped toasted almonds, honey, sugar and egg whites. Almonds and honey are primary ingredients in sweets from the Arabian peninsula, where the earliest ancestors of turrón may have originated. This mass is cut into rectangles, similar in appearance to a typical chocolate bar. While turrón de jijona has a soft texture, other traditional turrón is hard, like nougat. There are hundreds and hundreds of turrón flavors sold today, catering to every taste imaginable- marzipan ones, chocolate ones, fruit-flavored ones…

Turrón sampling

We sampled the turrón de jijona y turrón de crema catalana (a toasted custard flavor).  The jijona is quite crumbly. The crema catalana has the texture of fudge but with a strong egg yolk flavor. Turrón is quite distinct from our Christmas sweets but I find myself already craving it!



PS- In the spirit of Christmas, I’ve enabled WordPress’ Let it Snow feature, so if you notice some falling white dots on the blog, don’t be alarmed!

This weekend the city of Sevilla turned on its holiday lights and wow! The place looks gorgeous. Main thoroughfares, public buildings and large squares all got the Christmas treatment with poinsettias, life-size nativity scenes (called belenes), Christmas trees, and, of course, light displays. Not even my Metro stop was left out! The Christmas bustle is palpable especially in the shopping district, where every Sevillano seems to be working through their shopping lists. The narrow streets frequently get jammed- the Spanish tradition of “dar un paseo” roughly translated as “to take a stroll” exasperates the conditions as whole families brave the bad weather to take a look at the transformed city. Here’s a small sample of what we’ve seen decked out this weekend…

Clock store in the shopping district in Sevilla

All of the trees around the Cathedral are sparkling with lights.

Christmas lights down a main thoroughfare

A graffiti artist conveys a Christmas-y message

Nativity scenes form a much more central role in Christmas decorations here than in the US. I’d say they’re almost comparable to our Christmas trees in terms of importance and familiarity as a Christmas symbol.

A life-size belén in a public square

Another large belén in the window display of the department/grocery store where we shop. The store has organized ropes to form a line so that shoppers can orderly pass by to take a look!

This is a belén market. It’s a Christmas tradition here for families to construct little nativity villages in their homes . The villages include markets, bull fights, flamenco dancers and more alongside the scene of Jesus’ birth. The stalls pictured here sell every little accoutrement to add to the villages, including pinkie-nail-sized pigeons and sausages. Note the Mickey Mouse selling balloons on the right. I don’t think Disney would be happy about this!

One of the belén market stalls’ windows

You can buy a butcher shop to add your belén…

…or some townspeople playing cards to make it complete.

Of course, we’ve made our own effort to deck the halls here at the Mesón Dos Jotas. In the picture you can see the poinsettia Julia bought and the paper snow-flakes we made on a rainy afternoon. This is Joanna, another language assistant- she’s learning to play guitar!

Keep reading to see what culinary adventures we got into this weekend!



Happy Thanksgiving everyone!!! Hope you are enjoying this special day with loved ones! I’m so thankful for all of you for reading and for all of your encouragement in the Comments section. I feel less far away from you all through the blog:-) Enjoy your turkey and pumpkin pie!!!



PS- Some pics of our Thanksgiving Day sweets…they’re a little unconventional…

On the left: The teachers from my school’s English department gave me this cake today! Such a sweet recognition of my being away from home on a holiday. It looks like a chocolate-chip cake inside-we haven’t tasted it yet, so the full report is to come.

On the right: I was excited to find pecan pie here! However, I’m not so excited that it has come from the Starbucks pastry case, labeled as “Cake of Pecans.” Again, the full report to come- I’m not getting my hopes up too high for this one!

The prospect of our long weekends here in Sevilla from the perspective of Thursday night can seem a bit daunting in figuring out how we will fill up the many hours without deadlines, commutes and early bedtimes. After our initial “hallelujahs!” at the end of the work week, we turn to pondering this “problem.” Since our social circle is still small, this can seem especially challenging.  Here is how this weekend unfolded…

FRI.: A little bit of culture…

Chilling in the museum gallery.

At the moment, there is an exhibition of a wildlife photographer’s work near the Alcázar. Julia and I went to take a peek. The collection is titled “A Zebra in My Bed.” Though there were no beds to be found in her pictures, there were lots of incredible nature shots. The exhibit is organized around 6 high-def TV screens set to slide-shows of the photos. Each TV screen represent a a “theme” of wildlife that the photographer focused on: Intelligence-looks, love-maternity, beauty-black and white, connection-pairs, fascination-birds and power-action and the photographs were grouped accordingly. It was impressive! Here is a link that shows just a few of her photos:

That night, we also attended the European Film Festival that’s been in Sevilla for the past week with one of our neighbors. We saw a film which was an hour and a half of interviews with a 91-year old Spanish woman! It was certainly a linguistic challenge for Julia and I.

SAT.: Deep sea encounters…

Pulpo a la gallega

On Saturday, a friend from our program was in town, and so went to lunch…around 3pm of course! Julia was brave enough to order the pulpo (translation=octopus) a la gallega, which involves a drenching of olive oil and a showering of sweet paprika. The dish was a bit intimidating, especially without the cooked potatoes that sometimes accompany the octopus. Needless to say, there were a couple of tentacles left on the plate when we left. Perhaps it’s an acquired taste!

SUN.: Rain, rain, rain…

Riding the tranvía

We found a church in an outer neighborhood of Sevilla (Protestant churches are few and far between here in predominately Catholic Spain), and it’s a bit of a public transportation adventure to get there for Sunday morning services (not that Julia and I have any lack of experience on public transpo thanks to our commutes!). Here’s a pic Julia snapped of me on the tram outside of our apartment.

Today was the first really rainy day we’ve had here. This meant 2 things…

Julia at the Starbucks across from our apartment. No peppermint mochas and eggnog lattes here- Starbucks decided that toffee nut lattes and praline mochas are more to the Spanish taste.

Holiday drinks at Starbucks and…

Santa penguin socks!!!

Have a jolly pre-holiday day!