‘Strange but spicy’: How our Christmas in Galicia defines us

'Strange but spicy': How our Christmas in Galicia defines us
Vigo puts on a great display of Christmas lights. Photo: AFP
Heath Savage describes celebrating the holidays in rural Galicia where she and her partner relocated from Sydney.

The chill mornings of early December arrived at last. I’m a January baby. Born at dawn on a freezing morning in 1961. I love winter. The sky comes alive with a silvery light. A chill mist cloaks the village and fields. The shimmer of the moon is still bright when I rise at six o’clock, and one brave little bird sings from an oak tree in our garden. The Robins have finally, chittering in the neighbour’s magnolia tree; another robin answers from our naked cherry tree.

The car is iced with crystals of this year’s first frosts. The last fallen leaves from our walnut tree are stiffened and glittering, turned from slushy brown porridge into sculpted shiny shapes that make the dog hop when he walks on them. Raphael’s morning pee steams in the chilly air. This is not Chihuahua weather! I fetch wood from the shed while still in my pajamas, and light the wood-burner in the kitchen. The stones of this old house do hold onto the warmth from the night’s fires, but they soon relinquish it.

Christmas is around the corner. We joined a coach trip on Advent Sunday, to Vigo to see the splendid lights. At home, I put up our tiny tree. On a high window ledge, so the dog doesn’t get the wrong idea. I forgot about the cat. Tree duly mauled, she repaired to her cushion on the bedroom windowsill to intimidate the robins.

Our first Christmas in Galicia, 2018, was celebrated in style. Even though our kitchen was not quite finished, and the upper floor of the house was a building site. New friends, with their Workaway volunteer, came from a neighbouring village and shared a meal of Indian food with us. I decided to prepare something unusual and spicy, which we all craved as an antidote to the (quite plain) local food. I made a chicken jalfrezi, beef rendang, potato and cauliflower biryani, chapatis, raita, and an onion chutney.

Exotic foreign spices infused our local, seasonal, meat and vegetables, and, in a way, the meal symbolized us, I think. Perhaps this is how our village friends see us:  strange and a bit “spicy”, but blending nicely with local life? I hope that, like our recipes, we are a welcome change from the usual fare; enhancing what is already here without altering or replacing it too boldly. This year we have friends coming again, into a finished kitchen, to eat with us and share the firelight, wine and games. More traditional fare this year – roast turkey and vegetables. Maybe a good old Aussie “Pav?” because we are a feeling a little nostalgic for Australia. Soon it will be 2020 and we will enter our second year in Galicia.

On New Year’s Eve back in Sydney, we always watched the Edinburgh Military Tattoo on TV, then the Sydney fireworks. Australia is second place in the world to kick off, after Singapore. We ate meat pies and drank glasses of champagne. Our New Year celebrations henceforth will be different; we will eat 12 grapes – one at each stroke of midnight, and will make a wish on each. We’ll drink Galician beer or cider, with a little “chupita” of a neighbour’s family recipe aguardiente, just to warm us! We will sing Auld Lang Syne, in a nod to my mother’s Scottish ancestry. Certainly, old acquaintances will not be forgotten.

As midnight chimes in Panton it will be 7pm in Sydney. We’ll ring and text-message all our friends and family, who will have spent their summer’s day swimming in the warm sea, barbecuing, and basking in the sun. We’ll spend a cold New Year’s Day wood-stacking and gathering kindling. I’ll prepare some potato pasties for us, and anyone who might drop by for a drink.  We’ll sweep the floors of 2019, leaving them clean for 2020 to enter.

We’ll look back, and forward. We will meet and greet the challenges and changes of this new year that knocks upon our new front door, bearing gifts; in our new house, in our new country.

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