I have lived in Spain for a number of years now, almost five, and in that time I think it has snowed once or maybe twice. It is amazing what the weather can do because it really has an effect on what you do. Where I come from, children build snowmen and make snowballs and slide on the ice which has formed on the ground, but here that would be uncommon to see.

It is amazing to even think that ‘Santa Claus’, as he is known to me, is called many different names depending on the language. Here in Spain he is called Papa Noel, in Brazil the people call him Papai Noel, in Chile he is known as Viejo Pascuero which translates as Old Man Christmas, in Finland his name is Joulupukki, in China they call him Dun Che Lao Ren which means Christmas Old Man in English and in Catalonia the Catalans call him Tió de Nadal.

  the Christmas holiday period we say “merry Christmas and a happy new year”. In Spain they say Feliz Navidad y feliz año nuevo and in Catalonia specifically they say Bon Nadal i feliç any nou!

  One of the Catalan Christmas traditions that I found unusual at first was to include the ‘Caganer’ in the nativity scene which is known locally as ‘Pessebre’. The caganer is a figurine of a man who is defecating. This is something that I had never heard of until I came to live in Barcelona. This is an example of how traditions can be so different.

  In a lot of places it is tradition to hang some mistletoe from the door or the ceiling. In my culture it is tradition to kiss the person whom you meet under the mistletoe. This act can be seen in many American movies which means that it is also a part of American culture.

  One of the things I noticed about Spain and Christmas time is that the Spanish people celebrate the three kings on January 6th, which is something that isn’t celebrated in Ireland, where I come from. In my country we have a celebration on Christmas Day (Dec. 25th) and New Year’s Eve (Dec. 31st).

  In the UK they call Dec. 26th ‘Boxing Day’ but in Ireland we call it St. Stephen’s Day, which is interesting because in Spain the people call Dec. 26th the day of Sant Esteve, which translates into English as St. Stephen, which means that both the Spanish and the Irish have the same name for this holiday. On this day people usually meet with friends in their local pub or visit family and have dinner in one of their houses. It is a day to relax after Christmas Day. For children it is a day to play with their new toys that have been left by Santa Claus.

  I would say that living and working in another country has opened my eyes to other languages and also other cultures. I would recommend to anyone who decides to work abroad or study abroad to make an effort not only to learn the language of the country but to embrace the local culture. Experience broadens the mind and culture enlightens it.

G. Harman