It takes a village: Christmas time in the Basque country

WeddingDecor IdeasWhat exactly is a pueblo remains a difficult concept to explain to those who don’t see it for themselves.  A pueblo is a village, or a town, but rather than a strict geographical definition, it’s more of a way to describe a community.  Also, it’s a people or the people.  The word also carries with it a paradoxical sense of both pride and derision, depending on who’s saying it.  Like, her?  Oh.  Don’t worry about her, she’s from the pueblo.  A hick.
Of course, the pueblo,  or a town, in Europe is quite different from a town in the US.  The village in this case might look like downtown Boston–sidewalks, street lights, apartment buildings–with more action, or ambiente, on the street, more lights, and more people. (This could be just a function of sucky downtown Boston, though. I don’t know.)  Anyway, I found out that… Well… apparently, I’m married to a guy from the pueblo, and who knew!
It sounds like it might be bad to be a hick or from the pueblo.  But picture this.  Every year since every year you remember, during the Christmas fiestas, you come down to the same plaza at the same time, to say hello to the same people, and find out who’s gotten married, who’s had a baby, who’s died, and who’s shacking up with a Cuban 20 years younger than them (true story).  The bartenders all know you, so as you move from little bar to little bar, your drinks are served before you even arrive.  Unlike here, where you go to a place, plant your butt down and not move until you get a sacral decube, in my husband’s part of the world, the custom is to go bar hopping.  But not in a sleazy college meat market kind of way.  You just go down to the neighborhood where all the bars are, and you go from place to place.  Sometimes you don’t even switch places per se, you just kind of hang out in the alley along with a big crowd, and just move down a doorway  All the bars have the same kind of glasses, I think on purpose, so they can be interchangeable as people migrate around.  In a single afternoon, expect to visit at least 5-6 bars.  But don’t worry, you won’t be getting as disgustingly drunk as you might think because you’re taking in a zurrito, or a txikito in each one.  That’s a purely Basque thing:  – that’s a baby sized beer or wine, served in a glass hardly bigger than a shot glass.
That’s wine, not whiskey.

So, you go down at noon, when you know most of your people are going to be out.  You check out people’s new kids, new cars, old scars, you comment on football, real estate, how your wife fell down the stairs and has a giant bruise on her ass (true story, it was my ass)… and at 3 o’clock, the village shuts down as everyone, including the bartenders, goes to celebrate the birth of Christ (at least as the grandmothers are concerned) with family and lamb, first giant meal of maybe, six or seven for the next week.

hanging out with assorted family members Christmas Day

You won’t find this downtown Boston.

The first few times I participated, I was overwhelmed by all the action, and the compelling nature of the custom.  I guess, for all my airs of worldliness and pretenses at being cosmopolitan, and despite my origins, I’m an American.  I get shuffled from class to class, school to school, rotation to rotation.  I don’t really make life-long bonds.  I have zero sense of community and a strong sense of personal space.

The last few years, since my husband’s grandmother died, and then shortly after her, my father in law, we haven’t gone back to the pueblo.  It was too painful at first for my mother in law to have a Christmas gathering at her house after all the loss, plus there were too many of us now with the two brothers, two wives, and four children, to hang out in the apartment all day as all the stores are closed for the holidays and as it rains incessantly the way it tends to in those parts.  I used to complain about going every year after the first couple, actually.  So, we’ve been going to warm places instead as a family: Tenerife, Canaries, they even left Spain one year and came to hang out with us in Florida for a week.

But there is something about the yearly routine, decade in, decade out… I might even miss it.

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