THREE KINGS DAY: A MAGICAL SPANISH TRADITION

In 2019, I celebrated Día de los Tres Reyes Magos aka Day of the Three Magic Kings with a picnic in Barcelona while overlooking the city from a perch in Park Güell. Two years later, and I have made it back to Spain to celebrate this special day.

Spaniards celebrate Three Kings Day on January 6th. I love this tradition because it extends the magic of Christmas just a little bit longer. The holiday recognizes the day the Three Wisemen showed up at the stable to give baby Jesus gifts. Nowadays, the Three Kings visit homes on the night of January 5th and leave presents for the children.

I know what you’re thinking…the three kings sound a lot like Santa Claus, right? Yup. But here is why the Spanish are really lucky, they get BOTH.

Santa Claus vs. Three Kings

According to some of my coworkers, Santa Claus aka Papa Noel did not always have a huge presence in Spain. In fact, some families still do not celebrate the tradition of Santa Claus, and most of my students have told me they prefer the Three Kings to Santa. (Three Kings = more presents vs. One Santa). However, in the past couple of generations Santa Claus has become more normalized, and he is known to leave a gift or two on Christmas Day. I have summarized some of the subtle differences between Santa Claus and the Three Kings:

While in the U.S., we leave out stockings for Santa, families in Spain leave out their shoes for the Three Kings.

You betcha my roommates and I left out our shoes for the Kings this year

Santa rides a sleigh pulled by reindeers. The Three Kings ride camels.

Americans leave out milk and cookies for Santa. Spanish people leave out sandwiches for the Three Kings.

Santa enters houses through the chimney. The Three Kings climb through the window. (A lot of houses in Spain do not have chimneys)

Santa takes photographs at the mall. Three Kings take photographs at the mall.

Cabalgatas

In every major city and even some towns, you are likely to find a cabalgata or parade on the night of January 5th. These parades welcome the Three Kings: Gaspar, Balthazar and Melchior as they ride through the streets on floats and throw candy at the crowds. Due to COVID-19, Spain has made adjustments to this years’ festivities, turning some parades into pre-recorded or virtual crowd-less events.

Because I will not experience a Canary Island parade this year, I thought I would reminisce on my experience from 2019. In Cataluña, the Three Kings arrive on January 5th by boat before the parade. During the parade, performers on stilts approach the crowds with long nets for children to place cards they have written to the Three Kings asking for presents. Countless people bring ladders from home to get a better view and even carry these ladders through the metro station. At the end of the parade, the Three Kings receive the keys to the city which will allow them to open every door to every home in Barcelona for one night only.

Roscon de Reyes

Another sweet tradition is the Roscon de Reyes or the King’s Cake. This cake is enjoyed by friends and family members on Three King’s Day. The cake has two hidden objects inside; a tiny king figurine and a bean. If you happen to be lucky enough to have the piece of cake with the king, well…. you win. You might even be given a paper crown to wear if you so please. However, if you find the bean, it’s your turn to buy the Roscon de Reyes the following year.

Roscon de Reyes

I feel very fortunate to now have spent two Three Kings Days in Spain, and it is a celebration I very much think the U.S. should consider adopting.

Un Saludo,

Mags

2021 WILL NOT BE A FRESH START AND THAT’S OK

I can already imagine the day my future granddaughter comes home from school with the assignment to interview someone who has lived through the Corona Virus era.

I want to start off by saying, I am extremely lucky. I am in good health. My loved ones are in good health. While this pandemic has touched everyone in some way, good fortune has been on my side, and I feel like I should not complain. However, the lesson I’ve learned through therapy and podcasts and self-help books is this; Just because your problems seem less significant than other people’s problems, doesn’t mean they aren’t important. The “well other people have it worse” mentality could go on forever and ever and ever in an endless cycle.

2020 started off rough, even pre-pandemic… it was ROUGH. Within the first month, we lost my best friend’s Dad to cancer. A few weeks later my Dad had triple by-pass surgery. This placed tremendous stress and anxiety on my family. Shout out to my Uncle Dave who came from Upstate New York to sit with my family through it all and probe the hospital staff with the questions on everyone’s minds. Also, MVP award goes to my Mom who stayed by my Dad’s side through everything and took care of him in his very needy and very loopy state after the surgery.

Around the same time of my Dad’s surgery, I found out the trip to China I had planned with my business school was cancelled due to the rapid spread of a new virus…you guessed it… the coronavirus. In hindsight, my disappointment about the cancellation seems silly.

Things turned around though. I had an exciting couple of months before the pandemic exploded in the U.S. I enjoyed my senior year of college and the perks of being 21. I went on a fun yet strange spring break trip to Galveston Texas and made some new friends. I fell in love for the first time, which maybe didn’t turn out so great for me in the end, but I became a better person by learning that my cold un-feeling heart is in fact capable of vulnerability.

I graduated college with a degree in Business Management and minors in Spanish and International Business. Graduation was prime Covid time, so I did not have the celebration I expected. However, my Honors College held a Zoom ceremony that was actually pretty heartfelt, and my parents organized a day that made me feel special.

“Graduation” Day

I felt blue in my hometown, so I decided to spend the summer in North Carolina with my sister, Molly, and her kids. Because Molly and I grew up in different households, this is the longest period of time we have ever spent together which was refreshing and much needed. Bonus: she took me to get my first tattoo. Although I did my fair share of moping around this summer, my adorable niece and nephew never ceased to put a smile on my face.

Thanks GK for the tat & great conversation

Flash forward to now. I have been in the Canary Islands for the past three months, doing something I have dreamed of since I was 17. I feel more myself than ever, and I have hope about what’s ahead. Even though I can not travel through Europe as I had planned, I enjoy discovering the natural wonders of the Canary Islands. My island, Fuerteventura, is one of the safest places in terms of COVID. I am able to enjoy nice weather all year round. Most restaurants and stores are open, and the Canary Islands are the only part of Spain NOT experiencing a 6 month lockdown. I could not imagine a better place to round out my 2020.

I have spent a lot of time getting to know myself, and I finally figured out what career path I want to take which puts my mind at ease and literally makes my insides jump with joy. I have had free time to explore new hobbies like writing, video editing, and even rock climbing.

My first time rock climbing. I made it to the top 🙂

I have met some of the kindest and most interesting human beings in this little part of the world. I have spent a lot of intentional time talking to my friends and family members on FaceTime. In fact, I feel like my relationships have become stronger because I reach out more than I would have pre-pandemic.

I now look forward to every day and the possibilities that await. I still have bad days, negative thoughts, and anxiety, but I am more whole than I have been in a very long time. 2020 has tested me in all types of way, and I’ve come out the other side a little stronger, a little wiser, and a little bruised. Contrary to popular belief, a new year is not a new beginning or a clean slate. I do not want to forget this year. Life is a work in progress, and the lessons learned in 2020 will propel us forward into 2021 and beyond.

Un Saludo,

Mags

MY FAVORITE MEMORY WITH MY UNCLE TOM

Hearing bad news about a family member while I am so far away from home is one of my worst fears. This week, my Uncle Tom passed away suddenly from a heart attack. I don’t really know the best way to process this information, but because I can’t be with my family right now, I want to share with you one of my favorite Uncle Tom memories:

When my brother, Mike, and I were little, we would sometimes spend summer weeks with our Uncle Tom while my parents went on vacation by themselves (rude of them). We didn’t mind that my parents were away though because we always had fun when we were with Uncle Tom.

One summer day, Uncle Tom wanted to take me and Mike to the pool. For whatever reason, his swim club was closed when we arrived, so Uncle Tom cultivated a Plan B. He drove us to the nearest Hilton instead. Uncle Tom escorted us straight through the lobby of the Hilton and to the hotel’s pool. Because we were not Hilton residents, we did not have a room key to access the pool deck. However, there was an open notebook near the entrance of the pool that listed room numbers, and with his quick wit, Uncle Tom peeked at that list before telling the lifeguard on duty our “room number” and stating that his wife will be coming down shortly with the room key. I was so excited to join this acting expedition, but I think Mike almost peed his pants. The lifeguard let us into the pool area, no questions asked, and we swam for a while until my brother couldn’t take the pressure any longer. We eventually left the pool in fear of tarnishing his good conscious.

On our way out of the hotel, we must have made a wrong turn because we found ourselves, wrapped in our towels, with dripping wet bathing suits and squishy flip flops in the midst of a wedding reception.

I will always remember my Uncle Tom how he was on that day; adaptable, clever, and entertaining.

I only wish during the past couple of years, I spent more time with my Uncle Tom. He was a big part of my childhood, making the most delicious deep fried turkey on Thanksgiving (almost blowing the house up on numerous occasions) and always bringing the best dessert to Christmas Eve dinner. The week before I left for the Canary Islands, I had dinner with all of my Philadelphia relatives, including Uncle Tom. I sat next to my Uncle Tom, and we had intentional time to catch up after a busy 4 years of college with not too much time spent together. I’m lucky I had this moment, and I wish so much that it was not the last one.

Uncle Tom, my Mom, Mike, and me in Rittenhouse Square Park on the wedding day of my Aunt Heather and Uncle Chris.

Reach out to your loved ones you haven’t spoken to in a while. See how they are doing. Remind them you love them.

Un Saludo,

Mags

10 REASONS WHY RUNNING IS THE ABSOLUTE BEST

Don’t @ me

With so much change recently, running is a constant. It’s hard to explain just how much this sport means to me, unless you are a runner yourself. In this case, you probably understand. If not, try to conjure up an image of your favorite pastime. Think of the feeling you get when you go fishing, bowling, watch golf on tv, or do whatever it is you’re passionate about.

1. Running allows you to FREE YOUR MIND

Cheetah Girls GIF - CheetahGirls Strut Travel GIFs

Whenever I have thoughts racing through my head (every day), I take to running to sort them out. I always come off a run feeling a bit lighter and with a sense of clarity. In this way, I keep unreasonable thoughts from running around my mind all day, ha.

2. Be the main character.

new york running GIF by CBS All Access

When I’m running, I pretend I’m a movie character. As cliché as it may be, I really like the “I’m the main character” mindset that has surfaced recently on social media. I recommend keeping a “my life as a movie” soundtrack featuring key songs such as Electric Light Orchestra’s, Mr. Blue Sky. Why not pretend you are in a movie about to have your great adventure?

3. Supportive community of runners

fun running GIF

With a background of high school and collegiate running, I’ve experienced the community that the sport provides. Although running is considered individualistic, I have NEVER felt more of a team bond in any other sport. Even now, without a team behind me, I still consider fellow runners my teammates. Ya know when you pass another runner during a run and you give each other that ~look~ and you just feel that internal bond of “Yeah, you’re a badass? I’m a badass too. Keep up the badassery.” ? Love that moment.

4. Runners high

wgn news lol GIF by WGN Morning News

There is nothing like that post-run feeling.

5. I like to eat and drink a lot. Need I say more?

happy jim carrey GIF

6. Bragging rights

london marathon kipchoge GIF by Virgin Money London Marathon

“Yeah I’m a runner.” For some reason, people are impressed when you say you are a runner. (hint: anyone can be a runner)

7. Unpredictability

Surprise Reaction GIF

Some days, I feel winded after 2 miles, and the next day I bust out 8 miles like nobody’s business. Sometimes my watch stops in the middle of a run. Sometimes I get lost. Sometimes it starts raining. Spontaneity keeps life interesting, amirite?

8. Passing boys on runs 😉

9. No equipment necessary!

Expensive gym memberships or COVID concerns keeping you from working out? Fear not! All you need to do is put one foot in front of the other. *Warning: your feet will likely end up looking like this:

Feet Gullible Pants GIF by SpongeBob SquarePants

10. You can do it ANYWHERE

My favorite running spot in Puerto :’)

Wherever you are, you can always run. It is an efficient way to explore new places and quicker than walking.

Anyway, those are just a few of the reasons why this sport brings a warm fuzzy feeling to my heart. I love running, yes I do, if I love running, so can you!

Un Saludo,

Mags

THE UNITED STATES ELECTION VIEWED FROM ABROAD

This year has been a shit show….no doubt about it; a fascist president, a global pandemic, police brutality, protests and riots… all resulting in a divided country causing strained relationships among friends, families, and neighbors. I could go on, but those are the basics.

This year has separated time into periods of “before 2020” and “after 2020”. I’ve heard people pleading for the end of 2020. To this, I ask, “Why? What changes when the clock strikes midnight on January 1st, 2021?” We will still be in the “after 2020” period. This life is still our reality. Adapt. Keep moving. But don’t wait until January 2021 for a magic spell that will transport us back to “normal” because I promise you, it ain’t coming. A vaccine though?? One can hope.

I can’t say I was all that surprised that the U.S. elections loom so large on the world stage. However, I was curious to gage the opinions of non-Americans on our current political climate. For the most part, the people I have met here are not big Trump supporters. The one outlier was an Italian man I spoke with who admitted his limited knowledge on the subject, but thought Trump was better for the global economy.

Even from 4000 miles away, I have seen countless news stories and heard people discussing election drama. On Friday, my roommates excitedly pulled up the Electoral College map to show me that my home state, Pennsylvania, had flipped to blue. Students in class have asked me who I predict winning the elections, and I subtly bragged that Joe Biden’s campaign team is awaiting results at the conference center where my Dad works. My boss has sent me memes of Donald Trump, and even the police officers at my TIE appointment recognized the state of Pennsylvania listed on my passport. My 9 year old tutee told me that he would vote for Biden. Todo el mundo has been paying attention.

Mom and Dad excited as heck at the election night celebration

It is certainly an interesting time to be an American abroad and witness the whole world hold their breath. This week, I will have some cool stories to share with my students about how my parents partied it up with The President Elect and U.S.’s first ever female VP over the weekend. There’s a lot of work to be done to mend relationships in such a polarized nation, but today, I feel proud to be an American and especially a Pennsylvanian 🙂

Un Saludo,

Mags

HALLOWEEN IN THE CANARY ISLANDS? DON’T COUNT ME OUT.

I never considered Halloween my favorite holiday. I never considered autumn my favorite season. But not-so surprisingly, missing out on these familiar realities, had me feeling some type of way. While there is not much I can do about the lack of changing leaves and sweater weather, I can prioritize Halloween.

As I have learned from my students, Halloween is not really a big deal here. It happens, but it is not a whole season of celebration, and it is certainly not ~spooky~. Yes, there is trick-or-treating and costumes, but that’s about it. One teacher told me that Halloween only arrived in the Canary Islands about 15 years ago, building on the customs seen in the U.S. (which we took from Ireland/Great Britain) centuries ago.

The Canarians do observe a holiday known as Finoas in which people eat chestnuts and pay respect to the dead, but this holiday is a little antiquated, and the younger generations know little of its origins. However, I did have many students tell me they partake in egg-throwing on Halloween, and I was an ever-so-gracious recipient of the tradition this year 🙂

So what did I do to get that Fall feeling? I made Halloween (or a version of it) happen. Pumpkins are not easy to find in the Canary Islands. Pumpkin Spiced lattes? Forget about it. The pumpkins aka “calabaza” here are what Americans call gourds. My roommate, Julia, and I considered what our success rate would be if we tried to carve gourds until a friend told us about a grocery store that was selling the “rounder pumpkins.” By a stroke of luck, we found candles in our house that were the perfect size to put in our tiny ashen pumpkins. I actually don’t think I’ve carved a Jack O’ Lantern in years, and it was exciting to watch Julia partake in an unfamiliar American custom. Because of my eagerness to share my country’s traditions, I tapped into my own child-like admiration for the simple things.

Bringing American Halloween traditions to the Canary Islands
Celebrating Halloween by carving Jack O’ Lanterns

Not wanting to let any bit of Fall escape, I roasted the pumpkin seeds with a bit of olive oil and salt, and I used the pumpkin innards to bake a pumpkin cake with cream cheese icing. Believe me when I say, that the only pumpkin flavored treat in all of the Canary Islands can be found in our kitchen.

While I had trouble convincing my new friends to deck out in complete Halloween costumes, Julia painted some spooky makeup on our faces, and we celebrated the night with a bit of Sangria (typical Spanish) and some pong (typical American). It was not the Halloween I am used to, but it was a wonderful Halloween nonetheless. I can’t wait for Thanksgiving.

Halloween makeup
Not pictured: the tutu I got for a few euros at a store down the street.

Un Saludo,

Mags

TRIALS, TRIBULATIONS, & TASAS?

This week, I feel like I have been all over the world, and I guess quite literally I have been. I’m glad I know a lick of Spanish because I don’t know how I would get by without it. My first revelation; no one here speaks English. Those who do have more of a Spanglish approach (like me). My past experiences in Madrid and Barcelona led me to believe that English was widely spoken in Spain. I was mistaken. I try my best to speak with locals in Spanish out of respect…I’m on their turf now. I want to become fluent in the language, so I guess diving right in is the best approach. Three university classes taken my freshman year and two years of tutoring basic Spanish have prepared me enough, but I’ve got a ways to go.

This brings me to my second revelation; people are really freaking nice and willing to help. I don’t know if it is because I am a young wide-eyed girl very far from home who looks like she needs some help (I’ve used this card a lot) or if it is the nature of the people here, but I am very thankful for the kindness I’ve received.

Here’s a short story:

While I was searching for a place to stay in Fuerteventura, I mentioned to one of the flat owners (Maximo) that I can not use my phone without WIFI. After showing me the flat, Maximo told me to follow him and walked with me a few blocks to a Locutorio (phone store). He proceeded to look up the best/most reasonably priced phone plan for EU roaming and llamadas nacionales (calling in-country) and explained to the woman behind the counter what I needed. If that wasn’t enough, he also put me in contact with his son who is fluent in English and lives on the island. Even after I decided not to rent Maximo’s flat, he told me his family was still there to help with anything I needed. *Cue the tears* This is only one example of the generosity I’ve experienced.

While I have been lucky with my encounters, I also have done more work than necessary trying to obtain my TIE (kinda like a green card). I still do not have it, and the process has been a massive headache, but I am taking things step by step.

For any auxiliaries reading this, here is what I wish I had known:

Step 1: Find a place to stay. This will be important because you need to put your address on all your documents.

Step 2: Make an appointment with your Ayuntamiento (town hall) to empadrar (register) in the country. You may have to make this appointment online or through the phone due to COVID. I made the mistake of going to the Comisario first before registering because I thought I had all of the paperwork I needed. Nope. I did not.

Step 3: After registering, you will have to come back to pick up your contracto de empadramiento.

Step 4: When you have your contract of empadramiento, make an appointment with the comisario. You will need to bring:

  • Contract of empadramiento
  • Passport
  • Visa
  • Tasa and receipt for the Tasa (I had no idea what this was, but the police officers pointed me in the direction of a local print shop, and I found out a tasa is like a money order. After obtaining my tasa, I had to go to the local bank and use an ATM machine to pay for the tasa and receive my receipt).
  • 3 passport sized photos
  • Copies of your passport and visa (black & white)
  • Contract of employment

I hope these steps prove helpful. I wish I had known to go to the Ayuntamiento right away because their appointments are all booked up for the coming days. Spanish bureaucracy is sloooow moving especially with COVID, but I am making moves poco a poco and trying my best to find my way here with a little help from some friendly Spaniards.

Un saludo,

Mags