I have had a very fun past couple of months, and I can’t believe that I only have less than a month left here in Valladolid. These past few weeks, especially, have been a time to celebrate.
First, let’s talk about Carnaval! This is a fun-filled fiesta that goes on in Spain and other parts of Europe that is kind of a lead into the Lenten season. It is comparable to Mardi Gras (aka Fat Tuesday), especially as it is celebrated in New Orleans, but Carnaval has its differences as well. Carnaval is secular, although it has its religious tie in with Lent. It lasts for a few days, and I even went to a party after Ash Wednesday! During Carnaval, schools are closed, people of all ages dress up, and there are lots of fun things to do. People dress up like we would at Halloween. I saw people masquerading as witches, devils, pirates, American football players (which I found kind of humorous), flamenco dancers (my little sister), rugby players (my little sister and cousin), strawberries (Blake’s sister and her friend), et cetera. I found that fruit was a very popular costume with little kids. I also really liked the “Maria Cookie” costumes! Very cute, and very fun!
People are out and about during Carnaval. It is what it says it is…a carnival! People are ready to have fun. There are rides and food stands set up in plazas (we looked for corn dogs but apparently that’s an American tradition, to our dismay), bands playing traditional Spanish music and other pop music, and fully packed bars and restaurants. One day in the Plaza Mayor there were fake bulls with firecrackers on them, giving off a fun and festive fireworks show! Living right in the middle of the city, I was able to experience all of these neat aspects of Carnaval. One night there was an amazing percussion band in the plaza right next to my apartment building. It was great! I was asked several times if there was Carnaval in the United States. I said not really, but there should be!!
For me, though, the celebrations did not end after the end of Carnaval. As a Catholic, I was very excited about Ash Wednesday here. I had the amazing opportunity to be in Madrid, so I was able to go to mass in the beautiful Cathedral de la Almudena. Surprisingly, there were not many people that attended mass there, so it was held in a smaller section of the cathedral, but it was still glorious. And although I couldn’t understand everything that the priest was saying, it was such an amazing and spiritual experience to be there in Madrid, celebrating the beginning of Lent with Ash Wednesday mass.
Blake, Jamie, and I also went to Madrid for a football (soccer) game to watch Italy and Spain play! It was such an awesome experience! Both teams were recent World Cup champions, and we were at a terrific match to watch. With our new Spain gear, we looked like real Spanish football fans! Ironically, we were sitting next to a couple of Americans, and they expressed that they thought that we were “hard-core fans!” The atmosphere was exciting, the crowd was waving Spanish flags (with the exception of a few groups of Italians) and chanting, we did the wave; it was phenomenal. And guess what. SPAIN WON! You can guess that there was celebration.
That next weekend, my family and I visited their pueblo not too far from Valladolid, in Pedrajas de San Esteban. Their family has a home there in which they spend a lot of time in the summer. This weekend was the annual “fiesta de piñata,” which was like another carnaval celebration. First, there was a big barbecue type picnic where a bunch of family and friends gathered. I met many of my little sister’s friends and my host dad’s friends. Everyone was so wonderful and nice. I got to practice my Spanish a lot, and I also helped others, adults and children, to practice their English! With a group of kids I talked about whether American football, soccer, or rugby was the best sport. I had to defend American football when one of the boys told me that it was a stupid sport! Then I explained how to play it, in Spanish. With some of the adults I talked about differences in colleges and universities in the US versus Spain. It is always an interesting topic, because people here don’t really understand “undecided” programs. We also had great food! Chorizo, morcilla, pancetta, and more! I was in heaven. This lasted from around two in the afternoon to later that night.
After the party, there was another party. Once the barbecue was over, people went to their houses and got dressed up. Around ten or eleven, everyone started to emerge in their crazy costumes. There was a DJ and a dance floor for a costume contest, where individuals and groups went to be judged for the best costume of the night. The group that won was dressed up as cut-out paper dolls and the cut-out clothes. It was so creative! I also saw a couple dressed up as Abraham Lincoln and Mrs. Lincoln, which aroused my patriotic spirit!
The party lasted all night. I went with my host dad, my host aunt and uncle, and several of their friends I had met that day to go to different bars (to eat even more, of course!), watch the costume contest, and have a good time. One of them said to me, “This is the real Spain! I’m glad that you get to see it!” I was glad too. All of the people that I met that day were extremely friendly, funny, and loved to have a good time. They were all interested in what I was doing, and some even talked to me about sending their kids to the United States! I didn’t get back to the house until after 3 a.m., and I left the party early! The next day consisted of sleeping in and spending time with the family. I have been fortunate enough to get to know my extended host family, including my grandmother, two aunts, an uncle, and three host cousins. They are all so great. I had a great time at Pedrajas. It was a really fun and unique cultural experience.
The following Monday was my real little sister’s birthday! Even though I couldn’t celebrate with her, I hope my little sister Anna had a great 14th birthday back in the United States!! Felicidades, hermanita!
A week after that was St. Patrick’s Day, and also my birthday!! It was so fun to be able to celebrate my birthday here in Spain. I started off the day with the weekly meeting with Heather and Blake. We talked about classes and enjoyed some yummy treats. I had two classes at Ponce de Leon, and the kids sang happy birthday to me in English! It was so cute. That evening, we had a family dinner, and we also invited two of my host dad’s friends over that I have gotten to know. We had Spanish tortilla, jamon, chorizo, and more. It was delicious! They all sang to me in Spanish. My dog here, named Chispa, likes to “sing” along, so it was quite the chorus! I also received some very nice gifts from them. I had a wonderful evening, and I am so thankful for my host family and friends! They gave me a wonderful birthday celebration.
All right, one last thing to celebrate, for now at least. Father’s Day in Spain is March 19th. Therefore, in all of our classes we are teaching, the kids have been working on cards and gifts for their fathers, all in English! Even the little ones are able to write “I love you daddy!” and “Happy Father’s Day!” We have made cards and handprint magnets, which are sent home with the kids to give to daddy for Dia del Padre. I also plan on making my host dad a card! And of course, shout out to my real dad and all of you other dads back in the United States—Happy Father’s Day from Spain!
It has been a very busy and very fun past few weeks, full of many different fun celebrations and cultural experiences. With one month left, I am looking forward to all of the experiences that are to come!