It just so happened that two other families from the children’s school were also vacationing in Spain this year. For Christmas Eve, they invited us to come spend the evening in the cute little house where they were staying. The road to their house was auspiciously announced by this sign, which proclaimed it, ‘Land of Luck’.
We certainly thought we were lucky to be spending Christmas Eve with the Ords and the Bardsleys. The children disappeared immediately to go exploring together in the little canyon right outside the door, while the adults made sangria and Christmas Eve Chili.
Later Jason broke out his ukelele and we sang Christmas carols together in front of a roaring fire.
It’s always strange to be away from family at the holidays, and spending time with good friends who are also far away from family is its own kind of special Christmas experience.
The festivities wound down around eight o-clock, and we went home and put the children to bed. Then Tony and I drove into Granada to do something I’ve always wanted to do: attend midnight mass. And not just any midnight mass, but midnight mass in the Cathedral of Granada. They call it Misa de Gallo in Spanish: the Mass of the Rooster, because of a legend that a rooster crowed at midnight to announce the birth of Jesus.
I had an idea in my mind that thousands of people would be attending the Misa de Gallo, probably because I was subconsciously remembering the crowds when we were in Florence for the Scoppio del carro at the Duomo on Easter morning. So we arrived good and early, at around 10:30 at night. To my surprise, the cathedral was shut up and dark, and nobody seemed to be lining up for the mass. We asked around at the few bars and shops that were open at 10:30 on a Christmas Eve, but nobody seemed to have heard of the Misa de Gallo.
I worried that maybe the mass wasn’t going to happen after all, but we decided to go back to the Tetería we’d visited before, and wait it out.
After a cup of tea and some secondhand hubbly bubbly, it was time to go back to the cathedral. I was thrilled and relieved and excited all at once to see people streaming in through the giant doors. We fell in step with the rest, and found a pew about halfway up, shortly before the mass started.
I didn’t take photos, of course, since it was a religious service, but I memorised the scene in my mind. It’s a lovely, bright cathedral, even in the middle of the night, with two facing organs encrusted in Baroque gold designs. We could hear the organ playing as we walked in. There was also a string quartet and a vocalist singing Christmas carols during the mass, and the priest gave a lovely sermon about how the Christ child came to seek each and every one of us as we are. I love visiting churches and cathedrals of all sorts, but there is something about seeing them used for their intended purpose that elevates the experience from simply interesting and beautiful to sublime.
In short, it was everything I had expected from a midnight mass, and more. I even went up and kissed the baby Jesus at the end. I used to think that ritual without belief might be rather hollow, but I find that it isn’t. It’s beautiful, and I’m as capable of willing suspension of disbelief when it comes to religion as literature. In fact, I think I may find more meaning now in symbols than I ever did before, unfettered as I am now by literal belief. A lovely surprise.
After the mass, Tony wanted to go find some nightlife. The streets were pretty dead, but we did manage to duck into a little disco/bar that had a half dozen people in it. I gingerly navigated to the bathroom past a lively game of darts while Tony ordered drinks. The place was called Kama Sutra, or something like that. It was a bizarrely kitschy place, and yeah, you could call this pretty flagrant cultural appropriation. But anyway. Merry Christmas to us.
Christmas itself was a quiet day. We got up and opened a few presents. We’d been heavily into the holiday season since St. Martin’s Day on November 11, so I was pretty much done wrapping presents and making holiday food by then, plus the fact that we were in Spain with only hand luggage. I did make Christmas breakfast, though, and it included panettone.
After breakfast we headed off to the nearest beach, in Almuñécar. From a distance, it did look like a beach, and it was a beach after a fashion. Instead of sand, though, it was covered in rocks. Nobody minded, though. I lay out my blanket and read my novel, the kids made stone-age tools, and Tony skipped stones into the sea.
It was a quiet day. Once the sun went down, we headed home for an early bedtime, so we could get up in time to make the most of our last day on vacation, in Sevilla.