Winter Warmth

Don Harris | December 2012

December can be a fragile month. The fruits of summer have disappeared from the local farmers market, replaced by gourds and holly. Wind and rain have hastened the departure of the colorful leaves, which used to drop lazily to the ground. Squirrels are putting the finishing touches on their winter store of acorns, preparing for the leaner months ahead. 

As a boy in New England, I loved gathering spiny horse chestnuts from a neighbor’s tree or scuffing noisily through the fallen leaves. A couple of weeks ago, I was delighted to see my two grandsons burying themselves in a pile of brown oak leaves. It brought back many happy childhood memories.

Of course, each year I share the excitement of people preparing for Christmas. Nevertheless, I always have a feeling of sadness when Daylight Savings Time ends. I always anticipate the time when we can ‘spring forward.’ 

One of the many little things I like about Spain is her adjusted time zone. Because Spaniards are commercially linked to the many countries north of the Pyrenees, they key their time zone to Western Europe, rather than to Britain’s GMT, their longitudinally proper zone. As a result, in the winter, Spain enjoys perpetual Daylight Savings Time! In the summer, they bask in ‘Double Daylight Time,’ which explains the sun setting after 10 PM – just in time for youths to finish dinner and head to the plaza mayor.

However, here we are in North America in December and with a chill in the air, darker day are upon us. In northern climes, it is time to retreat inside and enjoy each other's company, perhaps with a piping hot bowl of soup or a chocolate a la taza in front of the fire. It is also a time when we think of others who may find winter a time of trial and darkness in many different ways.

This is why Christmas is celebrated in the depth of winter when darkness prevails, not in the spring, "when lambs are born and shepherds watch their sheep by night." The symbolism is that Light came into the world, dispelling darkness and bringing new hope for believers, that Light came in the most humble of circumstance, in the form of an infant nestled in a stall surrounded by domestic animals. Beyond this specific event, the Light that we celebrate is that of Love. 

The holidays are a time when we make a special effort to extend our love and friendship to our associates, and reaffirm our bonds with our friends and loved ones. I hope that we go out of our way to acknowledge the value of all whom we meet – even the toll taker on the highway or the salesclerk who is helping us with our shopping.

I sense that Spaniards have a natural bent for hospitality. Even to the stranger they extend a kind of warmth and intimacy that we reserve for our closest friends and family. Although most Spaniards would not put it in so many words, when they encounter any person he is accepted as a fellow pilgrim sharing life’s journey. Hospitality, especially while dining together, is in their words and in the marrow of their bones. Theirs is a gift to all of us, and is a large reason why millions of tourists love the Spain they flock to each year.

This warmth and affection is the bedrock of the traditional Spanish family. Children feel cherished from birth, and are celebrated within their extended family all their lives. There is no fear of giving too much love - or of spoiling them. There is never a time when they are unwelcome. Eighteen years old is not the time to leave.

Alejandro, a young student from Córdoba who is attending university here in the United States, just spent Thanksgiving with our family. He showed me a picture on his iPhone of his proud brother surrounded by the 40 members of his family who gathered to celebrate his Confirmation. Alejandro observed wistfully that he was the only one missing from his younger brother’s side. 

The hospitality of the family enables them to pull together in times of crisis. A family member is always welcome at the table, and has a place to lay his head, no matter how trying the circumstances. However, of course, there are limits, and this is why the situation today is so dire for some families in Spain. Over half the young people are unemployed; and the elderly are especially vulnerable even though abuela is always welcome, without a second thought.

Ruth and I, and our sons and daughters-in-law, know many families in Spain. Over a hundred of them provide La Tienda with the food that might grace your holiday table - and we are very concerned with the crisis they and their neighbors are facing. These are rough times, and if we can find any way to lessen the burden on the families, we will. If you would like to join with us in extending a helping hand during this holiday season of love and caring, give to our Campaign for Spain, that will help stock some of the food banks all over Spain. We will match every dollar you give with one of our own.

May your holiday gatherings be filled with love and the laughter of children. Ruth and I join with many others who find our children (and grandchildren) to be a source of great affirmation and love. Please do not forget those who may be alone.

Feliz Navidad. Felices fiestas.