“I’ve got something to show you,” said Rich. “Got your camera?” We were out for a stroll, threading our way through the crowded labyrinth of pedestrian streets and alleys that make up Seville’s downtown shopping area. “You bet,” I said. He steered me into the Centro Mercantile, an old club that often houses exhibitions of dubious modern paintings and gorgeous old religious art. I took three steps into the gallery and stopped, gobsmacked by the sight of the entire town of Bethlehem fashioned from 1500 kilos of chocolate, with a river of honey running through it.
Nobody does nativity scenes like Seville. I’ve seen them with live animals and birds, GI Joe action figures in combat fatigues kneeling reverently before the manger, everyone dressed in flamenco outfits, and the Holy Family tucked under the shelter of a giant ham. But this was easily the most glorious, as big as my living room and smelling like heaven.
This is what’s so great about the holidays: people go completely over the top. Some of my friends have criticized Seville’s downtown lighting display as being too gaudy. But isn’t that what the year-end festivities are all about – extravagance and magic?
I can remember being a small child, dazzled by the sudden appearance of holiday lights, entranced by the smells of pine and chocolate and wood fires, electrified with anticipation of the treats in store for us.
Today, I live thousands of miles from my relatives and many others who are dear to me; they’re scattered around the globe from the Americas to Asia to Europe to Down Under. I’ll never again see everyone I love gathered under one roof. At holiday celebrations I sometimes feel a pang about the faces I don’t see around my table.
But I am deeply grateful that I live in an age where I can stay in close contact with those who are far away. We email, we talk on Skype, and when the stars align, we meet up somewhere and enjoy each other’s company. My social circle is no longer geographically defined. It’s a bit like iCloud; my friends are not always physically on hand, but they seem to appear when I need them most.
Having friends all over the planet keeps life interesting and makes me feel that I’m a citizen of the world. And that means wherever I am at this time of year, I’m home for the holidays.
I'm an American travel writer based in Spain and currently living in California.
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