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Sunday December 14, 2014

How British expats have themselves a merry little Christmas


There's nothing like a tree to add a little Christmas cheer

Although a harmonious Christmas is usually assured in our household, there is one small bone of contention at this time of the year: the purchase of a tree. In the UK, as I discovered this week, a six feet tall Norway spruce can be bought for as little as £25 while in Majorca, the same item would carry a much higher price tag. That is why Majorcan friends suggest I ditch the tree idea and opt for a belen, a traditional Spanish nativity scene which can be effortlessly re-used each year. But where’s the fun in that? And what about the heavenly odour of a bushy spruce? My husband has been trying for years to persuade me to opt for a reliable fake instead citing all the expat friends that do just this but for me – obstinately – it has to be the real deal.

If the smell of a spruce is my Christmas trigger so too are the sort of decorations and lights with which to adorn it. I like simple white lights and very traditional baubles, mostly of the wood variety, that have been in the family for donkeys’ years. Every year we treat ourselves to a few new ones. In the run-up to the festive season similarly to other expats, I like to pop back to London to purchase some essentials. One of my favourite indulgences is popping by Fortnum & Mason’s on Piccadilly to purchase champagne truffles and cranberry sauce. I make my own brandy butter and mince pies but procuring fresh cranberries in Majorca would prove quite some feat.

Probably the most difficult items to buy in Majorca are Christmas cards – Majorcans don’t bother much about them – and quality wrapping paper, so like others I buy these in the UK or rely heavily on local shops that offer a free gift wrapping service. Music features large in our local town and it’s often blasted out of speakers at the town hall. Traditional English Christmas carols might not be on the menu but Fum, Fum, Fum, a historical Catalan ditty meaning smoke, smoke, smoke is a favourite along with Feliz Navidad, Happy Christmas by José Feliciano. Some local expat friends rely on CD compilations of English carols or take a trip to the English church in Palma to hear one of the local choirs. I’m quite happy to go with the Majorcan version.

Aside from the purchase of a tree the most important aspect of the festive season for me has to be sharing good food with family and friends. On our island no expat need go without a strapping turkey with all the trimmings as an efficient British butcher’s can be found in Puerta Portals, not far from Palma. Aside from fresh turkey, all manner of sausage, stuffing and gammon joint are on offer. Just next door a patisserie sells excellent mince pies and a few minutes walk away is an English store selling crackers and a wide range of British Christmas products. So for nostalgic expats in Majorca re-creating a little home country cheer isn’t too arduous although those dreaming of a white Christmas might not strike it so lucky.





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