Happy Holidays (Sigh) + My Basque Christmas Memory

Olentzero San Sebastian

Do you ever wonder what it is like to celebrate the holidays in another country when you’re travelling? What about Christmas as a solo traveller?

While I was on my round the world trip, I was going to be away during Christmas. At the time (2011/2012) I was travelling around Europe and knee-deep in Christmas markets. I found this pretty ironic considering I’m not the biggest fan of Christmas. Why?


No Love For Christmas Here

Christmas usually means family time and holiday cheer. The Christmas holidays make me think of and miss my late mother. She loved this time of year. She was very Catholic and that meant going to church and time with the family. Since she passed it’s been especially difficult for me.

With Mom
Me and Mom <3

Prior to my mom’s passing, I was never a festive person. Since she’s passed I have become even less festive. I went through some old photos from my round the world trip and came across ones from Christmas time in Spain.

It made me laugh because I actually enjoyed it. It was my first Christmas without Mom. After my Mom died I decided to continue my RTW trip after her urging. I had this plan in my head that I would whip through a European itinerary in 8 weeks. I would go to France, Italy, UK, Netherlands, Germany, Spain, Czech Republic, etc. No problem.

Houston! We have a huge problem. I was suffering from a severe case of exhaustion and depression. After a few days into my European adventures, I ended up in the hospital in Madrid with a lung infection. I remember calling my brother crying and telling him I wanted to quit my RTW after less than a week. Instead of my Mom encouraging me, my brother took her place but with a different, more stern method. He talked some sense into me and said “Keep going. You’ll feel worse if you come home.”

Fast forward 8 weeks and I was still in Europe. I kept forcing myself to the next destination. I was enjoying myself but I did so with a heavy heart. It was a weird reality to be happy yet insanely depressed at the same time. I was basically going through the motions of travelling and living. Here I was zigzagging through Europe and I wasn’t sure what I was doing. I felt so unravelled.

When I was in San Sebastian in November 2011, I had befriended a fellow named Matt who worked at a hostel called Olga’s (now sadly, shuttered). We were chatting on Facebook when I was in Germany (December 2011) and I asked him what he was doing for Christmas.

When I went to San Sebastian in November I was booked for 3 days and stayed 8. I had a nice time with the people there, especially Matt. He had a really chill vibe about him and the owners of the hostel were fabulous. Olga the proprietress and her funny husband Rafael who I fondly called Raffy were amazing hosts. Matt said that Olga and Raffy host a dinner for the hostelers and encouraged me to come back. He told me his parents and sister were coming to town on the 26th from Oz.

I had been invited to a few Christmases with friends and relatives but I didn’t want to be with people I knew. There was something about not wanting to have pity faces all day. The last thing I wanted was to be reminded of how shitty I felt. The idea of being with strangers who didn’t really know what was going on inside sounded great to me. I believe in the phrase “fake it till you make it“.

Getting Back To San Sebastian

I rearranged my OneWorld RTW ticket to get me from Berlin back to Madrid and then I bought a cheap ticket to Bilbao on Easyjet. Once I was in Bilbao I took a bus from and felt like I couldn’t get back to my favourite European city faster. Once I got to the bus stop in San Sebastian I jumped in a taxi that took me to Olga’s Hostel.

The dates are a bit blurry, but I remember spending the 24th day with Matt and an American chef named Sean. We went to the Spanish equivalent of a dollar store to buy each other gag gifts to open at Christmas dinner. We went and bought baguettes from a bakery called Ogi Berri and beers and wine from a store around the corner. Matt bought some American craft beer and I bought a bottle of Tempranillo. I remember everyone being in the small kitchen cooking and drinking together.

Dinner at Olga's

Christmas dinner with Olga, a fellow from Andorra (I forgot his name…sorry!), and Matt

The internet was down at the hostel and the web cafe down the street was closed. For some reason, it didn’t bother me as much as it would now. I am sure we were disappointed, but we were just happy to be chilling out in this amazing place. I called my Pops on Skype from outside the restaurant bar in front of Zurriola Beach where we poached some internet. We were so happy they didn’t turn off their Wi-Fi when they were closed. I remember my hands freezing because it was so cold outside.

Olentzero San Sebastian

Olentzero in San Sebastian. A Basque tradition where the children get gifts. This tradition has existed much longer than jolly Ol’ St. Nick

Olentzero San Sebastian

Good Basque kids hoping for presents

The day went by quickly, thank goodness. I remember feeling okay and thinking that Mom and Eric were watching me from wherever they are and happy that I was in Spain and not curled into a vegetative ball of sadness back home.

I am so grateful for travel and how therapeutic it can be. Thank you, Mom and Eric, for watching my back. Merry Christmas to all and thank you for listening to this personal post about the holidays. I’m in a good place for now and I am feeling alright about the future. It’s going to be a good year…I can feel it in my bones.


Related Posts