By Lucía Segura Alcaraz and Raphael Abraham
We are Lucía Segura Alcaraz, a garden designer and full-time mother from Alcoy in Spain, and Raphael Abraham, a journalist with a German and American background who grew up in London. We have two children — a five-year-old son called Leo and a 10-month-old daughter called Nina — and a dog called Sisi. We have lived in Fortis Green, north London, since 2010.
Lucía: Oh no, Christmas is approaching! Again a ton of festivities and the recurring question: what are we going to do about all the gifts?
In Spain, we give them on January 5, the night before Epiphany, which marks the day when the Three Wise Men visited the baby Jesus. For Spanish children it’s the most magical day of the whole Christmas period.
In my home town of Alcoy, in the province of Alicante, there is a big parade, the oldest in Spain, where the Reyes Magos (Three Kings) arrive riding real camels. There are loud trumpets and drums, and the kings’ helpers climb ladders to deliver gifts to the excited children on their balconies.
So, for me, it is important to share that magic with my children, and we go to Alcoy every year for the Reyes celebrations.
Raphael: Even though we are not a religious family, cultural heritage is important to us. Lucía and I both enjoy celebrating our respective cultures and I want our children to be comfortable with and proud of their (partly) Jewish background. But the fact is, it’s hard to compete with the colourful extravaganza that is Christmas in the UK or Reyes in Spain.
Most Jewish festivals are a hard sell, involving fasting, eating strange foods or standing in synagogue for hours on end being shushed. But Hanukkah, which this year was celebrated between December 2 and December 10, is a bit more joyous. We light the menorah (a special candelabra), sing songs and eat fried foods to celebrate a miracle that occurred when the Maccabees led a successful revolt against the Greeks, liberated the holy temple in Jerusalem and oil supposed to last just one night somehow lasted eight.
So, with its promise of presents, jam doughnuts and playing with fire, this really is my best bet.
Lucía: Of course, living in the UK, our children join in the traditions of their birth country. We put up decorations, eat mince pies, pull crackers and have a pile of presents under the Christmas tree. Leo is very aware that he needs to write a letter in English to Father Christmas and in Spanish to the Kings. He can’t take the risk of them misunderstanding what he is expecting, so he has been thinking about it at least since the summer — if not since last Christmas!
It just feels like a lot of presents, and I don’t want it to become one big gift-opening season. The presents should be something to look forward to but not to take over the whole holiday. We try to do it in small doses, although we cannot control what the rest of the family buys for our children.
Nobody is going to want to give up any of the three festivals, especially not the children.
Raphael: Is it confusing to be brought up amid such a melange of influences and identities? I’m not so sure. I was brought up firmly Jewish and yet every year a big package of tinselly presents and Christmas biscuits would arrive from my German grandma. At Easter time chocolate bunnies would appear.
I thought it best not to question this in case the goodies stopped coming, and eventually worked it out without much consternation. So far Leo has similarly shown no qualms.
The only real problem is the almost obscene glut of gifts this involves: Leo now expects Hanukkah presents in early December, followed by gifts from Santa on Christmas morning and from the Three Kings in January. Perhaps it’s time to introduce at least one religious value: moderation. After all, even Jesus himself only got three gifts.
Photographs: Harry Mitchell; Dreamstime