It had been well more than a decade since Emily, 22, and Sam, about to turn 21, had believed in Santa, yet my wife and I had been slavishly repeating the same ritual every Dec. 25 year after year. Those iconic mornings sitting around the blinking, glittering, needle-shedding tree had devolved to the point where my most lasting memories tended to be those guilt-inducing moments of gathering up the yards of shiny, expensive, ecologically catastrophic gift wrap — torn in an unsatisfying instant from the gifts nobody really needed — and stuffing it into super-size trash bags to pile at the curb like big black stockings filled with coal.
Details: Ronda, Spain
In short, the holiday had become a hellish behemoth, and my wife and I were Captain Ahab, strapped to the great whale by tangled skeins of tree lights as we plunged to our doom, trailing tinsel.
Forgive the overheating metaphors. Clearly, we needed a vacation from Christmas.
We needed distance. A lot of it. Like, about 4,000 miles.
We settled on Spain for a number of reasons.
If you want to escape Christmas-As-Usual, you can’t have Santas on every corner and carols in every elevator. Which rules out the continent of North America.
We also needed a destination with enough appeal to entice 20-somethings into giving up their usual round of seasonal parties and socializing with people who still have hair and abs. We knew that they had fond memories of our family vacations in Europe — Paris and the French countryside. Unfortunately, in December, France is a little too close to the North Pole. By contrast, Spain sticks so far out into the Mediterranean that it all but puts a dent in Morocco. The coastal city of Malaga is a full degree of latitude south of Athens and five degrees closer to the equator than Rome.
Plus, Spain was novel. I was the only one of us who had ever been there, and that was in another century. Thirty-eight years ago, to be horrifyingly precise. As the memories flooded back, it struck me that my Spanish sojourn had been in exactly the same time period — from just before Christmas until just after New Year’s — that we were now contemplating. They were good memories: brisk nights mellowed by wood fires in cozy bars, which, deep in the off-season, were filled with locals rather than with tourists. I remembered sun-warmed days wandering along grand boulevards lined with date palms. Not a reindeer in sight.
Spain it was.
Help me, Ronda
Since we all knew some Spanish and Sam could gabble like a native, we were emboldened to think off the tourist track. Finding a villa to rent, away from the main attractions, would save a fortune over multiple hotel rooms in a big city — a significant consideration considering that it ain’t 1973 anymore. Airfare alone for the four of us was $4,000 — and those were the cheap seats. The euro, though not peaking, was still beefing up the cost of everything from taxis to tapas.