‘Christmas is a time to spend with the family’, you often hear it said. Quite true, it is a period to get together with your closest loved ones as well as many members of your extended family, who have travelled over from abroad to enjoy the Christmas period all together, with many staying for the whole event running into the new year celebrations. I met a lady who told me around 40 members of her family used to gather in her mother’s small flat to enjoy an incredible feast, with her mum not allowing anyone in the kitchen to help prepare the food. She said having everyone coming home was enough, and she was happy! That’s the spirit of Christmas, and that spirit continues today in many households. But life on the Rock (as in many other places) is changing, and these days Gibraltar’s population is much more cosmopolitan. Our city is packed with newcomers from many countries, workers from abroad either living here or residing in La Linea and crossing over to work in Gib. Many have arrived on their own whilst others have made the journey with a friend or partner, distancing themselves from home and families living many miles away. Christmas arrives, and how do they spend the yuletide celebration? Are they lonely not being amongst their families? Even on the Rock, as close-knit as we are, there are those who find themselves alone for whatever reason with not much to do at this time, so how do they manage during this period of celebration and, in particular, on Christmas Day?
Living on Main Street and frequenting our busy pedestrian thoroughfare as often as I do, I see and meet lots of individuals in cafes or strolling leisurely up and down the street. I’ve become quite friendly with foreign, bar and restaurant staff whose families are afar, also noticing a number of locals who, year in year out, seem to spend a lot of time on their own. Tito is one such individual who tends to shy away from the idea of, `coming home for Christmas.’ Whilst his siblings invite him home, those invitations are turned down due to his ear problem which means he can’t stand noise, loud music, chatter or laughter. “I tend to stay at home on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day which makes me feel very lonely, and New Year’s Eve is a nightmare with all the loud banging and fireworks explosions, it’s not a happy time for me.” James and Mercy I’ve known for many years living in the upper town during our much younger days. Mercy was one of my sister’s friends and now, she and James go for their daily saunter the length of Main Street – I never see them with anyone else. They are just friends and live on their own, so that led me to assume they might be lonely also during this time, but to my surprise they do have a good Christmas with their respective families. Vicente is a well known personality locally, a dancer and leader of the Flamenco group `Los Salineros.’ He lives alone and said he felt lonely in the past, but not now he’s retired and has hung up his dancing shoes. He spends more time with family and with his nieces and nephews at Christmas. And those from faraway places, are they missing out? I popped into Jury’s to find out. Zane is Latvian but met Mikey, who’s Anglo/American and said they celebrate the event with a mix of both countries’ traditions along with Mikey’s parents. Peter, who’s a young Hungarian, informs me his girlfriend’s sister organises everything and gets together with a Latvian amongst other friends for some festive fun. Attila, also Hungarian, joins some Spanish friends and skypes home on `the day’ and says they have a ball. Federico is Italian and he too gets together with friends during this time when not working on Christmas Day. They tend to open Christmas gifts on Christmas Eve and not wait for the `Big Day’ like most of us do. The Baltic and Eastern Europeans don’t seem to make much of the 6th January, `Epiphany’ celebration either, which for us – in many households – is another occasion for giving presents. Federico tells me, “I’m going to miss our tradition in Genoa on the 6th of January; it’s called `La Begana’ when an older lady comes round to offer chocolates and a type of leaf or fern. If she’s made aware you’ve not been good during the year she will give you a piece of chalk or coal. But it’s all in good fun!” The other guy that caught my attention is Stefan, who plays his classical pieces on his keyboard accompanied only by his dog on Main Street. He told me he’s fine at Christmas and doesn’t feel lonely and sometimes gets invited for Christmas lunch to a Gibraltarian family home, so he’s well looked after!
So despite my misplaced perceptions most seem to find ways of enjoying Christmas. Most mornings you will see Tommy sitting on a bench on his own at the northern end of Main Street. He lost his mum a couple of years ago and lives alone… “I go to my niece or spend time with friends and I don’t get sad. I spent many years in the army and don’t have a problem talking to people.” There is another guy you might consider to be a loner, but who describes himself as `an individualist’. Gibraltarian Alfred says, “No, I don’t celebrate or believe in Christmas! I’m not a loner, I’m not lonely and don’t indulge in self pity. I love my food, living alone and going out on my victory walks accompanied by my only real friend – my maker!”
Romanian Darius who can be found at The Star Bar considers himself a ‘Scrooge’ and stays in his flat on his own on Christmas Day. His friend Jonathan, who is an Englishman living in Tangier and pops over to Gib quite often, tells me he’s tired of spending Christmas in the Moroccan city and plans to fly out to London, stay in a hotel and have Christmas lunch at a top restaurant in Piccadilly. We have South Africans with us too. Julie-anne is on the Rock with her four young daughters and her parents and tells me they’ll have a good time. “In South Africa it’ll be summer now. We don’t have Christmas lights in the streets during this time but we do put up a Christmas tree at home.” Even our priests don’t miss out, Father Stuart once told me, “We are not party poopers you know, there’s nothing wrong with the fun side of Christmas, having a party and enjoying yourself.”
Hence, in one way or another whether local or from abroad, most find a way to indulge in the merriment at this time of the year when, `Christmas is for all to enjoy!’.