It’s a bird! It’s a plane! No! It’s a Zambomba!

Madeline S. is currently a junior at SYA Spain and a Campus Storytelller. She comes to SYA from St. Paul's School.

This winter, I spent my first Christmas away from home. Instead, I spent it in Navalmoral with my host family. I couldn’t think of a better way to spend the holidays. Not only did I get much closer to my host family, but I was also given the opportunity to learn about another part of Spanish culture.

The day after school break started, my host family and I traveled to Navalmoral, a small town in the Extremadura region. Navalmoral is where my host father's mother and many of his sisters live. It is a small town, incredibly walkable with a bustling Main Street covered in Christmas lights. As it turns out, Christmas is celebrated a bit differently. The night before Christmas, I got to meet all of my host father's family. While others bustled around the kitchen, I sat talking with my host family. There is a tradition of eating seafood on Christmas Eve night. The table was filled with platters of shrimp and fish. Salads overflowing their decorative plates, cheeses, meatsand drinks were passed around the table. Despite the chaos of nearly twenty people sitting in a living room intended for a quarter of that number, I felt at peace. The people surrounding me were kind and generous, willing to help me understand and learn. When dinner finished, dessert was brought out. Spanish almond treats and marzipan which were bought from an earlier day trip to Cáceres. When the dishes were put away, coffee was brought out and so commenced a spirited game of Telephone. I will be the first to admit that I am not good at telephone, and suffice it to say that any Spanish I had learned disappeared when I tried to decipher the whispered words which ran quickly through one ear and out the other. Nevertheless, it was incredibly fun and highly amusing for everyone well aware of who was unknowingly changing the meaning of the words every time they came around (me). I did not end up going to bed until nearly three in the morning!

SYA Spain high school student Maddy stands in front of a fountain and a Church with someone.

Christmas is not a day for gifts, unlike in the states. There was another family gathering to have lunch. Just as splendid as the night before, our feast was magnificent. Now, this is where I learn what a Zambomba is. It’s an instrument that consists of the skin of an animal stretched over a container. It makes a similar sound to a frog. It is a highly traditional and fascinating instrument unlike any I have heard before. The husband of my youngest host aunt brought it along and as he began to play, my host family began to sing along. They sang song after song together, all seeming to know every word. My host aunts danced together in the kitchen clapping along to the hollow thump of the zambomba. It was clear that every year they came together to celebrate like this. To me, one of the most important aspects of the Christmas holidays is family. And family; I received. Even so far from the states and my parents and sister, I felt at home. I felt like I was being let into this little world of my host family. To see them dancing together in the kitchen and singing to words they all knew, was a precious moment.

I highly recommend to future students the chance to have an experience like mine. Even after Christmas, I learned about the Spanish traditions of New Year's; twelve grapes at midnight, one for every gong of the bell, gift-giving, and parties on Día de Los Reyes. I saw parades and festivities, and I walked under sparkling Christmas lights with my friends and family. I had a winter holiday unlike any I have experienced before and I will never forget the memories I made in the cold winter winds of Spain this holiday season.

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