Neerja en España #10: The Longest Winter Break

Originally written January 2020

I was so happy to go home for the holidays, even though I had to experience a taste of Minnesota winter. It was incredible to be with my family and see friends back home, as always, but it felt especially comforting to have the familiarity and ease of being around the people I’ve grown up with who speak English the same way I do. One of the biggest highlights was food - as a vegetarian, traditional Spanish cuisine is not the best for me, and Spain also lacks good Asian food, so I relished in going to all my favorite restaurants back home and eating my mom’s food. Another highlight was trying out a free week of hot yoga with my sister and generally getting to spend time with her. Overall, I realized that there are things in America I love and feel more comfortable with, but there were things about Spain I missed too, and I wasn’t ready to leave Spain (and I’m still not…it’s going to be a hard transition back to America). (My transition back ended up being so premature and jarring in a very different way from how I expected.) Right after New Years, I stopped in NYC for about 48 hours on the way back to meet up with some friends for a truly glorious 48 hours. I’m impressed at how much food I was able to consume in those 48 hours. We also discovered a really cool speakeasy and overall had the best time! (Rip NYC - it’s crazy that I was there so recently. Definitely happy that I enjoyed it while I could.)

Enjoying some Ethiopian food in NYC with my best friend

I went back to Spain on January 5 so that I could spend January 6, Dia de los Reyes, with my friend Cristina and her family, who live just outside of Madrid. Dia de los Reyes is the most important day of Christamas in Spain - the day where everyone opens their presents, and then eats roscon, a traditional cake. It was very cool to experience Christmas as they do. My family doesn’t do traditional Christmas gifts, so it was fun to do that with her family (they were very generous!). Her family is the sweetest and I had a lovely time despite the jet lag.

Cristina’s family’s Christmas tree
The roscon. It has a little toy baked into it

Then I went back to Zaragoza for 5 days before I was off to India for a whirlwind 6 day trip! Those few days were truly a warm, crazy fever dream. I didn’t really sleep but I did eat so much good food (I really forget how amazing Indian food in India is) and saw an insane amount of family members. My family in India consists of a few hundred people and so the majority of my trip was just me trying to remember the names of the relative I was talking to…we really need a pocket family tree.

Reunited with my favorite person after a whole week apart, and also with some of my favorite food!

There were two major highlights of the trip:

First, going to Ahmedabad, where my nana (grandfather on mom’s side) grew up and my mom frequently went as a child. We have some family there that I haven’t seen that much, so it was nice to see them. Some of them live in a house that has a backyard with trees that grow little baby guavas and real peacocks that hang out there! There was also a kite flying festival when we visited, where all the kids (and many adults) fly kites all day and night. During the day, people try to “cut” other people’s kites out of the sky (the kite strings are made with broken glass and so you can also easily cut yourself while flying a kite), and at night, people string lanterns on kites. Lots of safety/fire hazards, but still an amazing time, and very pretty.

Flying kites with my sister, dad and some uncles
The kites at night were so beautiful!

And then, the wedding, which was mostly why we were there. Indian weddings are INSANE. This wedding was only 2.5 days long, and it was the shortest Indian wedding I’ve ever heard of - it’s not unusual for most weddings to take place over 5 days or even a week. There were 4 different functions, so I of course had to wear 4 different outfits. One of my favorite parts was the baraat, where the groom’s family dances in the streets directly before the actual wedding ceremony. My dad is such a child at heart and it’s adorable - he especially enjoyed a lot of the wedding. Overall, it was fun to be surrounded by so much family, and to see my dad with all the people he grew up with!

We love a family photo!
All the wedding outfits are a lot of fun
My dad had a GREAT time at the wedding with his cousins
Maybe 1/3 of the cousins on my dad’s side (my grandmother on his side is one of 7 sisters…)
Neerja Thakkar
Neerja Thakkar
EECS PhD Student @ Berkeley
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