The Santa of my childhood wears Bermuda shorts, so when the mercury drops, I head south. This year, my husband suggested we fly to Málaga, Spain. His intention was simple; to see the famous Christmas lights. But, the city dazzled us with more than just its sparkling holiday decorations.
We felt at home the moment we arrived.
Maybe it’s because we rented a Spanish apartemento, a full-service lodging with an equipped kitchen and stocked bathroom. With a setup like that, one can truly live like a local.
But there was something more: The wrought iron balconies, palm trees and happy-go-lucky tourists crowding the streets are mirror images of my birthplace, New Orleans.
The ultimate fashion runway
Jazz is replaced with the seductive rhythm of Andalusian guitar played impromptu by Boqueróns in the streets. (Boqueróns means “sardines” in Spanish, the nickname for citizens of Málaga.) Balmy evenings encourage al fresco cafés where tapas are served cenar al aire libre. But the thing to do in Málaga this time of year is to watch the best light show in all of Spain.
Málaga illuminates 2.2 million LEDs throughout the holiday season. All the action takes place on Calle Marques de Larios. It reminds me of a fashion runway and the street actually plays a central role in Spain’s garment industry during Málaga’s fashion week.
Apparently, regular folks have picked up on the trend. By day, fashionistas strut their stuff in daisy duke shorts and cowboy boots. When night falls and temps drop to 50-degrees Fahrenheit, miniskirts and fur coats steal the show. Their owners relish the golden holiday lights: Arms outreached and smiles fixed, instagramming selfies against a strobing backdrop.
But the most appreciated attire, in my opinion, is worn by Málaga police officers, their uniforms, an omnipresent force strolling through the crowd.
The port is anchored to the sea at the base of the city, and each day we go to watch ships cast off into the Mediterranean. Just across the street, you’ll find miles of notable beaches. They flank the port and are enjoyed year round. I don my swimwear and settle into the still warm sand of Playa Malagueta. The holiday lights twinkle behind me as recordings of Nora Jones lilt through the air: “Have yourself a merry little Christmas, let your heart be light.”
The stars come out as we join locals on balcony restaurants to admire the luxury yachts bobbing in the bay. Diners sit near gas-lit fires dipping crispy churros into hot chocolate. Like New Orleans bignets and café au lait, churros and chocolate are a decadent breakfast or late-night treat.
The music continues, “…all our troubles will be out of sight.”
We peruse the white Christmas stalls selling holiday gifts on our stroll toward the palm-laden Malaga park. Polar bear decorations advertise candy-cane festooned sunglasses. Yes, this city is very much like NOLA. But, Málaga is bigger, with twice the population (570,000) and is 2,000 years older.
We reach the ancient Roman theater, the stones of which were used to construct the Alcazaba palace glowing golden just above our heads. We take the opportunity to wind our way through the serpentine restaurant of Bodegas el Pimpi. which is not unlike eateries on NOLAs Frenchmen Street.
From there, it’s a direct shot back to C. Larios and Plaza de la Constitucion where an enormous Christmas tree cone glows like a beacon drawing revelers from the port to the city center. Fairy lights beam a friendly greeting from a wrought-iron balcony: “Hola, Feliz Navidad” replacing in my mind the New Orleans slogan, “Merry Christmas, Y’all.”
A bystander joyfully agrees to take our photo. Like Cajuns in NOLA, the local Málaga “Boqueróns” are true fans of their own city. I share Hans Christian Anderson’s sentiment: “In none of the Spanish towns have I been so happy, so entirely at home, as here in Málaga.”
If you go:
Málagas holiday illumination show begins the end of November and lasts until the New Year. Lights go on at 6:30 p.m. and shut off at midnight each evening. On weekends, they stay on until 2 a.m.
The town puts on three shows every evening at 6:30 p.m., 8 p.m., and 10 p.m. in the street of Calle Larios (except on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve).
For more details, check out this guide to Christmas in Málaga.
Read more about Spain here in Dispatches’ archives.
Alice Verberne is a contributing writer for Dispatches Europe. She has worked in print journalism and magazine production in the United States and Europe throughout her career. She currently resides in France where she enjoys visiting former French speaking colonies and discussing history with the locals.