Días de Navidad [Three Days of Christmas] (2019)

It's been a good time for foreign Christmas miniseries, thanks to streaming platforms being desperate for content. Continuing that trend is Días de Navidad, a three-episode Spanish show chronicling the lives of four sisters across different eras and - to a degree at least - genres. That last part is an aspect I'm probably going to fumble a bit, because I have a feeling there's an entire meta-narrative I'm missing concerning Spain's recent history and popular media. More on all that in a moment - first let's dig into that premise a bit.

Actually, before we get to even that, let's start with a spoiler warning and a somewhat tentative recommendation. I liked this quite a bit, but I imagine the style and tone of this series will turn a lot of people off. This leans heavily on its drama and at times almost feels like a soap opera (albeit one with money to burn). To be honest, I'm not sure why this didn't bother me more - normally, I don't give drama this much slack, but something about this just worked for me. Maybe it was the way other genres were woven in or there was just enough whimsy to sell it. Regardless, I liked it.

The point being, if a Spanish Christmas family drama (really more dramedy, when all's said and done) sounds like something that might appeal to you, this would probably be a good time to stop reading before I start summarizing the twists and turns this takes. I don't think knowing these details would entirely ruin the experience, but they're intended to be surprising.

Set over three eventful Christmas days set years - and eventually decades - apart, the show primarily focuses on four sisters. Well, eventually four - the first episode essentially explains how the fourth, Valentina, is adopted by the family. Set soon after the Spanish Civil War, the family in question lives in a remote, picturesque house in the countryside where the vast majority of all three hour-long episodes are set.

While in the woods nearby, the three teenage girls encounter a man and his teenage daughter being chased by the police, who are led by a sadistic fascist trying to capture or kill them both. The man blackmails the sisters into hiding his daughter, promising to meet them at a nearby lake. This girl, of course, is Valentina, who's hurt and exhausted. The girls try to hide her, though virtually everything goes wrong. Eventually they're discovered by their parents and extended family, who need to decide what to do.

This was a neat sequence, in part because it didn't play out like I expected. A character who'd been introduced as a sort of a flighty girlfriend to the girls' uncle suddenly... isn't... in a way that feels nuanced and believable and conveys a great deal of information about who's actually willing to resist fascism and protect those in need (spoiler: it's the women - the young men have to be shamed into growing spines).

At any rate, they do hide Valentina, which is fortunate because that fascist officer shows up looking for her. He makes a mess of things and fires his gun through the table, thinking she's there, but she initially evades his notice. As soon as they get him away for a moment, she heads towards the lake in the hopes of finding her father. The officer, however, pursues and catches up with Valentina and the other girls, with the rest of the family just behind.

The office is about to open fire when he gets a harsh lesson on the realities of weight distribution as it pertains to thin ice. He goes through and pleads for help, but the few characters who are naïve enough to want to help are held back by the others.

They cover it up easily enough, Valentina's father never shows, and we're informed she's eventually adopted into the family.

Jump ahead ten years or so for the second episode, and the girls are all women. A couple are married, and two have kids of their own. Unfortunately, one of them with a family (Adela) is married to the son of the police officer they watched die, and he idolizes and takes after his father in some ways. He's abusive and mean, though he's nowhere near as effective or frightening. The officer in the first part was a villain - this guy is just a pathetic excuse for a human being. Another daughter, María, is hiding a same-sex relationship from her family - more on her in episode 3.

The main plotline for this episode concerns the mother, who's dying of an incurable disease. She confides in her four daughters, explaining she had an affair many years ago, and she asks them to go into town and bring her lover to their house, so she can say goodbye. The bulk of this episode's runtime is devoted to the sisters fighting amongst themselves whether to do so, as they (wrongly) believe this will devastate their father. But it turns out he knows all about it and even secretly gets the man while his daughters are still hashing out their differences.

Had I been more thorough, I'd have mentioned the first episode established the mother had some sort of a connection with Valentina that the girl didn't even know about. Well, it turns out the secret lover in question is Valentina's father, who's been secretly alive all this time, a revelation Valentina doesn't take well.

Long story short: Valentina's dad had an affair with her adoptive sisters' mother when the kids were young. She almost left her family, but ultimately stayed, Valentina's dad spent years in prison then decided she was better where she was so hid his existence for years more. 

See why I said this can feel a little like a soap opera? Honestly, I was a bit surprised this didn't reveal Valentina was somehow the other girls' biological half-sister: I kind of thought they were going there.

Regardless, Valentina takes off after this, saying she wants nothing to do with her biological father or the family that adopted her. If that seems a tad harsh, I'll add there was also the matter of her discovering another sister, Esther, had a daughter with her husband. End part two.

The conclusion picks up with the sisters grown elderly. María has learned she's dying of the same disease that killed her mom, Esther is recovering from a suicide attempt, and Adela has had it with her abusive husband, who's now senile. Esther manages to trick Valentina into coming home, and the episode is mainly about everyone confronting the secrets that have haunted the family and eventually coming together.

The plot is much more comical than the other two, and is mainly concerned with their attempts to conceal the fact Adela abandoned her husband at a bus stop after revealing the truth about his father. As dark as that sounds, it's basically played for laughs as they lie to their children and grandchildren and try to force a "nice Christmas" despite everything that's happening. They eventually succeed by being honest with one another and everything works out about as well as could be expected.

Now then, let's talk tone, because each episode feels somewhat distinct. The first episode has a tense, suspenseful feel, almost like a crime story, the second is basically a melodrama, and for all intents and purposes the third is a comedy.

And... I think this means something. I just don't know anywhere near enough about Spanish media or history to say what. I can infer that the tense first part is meant to mirror life under a fascist regime (insert comment about where US politics are likely heading here). And it's not too hard to speculate on the significance of the son of a fascist being a moron who still manages to bring pain to those around him (insert yet another comment about US politics here).

I could be reading too much into this - it's possible this was just trying to be a quirky dramedy and the tonal shifts were simply reflecting where the story went - but it really feels like there's subtext here. Even if there isn't, this is still a charming, engaging miniseries. I can't say it's one of my absolute favorites, but I enjoyed the experience. And, hey, if there's anyone out there who's seen this who can offer some insight into the context around the setting, by all means comment below.