Christmas Celebrations in Spain

Spanish people like to have a good time, they love their food and drink but more so they cherish their traditions and Christmas time is a good example of that.

The first important date that marks the beginning of Christmas is the 22nd December when the big lottery prizes are played. Amomg these the most important one is el Gordo de Navidad (literally translated as Christmas Fat One) which is the equivalent to the jackpot.

Christmas Eve is one of the most important nights at Christmas. This is called Nochebuena (the Good Night) and families get together to eat, drink and have a good time. The menu can be varied but traditionally people have seafood or some kind of roast meat, pavo en pepitoria being among the most popular. It is also traditional to attend midnight mass which is la Misa del Gallo.

Christmas Day is also important and the members of the family get together to spend the day. It is very usual to spend Nochebuena with some members of your family and el Día de Navidad with the other side of the family, for example with the in-laws, so everybody has a chance to spend time with as many members of the family as possible.

The 28th December is called el Día de los Inocentes and it’s the equivalent to the British April Fool’s Day when it is common to play practical jokes on people and hear ridiculous stories on TV or read them on the papers.

New Year’s Eve (Nochevieja, literally translated as Old Night) is full of fun, confetti, matasuegras and the rest of it. However, there is a tradition in Spain which doesn’t exist in other countries. At midnight, at the same time as the clock strikes the 12 chimes, the Spaniards eat 12 grapes, one for each chime, and this is supposed to bring good luck if you manage to eat the grapes on time, which is not always easy and this is why many people, including me, prefer to peel them beforehand. The tradition comes from the farmers, who predicted good harvests for the coming year if the 12 grapes were eaten on time.

El Día de Año Nuevo, New Year’s Day is spent as in most other countries: sleeping, staying at home and getting over the hangover of the previous night.

And then we have the magical night, this is the night from the 5th to the 6th of January, la Noche de Reyes, which is the night when the three kings or the Three Wise Men bring the presents to everybody and this is represented in the Cabalgata de los Reyes Magos, translated as the Three Magician Kings Parade. This leads to the Día de Reyes, the 6th January, when the children discover the presents brought to them during the night and people go usually from house to house of members of the family to offer and receive presents.

On this day we eat the famous Roscón de Reyes, a kind of giant doughnut, either soft or hard, with a hole in the middle and containing little presents inside which are supposed to give good luck to the person who gets them in their piece.

During the whole Christmas period the traditional sweets are basically the turrón in its many varieties. Originally there were only two: el blando y el duro, the soft and the hard. The former is turrón de Jijona (its place of origin) and the latter is turrón de almendra (almonds). Nowadays there are many more varieties, including turrón de nata y nueces (cream and nuts), de chocolate, de crema tostada (a kind of hard custard), de chocolate con almendras and many others.

Apart from turrón we have a huge variety of other sweets like mazapán, polvorones (made like powder and needing a glass of water to be able to eat them without choking), mantecados and many more.

If we move from the topic of food and drink to the topic of traditional Christmas decorations in Spain we find the popular Arbol de Navidad (Christmas Tree) but also the Nacimiento o Belén which is a Nativity Scene displayed in many houses and also in most churches and market squares throughout the country.

So all in all, lots of common traditions with the United Kingdom for example but also some others which have a very intrinsic Spanish flavour.