As it is that special time of year, I thought it would be interesting to find out about how the Spanish celebrate the Christmas season. What similarities are there? What’s different?
December 22nd – El Dia del Gordo (The Day of the Fat One)
In Spain, Christmas begins on December 22. The Spanish celebrate the Christmas Lottery draw which is called ‘El Gordo’. It is a long standing tradition in Spain & people have the hope of winning many millions.
The tickets are quite expensive, so often syndicates club together to buy tickets such as work colleagues & sometimes whole villages (this year there was a news article regarding a poor regional village which had won a large amount).
They listen to the children singing the winning numbers, which can take up to 3 hours for them to draw. Radio and television transmit the draw live from Madrid.
December 24th – La Nochebuena (Christmas Eve)
On December 24, the Spanish prepare a special dinner for the whole family. This apparently varies from region to region, but is often seafood or a special kind of lamb (better not to ask). They drink cava or cider and eat typical Christmas sweets like Turron (nougat).
Here are some typical Christmas feast recipes.
Then families sing carols and go to the ‘Miso del Gallo’ (mass) at midnight.
All businesses appear to close either after lunch or mid afternoon, to start the family celebrations. So as a Brit, do not expect to be able to go out for a meal on Christmas Eve as we often do back in the UK (unless is it is in a more touristy area).
There is another great meal. Spaniards spend the day with their family. In some houses they exchange gifts (as recognising Santa Claus is becoming more popular now). However, this is not traditional & many families sill wait for the ‘Three Kings’ in January.
December 28th – El Dia de Los Santos Inocentes (The day of the Holy Innocents)
I guess the most similar thing we have in the UK, is April Fool’s Day. December 28 is the official day of jokes. The custom is to send some jokes to friends or family. Newspapers publish absurd news or amazing stories and on the TV there is the same.
December 31st La Nochevieja (New Year’s Eve)
The Spanish celebrate the end of the year with family or friends. They all get together and at midnight a grape is eaten on each chime of midnight. This is followed by a glass of cava or cider.
Similar to the UK’s Trafalgar Square & The Embankment firework celebrations in London, the main New Year’s celebration takes place in Puerto del Sol in Madrid & is televised across the country.
Apparently another tradition for New Year’s Eve, is to wear red underwear. The shops in Murcia were full of ‘saucy’ underwear for both men & women!
Celebrations go on throughout the night.
January 5th- 6th – El Dia de Los Reyes Magos (the day of the Three Kings)
This is the traditional night/day to give presents. On the night of January 5 & morning of 6, children receive gifts from the Magi (Kings). They leave their shoes in a visible place in the house.
If they have behaved well, they will receive the toys that they have asked for, if they have not behaved well, they will receive fresh coal. Apparently this has become a confectionery item now which you will often see in cake shops (from what I can gather is caramelised sugar).
On this day a special cake is eaten called Roscón de Reyes, a cake with small presents inside. I believe that this includes a toy king, a present & a piece of coal (the person who receives this is supposed to pay for the cake).
In most large towns, parades commence on the night of Jan 5th where the 3 Kings come & handout gifts to children in the main square.
Another big tradition here in Spain, are the amazing ‘Belenes’ (nativity scenes).
A group of friends and I set off for Murcia, which is famous in this region for the ‘Ruta de Belenes’ which are a series of ‘nativity scenes’ in churches and public buildings including (real life depictions). Apparently the various groups set up a competition to see who can outshine the others.
Let me start by saying these are not the nativity scenes we are familiar with in our local church, but representations of whole city of Bethlehem, the bible story, the people & businesses and truly amazing, whether you are religious or not!
Lastly, I found out about a tradition of El Caganer (The Crappper) which is a figure placed in the scene (doing literally what it says!). We however, could not find him!