Christmas Traditions in Spain
Friday December 17, 2021 | Spanish Culture | Posted by studyspanishinspain
Are you ready for a stunning Christmas in Spain? Whether you are a traveller, an expat, a Spanish student learning Spanish in Spain, or you are on holiday in Spain, you are curious to know how the Spaniards celebrate Christmas and if they have typical Spanish Christmas traditions. Well, the answer is yes to both questions. If you are so lucky to be in Spain learning Spanish during this time of the year, you will celebrate Christmas big.
Christmas in Spain
Christmas in Spain is much more than December 24 or 25th. When the Spaniards talk about Christmas they mean the whole period between the 24th and January 6, when the Christmas days end. And if you have a look at our Christmas Calendar below here, you will see it starts already during the first week of December.
Christmas in Spain mixes religious with pagan traditions. December 24 is called Christmas Eve or Noche Buena; after dinner (Cena de Navidad), many people go to Midnight Mass at midnight. December 25 is Christmas day, like in many other countries, related to the birth of the Child Jesus according to Catholic tradition. On December 31, New Year’s Eve is celebrated, the farewell to the year ending and the welcome of the year to come. But the festivities in Spain do not end here but on January 6, the day of The Three Kings or wise man.
Christmas Calendar in Spain
When the famous “Puente de Diciembre” (the short holiday period during the first week of December, around the feast of the Immaculate Conception and the Constitution) arrives, most people in Spain take the opportunity to decorate the Christmas tree as a family. Under the tree, many put a nativity scene: a representation of the birth of Jesus with porcelain figures.
From Barcelona to Valencia, passing through Seville and Madrid, you can now feel the Christmas spirit. The streets of Spain, buildings and monuments are covered with allusive figures (pine trees, stars and reindeer) and are adorned with white or multi-colored lights.
Although the official date is the 24th, all Spaniards know that Christmas arrives on December 22. Since 1812, Spaniards have been looking forward to December 22, the day of the Christmas Lottery draw, known as El Gordo, referring to the size of the jackpot, which amounted to 4 million euros in 2020.
This is the main day of the National Christmas Lottery, an essential day in Spain. During the year, people have been buying lottery tickets and waiting for the children to sing the numbers and the prizes to say theirs with a large amount of money. For many, this event represents the beginning of the Christmas holidays.
On December 24, people celebrate Christmas Eve; this is generally a family celebration. All the members of the same family gather that night around a copious Christmas dinner, full of meats, wines and foods that are not eaten during the rest of the year and with a large number of sweets for dessert.
The night does not end after dinner; the Mass of the Rooster or la Misa del Gallo is held after dinner to celebrate the birth of the Son of God. Spain knows many traditional Christmas carols with tambourines, and guitars.
December 24 is also the night that Santa Claus brings gifts to all those who have been good. In San Sebastián, in the Basque Country, the Olentzero leaves the toys, and in Catalonia (Barcelona) and Aragon, it is the Tió de Nadal.
Despite the copious Christmas Eve dinner the day before, the family reunites again for dinner on Christmas Day, but not like the night before. Especially in families with small children, this day is used to share the gifts that Santa Claus has left in each house. The streets are filled with children testing their skates or new bikes and radio-controlled cars.
From Christmas to the end of the year, there is still time for more parties: on December 28, Spain celebrates the day of the Santos Inocentes (the Holy Innocents). This is another Catholic tradition that has been adapted to the society of our times. Currently, that day is used in Spain to play little jokes with “innocent people”. Whatever you hear and see on December 28 is probably not true, and someone is kidding you. Therefore, it is also called “the day of jokes”. On the Christmas market in the Plaza Mayor of Madrid, there is a part dedicated to joking objects for the day of the Holy Innocents, like the typical big paper dolls.
While Christmas Eve is mainly a family party, New Year’s Eve is to celebrate with friends. After having dinner and having a good time, the whole country prepares for the New Year just before the clock strikes midnight. First, people gather in the squares or houses to eat the “12 grapes of luck” (1 grape for every month of the year): the grapes are eaten during the last 12 seconds of the year. The official national countdown broadcasted on TV always takes place in Madrid, at the Puerta del Sol.
Once the clock strikes midnight, the New Year begins, and people come out to celebrate it in style. For this reason, for many, January 1 is a day to sleep late and recover from the long night before. But Christmas continues for several more days.
January 5 is an exciting day for Spanish kids. Throughout the afternoon, in each city, you can see the large floats of the parades with musicians, artists or people in disguise. The most important participants are the Three Wise Men or the Three Kings, who greet all the children of the city.
After the parade, the families return home so that the children have dinner early and can leave their freshly cleaned shoes in the living room. Only in this way, during the early morning, the Three Wise Men will be able to arrive at the house and know where to leave the gifts of each of the family members.
In the morning of January 6, all the children get up early to see their gifts. For the Spanish kids, this is the most important day of Christmas! The only bad thing about the afternoon of January 6 is that the children already know that the holidays are over and that school will start again.
Popular Christmas dishes in Spain
Roasted meat and fish are the typical dishes of the Christmas kitchen in Spain, with roasted lamb and suckling pig being two of the options that are most widely lavished on Christmas tables throughout the country. The most popular is the suckling lamb or roast lamb, one of the star dishes of Spanish cuisine.
Other families prefer the internationally well- known Christmas dish: turkey – stuffed with raisins and almonds. Baked potatoes and various sauces will accompany the meat. The starter can be made up of seafood, such as prawns and prawns.
> Read more about Spanish Cuisine: The best Spanish Tapas
Spanish Christmas Ornaments & Nativity Scenes
Christmas in Spain is full of traditions, almost all deeply rooted, which are passed down from generation to generation. As a result, Christmas in Spain is one of the most typical in Europe. All cities adorn their streets with special lighting designed with typical Christmas motifs, although more and more you see modern Christmas lights designed by fashion designers, there are even those sponsored by certain brands.
In Madrid, you can see the lights on foot, by car, or on the Navibus, to suit everyone, but it is already a traditional activity at Spanish Christmas.
Belen or Nativity Scene
The Christmas nativity scene represents the birth of the Child Jesus in the small town of Bethlehem, and all the families put theirs. There are elementary ones with the primary characters (the Child, Saint Joseph, the Virgin Mary, the ox and the mule). But there are also massive ones, full of strange characters and very complete and therefore diverse.
In the traditional nativity scenes installed to be visited by the public, we usually find the usual figurines and settings: the shepherds, the Magi, the angels announcing the good news to all the inhabitants of Bethlehem. However, in Spain, the nativity scene tradition has produced fantastic artistic nativity scenes (like the famous Coca nativity scene) you can visit throughout the Christmas season and even Neapolitan nativity scenes.
Spanish Christmas Sweets and desserts
Turrón and mazapán
At Christmas, a good host mum or dad, always has a good tray full of Christmas nougats and sweets. If you are in Madrid, go and buy them in a traditional store with an excellent reputation, like Casa Mira, in Madrid.
As for desserts, you cannot miss the famous Jijona nougat, a pasta cooked with honey and seasoned with nuts; marzipan, a sugar cake with almonds shaped into figures like bells, fish, snails and more.
The Sevillian polvorones, made with sugar and butter, are eaten as a dessert for the main Christmas meals and dinners, and they offer it to you in any house you go to on those dates, whatever the time of day. Polvorón is a small cake of flour, sugar, almonds and butter whose main characteristic is the ease with which it melts in the mouth when eaten and with the mild flavour: A real delight for children and adults. The most famous ones come from Estepa, in the province of Seville, from Fondón, in Almería, or San Lúcar de Barrameda in Cádiz.
Roscón de Reyes
Another typical Spanish sweet of the Epiphany is the Roscón de Reyes: a kind of cake in the shape of a crown, decorated with dried fruits as precious stones. After the parade on January 6th, the Spaniards love to eat Roscón de Reyes. It can also be filled with cream, truffle, angel hair or any cream. But there is more: hidden inside a Roscó, there is a surprise (a small figurine). The tradition goes that whoever finds it will have to pay for the roscón.
In Madrid, for example, there is only surprise in every Roscón, but in other areas of Spain, such as Valencia, there is a tradition of hiding two elements: the figurine and a bean. According to the tradition, whoever finds the figure must be crowned king, and whoever finds the bean must pay for the roscón.
What to do during Christmas in Spain
If you are in Spain doing a Spanish language course, you must enjoy all the Spanish traditions. No doubt that the Spanish school staff, the teachers, and the host mums have given you great tips on where to go during Christmas in Spain. Here are five tips on what to do in Spain during Christmas:
# 1 Visit a Christmas Market
The Christmas market in the Plaza Mayor is the most typical of Madrid. Still, in almost all cities, there are Christmas markets full of stands to buy Christmas gifts, souvenirs figurines to mount the nativity scene, Christmas trees and decorations and joke items.
In Barcelona, for example, you can visit the Fira de Santa Llúcia along Avinguda de la Catedral in the Gothic district (until December 23, Saint Lucia’s day). Another famous Christmas market in Barcelona since 1962 is the Fira de Nadal, located in the gardens of the Sagrada Família.
A nice Christmas market in northern Spain is in Santiago de Compostela – the capital of Galicia – and a famous pilgrimage site. Visitors taking a walk will tread the cobbled streets and see magnificent architecture in the form of monasteries, churches, and palaces. Also, Valencia has a lovely Christmas Fair, and in Granada, a large Christmas market is set up in the centre of the city with fascinating peculiarities.
The students of the Spanish School in Seville loved the annual Feria del Belen, a cherished market dedicated to intricately designed belén figurines, mostly made of wood. This lively cultural market takes over Avenida de la Constitución in Sevilla from the end of November, with over 30 stalls where you can buy fun Christmas presents.
# 2 Learn a typical “villancicos” con zambomba y pandereta
Christmas songs exist in many countries, but in Spain, the vocal singing the Christmas carols is accompanied by two specific instruments: the tambourine and the zambomba, the latter already in minimal use because making it sound is not entirely easy. A zambomba is a drum-like instrument that has a stick inserted through the skin; you have to move the stick up and down, creating the rhythm.
It is also a tradition in many rural areas of Spain that kids have to sing a Christmas carol so that the older ones give them a Christmas bonus: a small gift, a few coins.
# 3 Eat Chocolate con churros
You don’t need much justification to eat chocolate with churros in Spain, especially in winter. You can eat and buy them everywhere! In many big cities, you can go to one of the typical “churrerías” (places to have chocolate with churros) like in Madrid, and, in Barcelona,La Churre del Poble Sec. A famous churreria in Málaga is Tejeringos.
However, on New Year’s morning, this is almost an obligation, since the tradition is deeply ingrained, especially in those who spend the night partying (or spent it, before the coronavirus) and in the morning, before returning home, they go through one of those typical ‘churrerías’ to start the year off right.
Reason to Learn Spanish in Spain
Things maybe a little different this year due to the corona pandemic. But the Christmas Spirit in Spain won’t change. Some of the traditions will have to be adapted, but no doubts the Spaniards will have another unforgettable Christmas.