Christmas in Spain is not the usual commercial affair that one observes in most western countries. It is more religious and spiritual. Of course the cities are brightly lit and decorated but it only starts in the first week of December. Similarly, the use of Christmas trees is limited to homes, where people decorate them with their families.
The Spanish decorate their homes with these tiny nativity scenes which clearly show the life in the village where Jesus was born. These are called Belénes and always depict Baby Jesus, Mother Mary, Joseph, and The Three Kings who bought gifts for Baby Jesus.
This is the public holiday of Immaculada or the Feast of Immaculate Conception, particularly in Seville and the areas around it. The Immaculada which is held on the 8th of December every year, marks the official start of the Christmas festival and its religious celebrations.
This tradition of Hoguera (bonfire) originated long before Christmas itself.
This is when the shortest day of the year or the winter solstice is observed. It is the official start the winter season. To protect themselves from illness, people follow an old tradition and jump over fires.
This fire jumping can be seen primarily in Granada and Jaen. It is celebrated on the 21st December.
On 22nd December, nobody in Spain is ever too far from a television set or a radio set as this is the day when the annual Christmas lottery is drawn over a period of many hours. Everybody buys a ticket in the hopes of winning El Gordo (the big one). Besides the grand prize, there are thousands of smaller prizes distributed throughout Spain.
Christmas Eve is called Noche Buena (good night) in Spanish and is the most important family gathering of the year.
People usually meet for a quick drink with friends in the evenings before heading home to their families and the grand Christmas meal. Most bars and restaurants close in the evening.
The typical Spanish Christmas meal would consist of some prawn starters followed by a roast lamb and concluded with the turrón, this is a toasted sweet almond nougat. Polvorones too is a very popular Spanish Christmas sweet; it too is made out of almond along with flour and sugar. For the Christmas toast Cava Catalan Champagne is generally used and plenty of Spanish wines are consumed during the course of the meal.
Christmas Day is another public holiday in Spain but it is not a day for much festivities. Instead it is spent relaxing, getting over Christmas Eve. Usually, on Christmas Day, there is another heavy meal at lunchtime followed by siesta. More and more people are opting to eat out in restaurants each year.
Santos Inocentos, or Holy Innocents day, is the equivalent of April Fool’s Day. It is celebrated on 28th December and usually involves people playing practical jokes on one another.
Generally the Spanish national media runs a couple of nonsense stories in their broadcasts on this day. Youngsters light bonfires in some villages while one of them pretends to be Mayor. He moves around ordering the townspeople to do such civic tasks like sweeping the streets. Refusal to follow his orders result in fines which fund the celebration.
New Year’s Eve (Noche Vieja)
New Year's Eve in Spain is known as Noche Vieja. The entire country celebrates and street parties are very popular along with the usual parties in clubs and hotels. It is custom to stay at home till midnight and at midnight people eat twelve grapes, one at each stroke of the clock. This is supposed to bring good luck in the New Year.
In Madrid and other main cities revelers congregate in the main square (Puerta del Sol in Madrid) and eat the grapes along with a celebratory bottle of cava then head out into the night until after sunrise.
The Three kings are believed to have arrived on this day to Bethlehem and it is therefore the feast of Epiphany.
It is celebrated on 6th January. For Spanish children this is the most important day of the year when they wake up to find that Los Reyes Magos (the Three Kings) have left gifts for them in their house. Santa Claus may leave them a token gift on 25th but the Three Kings are their favorites, especially Baltasar who rides a donkey and is the one believed to leave the gifts.
These three kings continue their good work on this day and are seem distributing gifts to children in hospitals all over the country.
Christmas in Spain always has an element of religion around it. All the major festivities are religious in Nature. However like everywhere else in the world, there is a lot of laughter, food and marry making and the Spanish know how to enjoy every minute of it. Plan a special vacation to Spain this Christmas and watch the joys unfold.