CHRISTMAS IN SPAIN (B1+)
Christmas in Spain
Unlike many other places in Europe, Christmas lights do not go up in Spain until December. Every town and city will decorate the streets. Christmas markets also begin to appear. Christmas trees are on sale everywhere and gypsies begin to sell Christmas trees in the streets.
The first major sign of Christmas is the state-run lottery which is drawn on December 22nd. The ‘El Gordo’ (the Fat One) is one of the largest lotteries in the world and thousands of people win each year.
In general, Christmas in Spain is based more on a religious theme than in many other places. Churches are packed to capacity, day and night.
For most Spaniards, there are three main stages to Christmas, starting with Christmas Eve (Nochebuena) which is very much a family affair. The evening may start at home but often ends up with a party in a hotel, club or disco with friends and family. It is likely that every generation of the family is represented.
The family Christmas Eve meal is one of the most important meals of the year for a Spanish family and the housewife will be busy preparing the traditional fare.
Seafood is high on the list for the meal and prices tend to go through the roof at this time of year. First on the menu is likely to be plates of cold shellfish and cold cuts of meat. This may be followed by soup then baked besugo (Bream) with potatoes followed by roast lamb or suckling pig. Game is another option although turkey is becoming popular. The meal will be complemented with Cava, Spain’s excellent sparkling wine. At the same time, trays of Christmas cakes and sweets will be served. The important sweets are turrón and marzipan. Turrón is a nougat made of toasted sweet almonds and has been made in Spain for over five centuries.
After the meal the adults will then exchange presents. The children will usually only receive a small gift. At midnight, some people will go to the Midnight Mass at the church. Others may stay at home and open a bottle of champagne to celebrate the birth of Christ. Some children go Carol singing and the youngsters may go to bed whilst the adults go out and party until dawn.
Every town and most churches will have a ‘belen’ which is a nativity display. Some of them are very impressive and can cover massive areas. Some are animated and illuminated and draw huge crowds.
Christmas Day is a fiesta day so all banks and shops are closed, probably to recover from the night before. Christmas Day in Spain is one of the quietest of the year. Anyone wanting to eat out on this special day will have to book well in advance.
The Three Kings arrive in Malaga Port (one of the largest parades in Spain)
The next important day is the 6th January or Three Kings Day (Los Reyes). This is the day that the Three Kings arrived in Bethlehem, it is also the most important day for the children as the Three Kings in effect replace Father Christmas for Spanish children (although Santa is becoming popular). They arrive overnight on the 5th January, riding horses and leave presents for the children. Parents encourage children to write to the Three Kings with their gift requests.
Every town and city in Spain will have a procession on the night of 5th January where tons of sweets will be thrown from the passing floats, much to the joy of the children (and adults). We visited Malaga this year to watch the Three Kings arrive by boat. They were then part of a procession of hundreds of decorated floats that weaved their way through the city, well into the night. Most of Malaga turned out to watch them. The whole event is covered live on the local television. The atmosphere is electric. Through all our travels of Spain, we have yet to see a fiesta with such enthusiasm. On the morning of the 6th January you can only imagine the excitement of the children as they rip open their gifts.
Spain has many of its own unique traditions, all of which are great fun.
On the 5th January (Los Reyes Day), a special cake is made and sold all over Spain. Rosca de Reyes (pic below), is a ring-shaped pastry (tasting similar to hot-cross-bun mixture), covered in sugar and fruit flavoured jellies. On biting, beware, the cake will contain plastic toys as presents. anyone lucky enough to find one of the hidden charms will be blessed with good luck for the new year.
New Year’s Eve is big in Spain and on New Year’s Eve it is the tradition to wear red underwear but they have to be bought for you by someone else. Most towns organise street parties with entertainment and firework displays that last all night. Most bars and restaurants are open for private parties only. There will be music and dancing and the wearing of the usual party outfits. At the stroke of midnight it is tradition to eat 12 grapes – one on each stroke of the clock to bring good luck for the new year. The grapes are a late variety from Vinalopó near Alicante.