How the Spanish celebrate Christmas
Tuesday, 30th September 2008
The Christmas season in Spain starts at the beginning of December, when towns and cities all over the country are decorated with Christmas trees, lights and nativity displays (naciemento/belen).
Some of the nativity displays are very elaborate and a few even feature live actors and animals. Christmas markets selling fruit, flowers, sweets, candles, decorations and hand-made gifts start to appear at this time as well.
In villages and small towns children sing Christmas carols outside their neighbours’ homes or by nativity displays in an old tradition known as aguinaldo, and are given sweets or a few coins for their singing.
December 22nd is the day when school children start their winter holidays, and also the day when then winning numbers in the Christmas lottery (El Gordo), one of the largest lotteries in the world, are announced. The lottery was set up in 1763 by Carlos III and has run every year since then.
Christmas Eve (Nochebuena) is a time for eating, drinking large amounts and going to Midnight Mass (La Misa del Gallo). Each region of Spain has it’s own specialities for the Christmas Eve feast, for example roast lamb and suckling pig are popular in Castilla León, Castilla la Mancha and Madrid; turkey and duck in Andalucia, and many types of seafood in other regions. Desserts involve marzipan, nougat (turrón), sweet bread, nuts and dried fruit, and the most common drink is cava, a type of sparkling wine.
The festivities continue on Christmas Day with another large meal, and maybe small presents for the children brought by Papa Noel. Adults may also exchange gifts.
On New Year’s Eve (Nochevieja) there are street parties and firework displays in many places, and at midnight people gather in plazas and church bells ring twelve times. One grape is eaten for each toll of the bells. Eating the grapes is believed to bring twelve months of prosperity in the new year. Festivities often go on into the early hours of the morning
On the day before Three King’s Day (Los Reyes) on 6th January, there are processions to mark the arrival of the three kings. Before going to bed, children leave their shoes somewhere visible in their house or on their balcony and fill them with straw and carrots for the king’s horse. The following morning the shoes filled with presents. A large, ring-shaped cake decorated with candied fruit and known as Roscón de los Reyes is eaten by many people on 6th January. Those who find a hidden charm within the cake are crowned king or queen for the rest of the day.