Christmas - Spain

A Spanish Christmas

Plaza Mayor © istock David Pedre

  ¡Feliz Navidad! ¡Feliz Año Nuevo!

  • Christmas Presents - Regalos Típicos

    Spanish tradition has it that the Three Kings, los Reyes Magos, are the ones who on the morning of January 6th, el Día de Reyes, bear presents for all the children, repeating the ritual they performed after baby Jesus was born. Influenced by American films and TV shows, some families have decided to switch to Papá Noel on Christmas Day, arguing that this allows the kids more time to play with their toys.

    Most Spanish people keep their fingers crossed for a Christmas windfall, courtesy of the world-renowned lottery draw, El Gordo, literally The Fat One. This is a long, drawn-out event that unfolds on the morning of December 22nd. Ticket numbers in a giant drum are matched to balls with millionaire prizes in a smaller drum. The ticketing system allows people to buy fractions and subfractions of different numbers, décimos and participaciones, with increasing chances of a share in the winnings.

    As the top prizes come out, TV and radio coverage centres on the search for the many winners and for the particular lottery shop where the winning ticket was bought.

  • Food and Drink - Comidas y Bebidas

    Christmas sweets are the main seasonal staple. El turrón, nougat, is essential. This almond-based tablet traditionally comes in two versions, duro, hard, with whole almonds in a paste of sugar, honey and egg white, or blando, soft, where the ingredients are ground together.

    Las figuras de mazapán, marzipan figurines, are also popular, together with los polvorones, soft crumbly cakes made with lard, flour and cinammon.

    The main meal takes place on Christmas Eve, la Nochebuena, and consists of a major dish of meat or seafood, such as cordero, lamb, bacalao, cod, or marisco, shellfish, which varies according to the region or the family's preferences.

    The 'lucky grapes', las uvas de la suerte, are the law on New Year's Eve, la Nochevieja - literally 'Old Night'. A tradition introduced in the early 20th century, it's said to bring good luck if at each stroke of the bells at midnight you take one grape and make one wish, un deseo, for the New Year, el Año Nuevo.

  • Quirky Customs - Curiosidades

    Celebrations stretch from December 22nd, when the big lottery draw takes place, to January 6th, when the presents are unwrapped. Then, between Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve, there's still time to fit in another celebration. The equivalent of April's Fools Day takes place in Spain on December 28th, el día de los Santos Inocentes, Holy Innocents' day.

    Nativity scenes with figurines are laid out on a table at home, with no limit to their degree of elaboration. Life-size figures are also on display in public squares and there are silent, living representations in public halls.

    But in Cataluña there's a surprising addition to the crib: el caganer, which means, for want of a more offensive translation, the defecating shepherd. What's more, this scatological streak extends to a peculiarly-shaped local cake, la tifa, with sugar flies to top it all off!

  • A Spanish Carol - un villancico en español

    Noche de Paz, Silent Night

    Noche de paz,
    noche de fe.
    El portal de Belén
    vibra en cánticos llenos de amor
    dulces cánticos al Redentor
    que esta noche nació
    y es más hermoso que el sol.
    Noche de paz,
    noche de amor.
    Despertar que en Belén
    de María un rosal floreció
    y el portal se ilumina en su honor
    adorar al señor
    porque es el hijo de Dios.
    Noche de paz,
    noche de fe.
    Al portal de Belén
    los arcángeles llegan también
    van cantando alabanzas a Dios
    todo el mundo a sus pies
    hoy ha nacido el señor

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