Spain and its Christmas traditions
As in all other European countries, Christmas is a family celebration in Spain.
Christmas calendar at a glance:
December 22nd (“El Gordo”)
Compared to other countries the advent season is a quiet time. Christmas activities really get started with the extraordinary Christmas lottery “El Gordo” – considered the biggest lottery in the world for the sheer amount of money that can be won. The lottery has taken place since 1812 and is one of the most anxiously awaited events of the year.
The pupils of the San Ildefonso school in Madrid are responsible for holding up (or “picking out”) the winning balls and for singing out the numbers. They spend the whole year rehearsing for this special event.
December 24th (Christmas Eve)
On Christmas Eve people have a special dinner with their family and afterwards often go to church for the midnight mass. Each region has its own special food to be eaten on this day. In Andalusia often seafood and fish is served. Typical desserts are nougat, marzipan, polvorones and nuts.
It is also tradition for children to go from house to house singing carols and playing typical instruments such as the tambourine.
December 25th (Christmas Day)
This is not such an important day on the Spanish Christmas calendar. Of course families gather and eat together and some children get given their gifts already although most have to wait until January 5th.
December 28th (Holy Innocents’ Day)
Although it originates from a very bloody event, today it is a day where people pull pranks or jokes on each other in order to have a good laugh, much like what other countries do on April 1st.
December 31st (New Year’s Eve)
Dinner is eaten at home or in a restaurant. The Spanish TV airs the countdown to the new year and at midnight the bells chiming 12 times (the official ones from the Puerta del Sol in Madrid). With each stroke of midnight a grape must be eaten for good luck (12 in total). The New Year is welcomed.
January 5th (“Magi”)
The night of January 5th is very special for the little ones. This is the night the Three Kings visit all of the children in Spain after having received their letters expressing their wishes. In many cities there is a parade for the Three Kings and candy is thrown to the children.
January 6th (Epiphany)
Upon awakening well-behaved children find gifts from Melchior, Gaspar and Balthasar waiting to be opened. Those who werent’s so well-behaved find a lump of coal waiting for them.
In Spain a typical cake is eaten on this day called “roscón de reyes”. It is a cake filled with whipped cream and marzipan. Every cake has a small plastic figure hidden in it. The person who finds the figure in their piece of cake will get the crown while the person who finds the bean must pay for the cake.