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Christmas in Spain

Christmas in Spain

For those of you who might be spending their first Christmas here in Almuñécar, you might be interested in how things are done here and to see what differences there are between here and your home (wherever that might be – for me it’s the UK). 

When I first came here from the UK 6 years ago, the first thing that struck me was that everything felt much less ‘commercialized’. The atmosphere seemed less frantic too and the action didn’t really gear up until mid December although it continued for longer - until 6th January. Obviously there was much more focus on religion with beautiful nativity scenes everywhere, though this focus is almost outstripped by the hype for giant multi-billion euro lottery! The main difference between a Spanish Christmas and the UK Anglo Saxon version is of course the importance of the Epiphany on 6th January. In Spain this is when presents are given and the Three Wise Men give the presents not Father Christmas. 

So let’s look at the run-up to Christmas in Spain: 

1st week: Christmas lights are usually lit in the first week in December by which time the shops are usually fully stocked with Christmas supplies (a bit of a change for us Brits when Xmas starts soon after people are back from their Summer holidays!). 

7th – 8th December: The Feast of the Inmaculada. This marks the start of Christmas in Spain and celebrations begin. 

13th December: The Day of Santa Lucia, patron saint of the blind and traditionally the blind sing Christmas carols in the streets, although this is less common in modern times and I have not seen this in Almuñécar. It is actually a major Scandinavian festival too, so where there is a high concentration of Scandinavians, there is often several days of festivities.

Mid-December: Christmas trees don't usually appear until the second half of December. Also in the home and probably more popular than trees are beautiful nativity scenes called Belénes. They will always include the baby Jesus, Mary, Joseph as well as the Three Kings, Balthasar, Melchior and Gaspar.

21st December: This is the shortest day of the year and in some cities in Granada bonfires (Hogueras) are lit and people jump through them, traditionally, in order to protect themselves from illness.

22nd December: ‘El Gordo’ (the ‘fat one’) Spanish lottery is drawn. This lottery is so big that tickets are on sale from August! As the Christmas lottery is drawn over a period of many hours, all over Spain people watch and listen to children singing/chanting the results on TV or radio! 

24th December: Christmas Eve is called Nochebuena in Spanish (‘Good Night’) is the most important family gathering of the year for families. Most bars and restaurants close in the evening as families share a meal together. Then after the meal many Spanish families head to Church to take part in Midnight Mass (La Misa Del Gallo). 

25th December: Christmas Day is a public holiday in Spain so shops are closed but it is not a day of huge celebrations as it is in the UK. It is a much calmer day for Spanish families when people might go out together for a walk, or a drink. There is usually another large family meal but sometimes families go out to eat in a restaurant. Children may receive a small gift on Nochebuena or on Christmas morning, but the day for presents is 6th January.

28th December: The day of Santos Inocentes (Holy Innocents) is our equivalent to April Fools' Day when people play practical jokes on one another. Often even the national media will include a false story as a joke in their broadcasts. 

31st December: New Year's Eve (or ‘Old Night’ NocheVieja) is a huge celebration with street parties and special nights in hotels and clubs. However, rather than starting early and building to a crescendo at midnight, the Spanish tend to stay at home until midnight and on the stroke of midnight it is traditional to eat 12 grapes, one on each stroke of the clock to bring good luck for the New Year. People then go out to the bars at about 12.30. The partying then continues until morning. In Almuñécar people congregate in Ayuntamiento (Town Hall) Square at midnight with their grapes.

1st January: This is a public holiday and not very different to everywhere else in the world, with plenty people sleeping off their excesses!

5th January: On the night before 6th January, children all over Spain go to bed expecting ‘los Reyes Magos’ (the Three Wise Men) to bring them presents. They leave their shoes outside so that they can receive their gifts.Twelfth Night processions (‘cabalgatas’) take place through the streets for when sweets are thrown from the decorated floats for the children who come to watch. 

6th January: The Epiphany which, for Spanish children this is the most important day of the year when they wake up to find their gifts. Santa (Papa Noel) may leave them a token gift on 25th but the Three Kings are their favourites, especially Baltasar who rides a donkey and is the one believed to leave the gifts. 

7th January – Back to school for the children - and Christmas in Spain is all over for another year.

Christmas Food in Spain.

Christmas Eve Food:

There is usually a huge family meal with traditional foods such as Roast Lamb, Turkey (which is NOT ubiquitous) or Duck. Seafood is also a popular dish and lobster is very common. In addition to all this, most families will also have soup (usually fish), and an abundance of cheeses, hams and pates, and of course mandarins, walnuts and dates. The main meal is followed by desert which is normally Turrón (nougat and toasted sweet almonds), Mazapán and the traditional Polvorones (powdery sweet bread made from almonds, flour and sugar).

So for example, prawn starters followed by fish soup, roast lamb followed by turrón might be a typical Christmas Eve meal.

Dinner starts late, at about 10pm and will go on for a couple of hours.

6th January Food:

Everyone also eats the special “Three Kings’ Cake” called the “Roscón de Reyes”, sweet, large doughnut-shaped bread covered in candied fruit and sugar, and sometimes filled with cream or custard. A toy is buried inside the mixture, and whoever finds the toy gets good luck for the next year.

Very popular here in Spain, as in the UK is the stunning red plant the Poinsettia. 

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So, here I have tried to share some of the Christmas traditions that I have found here in Almuñécar. It would be nice to hear if anyone has found anything else!
Jan 12, 2009
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