How people celebrate Christmas in Spain
Spanish Christmas traditions are fascinating: a time for carols, festive spirit and joy. If you are going on holiday to Spain or just want to be aware and respectful to the Spanish people, take note of these six dates with very peculiar traditions to blend in with the locals.
December 22nd: Christmas lottery
The unofficial start of Christmas is on December 22nd, when children from the San Ildefonso school draw the numbers and prizes of the Lotería de Navidad (Christmas lottery). Hearing the children singing out the numbers sets the Christmas mood all around. No one wants to miss the draw, and people follow it on TV or the radio.
December 24th: Christmas Eve’s celebration and La Misa del Gallo
Nochebuena (Christmas Eve) is a family celebration in which Spaniards gather around a table to eat exquisite delicacies such as ham, cheese and seafood. The feast starts around 7 pm and families carry on eating and drinking until midnight. But midnight isn’t bedtime yet for the Spaniards. Traditionally, they go to the Misa del Gallo, a mass service offered at midnight on the 24th to celebrate Jesus’s birth. After the midnight service, some people keep the high spirits going until late singing carols together.
December 25th: They also party on Christmas
For the last few decades, Santa Claus, known in Spain as Papá Noel, brings gifts for children early in the morning. After unwrapping presents and playing with the new toys outdoors, weather permitting, most families meet for lunch on Christmas day. The traditional Spanish Christmas lunch is roasted turkey or lamb, but you can still see leftovers from the past night’s festivities around the table.
December 28th: Spanish April Fool’s Day
The “Día de los Santos Inocentes” is a lot like April Fool’s Day in the UK and the USA. People try to trick each other into believing silly stories and jokes. If you trick someone, you can call them “Inocente, inocente” which means naive. This day originally commemorated the babies that were killed on the orders of King Herod, when he was trying to kill the baby Jesus.
December 31st: The 12 lucky grapes
“Nochevieja” (New Year's Eve) is a time to have dinner at home with family and eat “Las doce uvas” (the 12 lucky grapes). According to tradition, you must eat 12 grapes with the 12 strokes of the clock at midnight to guarantee good fortune for the New Year. Afterwards, people toast to the New Year with cava or sidra (cider) and party until early morning!
January 6th: The party of the three magic kings
Spain celebrates Epiphany. This is the date when wise men brought gifts to the baby Jesus; it is called “La Fiesta de Los Tres Reyes Magos” (the festival of the three magic kings). This is the day when the Kings bring presents to well-behaved children or leave pieces of coal made of sugar to children who have been bad. In fact, Spanish children have most presents at Epiphany (children have only received presents on Christmas day for the last three decades). Children also leave gifts for the Kings: some chocolate is left to stay energised on their busiest day of the year and some water is prepared for the magic camels that the Kings ride in on!
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