In Spain Christmas eve is the big night where families meet up to enjoy each others company along with a feast of festive delights whilst presents are handed out on the 6th December as part of the three Kings festival.
There are a number of public holidays throughout the December to January Christmas period which gives families time to enjoy the party season and happy atmosphere that is ever present this time of year.
So if you are thinking of visiting Spain during Christmas here is a guide to help you make the most of your festive trip.
Traditional Spanish Christmas Dishes
Fish and seafood is always a big part of the Christmas dining scene with locals blowing a large part of their Christmas food bill on lobsters, prawns, salmon and other high end fish such as turbot or fresh tuna.
Roscon de Reyes is widely eaten over the Christmas period and is the Spanish equivalent of a Christmas cake. A kind of sweet bread with pieces of candied fruit which is cooked to form a ring, once baked it is left to cool, then cut in half andfilled with pastry or fresh cream. It is a tradtion for bakers to hide a small ceramic figure of the Virgen Mary, it is said that whoever is served the figure will be the receiver of good luck!.
Quality cured meats are ever present on the tables of most Spaniards during the festive season, cured ham, chorizo, morcilla are firm favourites. People like to splash out on a whole cured ham which is eaten throughout the holiday season.
Popular sweets and desserts eaten at Christmas include "Turron" a nougat made of honey and toasted almonds, "Polverones" a soft sweet biscuit made of flour, butter abd sugar and "Mazapan" which is the typical marzipan made of almonds, sugar and eggs.
The Christmas Calendar in Spain
December 8th – La Inmaculada Concepción
This is a public holiday in Spain to celebrate the Feast of the Immaculate Conception (La Inmaculada Concepcion) which heralds in the start of the Christmas season. Now’s the time to put up your Christmas lights, buy at least one El Gordo lottery ticket and get ready for the hectic pace of the party season.
December 22nd – El Gordo
El Gordo is probably the most famous lottery of the year, and one which all the family are eager to win. It is a long standing tradition to get up on the 22nd December and await the drawer of the lottery numbers live on TV, usually by children from a well known Spanish school.
Lottery Tickets start at around 20€ although during the run up people usually spend a great deal more on this extraordinary annual event. The Spanish take great delight during the weeks prior to the drawer frantically swapping tickets with friends, colleagues, workmates and relatives.
It’s great fun and all part of the authentic Spanish Christmas period.
December 24th – Nochebuena
For most Spanish families, Christmas eve (Noche Buena) is the big event, it is where people get together to enjoy the company of close family and friends over a sumptuous festive blow out.
From early evening onwards the Christmas light filled streets are deserted as families sit down together to enjoy elaborate dinners of seafood, roast beef, cured ham, quality wines and a whole host of typical Christmas cakes and pastries such as Turron, Polverones, Mantecados, Pestinos and Marzipan.
December 25th – Navidad
You have just recovered from the mighty feast from the night before and soon you will be meeting up again with family and friends again for a casual get together along with more food and drink!
No gifts are exchanged today though remember, pressies are left for the 6th January in Spain ( Dia de los Reyes).
If you are a real Santa buff though, a few gifts sparingly given to the youngest to keep them happy before the main event in January is quite normal.
December 26th to December 30th – Tiempo Libre
Although there are no official festivities to attend during this period, most people take this time to either enjoy a family break at home. Or, as many now do, take the opportunity to get away for a winter family holiday, perhaps to the snowy slopes of one of Spain’s ski resorts or by heading off to the warmer climes of Tenerife.
December 28th - Día de los Inocentes.
This is Spain’s equivalent to April Fools Day and although not a major event it is great fun, specially if you have children or have been eagerly awaiting a moment to wind up your best friend or work colleague.
December 31st – Nochevieja
Make sure you get plenty of rest the night before as new years eve is the biggest party event of the Christmas season.
Families will usually get together for another delicious family meal before welcoming in the new year at midnight. Ensure you have a small pot with 12 grapes in as it’s tradition to eat one grape each time the clock chimes at midnight. Sounds easy right! Well see how you get on when you have 3 grapes in your mouth and once, remember though, it is considered bad luck if you don’t finish eating all 12 grapes before the last chime ends. Then its time for a champagne toast, a family hug and to make a wish for the coming year.
A large number of people will then head of the towns plaza to catch up with friends at the local disco or pub to enjoy the rest of the evening until the early hours.
January 1st – Año Nuevo
Waking up on the 1st January with a pounding hangover, wondering was that last whiskey at 5am really necessary, is of course a worldwide occurrence and Spain is no different.
Many families though will try to meet up again during the day for yet another festive gathering of light meals and maybe, just maybe another glass of wine or two.
January 6th – Los Reyes!
The Christmas festival season is now coming to a close, your probably exhausted by now due to all the partying, over eating and over spending.
Never mind, now it’s the kids big day to enjoy, this is where they finally get to open their presents.
It all starts with the street parades the night before (5th January) where decorative floats flow through the street, avenidas and plazas of many villages, towns and cities across Spain.
As the floats slowly meander along, tons of sweets and small gifts are thrown to the hoards of excited children lining the streets eager to chase after every last bonbon they can find.
The presents are given to the children on the morning of the 6th January. This is where exhausted parents get to watch their kids enjoy their Christmas toys and wondered where yet another year has gone.
The only disappointment for the children is that they don’t get to enjoy the toys for too long as School is about to begin once again. Parents contemplate the year that has past and the one they face ahead whilst preparing to return to their jobs once again.
Christmas in Spain offers a unique and special experience to travelers so hopefully you will get to enjoy it as much as I have over the years.