From approximately the beginning of December, the homes and streets of Spain are filled with decorative elements that remind us that the holidays are near. You will see a large number of lights that decorate the streets of the towns and cities.
The traditional Christmas decoration in Spain is the “belén” or nativity scene. Most towns and villages has its own belén. The Christmas tree has also become widely popular and you can find it all around Spain too.
Our Christmas sweets are the main seasonal staple. El turrón, nougat, is essential. Las figuras de mazapán, marzipan figurines, are also popular, together with los polvorones, soft crumbly cakes made with lard, flour and cinammon. You can find also the Roscón de Reyes (a ring shaped cake), which we will enjoy for breakfast the “Three Kings ” morning.
We have a peculiar and unofficial start on Dec 22nd when we have the most followed Spanish lottery called: Lotería de Navidad. This day you know the Christmas time is here.
Then we have Christmas Eve Dec. 24th (Nochebuena in Spanish), which is a family celebration . Many Christian also attend the Misa del Gallo, a mass service offered at midnight on the 24th . Children will often only receive a small gift as ‘Papa Noel’ (Santa Claus) is less popular than the Three Kings who arrive on 5th January with presents for all the children.
In some parts of Spain, you can find other types of traditional figures that also make appearances on Christmas Day, figures that can be considered natives to the region in contrast to the more recent arrival of Papa Noel.
Shortly after Christmas day on December 28th there is another curious celebration unique to Spain called “The Day of the Innocents”. The word inocente in Spanish can also mean simple or naïve, and this day in Spain is celebrated in much the same way as April Fool’s Day is in other cultures, meaning Dec. 28th is a day to watch out for tricks or “inocentadas”.
While Christmas Eve is a family celebration, New Year’s Eve (called Nochebuena in Spanish) is a time for partying with friends. We have the tradition of eating 12 grapes for good luck at midnight, one for each month of the year. And soon after midnight, parties rage all over, showing no signs of dissipating until the early hours of the morning.
For Spanish children, the best days of the festive season have to be the 5th and 6th of January. On the previous evening, January 5th parades roll through town in which the Reyes Magos (three kings) and their pages shower candy over the children. The following morning is the feast day of the epiphany, when the Three Kings will traditionally arrive from the east to leave gifts for the well-behaved.
On January 7th we must go back to work, to the office or to school, exhausted after this eventful time of year which is so special.