Christmas in Spain, xmas in spain, festivities in spain at christmas, traditions in spain, spanish culture at christmas, visit spain
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Culture of Spain - Christmas in Spain and the Three Kings (Los Reyes Magos)

 

Christmas in Spain is one of our favorite times. The atmosphere can be electric. Unlike many other places in Europe, Christmas lights do not usually go up in Spain until late November. Every town and city will decorate the streets with millions of lights. Christmas markets also begin to appear. Christmas trees are on sale everywhere and gypsies begin to sell Christmas trees in the streets.

 

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Nativity in Spain
 

The first major sign of Christmas is the state-run lottery which is drawn on December 22nd. The 'El Gordo' (the Fat One) is one of the largest lotteries in the world and thousands of people win each year. Everyone wants to buy a ticket.

 

In general, Christmas in Spain is based more on a religious theme than in many other places. Churches are packed to capacity, day and night. Most churches have several services each day as Christmas approaches.

 

Christmas Eve (24th December)

Christmas in Spain, technically falls twice. You have the traditional Christmas on the 24th/25th December and the Three Kings in January. For most Spaniards, there are three main stages to Christmas, starting with Christmas Eve (Nochebuena) which is very much a family affair. The evening may start at home but often ends up with a party in a hotel, club or disco with friends and family. It is likely that every generation of the family is represented. The party will go on all night. Cava (a fizzy chanpagne) is the most popular drink at Christmas with millions of bottles being sold.

The family Christmas Eve meal is one of the most important meals of the year for a Spanish family and the housewife will be busy preparing the traditional fare for most of the day. It will consist of many courses of fish and meat.

 

 

 

   
Seafood is high on the list for the meal and prices tend to go through the roof at this time of year. First on the menu is likely to be plates of cold shellfish and cold cuts of meat. This may be followed by soup then baked besugo (Bream) with potatoes followed by roast lamb or suckling pig. Game is another option although turkey is becoming popular. The meal will be complemented with Cava, Spain's excellent sparkling wine. At the same time, trays of Christmas cakes and sweets will be served. The important sweets are turrón and marzipan. Turrón is a nougat made of toasted sweet almonds and has been made in Spain for over five centuries.
   

After the meal the adults will then exchange presents. The children will usually only receive a small gift. At midnight, some people will go to the Midnight Mass at the church. Others may stay at home and open a bottle of champagne to celebrate the birth of Christ. Some children go Carol singing and the youngsters may go to bed whilst the adults go out and party until dawn.

 

Nativity displays (Belens)

Every town and most churches will have a 'belen' which is a nativity display. Some of them are very impressive and can cover massive areas. Some are animated and illuminated and draw huge crowds.

Christmas in Spain
A new style of Christmas tree in Spain
- a wire frame covered in lights

 

Christmas Day (December 25th)

This is a fiesta day in much of Spain, so all banks and shops are closed, probably to recover from the night before. Christmas Day in Spain is one of the quietest of the year. Anyone wanting to eat out on this special day will have to book well in advance.

   

The Three Kings

The next important day is the 6th January or Three Kings Day (Los Reyes). This is the day that the Three Kings arrived in Bethlehem, it is also the most important day for the children as the Three Kings in effect replace Father Christmas for Spanish children (although Santa is becoming popular). They arrive overnight on the 5th January, traditionally riding horses but often arrive by boat or even helicopter. The Kings will leave presents for the children during the night. Parents encourage children to write to the Three Kings with their gift requests.

 


 

Every town and city in Spain will have a procession on the night of 5th January where tons of sweets will be thrown from the passing floats, much to the joy of the children (and adults). We visited Malaga to watch the Three Kings arrive by boat and Fuengirola where they arrived in a helicopter (2011). They were then part of a procession of hundreds of decorated floats that weaved their way through the city, well into the night. Most of Malaga turned out to watch them. The whole event is covered live on the local television. The atmosphere is electric. Through all our travels of Spain, we have yet to see a fiesta with such enthusiasm. On the morning of the 6th January you can only imagine the excitement of the children as they rip open their gifts.

Idealspain has produced a video of the Three Kings' arrival and parade (Fuengirola 2011), here.

 

0044.co.uk

The three Kings are:

Gaspar has brown hair and a brown beard (or no beard!) and wears a green cloak and a gold crown with green jewels on it. He is the King of Sheba. Gaspar represents the Frankincense brought to Jesus.

Melchior has long white hair and a white beard and wears a gold cloak. He is the King of Arabia. Melchior represents the Gold brought to Jesus.

Balthazar has black skin and a black beard (or no beard!) and wears a purple cloak. He is the King of Tarse and Egypt. Balthazar represents the gift of Myrrh that was brought to Jesus. Myrrh is a perfume that is put on dead bodies to make them smell nice.

 

 

 

 

Spain has many of its own unique traditions, all of which are great fun. Pictured above and right is the celebration in Malaga, one of the biggest in the country.

   
On the 6th January (Los reyes Day), a special cake is made and sold all over Spain. Roca de reyes is a ring shaped pasrty (tasting similar to hot cross buns). It is covered with sugar and fruit flavoured jellies. On biting, beware as the cake will contain plastic toys and presents. Anyone lucky enough to find one of the little gifts will be blessed with good luck all year.
 

Unusual traditions at Christmas in Spain

Caganer
This is a Catalan speciality although seen all over Spain nowadays. The Caganer is a gnome-like figurine, usually made of porcelain. He is depicted with his trousers down, defecating and is hidden somewhere amongst the nativity scene. (spot him in the picture right). Most town halls have huge nativity displays, open to the public.

 

Red underwear

Although the wearing of red underwear is traditional on New Year's Eve, the little Valencian village of La Font de Figuera have gone one step further. It is tradition here to run through the street in your red underwear. All over Spain on New Years' Eve, people will be wearing red underwear.

Caganer

In the Basque country, on Christmas Eve children's presents are deleiverd by a magical man called Olentzero. He's a big, overweight man wearing a beret and smokes a pipe. He dresses like a Basque farmer.

In the Catalan part of Spain there's a Christmas character called 'Tio de Nadal' (the Christmas log) or he's sometimes known as 'Caga tio' (the pooping log). This is a small, hollow log propped up on two legs with a smiling face painted on one end. From the 8th December (the Feast of the Immaculate Conception) Catalan families give the log a few morsels of food to 'eat' and a blanket to keep it warm. On Christmas Day or Christmas Eve, the log then 'gives out' small gifts. People sing songs and hit the log with sticks to help its 'digestion' and the log drops sweets, nuts, and dried fruits. When garlic or an onion falls out of the log, all of the treats are finished for the year.

 

New Year's Eve is big in Spain and on New Year's Eve it is the tradition to wear red underwear but they have to be bought for you by someone else. Most towns organise street parties with entertainment and firework displays that last all night. Most bars and restaurants are open for private parties only. There will be music and dancing and the wearing of the usual party outfits. At the stroke of midnight it is tradition to eat 12 grapes - one on each stroke of the clock to bring good luck for the new year. The grapes are a late variety from Vinalopó near Alicante.

 

We have brought in the New Year in Malaga, Marbella, Fuengirola, Seville and Madrid - all have been very different.

   
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