“Story como unas Pascuas”, when Spanish people start saying this, you know that they are happy and satisfied because Christmas is coming. For Spanish people, holiday is a time for celebration and joy with friends and family. Tiny oil lamps and lights are lit in every house, welcoming this beautiful season. Having said that, Spain also follows its set of bizarre customs and traditions related to Christmas. From the Basque’s very own version of Santa Claus to the crapping log of Catalonia, below we will discuss Christmas traditions in Spain and how it differs from other regions.
Christmas Traditions In Spain
Feast Of Immaculate Conception
Christmas season in Spain begins officially on 8th of December, with the feast of the Immaculate Conception. The feast is celebrated yearly in front of the gothic cathedral in Seville, with the ceremony, “los Seises” or the “dance of six.” Oddly enough, the dance is now performed by not six, but ten costumed boys.
El Gordo, the biggest lottery in the world has been carried out uninterrupted since 1812. Even during Spanish civil war, the tradition of the lottery was kept intact. The orphans brought up at Madrid’s San Ildefonso School sing out the winning lottery numbers. This has been a tradition since 1771, and nobody knows the exact origin of it. However, some people say that there was a time when San Ildefonso’s orphans would chant prayers through the streets for alms. They were then chosen for the lottery as orphans were not prone to cheating.
After celebrating the good fortune in economics, Spanish people ring in Christmas by going to Midnight Mass, called ‘La Misa Del Gallo’ in their language, which translates to ‘the Mass of the Rooster. They believe that the rooster had crowed the night Jesus Christ was born. There’s even a special dance performance called Jota, which is handed down since hundred years.
After the midnight mass, people stroll through the streets playing guitars, carrying torches, and beating drums and tambourines. Spanish people believe that Christmas isn’t the night to sleep and do their best to keep everyone awake too.
Spanish Christmas Feast:
Spanish families eat their Christmas meal on the Christmas Eve, right before the service. This annual meal is a joyful event, with high spirits carried out until late at night. The traditional Spanish dish for Christmas is ‘Pavo Trufado de Navidad’, turkey stuffed with mushroom truffles. In north-west Spain, especially Galicia, seafood is served for the Christmas feast. It can be any kind of seafood, from mollusks, to lobster, shellfish, and even crabs.
In Epiphany, Roscon, a special, ring-shaped cake is served. It’s a doughy cake, often filled with chocolate or cream in the middle. It even contains a little gift and whoever finds it gets to be the king or queen for the day.
Santa Claus, known as Papa Noel in Spain is a relatively new tradition in Spain. It’s basically inspired by the popular culture of other countries. In Spain also, Santa Claus or Papa Noel brings gifts for the children. No wonder parks and plazas are filled with kids on Christmas days, showing off their gifts to each other.
Unlike the kids of other parts of the world, Spanish kids open their gifts on the Epiphany day believing that the Three Wise Kings have got it for them. The funniest is children on the 5th of January every year tie dozens of cans together and drag through the streets. This is done in the attempt to scare the legendary giant who covers the sky in a thick cloud, prevent the Three Wise Men from delivering the presents to children.
But in the Basque country, which falls on the northern Spain and Southern France, presents to children are delivered by Olentzero on the Christmas Eve. Olentzero is a big, overweight man dressed up as a Basque farmer. He smokes a pipe and wears a beret as well.
Christmas Celebration In Spain:
Day of the Innocent Saints:
In Spain 28th December is celebrated as the ‘Day of the Innocent Saints’ or ‘Día de Los Santos inocentes’. It’s the day when people all over the world remember the babies that were killed by King Herod when trying to kill baby Jesus. ‘Día de los santos inocentes’ is quite like the April Fools Day, as people trick others into believing false news and jokes. When they have successfully tricked someone, they yell, ‘Inocente, inocente’.
Tió de Nadal’:
In the Catalonia province of Spain, there’s a character called Tió de Nadal’ or the Christmas log. It’s basically a small hollow log propped on two legs and with a smiley face painted on it. From the 8th of December, which is the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, the Catalan families start giving the log a few morsels to eat and a blanket to keep it warm. Then on the Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, the log gives out small gifts. People even sing songs and hit the log with a stick to help it digest and then drop nuts, dried fruits and sweets.
Nativity scenes or Pesebres are popular throughout Spain, especially in Catalonia. Several towns and even cities hold Pastorets, which is basically a play about the birth of Jesus. The play includes loads of reading from the Bible and even music depicting the story. Strangely enough, El Caganer or the ‘poo-er’ has been a part of several nativity scenes in Catalonia since the 18th century.
El Caganer is an unusual figure of a person going to the toilet. It depicts a Catalan peasant, wearing the traditional red cap, and squatting with their pants or trousers down. It’s said to symbolize fertilization and even brings prosperity and luck for the coming year. New figures of Pesebres are produced every year, sometimes with the image of celebrities. It isn’t kept in the forefront, but is hidden in the back corner of the scene, quite away from the stable.
Some Spanish town even stage a living Belen, with real animals and real actors. They basically try to make a social statement through the play.
Epiphany seems to be a common festival in most of the European countries. Epiphany, called ‘Fiesta de Los tres Reyes Mages’ in Spanish, is celebrated on 6th of January to commemorate the three wise kings who visited baby Jesus. Some towns and villages also organize Epiphany Parades, with each king on floats shaped like camels. Some people even go on to include real camels in parades. The Three Kings mentioned in the Spanish Epiphany are:
Gaspar, the King of Sheba with brown hair or brown beard or no beard at all. He is shown wearing a green cloth and golden crowd with green jewels on it. King Gaspar represents the Frankincense he brought to baby Jesus. Frankincense is also used in Churches for worshiping Jesus.
Melchior, the King of Arabia, is depicted with a white beard and white hair. Representing the gold brought to Jesus, Melchior wears a gold cloak even when he visits baby Jesus. Gold is associated strongly with kings, and even Jesus is believed to be the king of kings.
Balthazar, with black skin and black bear, is the king of Tarse and Egypt. Wearing a purple cloak, Balthazar brought Myrrh to Jesus. Myrrh is a perfume that is applied on dead bodies to make it smell nice. The myrrh as a gift represented that Jesus would suffer and die.
On the 26th of December, which is the Boxing Day, children write letters to the Kings, asking for toys and presents. They leave shoes on their balconies or windowsills on the eve of Epiphany Day so that it can be filled with presents. Even children leave gifts for kings, which comprise of a glass of Cognac for each king, some walnuts, and satsuma. They might even leave a bucket of water for the camels that carry the kings. If the kids have been bad or naughty, then the kings will leave coal made out of sugar in the presents.
Santa Claus Run:
Every year on December 17th, thousands of Spanish people take part in the Santa Run, organized by El Corte Ingles department store takes place. People dress up in traditional red and white Santa Suit and participate in the 10k charity run.
The Old Night:
New Year’s Eve, also called “The Old Night” in Spain, is the day when Spanish people follow the tradition of consuming 12 grapes at the stroke of midnight. Each grape is believed to signify a month of the coming year. So if you manage to eat all 12 grapes with the 12 strokes of midnight, you’ll have a fruitful year ahead. The tradition of 12 uvas was started by the Alicante vine growers, when they were looking for ways to sell off the abundant harvest of grapes. The custom then spread to Latin American countries and is still followed by many.
People even gather in town squares and wait anxiously for the clock to strike 12. The festivity goes on until the wee hours of the morning.
We hope you enjoyed reading about Christmas in Spain. If you think we’ve missed any Christmas traditions in Spain, let us know by commenting below.