If this will be your first time celebrating Christmas in Spain then it is high time to learn about typical Spanish Christmas customs or traditions as they might differ from those to which you are already accustomed. Below we’ve listed some that you may just need to adopt whilst living here in Spain.
Christmas eve is celebrated on December 24th and is of huge importance, it is generally a big family affair. Usually, members of the extended family gather around a feast which although differs depending on where you are in Spain will almost certainly include; jamón (Spanish ham), marisco (sea food), cordero (leg of lamb), pescado (fish), fine wine and all kinds of desserts.
In many homes, especially ones with children, Nochebuena is a very exciting night: it’s when Papá Noel (Santa Claus) brings gifts to all the children who have been good during the year. Some regions of Spain have their own traditions: in the Basque Country, it’s Olentzero who leaves the gifts, while children from Cataluña and Aragón receive gifts from Tió de Nadal.
Caga Tió (literally means pooping log!)
The Caga Tió – or Tió de Nadal (Christmas Log) as he is sometimes called – is a smallish wooden log, covered in a blanket and usually given a warm, smiley face. You’ll find Caga Tió for sale in Christmas markets across the two main provinces from which he originates, Catalonia and Aragon. Come Christmas time, the log is expected to ‘poop’ presents for children and their parents, much to the amusement and amazement of younger spectators.
The Spanish National Lottery is a big deal at Christmas time, and almost everyone plays it, making it the biggest lottery draw in the world. The Christmas Lottery is so big that it has been given the nickname ‘El Gordo’ or the ‘Fat One’, because of the huge amounts of cash you can win. Taking place on December 22, it has been held every year since 1812, and the winning numbers are sung out by school children. The release of the Christmas lottery advert symbolises the launch of the festive holiday in Spain, and Spaniards around the world are able to relate to the heart-warming stories these videos capture.
Spaniards spend the final moments before the clock strikes midnight preparing to ring in the new year. People gather in plazas or homes to eat the 12 uvas de la suerte (12 lucky grapes). For each grape, you make one wish for the new year. The goal, when the clock strikes midnight, eat each grape, one by one, in 12 seconds.
Belenes are elaborate nativity scenes – it is the Spanish word for Bethlehem. More than just a stable with animals and figurines, the Spanish beléns can be huge scenes, complete with many different houses, farms, rivers and marketplaces.
Día de los Santos Inocentes (Fool’s day)
December 28th marks el día de los inocentes (Holy Innocents’ Day) in Spain. This is Spain’s April Fool’s Day – pranks or ‘inocentadas’ take place all over the country, there are spoof reports on Spanish television programmes and there’s even an annual charity event called “Gala Inocente, Inocente”.
Holy Innocents’ Day has biblical origins, and gruesome ones at that. The day marks the Massacre of the Innocents as depicted in the New Testament, when Herod ordered the murder of all children in Bethlehem under the age of two, fearing that the newborn Jesus Christ everybody was talking about as the Messiah would replace him as King of Judea.
Historians aren’t sure about whether this truly happened, but at some point during Medieval times the mourning for this infanticide among Christians turned into celebration.
Los Reyes Magos
It’s the Three Kings (Melchior, Gaspar and Baltazar), who bring children their gifts in Spain, not Santa Claus (although he is becoming more popular now, too), and on January 6, not Christmas Day.
Roscón de Reyes
The roscón is a sweet bread (almost like a brioche) that is baked into a circle or an oval shape. It isn’t always filled, but traditional fillings include whipped cream, chocolate cream, meringue or custard cream. It is typical to decorate the cake with colorful candied fruits, creating what looks like a king’s crown full of sparkling jewels. Bakers hide small trinkets throughout the cake, so be careful when biting into this pastry.
¡Let the festivities begin!
Sinéad Galvin is an educational consultant and founded Steps into Spain (a boutique educational and relocation consultancy located in Madrid) to help families find the right school for their child in Madrid. She uses her professional and personal experience of Spanish schools, the Spanish education system and the Spanish way of life to ensure that parents are knowledgeable and informed about what to expect and can secure the best school for their child.
Steps into Spain will take stock of your children’s educational needs and overall family requirements (housing, paperwork and general settling in). Our trusted and expert service is provided to families who are moving to Madrid from abroad. And also, to families that already live here and need some extra guidance and support.