The holiday season is upon us once again, and all around the world people are celebrating with different cultural traditions. Spain has many unique customs that make its holiday season special. Cities all over the country line the streets with festive lights and decorations. Religious festivities in Spain start on the 8th of December with the Inmaculada Concepción (Feast of the Immaculate Conception) and end on the 6th of January with the Día de los Reyes Magos, which translates to Day of the Wise Men in English. Christmas traditions in Spain vary slightly across the country, as each region has its own special customs.
December 8th Inmaculada Concepción
As Spain is a predominately Catholic nation the day of Inmaculada Concepción is important to the holiday season. The Feast of the Immaculate Conception is a national holiday, so schools throughout the country are closed on this day. Churches have special services to honor the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary. In Catalonia this is the day when families bring out Tió de Nadal, which is a Christmas log that is given a painted face and a blanket. Each night the family will feed the log until Christmas Eve when they sing songs and take turns hitting the log with a stick until it gives them their gifts of candies and other little presents.
December 22nd Lotería de Navidad
This day is highly anticipated all year in Spain because it is when the winning numbers are announced for the annual Christmas Lottery. This is the day that truly kicks off the holiday festivities because almost everyone in the country participates. The tradition of the Christmas Lottery started in 1812; it is the second longest continuously running lottery in the world, and based on the total prize payout, it is the largest lottery worldwide! Throughout the country people are glued to the radio and TV broadcasts on this day in hopes that they might win “El Gordo” or “The Big One,” which is the first prize that reaches up to four million euro!
December 24th Nochebuena
Christmas Eve is called Nochebuena in Spanish, which literally translates to the “Goodnight.” Nochebuena is a huge family gathering in Spain, and this is when they eat the main Christmas meal. Houses are decorated with nativity scenes, poinsettias, and trees for the holidays. Early in the evening people may go out for drinks with friends, but at night they return home to have a traditional family dinner. A typical meal might consist of prawns or seafood as a starter, followed by a main meat dish such as, “cordero” roast lamb, or “pavo trufado de navidad” turkey with mushroom truffles, and for dessert the traditional Christmas sweet, “turrón” an almond nougat. Traditional Spanish wines are served with the meal, also cava, Catalán champagne, might be used to toast the special occasion. After dinner families attend midnight mass, called “La Misa del Gallo,” or “The Mass of the Rooster” because it is believed that a rooster crowed on the night Jesus was born. After mass the festivities continue on into the night. In the Basque Country this is the night when children’s presents are delivered by Olentzero, a big, old man dressed as a Basque farmer and wearing a beret and smoking a pipe.
December 25th Navidad
Christmas day is not quite as big of a celebration in Spain. It is a day of rest and relaxation spent with family, and there is usually another big meal at lunch time. Children may receive a few gifts from “Papá Noel” (Santa Claus), but the main gift giving day is on the 6th of January. In Spanish “Merry Christmas” is of course, “Feliz Navidad,” and in Catalan they say “Bon Nadal,” in Galicia “Bo Nadal” and in the Basque Country its “Eguberri on.”
December 28th Día de los Santos Inocentes
Day of the Holy Innocents, is similar to April Fools’ Day, it is a celebration of light-hearted practical jokes. Historically the date, December 28th, comes from the time when King Herod ordered the killing of many innocent babies in the search of Jesus; the dark history has been transformed into a holiday of meaningless pranks. Even national news sources get involved in the fun by running fake news stories.
December 31st Nochevieja
New Year’s Eve or “The Old Night” is celebrated with huge parties all over Spain. While Christmas is spent with family at home, New Year’s Eve is spent with friends out on the town until sunrise! A popular New Year’s tradition throughout Spain is to eat twelve grapes with each stroke of the clock at midnight, which symbolizes good luck for the upcoming year. People around the country gather in the main plazas to eat the grapes. New Year’s Day, similar to Christmas Day, is not a major celebration; it is a day of rest and relaxation.
January 6th Día de los Reyes Magos
Epiphany or “Day of the Wise Men” is the major gift giving day in Spain and the culmination of the Holiday Season. This day symbolizes when the Wise Men brought gifts to Jesus. On January 5th there are parades all over where the Wise Men throw candy to the kids in the streets, and at night children will leave gifts, such as a glass of cognac, for each of the Wise Men. On January 6th children are filled with joy as they open their gifts from the Wise Men. Families will eat the traditional Epiphany pastry, Roscón, a ring shaped sweet that may contain cream or chocolate and a small gift and is sold in bakeries all over Spain at Christmas time.