Overall, the Christmas traditions in Spain, except for some characteristics listed below, are similar to the rest of Europe as for Christmas dinner, family reunions and gifts.
Christmas officially begins on December 24th but unofficially Spaniards open the Christmas period on December 22nd with the draw of the Christmas lottery.
Why is the Christmas lottery so important and famous?
We will give you some data: average Spaniard spends on this particular lottery 50 euros every year. The draw achieved up to 50% of audience share (only football finals reach this figure). Also, about 2500 million euros are spent in prizes (the highest amount in the world).
The Christmas lottery has become a social event; normally every workplace, every association, families, groups of friends, even municipalities buy lottery numbers. What if your work colleagues or neighbours win the lottery and you don´t? Having adopted this way of thinking, every Spaniard wants to participate in this exciting event that may change one´s life or at least make the Christmas spending less painful.
The draw has been held since 1812 and the special feature is that the winning numbers are, one by one, sung by children. No wonder that the draw can take up to 4 hours!
Christmas Eve and Christmas Day
In Spain the Christmas Eve dinner is one of the most important family traditions ever. Family dinner consists of dishes that vary according to each family and each region of Spain. There is no typical menu prepared in all the Spanish regions, be the dinner is always hearty, usually consisting of ham, cheese or shrimps as starters, followed by lamb, turkey or seafood. All kinds of drinks are served during dinner and a toast is made with champagne or cava. As traditional desserts we can mention the shortbread, traditional Spanish nougat called “turron” or marzipan figures.
The following day, December 25th, is celebrated as Christmas day. Family reunions continue, plentiful dinners are held (though usually leftovers from the previous day are eaten). Although traditionally in Spain the presents are given on January 6th, due to the influence of the Anglo-Saxon culture gifts are given on this day in some families.
December 28. Day of the Holy Innocents
It is a day of making jokes, tricks and pranks although it originates from the massacre of children born in Bethlehem (Judea) ordered by King Herod to get rid of the new-born Jesus of Nazareth.
The custom is to make a joke or a prank to friends or family to laugh and have fun with them, also the newspapers publish absurd news. This custom is also commonly known in Latin American countries.
New Year’s Eve and New Year
Do you want to know how Spain welcomes the New Year? With twelve grapes. According to the tradition the grapes are to be eaten one at a time to the rhythm of the 12 strokes of midnight. If you manage to eat all the 12 grapes you’ll have a new year full of joy and prosperity. And if you do not, at least you have had a fun moment.
In Spain the last day of the year people get together with family and friends and enjoy a good dinner at midnight. Undoubtedly the most famous place in Spain to celebrate the New Years ‘Eve is the Puerta del Sol in Madrid. Thousands of people gather in the famous square to have fun with confetti, music, masks and wigs. The bells mark the beginning of a long night of partying that many hold up the traditional chocolate with churros in the morning.
The magic of the Magi
In Spain the children write letters to The Magi (The Three Kings or The Three Wise Men). Melchor, Gaspar and Baltasar are in charge of bringing gifts to children who have behaved well during the year and children who did not behave are given coal as a form of punishment (although in reality this “coal” is made of sugar).
On January 5th, the Kings reach every corner of Spain with its spectacular Three Wise Men’s day parade bringing gifts, sweets and singing Christmas carols. The parade is called la cabalgata and interestingly, in some places (like Barcelona) The Three Kings arrive by the sea. The oldest parade takes place in Alcoy (Alicante) which has been taking place since 1866. The young and the old crowd in the streets to witness this spectacle and then… there is nothing left than to go to bed and expect gifts on January 6th in the morning.
On January 6th, people eat typical for this day Roscón de Reyes (King´s Cake or King´s Ring), cake pastry traditionally eaten to celebrate Epiphany. In Spain, roscones bought in pastry shops have a small figures hidden inside, of a baby Jesus and little toys for children, as well as the traditional dry broad bean. Whoever finds the figure of baby Jesus is crowned “king” or “queen” of the celebration, whereas whoever finds the bean has to pay for the next year’s Roscón de Reyes.
In Spain the Christmas period officially ends on January 6th with the visit of the Three Wise Men from the East.