Nina Eggens

Our roving Spanish lifestyle blogger Nina Eggens is originally from the Netherlands. After a stint in Scotland, she now lives in Valencia with her family, and provides regular tips and advice for overseas buyers thinking of making the move to Spain.

How do we celebrate Christmas in Spain? December traditions Spanish style

by Nina Eggens

Are you spending Christmas in Spain this year? You won’t be disappointed! From religious celebrations to the gigantic multi-billion euro lottery, beautiful Christmas stalls, amazing food and fiëstas on New Year’s Eve, December is a festive month in Spain – just like at home. But with better weather. 

The Immaculate Conception, the start of the festive season

There are a number of typical Spanish celebrations in December that are a bit different from other countries. In Spain, the official Christmas celebrations actually run from Christmas Eve to the Epiphany on January 6. Therefore, they start the holiday season a bit earlier in the month. Most people have a day off on December 8, because it is Inmaculada, the religious celebration that marks the beginning of Christmas time. This is also usually the time when Christmas lights are being switched on everywhere in Spain in the streets of villages and towns.

The celebration on the 8th is named after the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary and is a particularly popular celebration, especially in Seville, but is also a holiday in the Costa Blanca. With the National Day of the Constitution happening on December 6, you usually have a “puente” here, which basically means a long weekend.

Make a note of these dates on the calendar, because if the Spaniards are having a fi
ësta, no shop will be open! And if your fridge is empty, you are out of luck.

Special nativity scenes

December in Spain wouldn’t be complete without the belenes: nativity scenes in all shapes and sizes. Traditional nativity scenes, but also very modern ones; with statuettes or live nativity scenes; made by artists. You can find them throughout Spain. What they all have in common is that they give a representation of the birth of Jesus.

Christmas markets are also a popular event on many large squares, where you can buy small gifts, decorations and delicacies. Just like in most other European countries, the shops here are also full of sweets and other seasonal treats around this time of year. Great to send some home to family and friends! Typical sweets are marzipan and turrón, a kind of Spanish nougat. Turrón has been known since the 15th century in the city of Jijona / Xixona, north of Alicante.

The fat one: get ready for the biggest lottery in the world

Religious celebrations are one thing, but the Spanish are also very much into a very different event this time of year: the popular Spanish Christmas lottery, or “El Gordo” (the fat one). The draw takes place on 22 December. “El Gordo” is the largest lottery in the world and also one of the oldest that has been in existence since 1812. The whole of Spain is eagerly awaiting the draw, with this year’s main prize being 17 million euros. With these lottery tickets being more expensive than normal, it’s often groups of people buying a ticket together to split the costs. You can imagine the joy if the prize falls on a ticket that benefits an entire village!

Christmas Eve in Spain, shellfish and “polverones”

On December 24 it the Spanish celebrate Christmas Eve, or ”Nochebuena” in Spanish, not to confuse with ‘Nochevieja’ which is New Year’s Eve. Christmas Eve is in fact the most important part of the Christmas celebration in Spain, much more so than Christmas Day. It is a real family affair that mainly takes place at home. Most people therefore travel to the town of the village where they originally came from. And of course no Spanish party is complete without a tsunami of food and drinks.

What do they eat on Christmas Eve? The starter often consists of shellfish and the main course of a good quality piece of fish or meat. Pavo relleno (stuffed turkey) is a popular Christmas dish, just like in Britain. Toasting is done with cava and for dessert you get served dulces típicos de Navidad, such as turrón
, marzipan and ‘polvorones‘, curious Spanish Christmas cookies that pulverize in your mouth when you take a bite. Try saying Merry Christmas after that!

After dinner on Christmas Eve, many Spaniards go to midnight mass known as “Misa del Gallo” (mass of the rooster). Indeed, it is claimed that the rooster was the first to announce the birth of Jesus. On Christmas Day itself, December 25, Navidad, the Spaniards, like us, visit relatives and spend the day together. However, Spanish children still have twelve days to wait until they can unwrap their presents…they save gift giving for January 6!

What to do on New Year’s Eve in Spain?

On December 31 it is Nochevieja, or New Year’s Eve. Spanish people stay at home until midnight and then go all together, obviously after another fabulous meal, to the village square or the Plaza Mayor, to toast to the new year with friends. They do this after swallowing 12 grapes, “Las Uvas de la Suerte“, which they have consumed one by one at every stroke of the clock at 12, quietly speaking their 12 wishes for the year ahead. The 12 grapes is a custom found in most Spanish families and restaurants. Eating out on New Year’s Eve? Now you know what the grapes are for.

The three wise men from the East

On January 6, the festive month in Spain comes to a close with Three Kings, or “Los Reyes“. This important day is celebrated here in a big way and is the day on which the children of Spain receive their Christmas gifts. On January 5 Los Reyes or Three Wise Men arrive in Spain and you can attend festive street parades in many places at the start of the evening. The next morning the children can then finally open their presents.

If you’re visiting Spain during the festive period, don’t hesitate to get in touch with HomeEspaña to help with your property search. 

Nina Eggens

Our roving Spanish lifestyle blogger Nina Eggens is originally from the Netherlands. After a stint in Scotland, she now lives in Valencia with her family, and provides regular tips and advice for overseas buyers thinking of making the move to Spain.

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