Christmas in Spain starts with the Spanish Xmas Lottery being drawn a few days before Xmas Eve. Most Spanish people buy into at least a small portion of a lottery ticket in the Christmas Lottery each year, even if they do not gamble during the rest of the year. This includes tickets exchanged with family and acquaintances, or participations sold by one’s employer. Pupils of the San Ildefonso school (formerly reserved for orphans of public servants) draw the numbers and corresponding prizes, singing the results aloud in front of the public. The climax of the drawing is the moment when El Gordo (the big one) is drawn.
Most families eat their main Christmas meal on Christmas Eve before the service. The traditional Spanish Christmas dinner is ‘Pavo Trufado de Navidad’ which is Turkey stuffed with truffles (the mushrooms, not the chocolate ones!). In Galicia and Asturias (regions in north-west Spain) the most popular meal for Christmas Eve and for Christmas Day is seafood and/or fish. This can include all kinds of different seafood, from shellfish and molluscs, to lobster and small edible crabs; and seafood or monkfish soup as a starter is a must. All meals will finish with turrón (nougat) and polvorones as dessert.
Some people go to the service or ‘La Misa Del Gallo’ (The Mass of the Rooster). It is called this because a rooster is supposed to have crowed the night that Jesus was born. After the midnight service, people used to walk through the streets carrying torches, playing guitars and beating on tambourines and drums and asking for the “aguinaldo” (money tip).
A few different languages are spoken in different regions in Spain. In Spanish Happy/Merry Christmas is ‘Feliz Navidad’; in Catalan it’s ‘Bon Nadal’; in Galician ‘Bo Nadal’; ‘Eguberri on’ in Vasc; and ‘Felices navidaes’ in Asturian
December 28th is ‘Día de los santos inocentes’ or ‘Day of the Innocent Saints’ and is very like April Fools Day in the UK and USA. People try to trick each other into believing silly stories and jokes. Newspapers and TV stations also run silly stories. If you trick someone, you can call them ‘Inocente, inocente’ which means ‘innocent, innocent’. 28th December is when people all over the world remember the babies that were killed on the orders of King Herod when he was trying to kill the baby Jesus.
Many Spaniards finish the year off running at the popular San Silvestre race. New Year’s Eve is called ‘Nochevieja’ or ‘The Old Night’ in Spain and one special tradition is that you eat 12 grapes at each stroke of the clock until it hits 12 midnight!. Each grape represents a month of the coming year, so if you eat the twelve grapes, it is said you will have good luck in the new year.
Apart from Christmas, there is another festival and which is celebrated in Spain that it’s called Epiphany and is celebrated on 6th January. This is the twelfth night after Christmas. In Spanish, Epiphany is called ‘Fiesta de Los tres Reyes Magos’: in English this means ‘The festival of the three Magic Kings’. Epiphany celebrates when the Kings or Wise men brought gifts to the baby Jesús.
Children have some presents on Christmas Day, but most are opened at Epiphany. Some children believe that the Kings bring presents to them at Epiphany. Gifts are often left by children for the Kings, a glass of Cognac, wine, or just milk for each King, some sweets and biscuits. Sometimes a bucket of water is left for the camels that bring the Kings! If the children have been bad, the Kings might leave pieces of coal made out of sugar in the presents!
Some big towns and cities have Epiphany Parades with each King having a big float that is shaped like a camel. Sometimes there are also real camels in the parade. The Three Kings in the the Spanish Epiphany are:
- Gaspar, who has brown hair and a brown beard (or no beard!). He is the King of Sheba. Gaspar represents the Frankincense brought to Jesus. Frankincense is sometimes used in worship in Churches and showed that people worship Jesus.
- Melchior, who has long white hair and a white beard. He is the King of Arabia. Melchior represents the Gold brought to Jesus. Gold is associated with Kings and Christians believe that Jesus is the King of Kings.
- Balthazar, who has black skin and a black beard (or no beard!). He is the King of Tarse and Egypt. Balthazar represents the gift of Myrrh that was brought to Jesus. Myrrh is a perfume that is put on dead bodies to make them smell nice and showed that Jesus would suffer and die.
A special cake called ‘Roscón’ is eaten at Epiphany. Roscón means ‘ring shape roll’. It is very doughy and is bought from a bakery on Epiphany morning. Roscón can be filled with cream or chocolate and contain a little gift and a bean. It is said that the person who finds the gift will be the King of the day and the one who finds the bean will have to pay the ROSCÓN.
Nativity Scenes ‘Pesebres’ are also popular in Spain. Many towns also hold ‘Pastorets’ which are big plays/presentations about the Christmas story, the birth of Jesus. There are also many Belen contests that show amazing works of art.
Christmas in the Basque Country
In the Basque country (which is a part of northern Spain and southern France), on Christmas Eve, children’s presents are delivered by a magical man called Olentzero. He’s a big, overweight man wearing a beret and smoking a pipe. He dresses like a Basque farmer.
Christmas in Catalonia
In the Catalonia province of Spain there’s a Christmas character called ‘Tió de Nadal’ (the Christmas log) or he’s sometimes known as ‘Caga tio’ (the pooping log!). It’s a small hollow log propped up on two legs with a smiling face painted on one end. From the 8th December (the Feast of the Immaculate Conception) Catalan families gives the log a few morsels of food to ‘eat’ and a blanket to keep it warm. On Christmas Day or Christmas Eve, the log then ‘gives out’ small gifts! People sing songs and hit the log with sticks to help its ‘digestion’ and the log drops sweets, nuts, and dried fruits. When garlic or an onion falls out of the log, all of the treats are finished for the year.
You will find the “l’Anguileru”, a fisherman who arrives from the sea on Xmas Eve and brings presents to the kids.