How Christmas in Spain is Celebrated
Spain has many unique Christmas traditions that vary from other countries, from the big Christmas lottery, to receiving gifts from the Wise Men rather than Father Christmas. Here’s our guide to celebrating Christmas in Spain…
One thing to note about Christmas in Spain is that it is less of a commercial build up as in other countries. In UK at least, we now see Christmas products being pushed in stores from early September. Could they not wait until we at least get Halloween out of the way?
Shops in Spain are still full of Christmas goodies and festive lights line the streets of cities, but from the start of December… how it should be!
Christmas Calendar in Spain
22nd December – Christmas Lottery – El Gordo
‘El Gordo’, ‘the Fatty’, is the Spanish Christmas lottery and it heralds the start of the festive celebrations in Spain. The winning numbers are announced on TV by schoolchildren who sing them out. It’s difficult to quantify just how huge this lottery is in Spanish culture – last year over US$2.9 billion in prizes were given out! As a ‘full’ ticket costs 200 euros, kiosks sell smaller portions of the tickets to make the lottery more affordable.
Cool facts: Around 70% of ticket sales are paid out in prizes! The prize structure is set out as such to allow as many people as possible to win some money, or at least walk away with a free ticket.
In the days in between El Gordo and Nochebuena, some children go around local houses singing carols for money!
24th December – Christmas Eve – Nochebuena
Many people in Spain go to midnight mass, or ‘La Misa Del Gallo’ on Christmas eve. After the service, in some regions people walk the streets playing guitars and other instruments announcing that this isn’t a night for sleeping!
The eagle-eyed among you might have notices that ‘La Misa Del Gallo’ would translate literally as ‘The Mass of the Rooster’. The reason for this is that a rooster is said to have crowed on the night that Jesus was born.
25th December – Christmas Day – Navidad
Some children may receive a small gift on Christmas morning in Spain, however it is more common to receive gifts later in the calendar. Although Christmas Day doesn’t have the same level of celebration as in other countries, it is popular for families and friends to meet up as it is still a public holiday.
28th December – Day of the Innocent Saints - El Día de los Santos Inocentes
Think April Fools’… this is the day on which people play practical jokes on each other. It is common for media channels to carry joke stories and for friends and families to try and trick each other.
31st December – New Year’s Eve – Nochevieja
New Year’s Eve is a big celebration held across the country, with street parties and other social gatherings. People tend to stay home until midnight, when they will eat 12 grapes to bring good luck for the new year. One grape would be eaten for each chime of the clock. After this, people often head out to party until sunrise!
1st January – New Year’s Day - Año Nuevo
Often a day of recovery from the night before!
It is common on 5th January for parades to be held ahead of the Feast of the Epiphany the following day. The Feast of the Ephiphany celebrates when the Wise Men brought gifts to the baby Jesus. Overnight, children across the country will have a restless night as they wait to see what presents the Wise Men have brought for them.
Ahead of this day, children will have written to the Wise Men. Tonight, they’ll leave their shoes on windowsills or balconies to be filled with presents.
Cool fact: it’s common to leave a satsuma, some cognac and walnuts for the Wise Men as they complete their festive rounds. Cheers!
6th January – Feast of the Epiphany - Día de los Reyes Magos
This is the day when the three Wise Men arrived from Bethlehem to meet the baby Jesus. Families also exchange Christmas gifts and get together for a feast.
7th January – The Return to Normality
From 7th January, the end of the festive period is upon us and people begin to head back to work and school. Until next year!
Spanish Christmas Greetings
As many languages exist within Spain, there are a few different ways to wish someone a Merry Christmas. In Spanish, Happy or Merry Christmas is 'Feliz Navidad'. Some others…
- In Catalan, Occitan and Asturian, it's 'Bon Nadal'.
- In Galician, it’s 'Bo Nadal'
- In Aragonese, it's 'Feliz Nadal'
- In Basque, it’s 'Eguberri on'.
What About Food?
The main family Christmas meal is often held on Christmas Eve before Midnight Mass. It’s tradition to eat a turkey filled with truffles! Pasta soup is also common, as well as seafood and entremeses (a large board of cheese, ham, bread, black pudding… and more!).
Have you ever celebrated Christmas in Spain? One thing’s for sure, it’s the most wonderful time of the year and we wouldn’t change it for a thing!
Do you know these Spanish words with more than one meaning?