Spain, of course, is a Catholic country. But Christmas has grown to be more than a religious festivity, and it’s an opportunity to gather the whole family, catch up with cousins and uncles that you would never see otherwise and, in true festive style, eat.
The holidays in Spain start unofficially on December 22nd, with Lotería de Navidad (Christmas Lottery). As odd as it sounds, it’s truly a national event.
However, Christmas’ decorations are up by the second week of December. They’re not unlike what you see around the rest of the world: lights on the streets, big Christmas trees, candles. Most Spanish families will also set up a nativity scene (Belén) at home.
Food-wise, there are a lot of traditions for the holidays in Spain. Chocolates, marzipan and turrón are popular all around the country and some brands only make their products available during this time of the year.
Most families have dinner on the 24th, which we call la Nochebuena (literally, the good night). “Pavo Tufado” (turkey stuffed with mushrooms) is the staple dish in most of the country, although people in Galicia prefer seafood. To each his own, right?
After dinner, the more religious people will attend Misa Del Gallo (literally, the mass of the rooster) at midnight. Legend has it that the rooster sang at midnight when Jesus was born - hence the name. After the service, it’s not uncommon for people to walk through the streets carrying guitars, tambourines and drums.
Families get together the following day for a traditional family lunch on December 25th. And if by now you’re wondering if Papá Noel (Santa) forgot Spain on his way around the world to deliver presents, you’re not entirely wrong.
While it’s becoming more common to give children some presents on Christmas Day, the Spanish tradition is to do so on the Day of Epiphany (6th of January) - la Fiesta de los Reyes Magos.
Los Reyes Magos are the three wise men who brought presents for baby Jesus. And that’s how the tradition of giving presents on Día de Reyes started. The Roscón de Reyes, which is popular during this time of the year not only in Spain but also in Portugal and much of Latin America, is a cake with dried fruit.
But before the Reyes arrive, we still enjoy the Santos Inocentes (Holy Innocent) - the Spanish version of April Fool’s day - and New Year’s Eve. New Year’s is known as la Nochevieja (literally - the old night) and we usually eat 12 grapes, one on each stroke of the clock. It sounds simple enough, but it’s no small feat! Dare you try?