A brief look at some of the Christmas customs in Spain …
In Spain, Christmas begins on 22 December, the day of the fat lottery known as ‘el gordo’. It is a day of great hope, because most Spaniards play for a number or share thereof, and then wait with impatience for the outcome of ‘el gordo’ which can yield an enormous cash prize.
On Christmas Eve family members gather around the table to dine on seafood, meat, sweets … the most typical Christmas sweets being nougat, marzipan and shortbreads, which are placed in containers for offering to visitors. After dinner they sing Christmas carols and chat, the latter being something Spaniards are very good at! The most religious families usually attend the ‘Misa del Gallo’ or midnight mass.
Christmas Day on 25 December is celebrated with a special meal, as on Christmas Eve. After the meal, there is a toast with traditional Cava and the rest of the day is spent with family. Boxing Day or St Stephen’s Day is not an official holiday in most of Spain. However, 28 December is the day of Innocent Saints, a day of jokes, false news reporting and general fun. Think of April Fools’ Day but with more gusto!
Dinner on New Year’s Eve is a popular event but not as family-orientated as on Christmas Eve, being a time to spend with friends. A superstition followed by many people is the wearing of red underwear, because they believe it will bring them luck throughout the following year. People usually watch television, since at a quarter to midnight, broadcasts connect with the Puerta del Sol in Madrid where a clock strikes the twelve bells announcing the new year. With each stroke, a grape is eaten and when finished, revellers celebrate with Cava. Afterwards, friends usually hold parties or gatherings that last all night, only ending as the first dawn of the new year breaks, at which point they eat chocolate and churros (a deep-fried choux pastry).
Onc again, New Year’s Day is a time for family gatherings and more food but so many suffer from hangovers from the night before that the occasion is often subdued. On the night of 5 January, the Three Wise Men arrive It’s the day for children’s parties, who on the preceding days, have written letters saying what gifts they would like to receive. When the children wake up on the morning of 6 January, the Three Kings have already left all their gifts. Breakfast that morning is traditionally Roscón de Reyes, a ring-shaped sweet pastry cake with a small gift inside.
Although the tradition is for children to receive their presents on the feast of the Epiphany, more families are now giving their offspring some gifts at Christmas in line with the more common practice around the world.