THE Christmas festive period, or Navidades in Spanish, is a marvellous time to enjoy the wealth of celebrations which traditionally take place between December 24 to January 6.
No matter where you travel around the country, it’s impossible not to notice the population of Spain getting ready for their favourite festive period of the year. For many this is still a religious holiday, but regardless of faith, this is still a special time filled with seasonal cheer and goodwill.
Usually, the first sign that Christmas is coming are the traditional Belén (Bethlehem) nativity scene displays beginning to appear, with many municipalities putting on fabulous model displays from very early in December. Hugely popular with Spaniards, the typical display features intricate model presentations of the traditional nativity scene and the birth of Christ. However, along with the static displays at cathedrals and town halls, some villages and towns have even started to take part in presenting a ‘living’ Belén, featuring residents dressed up and accompanied by real animals.
Widely regarded by many as the biggest lottery of its kind in the world, December 22 is always a time of great excitement throughout the country, as Spaniards eagerly await the Lotería de Navidad draw and their chance to land “El Gordo” – the bumper jackpot on offer. Up and down the country, people are glued to their TV screens as the draw takes place, with entire villages often celebrating a big win, after clubbing together to buy a series of tickets. Nowadays, you can even buy your Spanish Christmas Lottery tickets online, with a one-in-seven chance of winning one of over 1800 prizes which range from €1,000 to around €4 million for “El Gordo” itself.
Perhaps the most joyful event for any family is the December 24 celebration of Christmas Eve, or Nochebuena in Spanish, gathering around a table stocked full of traditional treats and delicacies for a sumptuous festive dinner. Although hugely popular in the festive culture of other countries around the world, Santa Claus or Papá Noel has only gained popularity in recent decades in Spain, but nevertheless, children always welcome a visit from the jovial bearded man in red; especially if his arms are laden with presents! For those observing religious traditions, many Christians attend the Misa del Gallo, the midnight mass service at churches and cathedrals.
One day to take care of being the brunt of pranks or practical jokes, is “Día de los Santos Inocentes” on December 28, which, like a Spanish equivalent of April Fool’s Day, is always filled with plenty of good humour. Observed with eager anticipation throughout the world, in Spain New Year’s Eve, or Nochebuena, is a great time for partying, as the wait begins for the clock to strike midnight and usher in the New Year. When it does, the Spanish tradition is to quickly devour twelve grapes to guarantee good fortune. Of course, no festive celebration like this would be complete without a bubbly glass or several of cava in toast, well into the early hours.
Spanish bakeries are usually packed with customers on January 5, all keen to buy their Roscón de Reyes; a traditional ring-shaped cake typically enjoyed on the morning of December 6. This is the most traditional day of gifts and the focus is very much on children, all of whom are looking forward to what the Reyes Magos (three kings) will bring. In every village, town, and city, there is usually always a vibrant parade of the Magi through the central avenues, as onlookers are showered with sweets amidst the music and celebrations.
There’s always plenty to see and do over the festive Christmas period in Spain, and local communities often pull out all the stops to ensure it’s a truly marvellous time for everyone to enjoy, making it a unique time for residents and visitors alike.