Christmas in Spain
Christmas in Spain is a time of Christmas carols, decorations, festive street lighting, joy, and a festive atmosphere –religious or secular- made evident by the smiles on the faces of people as they look around town for gifts for their loved ones.
Christmas in Spain gets off to a rather peculiar and early start on Dec. 22nd when children from San Ildefonso School can be heard calling out the winning numbers of the Christmas Lottery - Lotería de Navidad, which is likely the most followed Spanish lottery during the entire year. In Spain, when you hear the melodic sounds of the prize draw on the radio, you think: “Christmas time has arrived".
In most towns you will find a Christmas Belen set up, some bigger than others. It is tradition in Spain to visit the Belen with your friends and family and also see all the Christmas lights and decorations, this is when the celebrations begin.
Another tradition over the Christmas season in Spain would be having a leg of ham, this is special ham that has been cured over some time, known as “Jamon Serrano”. The cost of one leg can vary, depending on the brand and weight, between 50€ - 500€.
Dec. 24th is Christmas Eve (Nochebuena in Spanish), which is a family celebration in which Spaniards often gather to have dinner together, this is usually a big family event (and when we say family in Spanish, the word suggests a great deal of people). The annual family affair is a joyful event, where the magnificent meal and the high spirits carry on until late at night. Many Christian also attend the Misa del Gallo, a mass service offered at midnight on the 24th during which Christmas carols are sung.
While Christmas Eve is a family celebration, New Year’s Eve (called Nochebuena in Spanish) is a time for partying with friends. It is a night for throwing fiestas called “cotillones” or for gathering in town squares under the old clock tower waiting in anxious anticipation for it to strike twelve. According to tradition, observers must eat 12 grapes at each bell chime to guarantee good fortune for the New Year. Afterward, excited revelers often offer toasts to the New Year with glasses of sider. The festive spirit continues until the early morning and as in most countries, January 1st is a day of rest for those who have partied away the last night of the old year.
On Jan. 5th, many make their way to their favorite bakeries to order a Roscón de Reyes (a ring shaped cake eaten on Jan. 6th). Much more than a day for sweet traditions, the main focus here is on the kids, as parades roll through town in which the Reyes Magos (three kings) on horses and their pages shower candy over the children. It is a great parade with amazing outfits that have been worked on all year. After all the high emotions, nervous kids will have a tough time falling asleep that night, particularly because the following morning is the feast day of the epiphany, when the three kings will traditionally arrive from the east to leave gifts for the well-behaved.