Are you stuck in a rut when it comes to Christmas? In many countries, Christmas has become a hurdle to overcome rather than a celebration to enjoy. Starting in October, the hype begins with shops decorated from top to tail in tinsel and long, sickly TV adverts pulling at your heart strings.
If you are one of the people who is finding this all a bit too much then coming to Spain over the Christmas period could be a good idea. The weather isn’t warm exactly but chances are it will be a lot milder than in your native country. And whatever the temperature outside might be, it’s likely that the sun will be shining.
Christmas is celebrated here, but not to the same degree as in some other European countries. Christmas Eve is the traditional time for present-giving and when the main, family meal is eaten. Christmas Day itself being more like Boxing Day with time to relax and eat left-overs.
It’s perhaps fair to say that Christmas is spread more thinly. It’s not as intense but does go on for quite a while. Here are the most important dates in a Spanish Christmas and what you might expect from each one.
December 22nd – El Gordo
Thisliterally means ‘the fat one’ and is the descriptive name given to what has become the world’s biggest lottery. Prize money totals over 1.75 billion euros and the majority of Spaniards will buy at least one ticket to try their luck.
The lottery heralds the beginning of Spain’s Christmas and the country comes to a near standstill as the many numbers are chanted by choirs of children.
December 24th – Nochebuena
This is perhaps the main ‘Christmas’ meal when families meet in the evening for a traditional dinner of seafood, fish and perhaps roast turkey. After dinner, presents might be handed out and carols sung.
December 25th – Navidad (Christmas)
A traditional family day but not perhaps as hectic as Christmas day in some other European countries.
December 28th – Día de los Santos Inocentes
This is the equivalent of April Fool’s Day and people play good-humoured tricks on each other.
December 31st – Noche Vieja (Old Year’s Night/ New Year’s Eve)
A New Year’s party is called a cotillón and is likely to start late in comparison to celebrations in some other European countries. The Spanish tradition for good luck is to eat 12 grapes at midnight, one on each stroke of the 12 clock chimes.
January 1st – Día Año Nuevo (New Year’s Day)
This is a national holiday and a time when most people visit their family to wish them Feliz Año Nuevo (Happy New Year).
January 5 and 6 – Los Reyes (The Kings)
Instead of receiving presents from Santa Claus on Christmas Eve children in Spain traditionally receive them from the three kings on La Noche de Reyes (The Night of the Kings). In most towns in Spain children and their families line the streets to see the ‘Kings’ and their procession arrive on January 5th.
Although the three kings is the traditional method of handing out presents to the children, Santa Claus has become increasingly popular in Spain recently. It’s quite common now to find houses having both the Kings and Santa climbing up the outside walls ready to deposit their gifts.
Leaving behind the cold, the snow, the rain and Christmas hype isn’t to everyone’s taste. However, we’d recommend everyone to try it at least once.
Tips for visiting Spain at Christmas
- Bring some warm clothes with you, it’s nippy in Spain in December and you won’t enjoy your stay if you are dressed for beach weather
- Make sure you have heating arrangements in place – some air conditioners act as heaters too or you can purchase portable gas heaters that will take the edge off the cold night air
- Don’t expect to go out late on Christmas Eve to your favourite restaurant. Most Spanish restaurants and bars shut up early on Christmas Eve so that staff can enjoy the occasion with their families. The same can happen on New Year’s Eve too.
- Don’t feel the need to bring lots of Christmas cards and decorations over with you – cards are rarely handed out in Spain and decorations are relatively sparse.
- Don’t expect to go out at 9.00 pm on New Year’s Eve and be home by 1.00 am. Traditionally, Noche Vieja starts around midnight and festivities will continue in some towns until 7.00 or 8.00 am the following morning.
- Don’t feel the need to celebrate Boxing Day if you come to Spain. It’s not recognised here as such and isn’t even a bank holiday.
- Make time to visit a Belén – this is a nativity scene that can be found in most Spanish towns and cities, usually in the town square. In some places it is quite a detailed and intricate affair that tells the Christmas story from start to finish.
- If you do go and watch the procession on the 5th January and have a child with you, take a carrier bag. Sweets are traditionally thrown by the procession and there is usually more than little hands can hold.
- Enjoy the fact that some nationalities can watch new year’s eve twice. The different time zones means that you can spread the phone calls and enjoy the celebrations in two cities if you have satellite TV.
- Try and make the beach on Christmas Day. If you are on the coast and don’t mind the presence of expats, this is a rather memorable way of celebrating. In some areas you might be joined by a brass band and a few barbecues. If this isn’t to your liking there will be other beaches nearby that offer the opportunity for a quieter, sunny stroll (hopefully).