Christmas in Spain is a magical time that is unlike anything else you’ve ever experienced. However, unlike most countries where it is largely commercialised and the main focus is on how many presents you can buy, instead, there is a big spotlight on the religious side by celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ. So going to church is a big part of the holiday celebrations. Many of the churches will hold several services throughout the day as Christmas draws near to accommodate the crowds.
During the end of November, you’ll begin to see signs of Christmas popping up everywhere. This is when the beautiful lights go up, the Christmas trees go on sale and marketers everywhere will start selling Christmas items.
You’ll also see a number of nativity displays set up throughout the towns and at many of the churches. Some are small but others are very large and even animated. For example the one in Madrid for Christmas 2014 is 150m2!
While these give you an idea that Christmas is near, the first major sign of Christmas that gets everyone excited is the El Gordo, which means the Fat One. It may not sound like it but this is actually the name of the Spanish Lottery. However, it’s not just any lottery but the largest one in the world with a prize total of 2.2Billion euros and everyone wants a ticket because there are thousands of winners every year. Next comes Christmas Eve which plays a major role in the run up to Christmas.
Christmas Eve or “Nochebuena” is a time for celebrating with family and friends. This is when the biggest meal of the year is served and homemakers spend all day preparing a variety of food for everyone to enjoy. Traditionally, seafood including shellfish such as prawns or crab and cold cuts are served first, then soup, followed by baked fish and potatoes and some families enjoy several different types of meat such as suckling pig and roast lamb. Today, some families are even including turkey in their Christmas Eve meal.
Since seafood is part of the main course, the price normally is much higher during the Christmas season than at any other time of the year but it doesn’t stop people from buying. There is also an abundance of deserts for everyone to enjoy that include cakes, “turron” and marzipan along with Cava, a Spanish champagne that is very popular at this time of year.
The celebrations begin at home with the meal and everyone in the family will participate but the party usually continues all night long. After dinner, sometimes gifts are exchanged but only one small gift is given to children since most of the focus is on celebrating Christ not buying gifts. After that, the children might go carol singing or get ready for bed.
The adults normally continue celebrating by attending Midnight Mass or drinking champagne until the morning arrives. Others move the party to a club, disco or even a hotel where they’ll join friends and keep the party going until dawn.
Christmas Day is a little quieter and families will usually sit down for a long lunch together. It is very popular for families to participate in “Amigo Invisible” which translates to Invisible Friend, more commonly known as Secret Santa. They will exchange gifts after lunch and enjoy some “copas” (long drinks like gin and tonic) during the afternoon and talk amongst themselves whilst the little ones play.
Most businesses are closed except for restaurants, which take reservations well in advance so you can’t wait until the last minute to eat out. However, Christmas day is not the end of the celebrations in Spain and that is one of the things that makes Christmas in Spain so special. January 6th, Three Kings day is also a big day for celebrating.
The Three Kings Day
On January 6th, people in Spain celebrate the Three Kings Day or “Los Reyes”. This is part of the Christmas celebration and it’s a very important day because this is when the Three Kings came to Bethlehem bearing gifts for Christ. This is the part of the celebrations that children look forward to most because it’s when they receive the most gifts.
The Three Kings will visit the towns during the night on January 5th and distribute presents to the children throughout the night. Children are encouraged to write letters to The Three Kings to tell them what types of gifts they would like in the same way children in other countries write to Santa Claus.
The names of the three kings are Melchior, Gaspar and Balthazar. Melchior is the king of Arabia and he wears a gold cloak that represents the gold given to Jesus Christ and he has white hair and a white beard. Gaspar is the king of Sheba and he wears a green cloak with a gold crown to represent the Frankincense given to Christ. The crown has green jewels and he has brown hair along with a beard but sometimes he is beardless.
Balthazar is the king of Tarse and Egypt and he wears a purple cloak to represent the Myrrh given to Christ which is a perfume used to make dead bodies smell better. He has black skin and normally has a black beard but not always. The three kings will arrive by horses, boat and sometimes helicopter and it’s always a big celebration.
Celebrating the Three Kings Day
Everyone in Spain celebrates the Three King’s Day. As night arrives on January 5th, the people gather in the streets to watch the parades of beautifully decorated floats go by. It’s fun for the whole family to watch. People inside the floats will throw all types of sweets out to the people watching them go by as they make their way throug the city. It’s such a big event that the local television stations cover everything live for anyone that can’t make it out to watch.
On January 6th, the children open their gifts and the excitement in the air is unmatchable. There’s also a special pastry sold just for this special time of year and it’s called Rosca de Reyes. This cake is shaped like a ring and there is a present inside. It tastes a lot like hot cross buns covered with jellies and sugar. Whoever finds a toy inside their cake is believed to have good luck for the rest of the year.
Christmas in Spain is an amazing time and the whole experience is something that you’ll never forget. You may even feel a little different about Christmas after experiencing this series of events.