How Christmas is celebrated in Spain
When you visit Spain for Christmas, you'll find that the lights stay on all night, the Christmas trees sparkle, and the family gathers for a delicious meal. Christmas dinners are traditionally rich, with seafood, roast beef, cured ham and fine wines. You'll also find typical Christmas cakes and pastries, including Turron, Mantecados and Pestinos.
While Spain celebrates Christmas in a very traditional way, some regions do celebrate the holiday differently. For example, the Galician region celebrates Christmas by holding midnight mass, and then walking the streets with torches to see in the New Year. After midnight mass, children are given some gifts, but most gifts are given twelve days later, on Epiphany and Twelfth Night. In Spain, Santa Claus is often referred to as the Three Wise Men, who supposedly brought gifts to the children.
In the Basque Country, children wait for Olentzero, the version of Santa Claus who carries a pipe. Children wake up on 6 January to find presents under the tree, but adults are merely reminded that the holiday season is over and the daily grind is starting again. After 6 January, life in Spain returns to normal.
Another part of Spain's Christmas traditions involves the nativity scene. Known as the Belen, this festive scene is usually displayed in homes. Some people keep them at home for good luck, while others give them to friends as gifts. In Roman times, these tiny figurines were placed above the doorways to protect the household.
As you can see, the Spanish holiday is celebrated differently to Christmas in many other countries. While some families choose to give gifts on Christmas day, the main day for gift-giving is the 6th of January. For children, however, it's traditional to wait until Epiphany, or Three Kings Day, to open their presents. A traditional Christmas dinner in Spain includes seafood such as king prawns.
Spanish Christmas celebrations have different traditions, but there are some common themes running throughout. For example, cured ham and chorizo are staples on Spanish tables, and it is common to see cured hams being served at Christmas dinner. Other staples include roasted lamb, suckling pig and seafood. During the winter holidays, you'll also see many nativity scenes set up across the country. They come in all different shapes and styles, and are a traditional part of the Christmas celebrations.
Another characteristic of Spanish Christmas is that many people attend midnight mass in the church after a large Christmas dinner. This serves to renew their faith and to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ on Christmas Day. This tradition is a significant part of Spanish culture and one that you'll want to participate in.
Spain's Christmas celebration is the most traditional and family-oriented holiday in the world. The festivities last for several weeks and focus on family time, delicious food and honouring traditions, a lot of which are centuries old, and some of which might surprise you.