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Christmas time Traditions in Spain

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‘Feliz Navidad’ Happy Christmas

Christmas time or Navidades in Spanish, runs from December 24th to January 6th. Its a time of happiness, joy and celebration. Everyone making their way home to reunite with family and friends, looking foward to catching up on the past years events, exchanging stories and tales while reminiscing of past Navidades, in Spain it really is the time of year where the family rejoins and becomes one again.

Christmas was originally a religious holiday, and with Spain still having a large Christian following to many it still is, but these 13 days are a special time even for the many who do not embrace religion. You can feel it in the air, the atmosphere is different,the people are on a high, the festive cheer is contagious and it spreads like wild fire.

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Christmas Lotto ‘El Gordo’

The sound of the young pupils from San Ildefonso School calling out the Loteria de Navidad numbers give an early kick of to the festive period. December 22nd of every year is ‘EL GORDO’ which translate to the fat one, it is Christmas Lottery in Spain which staggering, life changing amounts of prize money. Each year you hear the young pupils list of the numbers in a manner that is synonymous with El Gordo, and whether you are listening in through the radio or watching it unfold on TV so as you here the sound of the numbers being read out you knows its Christmas. I suppose its Spains version of the Coca Cola trucks advert.

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Feliz Navidad

Once you have finished tearing up your losing lottery ticket and December 24th rolls around you ready for the celebrations to begin. Christmas Eve in Spain is called Nochebuena which means Good Night in Spanish, which is predominantly a family celebration. People meet for early evening drinks in the favourite local bars mixing with all locals wishing everybody the best, but soon enough everybody returns home to gather round a dinner table filled with an eclectic mix of delicacies served during different course. Some of the typical food you will find on a Spanish Christmas menu would be a starter of Spanish tapas and appetisers such as jamon (ham), queso (cheese), chorizo (Spanish sausage), the first course would then be light salad or soup that is traditionally sea food based, the main course would predominantly be Roast lamb and a variety of locally sourced trimmings but some families prefer pork or chicken,  and desert would be made up of nibbling on Turron (typical Christmas sweet) and Polvorones (Almond cookie) , and to finish of no Spainish feast would be complete with a ‘chupito’ which would be a shot of liquor or brandy. Once the table has been cleared and dishes put away the younger members of the family will probably head for bed because a traditional Spanish meal is known to go on well into the night.

Many Christians in Spain attend midnight mass of the 24th, in Spain it is known as the Misa del Gallo. He prayers are said and traditional Christmas carols are sung accompanied by the sounds of the zambomba (a Spanish drum), carracas (ratchet shaker) and because it is Spain a acoustic guitar.

Papa Noel or better know to us as Santa Claus is a fairly recent tradition in Spain, he brings children gifts on Christmas Eve. In parts of Spain you can find other types of traditional characters such as Olentzero, he is a coal venders who descends from the peaks of the mysterious peaks of the Basque mountains each Christmas to reward the well behaved children with gifts, but the children who have not behaved the past year will only find a lump of coal, left as a reminder to be nice for the next year.

December the 25th is a relaxed day in Spain. You will find some shops, bars and restaurants open that will be filled with family and friends who were unable to meet the night before. The local parks and plazas have a more jubilant ambiance to them as all the children are out playing with their new toy and gifts that Papa Noel left for them, showing them of to their friends.

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Dia de los Santos Inocentes

In spain they do not really celebrate boxing day as we know it so the festivities mellow a bit until the 28th. December 28th is a special day called “Dia de los Santos Inocentes” which is roughly translated to ‘the day of the the Holy innocents’, this day was originally celebrate the young victims of a massacre that was ordered by the biblical figure call Herodes. This is a well know story around the world, Herodes who heard of the birth of a new ‘King of the Jewish people’ sent his armies to massacre all the new born babies so to eliminate any future threat to his crown. Inocentes in Spanish can also me naive or simple, so December 28th has become the unofficial fools day which is celebrated in a similar manner to our own ‘April Fools Day’.

Another special day that comes around during Christmas time is Dec. 28th, the “Día de los Santos Inocentes”, a day that originally commemorated the young victims of a massacre ordered by biblical-age governor of Judea, Herodes. The governor hoped to eliminate the future threat to his power after prophets announced the recent birth of a new “king of the Jewish people”. The word inocente in Spanish can also mean simple or naïve, and this day in Spain is celebrated in much the same way as April Fool’s Day is in other cultures, meaning Dec. 28th is a day to watch out for tricks or “inocentadas” that pranksters are looking to play on people.

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Feliz año nuevo

As you will find with most celebrations in Spain, it is always based around a meal. So up until 11pm on December 31st (which is known in Spain as Noche Vieja – old night) the streets are very quiet and subdued, sort of like a calm before the storm. People are at home once again surrounded with family and friends feasting on certain Spanish delicacies, laughing, joking and singing their way up to the New Year. Depending on the location people will either see in the New Year in their homes or they will congregate in the town squares underneath the town clock, irrelevant of where you see in the New year their is one tradition that is always upheld, and that is the eating of the grapes. On each dong of the bell at 12 o’clock you must eat one grape, if you manage to eat all 12 grapes in time you are then bestowed with good luck and fortune for the coming year, easier said then done I must add.  Once you have cleared your face of left over grapes it is time to party. Meeting with friends in pubs and clubs you are now ready to dance your way into the New year, drinking establishment will stay open until the sun comes up so you have plenty of time to find the right dance partner. New years day is a day of rest for those who have partied through the night.

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Los Reyes Magos

Now you have fully recouped from your new year shenanigans its time to prepare for the arrival of Los Reyes Magos (the 3 kings). On January 5th you make your way to the local bakery to order the traditional Roscon de Reyes (a large ring shaped cake) which you will eat for breakfast on January 6th. A few days prior to the 6th, young children will write a letter to the three wise men or their favourite King: Melchor, Gaspar, or Baltasar, indicating which presents they would like to receive this year. The morning of the 6th the children will wake early to see if they where good enough to receive what they asked for, its a morning very similar to our Christmas morning where regular nutrition goes out the window and they gorge themselves on sweets and treats. In most towns in Spain their a procession through the town centre by Los Reyes Magos, who shower the crowds with more sweets and toys.