When it comes to celebrating, Spaniards will never disappoint you! Especially if it’s about Spanish Christmas traditions, they are always at the top of their game! Christmas in Spain is like no other and we don’t say it just because of the beautiful decorations on the streets and in the malls. There are different Spanish traditions at Christmas that you might find a bit weird but you will like them when you hear the story behind them.
Hop on to Santa’s sleigh because we’re going for a ride through the Spanish Christmas traditions! Be it the Catalan poop log, the 12 grapes for each chime of the clock at midnight on the 31st, or the Christmas lottery, the fun is guaranteed!
The Most Important Spanish Christmas Traditions
There is no doubt that Spanish Christmas traditions are a part of the culture worth seeing. Not only see it but you also need to live it!
Spain, like most European countries, celebrates Nochebuena (Christmas Eve) on December 24. But you can feel the festive spirit long before Christmas! And of course, Spaniards are always up for a celebration, because why not?
If you plan to visit Spain, make sure you travel during Christmas in Spain or any other Spanish festival Spaniards celebrate.
Putting up the Christmas Lights
Christmas in Spain wouldn’t be as fascinating as it is if it wasn’t for the decorations but, most of all, the beautiful Christmas lights all over the cities!
In big cities like Madrid, Barcelona, and Valencia, Spanish Christmas means taking seriously the job of putting up decorations.
You can feel the Christmas spirit, even though Spaniards start putting on the lights and decorations at the end of November. A bit too early? Come on, it’s Christmas!
You’re probably wondering how is this one of the Spanish Christmas traditions. Well, in Spain it is! Friends and families gather at the main city squares waiting for the lights to illuminate the plaza. Sometimes, the crowd counts down before it happens. Often, there are fireworks too, and the nativity scene will be unveiled in the main squares.
Welcome to Spain at Christmas!
El Gordo Spanish Christmas Lottery
¡Hombre, te ha tocado el Gordo!
(Man, you won the lottery!)
In Spain at Christmas, you will see a lot of people playing the lottery. The national lottery is called El Gordo and it represents another significant element of the Spanish Christmas traditions held since 1812.
The Spanish national lottery is drawn on December 22nd and it is called the fat one because the prize is very high. People buy lottery tickets hoping to win but more than that, they see it as a Spanish Christmas tradition that must not be lost (but it’s good to win too!).
The winning numbers are announced on TV. There’s a fun fact related to the announcement – a choir of school children sings the winning combination.
Besides El Gordo, there are other lotteries you can play during Christmas in Spain.
The El Niño lottery is one of the most popular lottery draws. If you buy the ticket and your numbers are drawn on January 6, you’re in a game for 700 million euros in prizes!
Belén de Navidad
You will see the nativity scene everywhere in Spain at Christmas! Be it a shop window, a Christmas market, or a supermarket, the stable of Bethlehem is a must when it comes to Spanish Christmas traditions.
These scenes are often very elaborated models, with figurines, houses, rivers, and villages that move through the scene thanks to the mechanism inside.
Spaniards are very creative when it comes to this biblical scene and they often introduce different elements to break the monotony of what people already expect to see. A good example of this is the Caganer, a pooper figurine, very popular in the Catalan Christmas tradition.
El Tio de Nadal
You will find some Spanish traditions at Christmas very funny and maybe weird too. El Tió de Nadal or the poop log certainly is.
El Tio de Nadal represents the Spanish Christmas tradition in Catalonia that kids are very fond of. If you haven’t heard of it yet, here’s a little explanation.
In some traditions, kids are impatiently waiting for Santa Claus and the presents he is bringing from the North Pole. However, according to Spanish Christmas tradition, Catalan children are waiting for the Tio de Nadal or Caga Tio to poop their Christmas gifts.
Yes, you heard it well – to poop the gifts!
But there is only one way that the children get their presents – if they feed the log and take good care of it. When the time comes, they hit the poop log with a stick and, of course, the log poops the presents that parents have previously hidden below the red blanket the log is covered with.
Somewhat similar to the Tio de Nadal, el Caganer (a pooper) also plays an important role in the Spanish Christmas tradition in Catalonia. It is pictured as a celebrity or a peasant and it is usually placed in a nativity scene (pessebres in Catalan) and the history behind it is still somewhat unclear.
Spanish Christmas Carols – Villancicos
In the States, we have Christmas carols, but in Spain they have villancicos. These cute Christmas songs are performed by the children in churches during the whole season of Spanish Christmas.
Villancicos date back to the Middle ages, however, they did not have a religious component back then. People used to sing them during harvests. But in time, they became more religious in nature given that people began associating and performing them in churches during the Spanish Christmas period. In time, they slowly started to integrate into the Spanish Christmas traditions.
You will find below the villancicos navideños, which are an important part of the Spanish traditions at Christmas.
The Spanish Christmas celebrations (fiestas navideñas) last till January 6, when the Three Kings come. In Spanish, they are called Los Reyes Magos, which means The Three Wise Men. Kids love this Spanish Christmas tradition because the Three Kings bring them presents if they behaved well during the year.
In big cities, on January 5, Spaniards organize a cabalgata de los Reyes (Three Kings’ parade). They throw candies into the crowd on the streets. The next morning, the presents are waiting for every child in the house. That day is called El Día de los Reyes (The Day of Three Kings).
Before the actual day, children write letters to Three Kings with their wishes, and eventually, they get what they asked for on January 6. The same morning, families eat the roscón de Reyes.
The 12 Grapes for a Good Fortune
Maybe one of the most known Spanish Christmas traditions, 12 grapes on New Year’s Eve is a custom Spaniards especially look forward to every year.
Nochevieja is celebrated on the streets, at home, or wherever you want. Spaniards call it an old night because it’s the last night of the current year. So, what does this have to do with the 12 grapes and why does Christmas in Spain cannot go without it?
Gathered on the squares or anywhere, every Spaniard has 12 grapes in hand. With every strike of the clock, they must eat all the grapes one by one! If they manage to do it by the time the clock strikes midnight, they will have a fortune and a successful year ahead.
What do you think about this one? Are you up for a challenge this year?
Spanish Christmas Food
Now, the most delicious part of Christmas in Spain is the food! Hungry, right?
There are meals that Spaniards prepare for Christmas eve but also in January when the kids are impatiently awaiting the Three Kings to arrive with the presents.
Street markets and shops are bursting with a variety of food and sweet treats. Oh, and all those colors are so tempting! Yes, we know!
So let’s start with the sweets!
Turron is, by far, the most popular candy in the Spanish Christmas tradition. It is a nougat made of egg white, sugar, and honey, but not just any nougat! What gives it such a delicious taste are roasted almonds or some other nuts. You can find it everywhere! Just look for a rectangular shape tablet. You can’t miss it!
There are three known types of turron: turrón blando (soft turron), turrón duro (hard turron) and turrón de chocolate (chocolate turron). According to some beliefs rooted in Spanish traditions at Christmas, turron used to be a luxurious treat made only on occasions such as Christmas and not many people could afford it. This might be one of the reasons Spaniards prepare it only this time of year.
These sweets owe their name to sugar powder used as a top icing (polvo – powder). The main ingredients are flour, sugar, milk, and nuts. If you see powdery cookies that crumble easily, chances are you bought yourself the polvorones navideños!
Mantecados are similar to polvorones but with less flour, which makes its consistency a little less crumbly.
This is a typical Spanish Christmas cookie. All you need is raw peeled almonds and sugar to make the paste and give it the shape you want! Given that these sweets are so easy to make, you can dip them in chocolate, cabello de ángel, or any other cream to experiment with different flavors. Voilà, the Christmas sweets are ready!
These Spanish Christmas sweets are made of almond and walnut paste and honey. The alfajores are very typical in Andalusian and Murcian gastronomy. You can also add hazelnuts, clove, and cinnamon if you want to try different flavors.
Roscón de Reyes
Roscón is a sweet round dough bun decorated with slices of candied fruit. Spaniards usually fill it with whipped cream but they also like other flavors, such as chocolate, truffle, or mocha.
An interesting fact about the roscón is that whoever makes it, hides a small figurine and a bean inside. It is believed that the one who finds the figurine will have a lucky year, whereas the one who finds the bean must pay for the cake. Spanish Christmas traditions in all their glory!
Traditional Spanish Christmas Dishes
When it comes to real Christmas meals, Spaniards spare no expense! The tables are full of delicious food and if you happen to visit Spain at Christmas, prepare your stomach because you will see what real Spanish Christmas traditions food-wise are!
Putxero or Cocido
Puchero, putxero, caldo de pelotas, or sopa de galets is more or less the same dish but is called differently in every Spanish region.
The main ingredient to make this dish is patience, so be smart and write your shopping list ahead of time. In Valencian Community, they call it puchero, while in Catalonia it is known as escudellà. Whatever the name is, it is a perfect meal to keep you warm on cold days during Christmas in Spain.
Puchero is a delicious Spanish stew full of veggies and meat. Even if we wanted to explain to you how to prepare it, it would be nearly impossible, because it has so many ingredients and the preparation is very elaborate.
Canelones de Navidad
As you can see, there is plenty of food on the Spanish Christmas table. You might be wondering by now how Spaniards can eat all that food! Easy, they don’t throw it. Instead, they use the leftovers to prepare other meals for the upcoming days.
Canelones de Navidad (cannelloni) is a popular Christmas dish in Catalonia made from leftover meat from Christmas Eve. To prepare this dish, Catalans use roast chicken or turkey with bechamel sauce.
Sometimes, if there is more meat left, they make croquetas instead of cannelloni. Other times, they use it for a salad.
We are sure you are aware that there are many Spanish Christmas traditions besides the ones we described. These are, however, the most important and, by all means, the sweetest ones (if you know what we mean 🍬).
Spain at Christmas is indeed very special and we are not exaggerating when we say it is a unique experience you have to treat yourself to at least once. Even if you’re not a fan of celebrations, walking down the decorated and illuminated Spanish streets will awaken a warm and cozy feeling inside of you.
Especially that nice smell of candies and sweets everywhere around you. You are never too old for Christmas!
Christmas is the time when we feel gratitude for everything the year brought us, be it good or not. If it’s not good, it’s a lesson. And lessons are always worth the effort.
Don’t worry, we are not philosophers here.
This Christmas, wherever you are, make it the best one ever! May your new year be made of the best things and dreams come true!
The ConvoSpanish team wishes you a merry Christmas and a happy New Year!
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