Christmas! A time for joy, family, and traditions. In the UK, we start preparing for it toward the tail-end of summer. As soon as it hits November the Christmas spirit is in full force, with Christmas music blaring through the streets and in shops, Christmas adverts hitting our TVs and countdowns to the day itself appearing everywhere.
Overall, it is both in-your-face here and very commercialised – for both good and bad – but not everywhere in the world is like this and in many places, such as Spain, Christmas is a much more traditional and understated affair.
There are a few major differences in the timeline of a Spanish Christmas; Christmas lights in town centres are put up and turned on around the start of December, Christmas trees are not put up until the second half of December, presents are not given until the 6th of January, and a few smaller celebrations are held on a few days throughout December.
Due to the hugely Catholic history of Spain the first event in December is a national holiday called La Inmaculada, which is celebrated by Catholics in the name of the virgin Mary. On this day, it is tradition to hold a solemn mass in honour of Mary, and then there are fireworks along with a procession of ten or twelve 18 year old women who are called las cofradías de las Hijas de María (the sisterhood of Mary’s daughters).
For a year, these girls will participate in fundraising activities for their church which pay for the events and celebrations held on the 8th. During the events of the 8th, the clavariesas (as the girls are known) are accompanied by a male of their choosing to whatever events are being held and must wear a black gown with a teja y mantilla (a comb holding up a piece of lace) on their head.
Jumping forward to the 21st of December, there is a celebration called Hogueras de San Juan (bonfires of Saint John) which is done twice a year in parts of Spain to celebrate both the Summer solstice and Winter solstice. In December, it is celebrated by people jumping through bonfires which is seen as granting good health and immunity to illness in the coming year.
A huge national tradition which happens on the 22nd of December every year in Spain is El Sorteo de Navidad (The Christmas Lottery). This brings everyone in the country together in the hope that they may win El Gordo (the fat one) and receive a large amount of money. It tends to be used to help multiple people from the same village in a sense of community spirit, partially because people tend to pool money together in order to buy the tickets. There are a lot of smaller prizes too in this lottery and every year people are excited to spend the large amount of money a ticket costs in order to have their chance at a prize and ring in the new year properly.
The 24th of December is actually the most important family gathering for Spaniards as it is referred to as Nochebuena (Goodnight). It tends to involve families getting together for a few drinks in the evening before returning home for a traditional dinner as Spaniards tend to eat much later than people in the UK.
Upon returning home, dinner is usually served in three courses consisting of prawn starters, then roast lamb and finally a turrón (nougat made of toasted sweet almonds) for desert. This is not the exact meal plan that every family follows, but it is traditional and usually it would be similar to this. Nochebuena is essentially a night for family. People in Spain treat it as a great time to enjoy each others company and talk about the year together.
Finally on the 25th of December, Spanish families tend to leave presents until the 6th of January and instead opt to use Christmas day itself as a day of relaxation and a further family day. It is customary to meet in a pub or restaurant around lunchtime for a large meal together and spend the rest of the day relaxing by going for walks, watching TV, spending time with family or just simply taking everything in.
When families meet together in Spain there is always a lot of eating and drinking, but at Christmas especially there are a few Spanish foods that are eaten by every household. Turrón, polvorónes (heavy/ soft Spanish shortbread), and rosco de reyes (King’s cake, bread type cake covered in sweets, dates/ anything colourful).
The main days in which Spanish families meet to eat and enjoy each other’s company are the 24th, 25th, 31st of December and the 6th of January.
Christmas time in Spain is a very different to in the UK. Spain prioritises tradition and relaxation, as they have for centuries. The people of Spain take the season as a time to enjoy each others company, celebrate their religious roots and ponder both the past and future.
Feature image credit: Amigo Foods