Christmas is “the most wonderful time of the year”. So much is happening, the movies, the trees, Santa Claus, family and friends, the parties, and the birth of Christ. But not every country or place celebrates Christmas the same way. Here are a few of the Christmas Traditions in Spain.
El Gordo – The Fat Lottery
One of the most exciting Spanish Christmas traditions is playing the lottery. It’s so big, it’s called ‘El Gordo’ or ‘the Fat One. It gets this name because of the huge cash prizes. Last year’s winner won over 2 billion euros!
Since 1812, this tradition has been a part of Spain’s culture. When the winning numbers are announced on Dec. 22, they are sung out by a choir of schoolchildren.
We were in Spain in October and the tickets were already being sold. The lines to purchase the tickets wrapped around the streets, at the time we were wondering why the lines were so long, now we know!
Portal de Beléns
This common Christmas tradition can be seen across Spain. Portal de Beléns, meaning ‘stable of Bethlehem’, are more than just a few figurines in a stable. These are huge and elaborate nativity scenes. They include houses, markets, farms, rivers, and all kinds of characters.
Most towns and village squares (Plazas) go even further with more elaborate, full-size structures including the three wise men and animals.
Noiteboa and Midnight Mass
December 24th, Christmas Eve, is the big celebration day in Spain, not Christmas Day. It’s called ‘Good Night’ (Nochebuena in Spanish and Noiteboa in Galician), December 24th is when some of the Christmas celebrations take place.
The celebrations are a lot like ours. Families get together, eating, drinking, caroling, and enjoying this festive evening.
With Catholics making up over half of the country’s population, midnight Mass is a popular service for them. Also known as La Misa Del Gallo (The Mass of the Rooster) because a rooster supposedly crowed the night Jesus was born.
Who delivers Presents?
Santa in the big red suit is a relatively new tradition in the country. Some children still have gifts delivered by their region’s traditional legends.
In the Basque country, they receive presents from a Basque farmer named Olentzero. He is known for sporting a beret and pipe.
Meanwhile, in Catalonia, the ‘Tió de Nadal’ or ‘Caga Tio’ is a gift-pooping Christmas log. This log delivers small presents while the Three Kings deliver the larger gifts. Part of the ‘Tió de Nadal’ tradition is the kids beat the log with a stick in order to get their presents.
In most of Spain, the Three Kings deliver gifts. The Three Kings or the Three Wise Men (known as Reyes Magos – Melchior, Gaspar, and Baltazar) bring gifts to good children at Christmas time. Yet, it’s not on Christmas Eve. Instead, towns and cities hold huge Three Kings parades (‘cabalgatas’) on the night of January 5th. The Kings parade through town on floats and throw candies for the kids. It’s one of the most wonderful Spanish Christmas traditions you can’t miss!
This is the night when they leave out their shoes for the Kings to fill with gifts during the night. With some families celebrating with Santa nowadays, these children receive gifts Christmas morning and again a few on January 6th! Now, that’s a Christmas celebration!
In rural Galicia, a mythical coal miner named El ’Apalpador is their Santa Claus. This ginger-bearded mountain man goes down to the villages on the 24th or 31st December to check if children have eaten enough during the year. He usually leaves them some chestnuts, food, and maybe a few other gifts.
Roscón de Reyes
This Christmas cake is one of the favorite Spanish Christmas foods. This tradition isn’t celebrated until Epiphany on January 6th. They are celebrating the arrival of the Three Wise Kings in Bethlehem. On this holy day, they bake the Roscón de Reyes, a sweet bread-like cake, filled with whipped cream and topped with candied fruits and crushed almonds.
Inside the cake, a fava bean and a small figurine are hidden. If you find the small figurine, you will be blessed with good luck for the whole year, but if you get the fava bean, you have to pay for next year’s cake!
It’s a fun Spanish Christmas tradition and a wonderful way to end this festive time of the year!
We hope you enjoyed these Christmas traditions from Spain. We always leave our tree and nativity scene up until January 6th, but I think this year we might be making a Roscón de Reyes and celebrating with the Three Kings!