Christmas traditions in Spain: How to celebrate like a local

Shreya

Updated on Oct 31 • 5 minute read

Christmas celebrations in Spain start as early as December 22nd and last until the 6th of January. That’s a good 15 days of festivities during which you can experience a range of unique Christmas traditions: From buying lottery tickets to kickstart the season to waiting for Tió de Nadal instead of Santa.

Find out below how Spain celebrates Christmas and how you can too!

1. Get hyped about El Gordo, the big Christmas lottery

The tradition of buying the Christmas lottery ticket, also known as El Gordo or the fat one has been around since 1812! On the morning of every 22nd December, the Spanish eagerly wait to find out if they’ve won the Christmas lottery, which is worth more than €2 billion__!

Since buying a whole ticket is expensive, you can purchase a ticket in a group and play the same numbers. Once you’ve your numbers, tune in to the live telecast on the morning of 22nd December.

2. Say goodbye to Santa and hello to Tió de Nadal, Olentzero, and El Apalpador

Christmas day in Spain is not limited to the 25th of December because traditionally, Spain doesn’t have a Santa Claus (Papa Noel). Instead, different regions of Spain have their version of Santa Claus.

In Catalonia, families eagerly await Tió de Nadal a hollow log that is brought to life with a face and two legs. Starting from the 8th of December, children cover the log with a blanket to keep it warm and start ‘feeding’ it. On Christmas day, everyone sings songs and beats the log with a stick until all the sweets, nuts, and other small edibles come pouring out. This is also why the log is also called Caga Tió, the pooping log.

In the Basque region, children wait for Olentzero, a gruff-looking fat man with a pipe in his mouth. Instead of giving gifts on the 24th night or 25th morning, he starts his journey on the 23rd of December.

The Galician version of Santa is El Apalpador, a mythical coal miner who only gives gifts to children who’ve been eating well.

3. Have traditional Spanish Christmas food on Nochebuena

Nochebuena or Christmas Eve is typically a family event where everyone gathers around the table to catch up and feast on mouthwatering Spanish Christmas food.

Traditionally, Spaniards had Pavo Trufado de Navidad and Pularda Asada, a truffle-stuffed turkey and roasted hen. Nowadays, typical Spanish Christmas food includes cured meats, cheeses, tapas, soup, and a wide variety of meat and seafood for the mains. Food is typically accompanied by cava or Spanish wines. You end with traditional Spanish Christmas sweets, such as Turrón – a type of nougat, polvorones – a type of Spanish cookie, and mazapán (marzipan).

4. Attend La Misa Del Gallo

After you’ve enjoyed your Nochebuena feast, it’s time to head out to church for the midnight mass, also known as La Misa Del Gallo (the mass of the rooster). You’ll especially love the communal atmosphere at the church if you’re religious or go to church now and then.

5. Look out for the caganer in the Nativity scenes

People spend hours and sometimes huge amounts of money recreating the Nativity scene, also known as Portal de Beléns. Typically, the Nativity scene will have baby Jesus, Mother Mary, Joseph, shepherds, the Three Wise Kings, and a caganer- a tiny figurine of a man pooping. Try to spot them as you can often see the faces of famous people on them!

6. Attend Christmas Markets in Spain

Spain at Christmas time is made more special with its Christmas markets. You’ll find markets selling Christmas decorations, typical Christmas dishes and sweets, and sometimes even vintage items. Here’re some of the best Christmas markets in Spain.

Barcelona: You’ve to visit Barcelona’s oldest and most popular Christmas market – Fira de Santa Llúcia – at least once. The Fira de Nadal a la Sagrada Familia market also makes for a stunning backdrop as you shop for handcrafted goods, Christmas desserts, and other festive decorations.

Valencia: 2 great Christmas markets in Valencia include Mercado de Navidad en el Mercado Colón and Mercado de Navidad y Reyes del Mercado Central. Besides Christmas markets, Valencia also boasts a Christmas themed fair called Feria de Atracciones de Navidad.

Madrid: The Christmas markets in Madrid have a different vibe as you’ll find more antiques, vintage clothes, furniture, and artwork. Some that you can visit include Mercado de Navidad de Plaza Mayor and Feria Mercado de Artesanía de Madrid.

Seville: Enjoy the warm weather as you go through Seville’s Christmas markets. If you feel like shopping for decorations or handicrafts, then consider visiting Mercado Navideño de Artesania and Mercadillo de Nervión. If you rather marvel at the beautiful Nativity Scenes, head to the Mercado de Belenes market.

Malaga: Malaga makes for one of the best places to enjoy a warm Christmas in Spain. The city boasts multiple Christmas markets, such as the Mercado de Navidad del Muelle Uno or Mercadillo Navideño Jardin Botanico La Concepción. Most of all, don’t forget to pay special attention to the Christmas lights as that’s what Malaga’s known for.

7. December 28th – Don’t believe everything and watch out for the eggs!

Most people are familiar with April 1st being Fool’s day. But in Spain, Fool’s Day or el Día de Los Santos Inocentes (Day of the Holy Innocents) is celebrated on December 28th.

Mark this date on your calendars and don’t believe everything you hear. You might even come across television broadcasts sharing made-up stories. If you’re being fooled, you’ll hear people shout out Inocente Inocente.

To make this day memorable, we highly recommend visiting Ibi, Alicante. Every year on December 28th, people in Alicante throw eggs and flour to celebrate El Enfarinats.

El Enfarinats has a darker history. The event commemorates the massacre of innocent babies by King Herod who was trying to eliminate baby Jesus.

You’ll see people dressed in army attire impose ridiculous laws and an opposition group staging a fake coup by throwing flour and eggs. Anyone who breaks the new laws or doesn’t go along has to pay a fine. But don’t worry, the money goes to worthy causes!

8. Ring in the new year with 12 grapes

The way Spain celebrates New Year’s Eve or Nochevieja is unique and fun. It’s typically celebrated with friends and instead of standing under a mistletoe, waiting for fireworks, drinking, or singing happy new year, Spaniards are busy having grapes.

The most popular New Year’s tradition in Spain involves having 12 uvas de la suerte or 12 lucky grapes in the last 12 seconds of New Year’s Eve. This holiday tradition is believed to bring luck.

As the New Year rings in, you might see Cava glasses with rings inside them. This is meant to bring prosperity. And don’t be surprised if you see people wearing or shopping for red lingerie. Although more of a superstition, red lingerie is also supposed to bring love, luck, and prosperity.

9. Christmas is not over until January 6th

Children in Spain don’t receive gifts from Santa Claus but from The Three Kings on January 6th.

On 5th January, the eve of Epiphany (Fiesta de Los tres Reyes Magos), you’ll see huge crowds gather on the streets to watch the 3 Kings during Reyes Magos parade. After the parade, children leave their shoes outside or under the Christmas tree so that the 3 Kings can leave gifts for them. In some places, children also leave gifts for the Kings and their camels – glasses of water, cognac, and some walnuts. On 6th January, children finally receive their Christmas gift

To mark the end of the festive season, eat the special dessert of the day — Roscón de Reyes with your friends and family. This is a doughnut-style dessert filled with cream and a surprise! If you bite into a dried fava bean, you’ll have to pay for next year’s Roscón de Reyes. If you bite into a figurine, you’re going to be blessed with good luck.

So now that you know all about the different Christmas traditions in Spain, it’s time to go out and enjoy!

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