Spanish Christmas trees without gifts!
By Line Eskildsen
If you spend Christmas with your family in Spain, although Spanish children won’t be utterly surprised, your family might find it somewhat confusing to see a tree without gifts. As an adult it might be a welcome variation to the standard customs, but your children, however, are unlikely express the same cultural curiosity.
Spain is one of the few countries that doesn’t commercially over-exploit the sanctity of Christmas. On the contrary you won’t be able to find a Christmas tree before well into the second half of December in Spain. Cities are not lit up with thousands of coloured lights in different shapes and sizes until (earliest) the week following the 1st of Advent.
Christmas is a religious celebration in Spain and the season officially starts on the 8th of December with the “Immaculada” (the celebration of the Immaculate Conception). The festivity is said to be exceptionally spectacular in Seville, where children dress up in 16th century costumes and dance in front the town’s churches. In front of the “Catedral de Santa María de la Sede” (Cathedral of Saint Mary of the See) people will come together for the “los Seises” ceremony (the Dance of the Six) where dressed-up choir boys will perform a well-studied choreography while clicking castanets.
In some cities winter solstice, the 21st of December, is celebrated as the “Hogueras” (bonfires). The day marks the shortest day of the year and the beginning of winter and is characterised by people jumping and dancing around bonfires as a symbolic protection against illness. It most commonly observed in Andalucian cities such as Granada or Jaén.
December 22 is probably the most “important” day during Navidad (Christmas), as it witnesses the drawing of the “Sorteo de Navidad “(Spanish Christmas lottery) where tickets are usually sold as everyone is hoping to win the “El Cordo” (The Fat [One]) amounting to €3 million. In 2010 the total value of the price money was over €2.3 billion. Consequently, it’s not strange that most Spaniards decide to stay in the proximity of a radio or TV at the time of the draw.
Christmas Eve, “Nochebuena” (Goodnight) is celebrated by going to mass at midnight, “La Misa del Gallo” (The Rooster’s Mass) and dinner is not eaten until after the church service. A typical Spanish Christmas Dinner is composed of turkey stuffed with truffles “Pavo trufado de Navidad” or a lamb roast (all depending on region) rounded off with “Tùrron” (Nougat made with roasted sweet almonds). Santa might leave a small gift for the children on the 24th or the 25th, although it’s not customary. Christmas Day is not celebrated as much as it is throughout the rest of Europe. Instead, it’s common to go for a walk, drop into a bar or enjoy a family get-together at a local restaurant.
Like in most of Europe, New Year’s Eve, “Noche Vieja” (old night) is a big celebration. However, Spain has yet another special tradition in store. At midnight they eat 12 grapes one each time the clocks chimes to bring good luck for the coming year.
On January 5 there are processions all over Spain, where sweets and smaller toy articles are thrown into the cheering crowd. And then on January 6 (Epiphany), it’s finally Christmas for Spanish kids, when los “Reyes Magos” (the Three Kings) leave presents for them.