Christmas in Spain is festive and fun and filled with cultural traditions that have long been a part of the country’s annual celebrations. Around the middle of November the Christmas spirit emerges and shops begin filling windows with gifts. The streets of Madrid and Barcelona, along with other cities and towns, both large and small, are adorned with bright Christmas lights and special motifs.
There are many Spain Christmas traditions to observe when spending the holiday season in Spain. A predominant Catholic population means Spain shares several Catholic customs with other Catholic countries around the world. One of the most recognizable Spain Christmas traditions is the arrangement of the nativity scene, which features Jesus’s birth as it is told in the bible. Extremely detailed and painstakingly decorated, nativity scenes around Spain are a common sight during Spanish Christmas vacations.
Though Christmas has become one of the largest commercial events in countless western countries, commercialism doesn’t define Christmas in Spain. Devout Catholics in Spain are deeply religious and focus much more so on the actual events surrounding the birth of Jesus. The important holidays throughout the season clearly illustrate the beginning of Christmas celebrations in Spain, starting with the Feast of the Immaculate Conception on December 8. Also known simply as Immaculada, this one of many Spain Christmas traditions is most evident in Seville.
Bonfires are another of the traditions in Spain during December. The bonfires, called Hogueras, are lit in only a few cities on December 21. These cities include Granada. The fires mark the onset of the winter solstice. In the cities where Hogueras is most popular, Spanish people hurdle themselves through the fire in belief that the they will be protected from serious illnesses.
It wouldn’t be Christmas in Spain without the December 22 Christmas lottery, a huge event people all over the country participate in. This lottery, called El Gordo, is the largest in the entire world and everyone purchases tickets with high hopes. There are three top prizes and countless small prizes to be won, all amounting to more than 1 billion dollars. Some Spanish families have been using the same numbers for decades, passing it to their children over the years.
Visitors on Spanish Christmas vacations should note that the largest celebration before December 25 is on the day prior. Nochebuena, is the most cherished of all family gatherings in Spain. It involves friends enjoying drinks and then heading off to enjoy dining with their families. Most restaurants close down and nightlife is virtually nonexistent. Champagne of the Catalan region is the drink of choice for toasts in honor of the season. Spanish wineries are busy this time of year producing wine, which is another popular choice for a Christmas toast.
Christmas day is not celebrated with gift giving. Gift giving is a tradition reserved for the holiday Epiphany on January 6, the historical day the Three Kings bequeathed the children with gifts. On this day, tours don’t run, shops are shut down, and most attractions are not open. The Spanish celebrate it in a relaxed manner, taking long walks, dropping in on family and friends, or going out for a few drinks. This day brings another of the top Spain Christmas traditions: an indulgent family lunch.
The first week of January features three more important holidays including the First of January which is typically used to relax after the busy season, processions all over the country on January 5, and the Feast of Epiphany the day after. Anyone planning Spanish Christmas vacations are advised to arrange hotels, vacation rentals, and villas many months in advance and expect cities to virtually shut down during each of the special Christmas holidays.