Feliz Navidad!! Or in English…Happy Christmas. As the holiday season approaches I though it might be an idea to let you know about the Spanish traditions at the holiday time we call Christmas. As a primarily Catholic country you may expect them to be very similar to those observed in the UK, in fact they are quite different.
Traditionally in the UK we have Christmas Eve on the 24th December and celebrate Christmas day on the 25th. Most people in Spain go to Midnight Mass or ‘La Misa Del Gallo’ (The Mass of the Rooster). It is called this because a rooster is supposed to have crowed the night that Jesus was born. Christmas Eve is known as Nochebuena. In the days before Nochebuena, children might take part in ‘piden el Aguinaldo’ where they go and sing carols around their neighbours hoping to get some money! Most families eat their main Christmas meal on Christmas Eve before the service. The traditional Spanish Christmas dinner was ‘Pavo Trufado de Navidad’ which is Turkey stuffed with truffles or ‘Pularda asada’ (a roasted young hen), although they are not commonly eaten now. Popular deserts and sweets include ‘mazapán’ (made of almonds, sugar and eggs), ‘turrón’ (made of honey and toasted almonds) and ‘polvorones’ (made of flour, butter and sugar).
After the midnight service, one old tradition was for people to walk through the streets carrying torches, playing guitars and beating on tambourines and drums. One Spanish saying is ‘Esta noche es Noche-Buena, Y no Es noche de dormir’ which means ‘Tonight is the good night and it is not meant for sleeping!’
New Year’s Eve is called ‘Nochevieja’ or ‘The Old Night’ in Spain and one special tradition is that you eat 12 grapes with the 12 strokes of the clock at Midnight! Each grape represents a month of the coming year, so if you eat the twelve grapes, you are said to be lucky in the new year.
Apart from Christmas, there is another festival that is celebrated in Spain that is about the Christmas Story. It is called Epiphany and is celebrated on 6th January. In Spanish, Epiphany is called ‘Fiesta de Los tres Reyes Mages’: in English this means ‘The festival of the three Magic Kings’. Epiphany celebrates when the Kings, or wise men, brought gifts to the baby Jesus. Children have some presents on Christmas Day, but most are opened at Epiphany. Children believe that the Kings bring presents to them at Epiphany. They write letters to the Kings asking for toys and presents. And on Epiphany Eve (January 5th) they leave shoes on windowsills or balconies or under the Christmas tree to be filled with presents. Gifts are often left by children for the Kings, a glass of Cognac for each King, a satsuma and some walnuts. Sometimes a bucket of water is left for the camels that bring the Kings! If the children have been bad, the Kings might leave pieces of coal made out of sugar in the presents!
So, while there are many similarities….presents, mass, singing etc there are also many differences. At the end of it all no matter where you celebrate and no matter what you call it, it is a time for family, laughter and making merry. For those of lucky to live here in Spain once Christmas day has passed we aren’t too forlorn as it’s only 11 days to Navidad!