The Christmas season fully gets underway this week, starting with the two holidays, on December 6th and December 8th, and continues right up until January 6th. Alongside the cute craft markets and the ice skating rinks, there are some traditions that mark this time of year in Spain as unique.
1. Shop at a Christmas Market: One of the biggest Christmas market in Spain is on Madrid’s Plaza Mayor, and there are also impressive ones in Barcelona, Seville and Granada.
2. Put Your Money on the Fat One: On December 22nd, the biggest and second longest running lottery in the world is drawn. Everybody buys tickets for this lottery in the hope of winning El Gordo (the fat one). Besides the big three prizes there are thousands of smaller prizes shared by people all over Spain.
3. Don’t Forget the Torrón: A Spanish almond nougat sweet, the torrón is traditionally eaten for dessert on Christmas Day but is enjoyed throughout the entire festive period.
4. Enjoy the Fires: In a few cities from the areas of Granada, Madrid, Segovia or La Rioja, the celebration of Hogueras (bonfires) takes place on December 21st. This date marks the winter solstice, or the shortest day of the year, and where it is celebrated involves people jumping through fires to protect themselves against illness.
5. Sing Some Carols: Concert halls and churches across Spain will be holding conciertos de villancicos, or carol concerts throughout the Christmas period. Many also attend the Misa del Gallo, a mass service offered at midnight on the 24th during which carols are accompanied by zambomba (a type of seasonal drum), tambourines and guitars.
6. Have it the Traditional Way: Santa Claus, known in Spain as Papá Noel, brings gifts for children to open on Christmas Eve, which means that on Christmas Day parks and plazas fill with children playing with their friends and showing them their new toys. In some parts of Spain, you can find other types of traditional figures such as Olentzero, a coal vendor who descends from the Basque mountains to leave gifts for good kids and coal for the bad ones, and Tió de Nadal in Catalonia and Aragon, who deposits gifts and candy in the homes of children.
7. Taste the Menu: Prawn starters followed by roast lamb would be a typical meal for Nochebuena or Christmas Eve, rounded off with the typically turróns as well as polvorones, sweets made from almonds, flour and sugar. Cava, the Catalan champagne, would be the chosen drink for the Christmas toast though plenty of other fine Spanish wines will be consumed throughout the meal.
8. Take a Swim into the Mediterranean: Join dozens of groups at resorts along Spain’s coasts for a chilly but fun tradition of diving into the sea on December 25th.
9. Enjoy the Snow: Spain is really making a name for itself on the skiing map. The country can boast sunny weather and facilities for all ages and abilities.
10. Play the Fool: December 28th is the day of Santos Inocentes (Holy Innocents) and is the equivalent of April Fools’ Day when people play practical jokes on one another. The national media often includes a nonsense story in their broadcasts. In some villages, youngsters light bonfires and one of them acts as the mayor who orders townspeople to carry out civic tasks such as sweeping the streets. Refusal to comply results in fines which are used to pay for the celebration.