I am sure that you will have wondered how Spanish people celebrate the Christmas festivities, and as you may have guessed, they do it differently from the rest of Europe, as they do with almost everything!
24th December: Spanish Christmas food and celebrations
It is mandatory for Spaniards to meet with their families on the night of 24th December and have a hearty dinner together. Family members talk, sing Christmas songs (villancicos) with the zambomba (a percussion instrument) play board games, drink wine, cider, toast with champagne...etc. The typical dinner differs depending on the region, but it usually consists of some starters such as Iberian ham, some Spanish cheese, seafood (prawns, lobsters, crayfish, clams..), salmon, patés, imitation elvers, and some finger food, a starter that could be a soup or a salad, and the main dish that could be a stuffed turkey, roasted lamb, roasted suckling pig or sea bream.
In the region of Catalonia, the main dish is called escudella i carn d'olla, which is a rice soup made with meatballs and vegetables that are separated when the soup is being served.
In the region of Galicia, however, the main dish consists of cod and cauliflower.
As for sweets, the typical ones are some types of nougat (turrón), marzipans (mazapanes) and shortbread (polvorones).
On this night some Spaniards wait for the arrival of Santa Claus (Papá Noel), who leaves the presents while the families eat, and others, for example in Catalonia, organize the Caga Tió or Tió de Nadal (The uncle's Santa), which is a tree trunk displaying the face of Santa's uncle. Children hit it with a stick while singing a song and asking for presents. The uncle delivers the presents through his buttocks: as if he were defecating!
These days, it is common for young members of the family to go out partying after dinner.
On this day, Spaniards meet again with the family to eat a big dinner together (at around 2-3pm). Although this custom is a Christian tradition to celebrate the birth of Christ, this origin has been a bit lost and everybody celebrates this day regardless of whether or not they are Christians. The typical food is similar to the food of the night before. In fact, many people use the left-overs of the previous night. So, for example, in Catalonia they prepare canelones with the meatballs that were the left-overs of the previous night.
In houses to which Santa Claus paid a visit on Christmas Eve, the families wake up finding their presents under the tree. However, in the Basque Country (País Vasco) and Navarra, the families receive the presents of Olenzero, a miner who lives in the mountains and goes to the city on the night of the 25th to give presents to the children of that region.
The 31st December (Nochevieja) and 1st January (Año nuevo)
On this night, every family meets again to have dinner together and eat the typical food that I've mentioned above. Wearing red underwear is a general tradition also, as it will bring you luck for the new year.
After dinner, during the countdown to midnight, people eat 12 grapes. When they have finished the grapes, the new year has come and everybody makes a toast with some champagne or cider (some of them place a gold ring in the glasses) standing up on one leg (their right leg) for good luck, and shouting Happy New Year together.
It is also very common to dress up and go out partying with friends after dinner, as this is the most important night of the year. It is typical to pay an entrance fee for a private party in a disco with an open bar (barra libre) that will go on all night. Many Spaniards go to parties after having taken the grapes, and others prefer to have the dinner there with friends and take the grapes with them. Later, when the disco closes (around 7:00 am) it is important to go to a bar and eat chocolate with churros, and then go to sleep.
On 1st January everything is closed and streets are empty as everybody is sleeping during the day as a result of all the partying the day before. Some families like to eat together again.
Celebrations on 5th - 6th January
Spanish festivities last longer than those of other European countries because 5th and 6th December are also important days. The Reyes magos (three wise kings) bring presents to children in their homes, to be found and opened on the morning of 6th January. Although this custom has a religious significance (as it represents the Epiphany), everybody follows the tradition, even if they are not religious.
Moreover, on the night of the 5th in every single city there is a parade where the three kings will appear to the children to give them some sweets before they start working.
Furthermore, it is also becoming a tradition to do the same thing as on 31st December and go to a private party all night. On the following day, children will play with their new toys, the adults that went out will sleep all day, and some Spaniards will meet again to have the last dinner together (at around 2-3pm). There is another type of sweet typically consumed on this day: roscón de reyes. It is known as a tortel in Catalonia.
So there you have it. I have introduced you to Spain's main types of traditional food and celebrations for the Christmas period. Do you know of any other types from other countries? Would you like to share your national Christmas traditions? We are looking forward to hearing from you!