How to Celebrate a Traditional Spanish Christmas

Did you know that in Spain, people celebrate more than twelve days of Christmas? While Spain and the United States share many Christmas holiday traditions, several popular customs and festivities practiced in Spain are unique to that country. We may not be able to participate in all of Spain’s holiday traditions such as the National Christmas Lottery, or shopping at the Christmas Markets, but we can replicate many Spanish holiday traditions in our very own countries.

Instructions

Step 1

On Christmas Eve night, Spanish families celebrate by eating the first of two consecutive feasts. Then, at midnight, the ringing of the bells signals the start of the candlelight mass, known as "La Misa Del Gallo" or “The Mass of the Rooster.” Midnight masses are conducted on Christmas Eve in churches throughout the United States and in most other countries. It is an excellent way to celebrate the official start of the holiday season, and is certain to inject you with a large dose of Christmas spirit.

Step 2

In Spain, most of Christmas Day is spent at church, followed by outdoor festivities that include "swinging." For this occasion, swings are placed in town squares and other outdoor meeting places, and children swing in time to the live music and other fun outdoor activities. No gifts are exchanged on Christmas Day. To simulate this tradition, arrange for family and friends to meet after church in a park that has swings. Provide some type of Christmas music and Spanish holiday treats, such as marzipan, “almendrados”—almond cookies or “medias lunas de nueces”—nut crescents. In Spain, the Christmas feast is served after midnight, followed by singing and celebrating for the rest of the night.

Step 3

December 28 marks the Day of the Innocents. This is similar to the U.S.’s April Fool’s Day in that family and friends play jokes on each other. In Spain, the newspapers print bizarre and fabricated stories for a laugh.

Step 4

Like many other countries, Spain celebrates New Year's Eve with massive fireworks exhibits and a toast at the midnight hour. The Spanish also eat twelve grapes on this occasion, to bring good luck during each of the twelve months of the year.

Step 5

On the evening of January 5, the Eve of the Epiphany, the children place their shoes outside their doors in hopes that the Three Wise Men will leave gifts when they pass by. This Twelfth Night tradition might best be mimicked by families with children old enough to delay the gratification of opening gifts on Christmas morning.

Step 6

January 6th, the Epiphany or “appearance,” heralds the three wise men’s visit to the meet the baby Jesus in Bethlehem. All of Spain celebrates this occasion with parades and more sweet treats for the children. This celebration marks the close of the Christmas holiday season.

Tips and Warnings

If you decide to “recreate” a traditional Spanish Christmas, prepare the family by borrowing a book or two from the library that describes and illustrates the holidays as they are celebrated in Spain. Before the holidays begin, decide which Spanish dishes you’ll want to prepare during the upcoming weeks and purchase the ingredients. This will eliminate the stress of trying to locate unusual items at the last minute amidst throngs of grocery shoppers. Choose an old, traditional church where you and your family will attend the midnight candlelight mass on Christmas Eve, preferably one with a large choir. The majesty of an old church with good music will reinforce the spirit of the occasion. Also before the holidays, locate and visit a park in your area that has swings and benches for your Christmas Day post-church celebration.

Things You'll Need

Book about Spain’s Christmas traditions, Christmas Eve feast, Musician or CD player and Christmas music, Park with swings, Recipes and ingredients for traditional Spanish Christmas dishes, Grapes for New Year’s Eve

About this Author

Susan Steen graduated from the University of New Orleans, where she earned a B.A. in sociology and a certification in social work. She has been a freelance and contract writer for 22 years. Her work has been published in “Evidence Technology Magazine,” “Louisiana Bar Journal,” the Cobblestone children’s educational publications “Faces” and “Appleseeds,” the Waterford Literacy Program, and a variety of websites.

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