Christmas in Spain
Between December 24th and January 6th, Spain comes alive to celebrate Christmas, or Navidad in Spanish.
Christmas Eve, or Nochebuena in Spanish, is generally a family affair involving a big meal together.
For devout Catholics, after dinner it’s time to go to a special midnight mass called the Misa del Gallo. Church-goers celebrate the birth of the Son of God by singing famous and traditional Christmas carols accompanied by guitars, hand drums, and tambourines.
Children in Spain traditionally had to wait until the feast of the Epiphany to receive their presents but since globalisation, in many homes, on Christmas Eve Santa Claus or Papá Noel, brings gifts to all the children who have been good during the year. Some regions of Spain have their own traditions: in the Basque Country, it’s Olentzero who leaves the gifts, while children from Cataluña and Aragón receive gifts from Tió de Nadal.
On Christmas Day the family comes together to eat again, but not as much as the night before. Especially in families with young children, this day is a time to show what Papá Noel brought everyone. The streets fill with children trying out their new roller skates, bikes, and remote control cars.
On December 28, Spain celebrates el Día de los Santos Inocentes (Holy Innocents’ Day). This is another Catholic tradition that has evolved over time and been adapted to the modern world. Today, it is celebrated as a kind of Spanish April Fool’s Day when people play pranks (bromas o inocentadas) on each other—presumably because Herod was tricked as the Baby Jesus had been taken away to safety.
Traditionally, January 5 is a very exciting day for the youngest members of a Spanish family. All afternoon, each city organises a special event in which large floats parade through the streets carrying musicians, artists, people in costume, and, most importantly, the Tres Reyes Magos (the Three Kings), who wave to all the children of the city. After the parade, families return home for an early dinner so the children can clean their shoes and leave them in the living room. This way, when the Tres Reyes Magos visit the home in the wee hours of the morning, they’ll know where to leave the presents for each member of the family.