The moment you see turrón (an almond sweetmeat), marzipan and polvorones (crumbly biscuits) on the shelves in the shops, you know that Christmas is on its way here in Spain.
Maybe, even before that, the long queues outside the lottery shops for the worldwide known Christmas lottery “El Gordo”, celebrated on the 22nd of December, will let you know that celebrations are imminent.
Christmas trees there are, but much more traditional is the Nativity scene “El Belén”, from life size ones in churches to tiny intricate ones that children find so much joy in setting up.
When we tuck into our turkey on Christmas Day, many Spaniards are probably still fast asleep. They celebrate their Christmas on Christmas Eve “Noche Buena”, a very special event when families unite and enjoy a meal together – seafood, baked bizam “besugo”, red cabbage (in Madrid), snails (in the North), pasta soup “sopa galets” (in Catalonia) – each part of Spain has its specialities.
Then, for some, midnight mass “Misa del gallo” and a long night of festivities, including “villancicos” (carols).
Presents? Though times and customs are changing, present giving is on the 6th of January, when “Los Reyes Magos” (The Three Kings) arrive with their gifts for baby Jesus. Don’t miss the colourful “Cabalgata de Reyes” (Three Kings Parades), held even in the smallest village, the night before.
A great place to experience Christmas at its very best is the medieval town of Santillana del Mar, in Cantabria. Here the celebrations start with carol singing and a religious play which is represented in the streets, including several scenes such as Joseph and Mary’s journey to Bethlehem and the angel’s annunciation to the shepherds. To finish the magic evening, exited children and their families gather on the cobbled streets to watch the Cabalgata and greet the Kings who have travelled all the way from the Middle East.
Fancy a different Christmas?