With Christmas just around the corner, festivities are already in full swing for many countries around the world. However, whilst in Britain and US look forward to Christmas pudding and presents, the festive season in Spain is celebrated quite differently.
For Spaniards, December is a time for religious reflection in ways you wouldn’t expect. Christmas is also a season full of weird, wonderful and ultimately unique traditions and customs.
A Christmas carol
What better way to fill the season with holiday cheer than with a good sing song. In Spain, celebrating with traditional Christmas carols is the way to enjoy the holidays – with family and good food.
Spanish carols, also known as ‘villancicos’, span back to between the 15th and 18th centuries. They have become an integral part of Christmas for Spanish and Latin American countries.
There are a whole host of villancicos that are passed down from generation to generation and, whether you’re el abuelo, la madre o el niño, each villancicos gives a poetic and beautiful rendition of what Christmas in Spain is really about.
The Feast of the Immaculate Conception
The Feast of the Immaculate Conception takes place on the second Sunday of December each year and sees local people come together for a night of food, song and dance to celebrate a deeply religious event. Locals swarm into cities like Seville, Barcelona and Marbella to sing to the Virgin Mary and the fun and festivities are certain to keep you up until the early hours.
The celebration doesn’t stop there, the festival continues into the next day with the Dance of the Sixes, where the children of the community take centre stage in celestial costume.
Nochebuena is commonly known as Christmas Eve in England. The evening of this day consists of a gathering of family and friends to enjoy a traditional dinner, after attending Christmas Mass. It is a joyous time where loved ones spend a pleasant evening together feasting and drinking, and usually this will continue late into the night, and some families are still finishing up their meals when the chapel bells toll at midnight, calling the revellers to church for the Midnight Mass (Misa del Gallo).
Nochevieja, which translates into “The old night”, is the celebration of New Year’s Eve. All over Spain on this night communities gather together, or spend the time with their families, as the countdown to the New Year starts. A typical Spanish tradition is tomar las uvas (the eating of the grapes). The tradition is that you must eat 12 grapes to welcome in the New Year (one grape on each chime).
The Three Wise Men
The story of the Three Wise Men is a tale that we all know and love, and this story is particularly significant in Spain on January 6th. This date is thought to be when the Three Wise Men brought gifts to Jesus from afar, an event that is celebrated by Spaniards across the country.
Locals fill shoes with straw and barley to reward camels for carrying the Three Wise Men across the desert. By Christmas morning this straw and barley is hoped to be replaced with gifts.
Swing the Solstice
Navidad is the name for Spanish Christmas and, just like Christmas day in the UK and US, it’s spent exchanging gifts and celebrating. However, Spaniards also use this time to play on swing sets, which are installed throughout the country’s villages, towns and cities for the festive season.
Swinging at solstice is an ancient tradition that is believed to urge the sun to rise higher in the sky and bring back longer daylight hours.