Christmas in Spain

Published on 14/11/2006 in Spanish Culture

Christmas is a deeply religious occasion in Spain. The country’s patron saint is the Virgin Mary and the Christmas season officially begins on December 8th, the feast of the Immaculate Conception.

For those of you planning to spend Christmas in Spain, you will find it is a far less commercialised affair to what you have become used to in latter years in the UK. Unlike, in the UK where the build up has already begun, the shops don’t actually start filling up the Christmas stock until December and you certainly won’t find a tree in anybody’s house until the second half of December.

I can understand the urgency to create a festive feeling early in the UK. Imagine the grimness of winter without the glow of shop windows, and the exciting countdown to the celebrations. Christmas shopping in Spain just doesn't give you the same buzz as in UK.  September to December can be a pretty mundane time of year and we certainly need those mini festivals such as Halloween and Bonfire Night to keep us going until Christmas. This year will be my second Christmas in Spain and I kind of miss doing it the UK way. However, what I certainly won’t miss is that huge anti-climax feeling that you experience post Christmas as we endure the drudgery waiting for spring.

The main difference between a Spanish Christmas and the UK version is the importance of the feast of the Epiphany on the 6th January. This is the day that the Three Kings arrived in Bethlehem, on horseback. In Spain this is when presents are given and the three "magic" kings, not Father Christmas give the children presents. Parents encourage their children to write to the Three Kings, in the same way that ours write to Father Christmas. It is on this day, that people gather in the town’s streets to watch the cavalcades of the Three Kings in all their glory, throwing sweets for all the children. In recent years many families have started to give their children their presents on Christmas Eve because children have to go to school on the 7th January and they don't have time to play with their new toys.

Spanish Christmas is known as Navidad. It is still regarded as a time to go to church and of course, exchange presents. Christmas Eve is known as Nochebuena, “the Good Night”. Families usually gather around Nativity scenes (a belen) in their own homes. The meal eaten on Christmas Eve is one of the most important meals of the year. Seafood is widely eaten and families often hang a ‘pata de jamon’ in their kitchen and slice off cuts of cold ham over the Christmas period. You won’t be eating mince pies at Christmas in Spain; here you find cupboards stacked with Polverones, a cake/biscuit made with almonds, flour, and sugar, and turron, similar to nougat, made with toasted, sweet almonds.

If you are thinking of spending Christmas in Spain, it is far less stressful than in the UK as there is hardly any hype, think UK Christmas in the seventies. However, for children it is probably not anywhere near as exciting as in the UK. Everything closes down over Christmas and you don’t have the Boxing Day sales to escape from the house to. As Spanish television is pretty dire, even for us who can speak and understand Spanish, my recommendation would be make sure you have satellite television installed, bring some new DVDs and some family board games, oh and don’t forget the Sainsbury’s mince pies for festive homesickness.

Written by: Susan Pedalino

About the author:Women In Spain




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Comments:

Tom Bimson said:
13 December 2013 @ 09:45

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MJ said:
06 January 2013 @ 18:08

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06 January 2013 @ 18:02

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Jimmy Brookes said:
06 January 2013 @ 17:33

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Lyon-Kyle said:
06 January 2013 @ 17:31

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bob said:
19 December 2012 @ 15:32

santa is not really


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19 December 2012 @ 11:58

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17 December 2012 @ 18:27

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17 December 2012 @ 14:28

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14 December 2012 @ 14:38

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14 December 2012 @ 10:52

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14 December 2012 @ 10:33

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14 December 2012 @ 10:33

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22 November 2012 @ 19:43

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Penny said:
06 August 2012 @ 14:32

I agree with some of Gabriel's last comment and some of Susan's. It is a good article, we live in Catalunya in The Costa Brava, See Brava Connect for what I do. I'd agree that there is less commercialism, and Christmas lights don't go on until 1st Dec, even then, only at night. Locally to us we have a few live cribs,which I have to say are really quite fantastic. The one near us, is the walk to Bethlehem and apart from shepherds in red Catalan hats (instead of tea cloths), it is like going back in time.

Personally I find the atmosphere really lovely. The English church in the Costa Brava has an English Christmas fair, this year on 1st Dec at Madremanya, also the English Church service is fabulous. (see English Church Costa Brava.

I agree that the Spanish are not all religious and Gabriela's right a lot of eating and drinking goes on.

I think the children here are pretty well entertained,but you do need to integrate.

Three Kings in every town and village is fabulous, in Barcelona they come in by boat. In Girona there is a fabulous procession.

I try and get all my English presents away before early December then we settle back to enjoy a very traditional Christmas, far more like I had as a child.

Well done Susan for a very enjoyable article.




Penny said:
06 August 2012 @ 14:32

I agree with some of Gabriel's last comment and some of Susan's. It is a good article, we live in Catalunya in The Costa Brava, See Brava Connect for what I do. I'd agree that there is less commercialism, and Christmas lights don't go on until 1st Dec, even then, only at night. Locally to us we have a few live cribs,which I have to say are really quite fantastic. The one near us, is the walk to Bethlehem and apart from shepherds in red Catalan hats (instead of tea cloths), it is like going back in time.

Personally I find the atmosphere really lovely. The English church in the Costa Brava has an English Christmas fair, this year on 1st Dec at Madremanya, also the English Church service is fabulous. (see English Church Costa Brava.

I agree that the Spanish are not all religious and Gabriela's right a lot of eating and drinking goes on.

I think the children here are pretty well entertained,but you do need to integrate.

Three Kings in every town and village is fabulous, in Barcelona they come in by boat. In Girona there is a fabulous procession.

I try and get all my English presents away before early December then we settle back to enjoy a very traditional Christmas, far more like I had as a child.

Well done Susan for a very enjoyable article.




Penny said:
06 August 2012 @ 14:31

I agree with some of Gabriel's last comment and some of Susan's. It is a good article, we live in Catalunya in The Costa Brava, See Brava Connect for what I do. I'd agree that there is less commercialism, and Christmas lights don't go on until 1st Dec, even then, only at night. Locally to us we have a few live cribs,which I have to say are really quite fantastic. The one near us, is the walk to Bethlehem and apart from shepherds in red Catalan hats (instead of tea cloths), it is like going back in time.

Personally I find the atmosphere really lovely. The English church in the Costa Brava has an English Christmas fair, this year on 1st Dec at Madremanya, also the English Church service is fabulous. (see English Church Costa Brava.

I agree that the Spanish are not all religious and Gabriela's right a lot of eating and drinking goes on.

I think the children here are pretty well entertained,but you do need to integrate.

Three Kings in every town and village is fabulous, in Barcelona they come in by boat. In Girona there is a fabulous procession.

I try and get all my English presents away before early December then we settle back to enjoy a very traditional Christmas, far more like I had as a child.

Well done Susan for a very enjoyable article.




MCawesome said:
03 January 2012 @ 15:52

this was great for my spanish homework


Gabriel said:
15 December 2011 @ 02:33

Hi, I'm Spanish and I have to say that, although some of your claims are correct, there's also some inaccuracies:
"A deeply religious occasion" indeed! But just for a minority of Spanish people. For most, it's all about school holidays, shopping for presents and hearty meals, and meeting friends who live elsewhere and come back to join their families for the festivies. Religion is not that important anymore.
"Everything closes down for Christmas": ...but opens again on 26th! Shopping is actually at its wildest after New Year's Day, when people (in typical Spanish fashion) go on a last-minute shopping spree for presents. Try visiting a shopping centre on the evening of January 5th! It's crazy. So, is it boring for kids? I seriously think there's a bit of British bias thrown into the article.
Having said that, a personal view is always... personal, so I guess there are as many visions of our Christmas as there are foreign visitors in Spain. And this article's much better than most of the nonsense I've read about Spanish Christmas on the Internet.



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tom said:
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