Monday, 28th September 2020

This Month's Magazine
Spending Christmas & New Year in Spain

Spending Christmas & New Year in Spain

Why not join in and enjoy the local traditions? Says Sebastian Polinares

It would seem that this year many foreign residents living in Spain will not travel back home for their holidays. Yes, the recession is causing the purse strings to tighten, but then there is the fear of travelling with crowds because of the Swine Flu and the news from home are not pleasing.

So what happens in Spain that perhaps we do not know about? We speak of the Spanish Christmas on the 6 th January and the 12 grapes at midnight on the 3
1st of January. But is that it?

As a matter of fact Christmas in Spain is quite a treat, though it starts late; the action gears up in mid-December and doesn’t stop until January 6th. There is the giant multi-billion euro lottery, splendid nativity scenes, lots of great food and a big New Year’s Eve.

Although we benefit from a mild climate on the Southern Costas, Spain is actually quite cold in winter, but this does not discourage the locals from using every opportunity to celebrate, with the result that various different traditions have developed in different parts of Spain. For instance, December 21st, the shortest day of the year, is celebrated in Granada and nearby Jaen by jumping through bonfires for the fiesta de Las Hogueras. We are taught that children shouldn’t play with fire, however in these parts it is said to keep illness away. On December 22nd, El Gordo, the massive Spanish lottery, is drawn. This lottery is so big, they start selling tickets in August! And there are many other such customs all over Spain.

Christmas Eeve in Spain is a family affair. Most bars will be closed and there won’t be many restaurants open. If you can get yourself invited to a family home do accept but you’re more likely to be offered their youngest daughter’s hand in marriage than get an invitation to this most sacred of family events. Christmas Eve is the most important part of Christmas in Spain and the dinner that day is the biggest meal of the year, but there is nothing as ubiquitous as turkey.

The only rule today is that people eat ‘well’. Lobster is very common, and a roast of some sort is essential, usually lamb or suckling pig. In addition to all this, most families will also have fish soup and an abundance of other seafood, cheeses, hams and pates. Dinner starts late, at about 10pm and will go on for a couple of hours.

Proceedings are interrupted at midnight by the chimes of the local church, calling worshipers to the ‘misa del gallo’ (Mass of the Rooster), so called because it is said that a rooster crowded on the night Jesus was born. The biggest ‘misa del gallo’ is at the Benedictine monastery at Montserrat near Barcelona.

Adults exchange gifts on Christmas Eve and kids will often get a little something, but the young ‘uns have to wait until January for that new Playstation.

Like Christmas Eve, Christmas Day in Spain is traditionally a family day. Couples will normally spend Christmas Eve with one set of parents and Christmas Day with the other. However, in recent years more and more people have started eating in restaurants on Christmas Day. By the evening of the 25th, most shops and bars are open again and these days more and more youths have started going out on the town.


Did you know that you can celebrate New Year as many as six times in Spain?

  1. The first New Year’s Eve in Spain comes in usually on the second Thursday before Christmas. It is the Noche Vieja Universitaria (University New Year), which takes place in Salamanca. The University New Year is for students of the famous university in Salamanca who will be unable to celebrate the normal New Year with their friends because of family commitments. The students pretend it is not mid-December and go through all the usual New Year’s Eve traditions, including the famous grape-eating!
  2. Next up is midday (not midnight) on December 30, in Puerta del Sol in Madrid, for the bell-ringing rehearsal. Again, this celebration is for those who can’t attend the real celebration because of prior commitments or for those who can’t handle the idea of all the crowds that will congregate on the actual day (Puerta del Sol is as busy as Times Square or Leicester Square on New Year’s Eve proper).
  3. Later on the same day is the Alternative Bell-Ringing for Geeks which takes place at Plaza de Castilla, in front of the Pac-Man tree they have set up there! The Spanish ‘friki’ (geek or nerd) subculture is quite big.
  4. Also on December 30, at 8pm, the town of Lepe celebrates New Year’s Eve early (and they celebrate it again the following day too!).
  5. Then, of course, comes the real New Year’s Eve on December 31. You may be surprised that, for a country famous for its drinking, that most bars will be closed on the stroke of midnight. This is because most people spend the time with their families. However, the city’s main square will certainly give you that communal New Year’s feeling. Of course they do still party, but it doesn’t start until later.
  6. Lastly, there is New Year’s Eve in August, which takes place in the tiny village of Berchules on the first Saturday of the month. Why? Because a power cut in the mid-nineties meant that New Year’s Eve had to be cancelled, so they rescheduled the big event for August. The re-run was such a success that they’ve run this second New Year ever since!

Whatever you do, don’t forget your grapes...

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