Christmas in Spain: The ultimate guide

Christmas in Spain is no longer as subtle as it was when we first moved over here back in 2006. Sure, it’s not like it is in the UK and America where the Christmas deccies hit the shops months beforehand and many of us are sick of it by mid November… but certainly some cities and tourist destinations have seen that tourists would like to celebrate their Christmas in Spain with fervour, despite not being at home, and they’ve responded… with style!

Christmas in Spain

How to say Merry Christmas in Spain.

Although Castellano is spoken widely in Spain, there are other languauges and dialects too! Here is how you can greet people at Crimbly, wherever you are.

  • Castellano: Feliz Navidad
  • Catalan: Bon Nadal
  • Gallego: Bo Nadal
  • Euskara: Eguberri on

How to say Happy New Year in Spain.

Saying Happy New Year in Castellano should be done carefully! One of my first rookie mistakes was saying “Feliz ano nuevo” instead of “Feliz año nuevo”. That tilde over the ñ is vital or you’re simply wishing them a happy anus!

  • Castellano: Feliz año nuevo
  • Catalan: Bon any nou
  • Gallego: Feliz aninovo
  • Euskara: Urte berri on

What is a Belén?

Belenes of Almeria
©Alan Gandy on Saatchi

Belenes are nativity scenes found all over Spain at this time of year. Although most will include Mary, Joseph, baby Jesus and various animals… some areas are more creative with their belenes, including mini-versions of their towns or cities…. or even real animals and live actors.

Some of the smaller towns have their belenes hidden away in shop units or garages – so if you can’t find one in the main streets, ask at the Ayuntamiento if they have one.

While there – see if you can spot the “caganer” (more about that little chap below)

Further reading: Belenes in Almeria

Spain’s Christmas lotteries

Spain’s Christmas lotteries are huge business and can be rife with superstition. The more superstitious people will queue for hours at some of the more popular places to buy their ticket such as La Bruixa d’Or in Lleida or Doña Manolita in Madrid.

El Gordo is the biggest and has been running constantly since 1812 – even during Franco’s time!

Even though you can reserve your favourite numbers online, many still prefer to buy it from a specific lottery vendor in the belief that this will bring them good luck. The owner of La Bruixa d’Or says he doesn’t believe in luck; however that site has sold more than 30 major prizes since 1994, with three of these being El Gordo (the first prize in Spain’s Christmas lottery).

A special mention MUST be made of the Christmas adverts shown each year by “Loterías y Apuestas del Estado”. Here are the past few years’ offerings for you. They are almost mini movies… so grab a comfy seat and something to drink before watching them. Justíno is our favourite so far.

La Misa del Gallo

Spain is predominantly a Catholic country and, as such, its religious festivals, events and processions are part of regular life here.

For those of you used to attending Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve at home… Spain has the same thing too. It is called “La Misa del Gallo” and the fervour and reverence runs deep. The phrase directly translate as “Mass of the Rooster” and superstition states that a rooster crowed to announce the birth of Jesus.

In some towns and cities in Spain, people will walk the main streets, after La Misa del Gallo, singing and playing various instruments.

What is the Catalan obsession with poo at Christmas?

The Catalans seem to have a strange obsession with poo at Christmas – from Caganers to Caga Tío. But what are those items about?

What is a caganer?

If viewing a bélen, be sure to look out for “el cáganer”, a little figurine of Catalan tradition whose trousers are around his ankles while he defacates. He is “fertilising” the land and it is considered good luck if you can spot him. Over recent years, caganers have been made in the image of more famous faces.

According to Caganer.com – the celebrity caganers are becoming more and more popular. 2017 additions include Kim Jong-Un and Jordi Sánchez. Visit the Caganer website to buy one (or more) of your own, or head to one of the many Catalan Christmas markets.

Who or what is Caga Tío?

Caga Tio
Caga Tio. Image ©Valerie Hinojosa

Caga Tío is a hollowed out log which contains all manner of goodies for the younger members of your family. Sweets, nuts, cheeses and little gifts are common additions.

Although in Castellano “Río” means uncle… in Catalan it means log. So this is quite literally a pooing log.

From December 8 (Feast of the Immaculate Conception), and in the run up to Christmas, the log should be cared for by the household’s children. Rubbing the log, singing it songs and basically giving it lots of love and attention will ensure that the gifts it poos will be plentiful.

On Christmas Eve the log is put next to the fireplace where the little ones sing it another song whilst whipping it with twigs. The song ends with everyone shouting “Cafa tío!” which quite literally orders the log to poo. The children are ordered to leave the room, giving the grownups time to stuff the log with all the good stuff. The children return, the tio’s rear end is revealed and all the goodies are shared. This is designed to be a communal gift.

The caga tio song (in Catalan and English)

Caga tió,
Caga torró,
Avellanes i mató,
Si no cagues bé
Et daré un cop de bastó.
Caga tió!

Poo, log,
Poo turrón
Hazelnuts and mató cheese
If you don’t poo well,
I’ll hit you with a stick
Poo, log!

Spanish Christmas Carols

Our personal favourite is Michael Buble’s “Feliz Navidad”, but here’s a collection of a few more. Click, sing along and enjoy!

Spanish Christmas recipes and food

Easy polvorones recipe
Polvorones

Christmas Eve brings a big family feast with it. This is a time for everyone to gather before heading out to Midnight Mass later on. This is a bigger event than Christmas day itself.

It’s no secret that we all love our food here at Spain Buddy – and although we live in Spain… we still celebrate Christmas in a more English fashion and have our main meal on Christmas Day… although we’ve blended it over the years. We always have roast lamb, instead of turkey. Oh and we nevere ever skimp on the sprouts!

Here are a couple of sweet treat recipes for you to try at home.

Christmas in Spain – by area

This section will be updated regularly. If you are holding a Christmas in Spain event – let us know!

Christmas in Almeria

Christmas in Almeria is serious business… with many towns and villages putting as much effort in as the capital of the same name.

There are often shopping events in the run up to Christmas, such as the “Noche en Blanco” or the Candlelit evenings. These are usually times to pick up a pre-Christmas bargain because many shops will ave special opffers for the night.

Further reading and older articles:

Christmas on the Costa Blanca

Further reading and older articles:

Christmas on the Costa del Sol

Further reading and older articles:

Christmas in Madrid

Aside from the stunning street deccies, there is a must-see Christmas event in Madrid – La Carrera de Papa Noel (the Santa Run).

Each year, thousands of runners dress up as Santa or his elves and take to Madrid’s streets. This is a spectacular event to be seen at least once in your life.

You can find out more about the event, and register to take part here: La Carrera de Papa Noel (site in Spanish)

Christmas in Malaga (2016)
Christmas in Malaga (2016)

Christmas in Malaga

For some years now, Malaga city has rivalled its Madrid and Barcelona counterparts. Breathtaking light displays, huge nativity scenes (belenes), stuff for the kids, live entertainment – Malaga city has it in spades.

The main Christmas lights hovering above Calle Larios are spectacular to behold and change every few years. They were last changed this year (2017) and the city was wowed on November 24 when they were switched on. Rumour has it that the old lights have gone to Seville, but we haven’t confirmed that as yet.

The 2017 design was inspired by Malaga cathedral and is accompanied by music and light shows each evening at 6:30pm and 9:30pm. It all switches off after Three Kings 2018.

Each year giant Christmas trees are placed around the city. In 2017 there are six. These can be up to 18 metres high and are bedecked with thousands of twinking leds.

Don’t miss Malaga city’s two fabulous belenes. One is inside the cathedral and the other is inside the town hall.

Further reading and older articles:

Christmas in the Canary Islands

If you like a spot of sun with your Christmas celebrations, then the Canary Islands are perfect for you! The beaches are filled on Christmas Day with sun worshippers and most restaurants will lay on a special menu. If you can’t do without your turkey and trimmings… then the British and Irish establishments can provide that for you. But book early! We know of several places that are usually booked up by Easter!!!

Further reading and older articles:

Día de los santos inocentes

Just as the UK and America have April Fools’ Day, Spain has its own version. Held on December 28 each year, this is a time for tomfoolery and windups. Newspapers, in particular, will publish silly stories designed to hoodwink their readers.

Wikipedia says that the date was chosen to coincide with King Herod’s order to kill all male children under the age of two. Well that’s obviously not as cheery as how it is celebrated nowadays!

New Years’ Eve

New Years’ Eve is known as Nochevieja in Spain, “The Old Night” and marks the passing of the old year into a new one. Eveywhere we’ve lived in Spain so far has seen this night marked with partying, fireworks and much frivolity – just as it is in most of the world.

There are a couple of notable traditions for this night. One is to wear red undies and the other is to eat 12 grapes in time with the 12 gongs of midnight. We strongly recommend you choose seedless grapes foir this – and if they’re peeled that’s even better. I’ve not got past six or seven in time yet. But it brings good luck – so hopefully I will succeed one day.

Remember to keep your pets safely indoors on this night so that they are not spooked by the bangs of the fireworks.

The Three Kings

The Three Kings in Spain - January 2017Although many Spanish families give their children gifts on Christmas Day – Fiesta de los Tres Reyes  (festival of the three kings) is when most of the gift giving takes place.

On January 5 there is a procession in most towns where the three kings parade the main streets throwing gifts and sweets to the rather excited children. These Kings may be on camels, horseback, tractors or carnaval floats.

The three kings are Balthazar, Gaspar and Melchior. Balthazar is tradionally black skinned and wears a purple cloak. He is the king of Egypt and Tarse and he brings myrrh. Brown haired Gaspar wears a green cloak and gold crown. The king of Sheba, he brings Frankincense. Lastly is Melchior, the king of Arabia. He has white hair and brings gold.

That night, younger family members leave their shoes out to be filled with presents. They may also leave snacks for the Three Kings and their camels.

Further reading: The Three Kings in Spain

That’s Christmas in Spain over… almost…

We hope that you enjoyed our guide to Christmas in Spain. To be fair, we have only scratched the surface but will be adding to this page in the future – paying particular attention to different geographical areas as well as writing about Olentzero and other characters popular during Christmas in Spain.

Have we missed anything else vital? Let us know below.