OK, I admit I am NOT a “Christmassy” person but I know many of you will be interested in learning a little more about Spain at Christmas and several have started to ask.Yes, it IS most certainly different to the UK and the USA with many different traditions. Here is a short overview of just what Spain has to offer and where you will enjoy celebrations with deep-rooted tradition. At this time of year the streets of cities, towns and villages are decked with colour, lights and Christmas decorations, creating a magical atmosphere. Amongst all the celebrations there are two special ones not to be missed: the New Year?s Eve fiesta and the Feast of the Three Kings.

On the night of New year’s eve, called “Nochevieja” in Spanish, everyone fulfils a special tradition: they eat twelve grapes, (uvas de la suerte – “grapes of luck” or “lucky grapes”) one by one, keeping time with the clock as it strikes midnight. This is how we see in the New Year in Spain – an unusual, surprising tradition. What is more, if you manage to eat all the grapes in time, you are in for a year of prosperity and good luck. Be sure not to miss this moment with us.

Although the chiming of the bells is broadcast on live television throughout Spain, the best thing is to head for the scene of the celebration and take active part in the event. In Spain there is a place that has a special link with this tradition: the clock in Puerta del Sol Square in Madrid. Thousands of people congregate here to see in the year, mainly groups of friends and young people dressed up with hats, party blowers, horns, masks and jokes. There are still many hours of fun ahead. Hotels, pubs, bars and clubs usually hold their own New Year’s Eve parties, where you can dance until dawn. Come and get carried away by this festive atmosphere. You won’t regret it.

The magic of the Three Wise Men

Just six days later comes the most magical moment of the year, especially for the little ones. On 6 January they get their presents from the Three Wise Men. In Spain it is Melchior, Caspar and Balthazar who bring Christmas presents to children who have been good during the year. After writing a letter, in which they tell the Kings which presents they would like, the long-awaited day finally arrives. The Wise Men parade through the streets of cities, towns and villages all over Spain in traditional cavalcades. Their camels loaded with presents, they go through the streets handing out sweets, accompanied by their royal pages. Little by little the colourful floats go by, entertaining all the family. Of all these parades, the one in Alcoi, Alicante, is particularly outstanding – it is Spain’s oldest. When night falls, children go to bed early to wait for Melchior, Caspar and Balthazar to come in through the window and leave presents in their shoes.

A good time to go shopping

Who doesn’t go shopping at Christmas? At this time of year, the shops have a host of ideas and suggestions for presents that are sure to please. In many places you can find Christmas markets such as the one in Madrid’s Plaza Mayor Square, selling seasonal decorations and figurines for the crib, along with joke items and novelties. From 1st January, make the most of a trip to the sales. This is definitely the best time to get major discounts at all kinds of shops and shopping centres.

While out shopping, nothing better than taking a break to try the traditional sweets to be found at this time of year. There is a huge variety available, although the star product is definitely turr?n. Another of the most traditional Christmas sweets in Spain is marzipan, which is made with almonds and sugar and can usually be found in the form of “little shapes”.

So, something a bit different but also you should remember that Spain is far less commercialised than the USA or the UK. There is no two week break and most people will be back to work on the 26th December and the 2nd and 8th of January. The Spaniards party hard but they work hard too so unlike the long run-up in the USA and UK and almost a fortnight shut-down it’s very much business as usual the next day.

Christmas food in Spain

Dinner on Christmas Eve( La Noche Buena or ‘The Good Night’) is the biggest meal of the year in Spain, but you will not see any turkey here, with. lobster being very common and a roast of some sort is essential (usually lamb or suckling pig). Most families will also have soup (usually fish), seafood, cheeses, hams and pates. Dinner starts late at about 10.00 pm and will go on for a couple of hours. In Spanish, Christmas Eve is called and in Spain it is celebrated with a large family feast that is eaten late in the evening and lasts a couple hours. Christmas Eve is also a time for celebration in neighborhood bars and taverns , but not a time for exchanging gifts which has to wait until Epiphany on January 6th which is a religious holiday.

Spanish food at Christmas comes into its own with sweets, fabulous mandarins, walnuts and dates. Some of the delicacies you will see on offer in the shops include:

Turron (nougat) of which are many varieties, with the most famous being Jijona (softer variety.) and Alicante hard nougat.

Mazapan (traditional marzipan) and a variety called Yemo which is made with egg and a speciality of Avila.

Polvorones, Deseadas & Mantecados – small crumbly almond biscuits & cakes.

Rosquillos de Vino – biscuit rings flavoured with anise and wine and traditionally accompanied by a glass of Anise liqueur

It can be very difficult to get a meal in a restaurant on Christmas Eve unless you book well in advance. Christmas Day is easier, but pre-booking is still necessary.

If you are planning on cooking your own Christmas meal here then turkeys are much more widely available than they used to be, and some of the more English biased supermarkets (like SuperSol in Andalucia) also sell ready made mince pies, sage and onion stuffing, sausage meat and Christmas puddings.

Reproduced by kind permission of Spanish Airport Guide