Spanish Culture and News

Christmas in Spain: The Spanish Christmas Calendar

Snow in the Retiro Park

Want to have a very Spanish Christmas this year? I recently complained that Spanish Christmas went on much too long, and many thought I was referring to the run-up to Christmas. No. What lasts a long time in Spain is Christmas itself, a veritable test of endurance with big events starting around December 22nd, and running all the way through to January 6th.

Do you think you could take the pace? All I can say is this: here’s hoping you get on well with your family! Let’s run through it, meal by meal, day by day:

December 22nd – El Gordo

Wake up and spend several hours glued to the TV watching small children pulling wooden lottery balls out of a big revolving cage. Discover that you haven’t won El Gordo again this year – it’s going to be split by 28 customers of a small bar in an obscure barrio of Valencia… or Soria… or Avila.

You will however make 20 Euros back on one of the tickets your mother-in-law gave you, narrowly off-setting the 300 Euros you spent on buying and swapping lottery tickets with every friend, workmate and relative you suspected might give one to you.

December 24th – Nochebuena!

The first big family meal of the season, an elaborate dinner of seafood, turrón, maybe piglet, fish, roast beef – it varies, but there’s definitely going to be lots to eat!

December 25th – Navidad

Wake up remembering the argument you had with your bother/sister/dad at last night’s family dinner, and remember… you’re seeing them all again in 3 hours time for a big family lunch! What’s on the menu? No turkey, most likely fish or lamb instead.

And no presents in Spain on the 25th, except in families that have adopted the Father Christmas (Papa Noel) tradition as an excuse for giving their children presents now (rather than waiting until Jan 6th), thus keeping them quiet for the remainder of the holidays. Obviously this is increasingly common – good news for shareholders in El Corte Ingles.

December 26th to December 30th – Run for the hills!

Nothing official programmed, but plenty of scope for at least one family meal, possibly with aunts/uncles/cousins. Update: Another reason to run for the hills (thanks for the reminder rachman) – December 28th is el Dí­a de los Inocentes, the Spanish version of April Fools day. By now you’ll be in no mood for practical jokes, believe me!

December 31st – Nochevieja

The Spanish have a very civilised approach to the biggest anti-climax of the year: get together for a family meal! Instead of fretting for weeks beforehand about which bar or disco isn’t going to be as crap as last year when the clock strikes midnight, they simply meet once again for another enduro-eating experience.

And when the clock does strike 12, it’s traditional to eat one grape per chime. Success means a year of good luck, and sounds pretty easy. But wait until you’ve already got 8 fat grapes stuffed in your mouth and 4 more to go – those chimes come pretty fast! Fortunately there is always a large bottle of Cava on hand, and the grapes are followed by a healthy round of toasts.

January 1st – Año Nuevo

This is where those who were not born into the Spanish Christmas tradition usually break down, crave psychological council, and wonder why they didn’t marry a girl from back home instead.

Waking early on January 1st, hungover, exhausted because you just had to go out last night after the family meal ended at 2 a.m., as you roll out of bed and plant your feet on the bedroom floor, a shocking realisation washes over you… you’re having lunch with the family again in half an hour. The same family you had supper with last night, for crying out loud!

Life has now started to resemble that film, Groundhog Day, where every single day brings about the same set of events: a meal with the family! Another big one too. Hope you’re hungry!

Janurary 6th – Reyes!

The marathon is all but over. Just one more get together with the relatives, usually just an afternoon tea party, and this time the joys of breaking bread with the family once more are enhanced by the giving, at last, of Christmas presents. A general sense of relief washes over the family collective, as real life, moderate eating, and a little time alone once again appear on the horizon.

Could you make it all the way through a family Christmas in Spain?!

If you want to hear more about Christmas in Spain, learn how to pronounce Nochevieja, and sharpen up your Spanish at the same time, then check out our latest Inspired Beginners Podcast, Feliz Navidad, over at