Christmas in Spain
Spain’s traditions during the Christmas season are very similar to those celebrated by the rest of the Christian world. Spanish families gather together to enjoy, celebrate and share in the spirit of giving, kindness and goodwill. But in Spain there are also traditions and customs that some visitors may be unfamiliar with. So here is a guide to Christmas in Spain.
Belén (Nativity scene)
Christmas that still maintains much importance throughout Spain is the Belén. These elaborate and often beautiful scenes can be seen in many public buildings as well as private houses.
December 22: El Gordo
On this day the winning number of the famous Christmas Lottery in Spain, El Gordo is announced. This lottery, by far the biggest in Spain, is a tradition practiced by many people who hope to win the grand prize. This tradition was initiated in 1763 by Carlos III. Since then it has been a continual tradition and is viewed by many as the beginning of the Christmas holidays.
December 23. Papá Noel
Father Christmas comes to Nerja with a parade through the streets and just like the Three Kings, sweets are thrown to eager children.
December 24: Nochebuena
Christmas Eve in Spain is a very important night in the calendar. Typically the Spanish gather together with their family and celebrate with an enormous meal before going to Christmas mass.
December 25th: Navidad
Christmas Day is a more low key event in Spain compared to the UK. The Spanish spend time with their families, have a celebratory meal, (though not as big as the one the evening before), and some exchange gifts from ‘Papa Noel’, (Father Christmas). However, the custom of giving gifts on this date is not so popular, as the Spanish traditionally wait until Día de Los Reyes (Three King’s Day) to exchange gifts.
December 28: Día de los Santos Inocentes
Although Día de los Santos Inocentes (Day of the Innocents), marks the anniversary of the murder of children by Herod, the celebration is more akin to April Fool’s Day. Many foreigners who are in Spain can be very confused by the absurd or incredible news stories that appear in the press, and one should also watch out for practical jokes!
December 31st: Nochevieja
The celebrations for New Year’s Eve are quite an impressive spectacle. It is tradition at midnight to eat twelve grapes as the local church bells chime. Those who manage to eat the grapes will have twelve months of prosperirty in the new year. Celebrations normally take place on the main square with music and fireworks.
Cabalgata de los Reyes Magos or the parade of the Three Kings in January
The Parade of the Three Kings is a Christmas tradition held on the 5th and 6th of January in all Spanish towns. The celebration remembers the day when the three wise men followed the star to Bethlehem, bearing gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh for the baby Jesus.
The Three King’s parade is part of the Dia de Reyes celebration. Spanish children traditionally get their presents from the Three Wise Men on the 6th January rather than Santa Claus or Father Christmas on the 25th December. Similar to Santa Claus children, before they go to bed, leave out a dish filled with biscuits for the three wise men. On the 6th of January it is also traditional to eat the Roscón de Reyes or 3 King’s cake. A circuler cake (crown shaped) with dried or candid fruit.
Today the parade of the Kings is one of the most exciting Spanish fiestas for children of all ages. The Three Kings on decorated floats travel through Malaga’s towns and villages generously throwing sweets from huge sacks on the floats. Children often follow the floats, filling their bags with sweets. Sometimes in smaller villages the Kings have a ceremony of handing out presents to the local children.
The Origins of the Three Kings Parade
The first Cabalgata de los Reyes Magos (Three Kings Parade), is said to have taken place in Alcoy, Valencia in 1866, when an employee of the local newspaper disguised himself as a king and entered the town on horseback at 11 pm. Some years later a cultural association known as El Panerot was set up to raise money for the processions which were gradually gaining momentum around the country. Realising that it was good for business, shopkeepers often played a part and in 1884 Alcoyâ’s town council got involved to ensure that poorer children got their gifts too. After the Spanish civil war in 1939 the youth wing of the Nationalist Falange Party were made responsible for organising the processions which were often an opportunity for intense political and religious propaganda.
Where to see the Three Kings parade
Most towns and villages hold a parade. Nerja has a good Three Kings parade on the 5th January. If you prefer to avoid the crowds and catch more sweets then try one of the smaller villages. Maro’s parade is on the 6th January and has a lovely tradition of handing out labelled presents to local children at the end of the parade through the streets.