More and more people come from overseas to enjoy Christmas in Spain and this year is yet another record breaking year for our all-inclusive car hire at Alicante airport bookings by such clients. But often we are asked what the locals do to celebrate Christmas.
In general, being a Christian country the traditions of what is celebrated is similar to those of the UK and other countries but there are a few very distinct Spanish traditions.
Christmas lights and decorations are popular not only in homes but also, as with most countries, in the streets and shops so from the start of December Spain begins to feel festive. During the whole year tickets are on sale for the "El Gordo" (translated to the big one) - a Christmas lottery draw which is certainly the biggest in Spain. The draw takes place on the 22nd of December and is televised live. Taking several hours children one by one pick a winning number and corresponsing prize amount. For many this marks the real start of Christmas.
In Spain it is normal for employees to receive an extra month of salary at Christmas (as well as sometimes in the summer) although this is often split evenly throughout the year rather than paid in one lump sum, but still, it´s a nice tradition still honoured by many businesses for their staff.
Noche buena (Christmas eve) is generally celebrated big style with families gathering in often large numbers for a feat in the evening. The Spanish like nothing more than a family get-together and it´s not unusual to see groups ranging from a few people to several dozen gathering at home to share a meal. After the meal many go to midnight mass to see in Christmas day, much in the same way as in the UK but like in the UK this is a tradition slowly reducing in numbers.
The 25th is the main day for giving gifts and children wake excited to see what Papa Noel (Father Christmas) has brought. Generally families stay at home for this day although it´s not uncommon for them to gather in the house of parents or grandparents. Food on the 25th is usually a traditional Spanish dish.
Boxing day is not really celebrated in Spain and although many people are off work throughout the Christmas period, the 26th tends to see most shops open. Traditionally though children write to the three kings on this day with their requests for gifts on 6th January (see below).
New Year's Eve is called 'Nochevieja' or 'The Old Night' in Spain and one special tradition is that you eat 12 grapes with the 12 strokes of the clock at Midnight! Each grape represents a month of the coming year, so if you eat the twelve grapes, you are said to be lucky in the new year. This is usually accompanied by a glass of something fizzy to help them go down!
Apart from Christmas, there is another festival that is celebrated in Spain that is about the Christmas Story. It is called Epiphany and is celebrated on 6th January. In Spanish, Epiphany is called 'Fiesta de Los tres Reyes Mages': in English this means 'The festival of the three Magic Kings'. Epiphany celebrates when the three Kings (wise men) brought gifts to the baby Jesus.
Children have some presents on Christmas Day, but others often are opened at Epiphany. Some children believe that the Kings bring presents to them at Epiphany. They write letters to the Kings on 26th December, asking for toys and presents. Although a tradition that is dying out, on Epiphany Eve (January 5th) children sometimes leave shoes on windowsills or balconies or under the tree to be filled with presents. Gifts are often left by children for the Kings, a glass of Cognac for each King, a satsuma and some walnuts. Sometimes a bucket of water is left for the camels that bring the Kings! If the children have been bad, the Kings might leave pieces of coal made out of sugar in the presents!
Some big towns and cities have Epiphany Parades with each King having a big float that is shaped like a camel. Sometimes there are also real camels in the parade.
On the 6th, trasitionally the Spanish eat for breakfast a "Roscón de Reyes" a large ring shaped cake which often has treats hidden inside much in the same way as a British Christmas pudding!
Remember that if you are coming to Spain for Christmas you can really benefit from hiring a car and with Drivalia you get all-inclusive car hire at Alicante airport and Mallorca airport. We pride ourselves on offering the best value car hire and the most honest and transparent deals in town.
We are rapidly selling out for the Christmas season so if you have not yet booked your all-inclusive car hire in Alicante or Palma please do it now to avoid missing out!