Christmas is a wonderful time of year. What makes it so special is that each culture creates unique ways of marking the festive season. Germany has stollen and Christmas markets; the United Kingdom has Christmas Pudding; France has Le Réveillon de Noël, a meal consumed at midnight on Christmas Eve. Spain has many unique traditions too.
The biggest Spanish Christmas tradition is the Spanish Christmas Lottery (also known as El Gordo which translates into English as The Fat One). Players don’t select numbers; they simply buy a ticket with a number code. The draw takes place a few days before Christmas and it’s possible for thousands of people to have the same winning number. Around 2/3 of the money made from ticket sales is distributed in the form of prizes. The rest goes to administration and to the sellers. It is also a tradition to reinvest any small profits from the Christmas lottery into the El Niño lottery on January 6th which offers an amazing 1 in 3 chance of getting a prize.
Midnight Mass and Meal
While the Midnight Mass is not unique to Catholicism, nor to Spain, a midnight meal certainly is. Spaniards eat their Christmas Dinner around midnight either just before or after the mass, but typically about 10pm. It’s a big family celebration with a suckling pig or a roast lamb as the typical centrepiece. However, some prefer lobster, fish stew and plenty of seafood dishes. There are no rules, but people tend to eat extravagantly, buying expensive ingredients for an enormous banquet.
Nativity scenes are common in countries that celebrate Christmas. But Spain does things very differently. This is not a simple stable scene with Mary, Joseph, the baby Jesus and the three wise men. Spanish Belens (the Spanish word for Bethlehem) is much larger and consists of a virtual miniature village complete with houses, a river, a farm, and a marketplace. It isn’t just about creating a single moment in the story but recreating an entire scene to spark the imagination of the season.
Dia de los Santos Inocentes
Outside of Spain, April Fool’s Day falls in, well, April. But Spain has its own version and it falls on the 28th December. Translating as Day of the Holy Innocents, it’s much like AFD in that people play pranks on each other. The more outrageous, the better. People also dress up in silly costumes to mark the occasion. There is, however, a serious message behind it. It’s the Saint’s Day dedicated to all the children slaughtered on the order of King Herod. The religious meaning is all but gone, but the pranks and silliness remains.
Roscón de Reyes
The 6th January is Christmas Day in the Eastern Orthodox Churches. In western traditions, it’s the Feast of the Epiphany and the final day of the Christmas season. It’s largely ignored outside of religious communities. Not so in Spain where it is yet another occasion to celebrate. Translating as Ring of the Kings, Roscón de Reyes is a sweet bread decorated with crushed sweet nuts such as almonds and sprinkled with candied fruit, quince, and figs. It represents the arrival of the Three Kings at the birth of Jesus.