Spanish Christmas Traditions

Every country across the world has its own unique Christmas traditions and Spain is no exception! Spain is a country full of unique customs, and some of them may surprise you. From December Fool’s Day and a pooping log to fire jumping and an intense national lottery, Spanish Christmas traditions are more unique than you might think

El Gordo – The Big Lottery

One of the most exciting Spanish Christmas traditions is playing the lottery. Almost everyone takes part in the Spanish National Lottery at Christmas time, making it the biggest lottery in the world. It’s so big, it’s called ‘El Gordo’ or ‘the Fat One’, because of the huge cash prizes of more than 2 billion euros.

It’s been held every year since 1812 and it’s a tradition for the winning numbers to be announced live on TV on the morning of December 22nd. As the winning numbers are called, they’re sung out by a choir of school children. It’s also common for friends and coworkers to buy a share of a single ticket together and split the winnings. In 2011, an entire town shared a single ticket and won, splitting the share of 950 million euros!

Spanish Christmas Traditions

As measured by the total prize payout, the Spanish Christmas Lottery is considered the biggest lottery draw worldwide. In 2017, with 165 million pre-printed €20 tickets to sell (décimos), the maximum total amount available for all prizes would be €2.31 billion (70% of ticket sales). The total amount for the grand prize El Gordo (“the big one”) would be €720 million.

A visit from the three kings

On the evening of January 5th every year, Spanish towns and cities are given over to the colourful parades of the Dia de los Reyes, or the Kings’ Day – a celebration of the arrival of the three wise men in Bethlehem after Jesus’ birth. Mechanised floats bearing effigies of Melchior (Arabia), Caspar (the Orient) and Balthazar (Africa) – or real life versions of the wise men played by members of the local council – and various other brightly-costumed participants trundle down major streets; as they pass, they throw out handfuls of sweets that rain down on the spectators gathered to watch their grand entry into the town.

The three kings or wise men perform the same role as Santa Claus at Christmas, so on the evening of the 5th children are supposed to leave a cleaned pair of shoes outside their doors for the nocturnal visitors to fill with gifts.

For many Spanish families, January 6th (the day after the three kings visit) is an important public holiday in which everyone comes together to watch the children unwrap their second load of presents in as many weeks. There is abundant eating and drinking and the traditional cake is called the Roscon de Reyes, a circular sweet bread sprinkled with sugar and dried fruits. Embedded inside is a plastic little king or queen and whoever finds it is monarch for the day, meaning they are entitled to be waited on hand and foot. Hidden inside the cake is also a bean, the unfortunate recipient of which has to buy the Roscon the following year. That might not be such a bad thing though, as some bakeries have been known to bake diamonds and cheques worth thousands of euros into the cakes, as well as mini monarchs and beans.

In Galicia, kids also get a visit from the Apalpador, a giant coal miner who brings them treats and gifts. And in the Basque Country, there’s the beret-clad Olentzero. He may not look much like St. Nick, but legend says this traditional character visits Basque towns on Christmas Eve to leave presents for children.

Festive Feasts

Of all the Spanish holiday traditions, one of the best by far is the abundance of multi-course meals. Christmas is the perfect time to enjoy some of the country’s most beloved dishes, which are served up in long and elaborate holiday feasts.

The fun starts on Christmas Eve with an indulgent dinner, often including several types of tapas, soup, seafood, and roasted and cured meats. You might want to have a light breakfast the next morning because Christmas Day lunch is equally impressive

Midnight Mass

With Catholics making up over half of the country’s population, the Christmas church services are a very important part of Christmas in Spain. Many people go to a Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve, known as La Misa Del Gallo (The Mass of the Rooster), because a rooster supposedly crowed the night Jesus was born. Many families also eat the main Spanish Christmas dinner on Christmas Eve (Nochebuena) just before or after Midnight Mass. It’s a special time for families to get together, give thanks and celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ.

Portal de Beléns

Portal de Beléns, meaning ‘stable of Bethlehem’, are the incredible nativity scenes found across Spain at Christmas time. They’re more than just a few figurines in a stable – these are huge and elaborate nativity scenes, with houses, markets, farms, rivers and all kinds of characters.

You’ll see them in traditional households, shop windows and town squares in the lead up to Christmas, and you’ll spot handmade figurines like baby Jesus and the Three Wise Kings in Christmas markets all over Spain. You can even watch living Beléns, where real actors and animals recreate the Nativity scene.

Some recipes you can test out to make an amazing Spanish feast:

White Bean Stew With Vegetables And Quinoa

During the cold months, a good spoon dish that combines legumes and cereals every week is usually not lacking in any house. With the quick cooker the lentils, chickpeas and beans are prepared very comfortably, and you can freeze portions already ready without problems, as long as we do not add potato, to be able to have food forecast for the whole month, and have where to throw from if you want a hot dish to taste.

This white bean stew is an example of a healthy, easy, delicious and versatile recipe, in which we can use our favourite beans or add other vegetables that we have in the pantry.

WARM OLIVES WITH PRESERVED LEMON AND FENNEL

This recipe makes a quick but impressive snack to serve with drinks. Heating the olives makes them absorb more flavour without having to marinade them for ages. These will make perfect tapas for your Spanish feast!

TOMATO AND FETA SALAD

This recipe for marinated tomato salad with feta cheese makes a quick and easy vegetarian meal for two midweek. It also makes a tasty lunch to take to work. This is another amazing and tasty tapas!

SPICY CHICKPEA, POTATO AND FILO SLICE

Check out our spiced chickpea bake with potatoes and topped with thin crunchy filo pastry. This easy recipe is veggie friendly, ready in under an hour and serves four. Our filo slice is best eaten on the day, while the pastry is still crisp making it perfect for a Christmas feast.

You can find ingredients, spices and recipes on our site to help you make the perfect Spanish Christmas Feast!