Christmas is a spirited festival that is celebrated by Christians all over the world. Yes, the Christmas traditions in Spain are slightly different from say, how the Germans would celebrate it, or even the Romanians. Let's see how the Spanish celebrate Christmas, especially which dishes are prepared as part of the feast.
Christmas Eve: 24th December
The Spanish consider the 8th of December as the first day of Christmas, putting up decorations in an enthusiastic display of lights, shiny streamers, and of course, the Christmas tree itself; this day is also called the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. Christmas Eve is known as Nochebuena in Spain, as well as the commonly-known word, Navidad. On this blessed night, as soon as the first star is seen―as a part of the Christmas tradition―people sit around bonfires.
A burning candle is often placed around peoples' doors where a fast is held for the whole day. They then attend mass, followed by a huge Christmas feast that replete with Spain's finest dishes. There's almond soup, roasted meat, suckling pig, duck, along with plenty of seafood like crab and lobster. The Christmas dessert menu is just as spectacular, and has turrón (made from honey, egg whites, and sugar) and marzipan (made from almond meal, honey, and sugar) as part of this course. Also, this feast would not be complete without polvorón―a heavenly bread made from milk, flour, sugar, and nuts. The Spanish equivalent of champagne, cava (a Spanish wine), is also served as part of the festivity.
Christmas Day: 25th December
Christmas is celebrated with family and friends, where everyone gathers to celebrate this important holiday. Christmas gifts are exchanged between friends and family, where visits are paid to neighbors with an invitation to join in with the festivities. Others visit friends with cured ham (Jamón) packed carefully as a gift. Christmas cookies are laid out for everyone as heartfelt wishes are exchanged with the traditional phrase, 'Feliz Navidad', on everyone's lips as the greeting for 'Merry Christmas' in Spanish.
Holy Innocents' Day: 28th December
While for most people the next thing to look forward to now is New Year's, it is different in Spain. One of the special traditions of the Christmas season, which is exclusively limited to this country, is the celebration of the Day of the Innocents, or in Spanish, Dia de los Santos Inocentes. This is celebrated on the 28th of December, but isn't as popular as it is in smaller villages. While this marked a time when children were massacred as part of King Herod's instructions during Jesus' birth, the gravity of the incident was turned into a day of practical jokes, in later years. Like April Fools' Day, children play pranks on one another, and even dress up like it's Halloween in small villages around Spain; it hasn't been done in recent times.
New Year's Eve: 31st December
Spain is definitely one of the best destinations to experience New Year's. On the eve of the new year, known as Nochevieja (The Old Night), all the main squares of the city are lit up. The celebrations are shown live on television, where post midnight, people are seen distributing a handful of grapes (las uvas de la suerte). Legend has it, that if you eat twelve grapes at the beginning of the new year, it will give you twelve months of good luck.
Three Kings' Day: 6th January
While the beginning of the New Year effectively puts an end to celebrations the world over, it isn't quite over in Spain. Instead of 'Santa Claus', kids associate Papa Noel as the holiday gift giver. Also, unlike Christmas in other parts of the world, gifts are not given to children only on Christmas Day, but also on Three Kings' Day. It is believed that The Magi or the Three Kings bring gifts for children on this day. The children happily place their shoes on the windowsill, fill it with straw and carrots for The Magi's horses, before going off to bed. Another tradition involves eating the famous dessert, Roscón de los Reyes―an oval-shaped cake heavily decorated with candied fruit, quinces, cherries, or dried fruit.
Also, in the La Font de la Figuera municipality, New Year's is ushered in by... stripping down to your underwear and running through the streets! Oh, and the underwear must be red in color! Also, all the Nativity scenes have a Caganer (a gnome-like man with his pants down, defecating), which is an odd symbolism for good luck. It is interesting to see how a holiday's traditions are celebrated around the world, where Spain has by far, intrigued us to no end!