It’s the most wonderful time of the year, and today David shares some Christmas traditions in Spain that make it extra special!
Spain is a country full of Christmas traditions, and some of them may surprise you. From December Fools’ Day to a pooping log and an intense national lottery, Spanish Christmas has more unique customs than you’d think! Here are the seven things about Spanish Navidad that you need to know.
7 Unique Spanish Christmas Traditions
1. Santa Who?
That’s right; Santa Claus doesn’t come to Spain. Instead, Spanish girls and boys get their presents from the Three Wise Men. And these Reyes Magos don’t come on December 25th, either! Nope, kids here have to wait until January 6th, the day of the Epiphany.
But it’s worth the wait! On the day the Reyes come, locals flock to the streets to greet them. There’s a massive parade, and the Three Wise Men ride atop floats and throw candy to the masses. Known as cabalgatas, these floats are one of the highlights of Spanish Christmas!
But if waiting those 12 extra days seems too hard, don’t worry. Nowadays, kids in Spain usually open a few presents on Christmas Day as well.
2. A Crown-Shaped Christmas Cake
Spanish food is great all year round, and the holidays are no exception! The main Christmas meal happens on Christmas Eve, when families gather to eat Iberian ham and a smorgasbord of seafood.
But just like the presents, you have to wait for the main event. On the eve of the Epiphany, families get together for another Christmas meal. There’s more ham, more seafood, and for dessert, a bit of turrón and the famous Roscón de Reyes.
This Kings’ Cake is a Christmas staple, made of sweet brioche stuffed with pastry cream and topped with candied fruit. Its donut shape is said to be inspired by the crowns worn by the Three Wise Men on their floats. But the best part? When each family member bites into their cake for the first time, they’re crossing their fingers, hoping they’ll find a small ceramic toy.
If you chomp on the toy, you get good luck for the whole year! But if you’re unlucky enough to break your tooth on a fava bean, you have to pay for next year’s cake. This is one of my favorite Spanish Christmas traditions and a great way to celebrate while getting some dessert, too!
3. The Fat Lottery
The Spanish Christmas lottery is the biggest in the world, paying out more than 2 billion euros each year. For that reason, it’s colloquially known as El Gordo; “the fat one”. Absolutely everyone in the country plays, usually going in with their friends and coworkers and only buying a share of a single ticket!
If the numbers win, the winnings get shared out between all of the people who went in on that ticket. And the number of people who can share a single ticket can get pretty out of control. In 2011 an entire town shared a single set of numbers—and won! Everyone from Sodeto got a share of the 950 million euros that went to the winning ticket, save one man!
The results get announced on the morning of December 22nd, with a drawing presented live across the nation! As each number gets called, a choir of school children sings them aloud.
4. December Fool’s Day
While the rest of the world is pulling pranks on April 1st, the Spanish are patiently biding their time. But come December 28th, Spaniards start watching their backs. El Día de los Santos Inocentes is anything but innocent—but if you don’t feel like playing pranks, you can just dress up in a wig instead!
5. El Portal de Belén
If you visited Spain fifty years ago, you might have struggled to find Christmas trees during the holidays. While they’re more common now, these are a pretty recent addition to the Navidad lineup.
In more traditional households, however, you’ll still find the classic portal de Belén (also known as the belenismo). Incredibly ornate, these gorgeous nativity scenes are the old-school way of decorating your house come Christmas. There are plenty of Christmas markets across the country that specialize in handmade figurines and icons—from the baby Jesus to the Three Wise Men and a flock of sheep.
You’ll see them appearing in store windows from the start of December, and big companies will open their doors to families, and show off their extensive nativity scenes to the public.
6. Midnight Mass
Most people in Spain still identify as Catholic, like the customary nativity scenes might suggest. For this reason, after the main meal on Christmas eve, it’s normal for some families to head to church for the misa de gallo; midnight mass.
This special service is an affirmation of faith, and one of the most-attended Church events of the year! While it’s not the flashiest of the Spanish Christmas traditions, this special mass is a time for families to get together each year and give thanks.
7. The Caga Tió
Not to be outdone by the rest of the country, Catalonia also has its own unique Christmas traditions. This one might sound a bit weird, so bear with me here.
Each December, Catalan families decorate a wooden log with a face and legs. It’s kept in the house or garden, covered with a blanket to keep it from getting cold. This log is called the Caga Tió—the “pooping log”. Why?
Well, on Christmas Day, children gather around the log and start to beat it with sticks. While they whack, they sing a song asking the log to poop out candy for them to eat on Christmas. Once the song is finished, they pull back the blanket to discover a treasure trove of hidden candy!
More Holiday Traditions in Spain
Do you have any of your own favorite Spanish Christmas traditions? Are you ready to add a pooping log to your holidays? Let me know by leaving a comment below!