Throughout the world, Christmas is one of the most well known holidays. In Spain, as well as in many other countries, this holiday focuses on the celebration of Christ's birth. It is a time for families to gather together to celebrate and share the joy of the season with song, dancing and family meals. Christmas trees and handmade decorations, as well as the Nativity scene are familiar sights. Although these traditions are common in many countries, there are some aspects of the Christmas holiday which are unique to Spain.
Leading up to the Christmas holiday, the Spanish celebrate a tradition called “Hogueras” (bonfires). This is a celebration of the winter solstice which is the shortest day of the year. At this time, people jump over a bonfire, symbolizing a protection against illness. Also during the winter solstice, swing sets are constructed to be used by the people in the belief that by swinging high they will cause the sun to move higher in the sky.
On Christmas Eve, tiny lamps are lit in the windows throughout the villages, representing the stars in the Christmas Eve sky. At midnight, bells are rung in each of the villages, calling everyone to “La Misa Del Gallo”, the Mass of the Rooster. It is called this because the rooster was known as the first of the animals to announce Christ's birth.
After the midnight Mass, Christmas dinner is served. The traditional holiday meal includes “Pavo Trufado de Navidad”, which is Christmas turkey with truffles. Roast lamb, suckling pig, duck, and seafood such as lobster, shrimp, trout and salmon may also be served, depending on which part of the country one is in. Traditional desserts may include marzipan, made of honey, almonds and eggs, and polvorones, which is a sweetbread. Nuts, dried fruits, and caramel custard are among other desserts served. No meal is complete without a drink. Cava is the Spanish champagne, and it often accompanies the Christmas meal.
In many countries a visit by Santa Claus is an important part of a Christmas celebration. However, in Spain, this is not the case. The children do receive small gifts from “Papa Noel” on Christmas, but this is not a big part of the festivities. Instead, they celebrate January 6, which is the Three King's Day, a day commemorating the Three Wise Men who brought gifts to the Baby Jesus. On January 5, the children take part in a parade to see the Three Kings when they come to their village or town. When given the chance, they ask the Three Kings for the presents they are hoping for. On the eve of this special day, the children leave their shoes out where they are easily found. They are filled with straw and carrots for the camels on which the Wise Men travel. On the next morning, the straw and carrots are gone, replaced by presents. On this day, a special dessert is served, the “Roscon de los Reyes” which is a large circular cake. It is decorated with candied fruits, which represent the jewels which were on the Three Kings' robes. There is a surprise baked into the cake, and whoever finds it becomes the king or queen of the house.
Spain's celebration of Christmas is similar to the manner in which other countries celebrate it with Christmas trees and Christmas wreaths.. But by also having its own unique traditions, a visitor can gain insight into the people of Spain and their lives. Knowing the traditions of various countries such as Spain can give one a new appreciation of the Christmas holiday around the world.