Unusual traditions of celebrating Christmas and New Year in Spain

In Spain, it is customary to celebrate Christmas and New Year on a grand scale, and almost every autonomous community has its own traditions, which local residents have followed for decades. Their complete listing would take too much space and time – after all, celebrations here begin on December 24 and continue until January 6, and they prepare for all the celebrations almost a month in advance.

This “marathon” opens with the Christmas lottery (Lotería de Navidad), which this year will take place on December 22. And although the probability of winning is not so high (about 5%), queues for “lucky” tickets and in “lucky” places have been lining up since the fall.

Christmas lottery in Spain

Over the 208 years of existence of this lottery, which has become an integral part of Spanish culture, a whole system of rituals has developed to attract good luck. For example, it is recommended to find a hunchback, a bald man or a pregnant woman and run a ticket over their hump, bald head or stomach, respectively. After the end of the drawing, which is broadcast live on the main TV channel, the lucky winners usually go to their favorite bar and have a blast there.

Queue for lottery tickets in Spain

On Christmas Eve, December 24, the Spanish faithful attend a special midnight mass, La Misa del Gallo, which takes its name from the rooster that crows to announce the birth of Christ. Most residents of the country spend the evening with family around the table, after which they head out into the street, where some of the bars that closed early open their doors again. The Spaniards even have a corresponding saying: “This is not a night for sleep!”, but the next day all the cities look literally extinct.

La Misa del Gallo

At Christmas, children, as in many European countries, receive gifts, but, of course, not from Santa Claus. In the Basque Country they are brought by Olentzero, a farmer in a black beret, so common in this autonomy, and in Catalonia they are brought by… a smiling log with two “legs” called Tió de Nadal. It is customary to keep this log in the house, starting from December 8, and to coax it in every possible way, but at Christmas, gifts are literally knocked out of it with a stick. After this, the Tio de Nadal is burned in a fireplace or other suitable place, and the ashes are kept for a whole year to protect the house from evil spirits.


smiling log with two "kicks" named Tió de Nadal.

In Catalonia, there is another exclusive tradition – figurines called caganer, depicting pooping men. According to one legend, the prototype of such a figurine was a local peasant who met the news of the birth of Christ in exactly this position, while everyone else was celebrating this significant event. If earlier “kaganer” was considered the “key to success” for the coming year, then recently it personifies losers. For example, after on October 1, 2017, the then head of the Catalan parliament, Carles Puigdemont, proclaimed the independence of the “Catalan Republic,” which lasted for several seconds, the counters of souvenir shops were flooded with corresponding figurines with his image.

Caganers in Catalonia

Having rested from some holidays, the Spaniards begin to intensively prepare for others, although they no longer attach such importance to the coming of the New Year. However, for this occasion they have their own age-old traditions – in particular, eating 12 seedless grapes at the strike of the clock at the last minute of the old year. Some people even manage to wash down the grapes with sparkling wine (cava), but the main thing is to have time to make 12 wishes during this time. The Kremlin chimes replace the clock on the Main Post Office building, located in Puerta del Sol in Madrid, where by that time tens of thousands of people gather.

12 grapes in Spain

Puerta del Sol in Madrid

The same thing happens in the central squares of other cities, after which everyone either continues the festivities or returns home to the festive table. If in Russia its integral attribute is Olivier salad in various variations, then the Spaniards prefer baked pig and seafood. It is believed that the table is a symbol of abundance, which is why its “content” is given such importance. As for everything else, the surroundings are approximately the same: New Year’s fir and pine trees, firecrackers and fireworks, films and entertainment programs, and everyone goes home at about the same time.

On the first day of the new year, the streets die out to the same extent as after Christmas, but from January 2 the “work week” begins – until the evening of January 5, when in Spain they celebrate the feast of the Three Magician Kings (Los Reyes Magos) or Magi . In preparation for it, children write letters to them asking for gifts, and in the end, they receive them if they have not behaved badly during the previous year (otherwise, they will receive a sweet called carbón (“coal”). However, before the pandemic Covid-19 it was possible to get sweets right on the street during the procession of the three wise men, and not a single child was ever left deprived.

Magi in Spain

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