Move over Santa because there's a fatter, more rugged version of you living in northern Spain. The Olentzero, as this pipe-smoking farmer-like legend is known, became the alternative to Santa Claus and the Three Wise Men for more militant Basque parents in the 1970s. Nowadays he tends to work in partnership with his ‘foreign’ present givers in most Basque households.
Spain’s Christmas lottery
It is the biggest in the world and has been held without interruption since 1812. In fact, even during the country’s civil war from 1936 to 1939, the ‘Fat One’ (El Gordo in Spanish) still kept its grip on Spaniards. What was unusual was that Republicans and Nationalists held their own separate draws.
Christmas ‘crapping’ log
Photo: Josep Ma. Rosell/Flickr
You may have read recently about Catalonia’s caganers, holiday season figurines which depict bare-bottom celebrities defecating. Catalans also have Tió de Nadal, a jolly Christmas log which they stick in the fireplace every Christmas Eve. Tradition says you must order Tío Nadal to defecate while spanking him with a stick. The ever-smiling tree trunk then waits for all the kids to go to bed before bringing them their presents.
The Three Wise Men were Spanish
That’s what Pope Benedict XVI claims in his 2012 book ‘Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives’. Ratzinger not only sets the record straight vis-a-vis the animals in the manger (no ox or donkey apparently), he also states that Melchior, Gaspar and Baltasar were from the southern Spanish region of Andalusia rather than just from ‘The East’.
Wakey, wakey Three Kings
Every January 5th, children in the southern Spanish city of Algeciras tie dozens of cans together and drag them through the streets causing an almighty racket. The reason for this ear-splitting tradition? To scare a legendary giant who tries to cover the sky in a thick cloud of smoke to stop the Three Wise Men from delivering the children’s presents.
Grappling with grapes
Photo: Chris Oakley/Flickr
If you’ve celebrated New Year’s Eve in Spain, you may have spotted how locals scoff up 12 grapes as the clock strikes midnight. The ’12 uvas’ tradition is said to have begun at the start of the century when vine growers in Alicante (eastern Spain) had such an abundant harvest that they had to come up with a way of selling the grapes before they went off. The custom has now spread to many Latin American countries as a way of bringing prosperity for the year to come.
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Sing when you’re winning
Orphans brought up at Madrid’s San Ildefonso School have been responsible for singing out the winning Christmas lottery numbers since 1771. Nobody knows exactly how such a peculiar way of calling the numbers came about, but legend has it that San Ildefonso’s orphans once chanted prayers through the streets of Madrid for alms. They were then chosen for Spain's Christmas lottery because as orphans they were considered to be less prone to cheating.
Too much of a sweet thing
Photo: Mover el Bigote/Flickr
Spain's Roscón de Reyes is a traditional cake families eat every January 6th (Epiphany). Be warned: this festive treat comes with the hidden ability of making your teeth crumble, and we’re not talking about sugar. Every Roscón has a metal/plastic figurine inside it. Whoever gets it in their piece is crowned king or queen of the table. There’s also a bean inside the pastry and whoever gets it has to buy next year’s roscón.