Twelve ways to get into the Christmas spirit in Spain

From the truly sublime to the downright bizarre, the festive season in Spain is an amazing experience. Read on to check out The Local's guide to the very best the country has to offer.

Twelve ways to get into the Christmas spirit in Spain
Christmas lights in Madrid's Puerta del Sol. Photo: AFP

Carol concerts, glittering lights and a healthy dose of consumerism: in many respects Christmas in Spain is a thoroughly familiar experience.

The Christmas season gets fully underway with the December puente, when the nation enjoys two bank holidays – on December 6th and December 8th – and continues right up until Epihany on January 6th.

But alongside the cute craft markets and the ice skating rinks, there are some traditions that mark this time of year in Spain as unique.   


Photo: AFP

While Spain's Christmas markets might not have the prestige of their Central European counterparts, they are becoming more and more popular. The biggest Christmas market in Spain is on Madrid's Plaza Mayor (pictured) and there are also impressive ones in Barcelona, Seville and Granada. Be sure to check out some traditional handmade Spanish Christmas decorations or maybe get a new baby Jesus for your crib.


“La familia al Completo” nativity scene by Antonio Pigozzi and Raffaele De Angelis during the inauguration of the Museo de Belenes, the world's largest museum of nativity scenes, in Mollina near Malaga. Photo: AFP

The Spanish love their Christmas cribs, or 'belénes', with town halls across Spain coming up with elaborate versions that go well beyond the simple nativity scene. Some even lay on ‘living’ nativity scenes with volunteers playing the parts.


Photo: ventanamedia/

There is no finer feeling than getting all wrapped up and gliding over (or falling headfirst into) the ice. Whatever your skill level, ice-skating is always a fun winter activity and ice-rinks have popped up across Spanish towns and cities.


Photo: Josep Ma. Rosell/Flickr

The 'Christmas log' (Tió de Nadal) commonly referred to as the 'pooing log' is a famous part of Catalan mythology. Families 'feed' the log in the run up to Christmas then beat it with sticks while encouraging it to excrete the Christmas presents. Also keep a look out for Christmas crappers (caganers), traditionally a crapping figure added to a Catalan crib. You can buy modern Christmas crappers depicting an array of famous faces, from Queen Elizabeth to Lionel Messi to the complete set of Catalan politicians (pictured below).

Photo: AFP


 Hand made Turron at the famous “La Casa Mira” in Madrid. Photo: AFP

 Turrón, a Spanish almond nougat, is traditionally eaten for dessert on Christmas Day but is enjoyed throughout the festive period.


Photo: Santa Llúcia website.

There's nothing more Christmassy than belting out some Christmas carols or 'villancicos' in Spanish.  Concert halls and churches across Spain will be holding conciertos de villancicos, or carol concerts throughout the Christmas period.


Photo: Tim Pierce / FlickrDress up on December 28th for Spain’s Fool’s Day (don’t try to play a joke on a Spaniard on April 1st, you won’t get many laughs). Spaniards don silly wigs and glasses and prank each other, shouting “Inocente, inocente!” on revealing the practical joke.


Photo: AFP

If you are visiting Spain around Christmas time and see a lot of people queueing, it is most probably for El Gordo or The Fat One, the biggest and second longest running lottery in the world. Tickets cost a whopping €200 ($250) but you can buy a 'décimo', or tenth of a ticket for €20 ($25).


Balthazar is often played by someone 'blacked up'. Photo: AFP

Christmas in Spain lasts from December 24th to the day of the Three Kings on January 6th and all the Christmas excitement culminates with the parade of the Three Kings on January 5th. Alcoy, in Alicante, is home to the oldest Three Kings parade in Spain, held since 1885, but wherever you are in Spain on January 5th, look out for Melchior, Caspar and Balthazar.


An illuminated peace dove hangs over Las Ramblasi in Barcelona. Photo: AFP

Spanish towns and cities are festooned with lights and Christmas decorations at this time of year, with those in Madrid's Gran Vía particularly impressive. The city’s Sol and Plaza Mayor are the centre of the Christmas display, featuring the city’s modern take on Christmas trees, a futuristic cone-like structure.


Spain is really making a name for itself on the skiing map and as well as having cheaper resorts than in France, Switzerland and Austria, the country can boast sunny weather and facilities for all ages and abilities.

READ MORE: Eight amazing ski resorts in Spain


What better way to burn off the excesses of Christmas than with a bracing swim? Join dozens of groups at resorts along Spain’s coasts for this chilly tradition of diving into the sea on Boxing Day. At least there is the promise of mince pies and hot brandy after the freezing dip is over.


Spain’s capital delays reopening of schools after historic snowfall

Madrid's regional government on Friday postponed the opening of schools until January 20 because many roads remained blocked a week after Spain's worst snowstorm in decades.

Spain's capital delays reopening of schools after historic snowfall
Children riding sleds are pulled by their parents amid a heavy snowfall in Madrid on January 9, 2021: AFP

The region's 2,557 schools had been set to reopen on Monday but access to over half of them, or 57.6 percent, remains difficult because of the snow and ice, the regional government said in a statement.

Clean-up crews will “continue working intensely over the following days” to ensure school can open as planned, it added.

Storm Filomena dumped 50 centimetres (20 inches) of snow on Madrid between last Friday and Saturday, leaving the city and large swathes of the country impassable.


The storm had been blamed for five deaths. It was followed by several days of plunging temperatures, which hardened mounds of snow and slush.

ANALYSIS: Should Madrid be declared a disaster zone as true cost of storm damage emerges?

While main arteries have been cleared, hundreds of side streets remained caked in snow and ice which has disrupted post delivery and rubbish collection, with huge piles of refuse piled up around overflowing bins across Madrid.

A pile of garbage bags is pictured in Madrid on January 14, 2021. Gabriel BOUYS / AFP

READ ALSO: IN PICS: Spectacular images of snow-covered Spain from the air

About a third of all streets, or 30.3 percent of all streets have been cleared, according to Madrid city hall which estimates the storm caused at least 1.4 billion euros ($1.7 billion) in damage.

Madrid mayor Jose Luis Martinez-Almeida said the storm dumped more than 1.2 million kilos of snow on the city, enough to form a line of trucks stretching from Madrid to Brussels.

He has called on the central government to declare the area a disaster zone, a move that would trigger emergency aid and other measures.

But the central government wants to wait for a final evaluation of the damage before it decides whether to declare Madrid a disaster area, Transport Minister Jose Luis Abalos told reporters.

People walk amid a heavy snowfall in Madrid on January 9, 2021. GABRIEL BOUYS / AFP

Meanwhile, Madrid three main art museums — the Prado, the Thyssen-Bornemisza and the Reina Sofia, the home of Picasso's masterpiece “Guernica” — all announced that they would reopen on Monday for the first time since the storm hit.

People enjoy the snow outside the Royal Palace in Madrid on January 9, 2021. Gabriel BOUYS / AFP

READ ALSO: LATEST: Big freeze across Spain set to last into next week

READ ALSO: Ten phrases to talk about cold and wet weather like a true Spaniard