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.
SHOP AT A CHRISTMAS MARKET:
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.
MARVEL AT A CHRISTMAS 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.
TAKE TO THE ICE:
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.
HAVE A CRAPPY CHRISTMAS:
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).
TUCK IN TO TURRÓN:
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.
SING SOME CAROLS:
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.
PLAY THE FOOL:
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.
TRY YOUR LUCK WITH THE FAT ONE:
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).
WORSHIP THE THREE KINGS:
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.
SEE THE LIGHT:
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.
HIT THE SLOPES:
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.
TAKE A DIP:
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.