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The essential A to Z of Spanish Christmas vocabulary

If you're going to be spending Christmas in Spain, you may want to brush up on this essential "Navidad" vocab to show off your festive language skills.

The essential A to Z of Spanish Christmas vocabulary
Photos: AFP

A: There are the evergreen Christmas words “árbol de Navidad” (Christmas tree) and “ángel de Navidad” (Christmas angel) but this Christmas there’s a new word starting with “a” that will be on everyone’s lips: allegado. It’s a word that few Spaniards use but it’ll determine who they get to spend time with this Christmas (find out more here).

B: Some important Christmas words in Spanish starting with “b” are “Belén” (meaning Bethlehem or nativity scene), a common Christmas decoration in Spanish households and public places, as well as the verb “brindar” (to toast), which can be referred to as “brindis” (a toast). Get ready for plenty of those this Christmas!

C: There are a handful of Christmassy words in Spanish starting with C, from the “cabalgatas” (parades) of the Three Wise Men on January 5th which have unfortunately been cancelled this year due to Covid restrictions, to the “campanadas” (how the Spanish refer to the bell chimes at midnight on New Year’s Eve).

It’s traditional for everyone to get a “cotillón” (a bag of goodies which includes a party hat, a miniature trumpet and confetti) to ring in the New Year and to toast (brindar) with Cava, a sparkling wine which the EU doesn’t allow Spain to market as Spanish champagne, even though it’s fairly similar.

There’s also the cesta navideña (Christmas hamper) that Spanish workers have a legal right to get.

D: The “décimo” is a €20 ticket for Spain’s Christmas Lottery which gives you the chance of winning the top prize of €400,000. It’s what most Spaniards will buy for Spain’s two main lotteries.

E: There’s “la estrella de Navidad” (Christmas star) that goes on top of “el árbol de Navidad” (Christmas tree) and the weird Els Enfarinats festival in Ibi (Alicante) on December 28th, where a mock coup d’etat featuring lots of flour and sparklers takes over the town.

F: One of the most common expressions you’ll hear this Christmas is “felices fiestas” (happy holidays). You can also expect to get the fright of your life when neighbours let off “fuegos artificiales” (fireworks), which may lead you to knock over your “flor de Pascua”, the poinsettia plant that’s used in Christmas floral displays in Spain and elsewhere.

G: Perhaps the strangest reference to a lottery draw anywhere is Spain’s El Gordo (the fat one) which takes place on December 22nd and which millions of Spaniards take part in.

If you win the jackpot, you have to say “me tocó el gordo”, which in the most literal sense means ‘the fat man touched me’. Don’t worry, they’ll know exactly what you really mean. 

H: Snow in Spain isn’t guaranteed at Christmas but if there’s “una helada” (a frost or freeze) you could end up with a “blanca Navidad” (white Christmas). Just be careful with “hielo en la carretera” (ice on the road).

I: December 28 marks “el Día de los Inocentes”, Spain’s versión of April Fools’ Day.

J: We may often forget but Christmas is all about celebrating the birth of Jesucristo (Jesus Christ) or “el niño Jesús” (baby Jesus) or just “Jesús”, as 275,000 Spanish men are called (something people from English-speaking countries can find rather strange).

K: K is “kilogramo”, the measure you’ll be using when spending a small fortune on seafood and other food this Christmas, as prices are always marked up the closer you get to the date. To find out if you’re paying the fair amount, check the price listings by Spain’s consumer watchdog OCU here.

L: There’s the “loterías de Navidad” (Christmas lotteries) which we mentioned earlier are a crucial part of Christmas in Spain, and there are “langostinos” (king prawns), a favourite on Christmas dinner tables.

M: Langostinos are just one of the many “mariscos” (seafood) that Spaniards eat over Christmas. There’s also the “misa del gallo”, the Catholic Mass celebrated around midnight on Christmas Eve in Spain (meaning ‘the cockerel’s mass). This year it’s likely to be brought forward across Spain to fit in with curfew restrictions.

There’s also “muérdago”, mistletoe in Spanish, although on a normal year you won’t need this as an excuse to receive a kiss from a Spaniard at Christmas.

 Photo:Mogens Petersen/Pixabay

N: If you need to know one word it’s “la Navidad”, which of course means Christmas. Spaniards also use the plural (“Navidades”) to refer to the whole Christmas period. And two important dates on the calendar are “Nochebuena” (meaning ‘good night’ but referring to Christmas Eve and “Nochevieja” (old night but really meaning New Year’s Eve).

Ñ: There aren’t many words in Spanish starting with “ñ” let alone Christmas ones, but “ñora”, a type of dried pepper that has no direct translation into English, is a good one to know and to actually have in your kitchen this Christmas. It’s often used for “pimentón” (paprika), a staple of Spanish food.

O: Did you know the Basque people have their own version of Santa Claus called the Olentzero? You can find out more about him here.

That word technically isn’t Spanish but Euskera, so we have another Christmassy word that is – “obsequio” – which is a slightly more formal way of saying gift or present in Spanish.

P: P is of course for “Papá Noel” (Santa Claus) and for “polvorón”, a very powdery and crumbly shortbread that’s eaten a lot at Christmas in Spain. Keep some water handy, you’ll need it!

Q: Q is for “queso” (cheese), which is eaten in abundance at Christmas in Spain. If you want some ‘cheespiration’, here are some of Spain’s finest “quesos”.

R: There’s the “Reyes Magos” (the Three Wise Men) who are bigger than Santa in Spain and give kids the bulk of their Christmas presents on January 6th, and the “Roscón de Reyes”, a bagel-like cake with a hole in the middle of it, candied fruit and a metal figure hidden in the dough helps Spanish dentists cash in after Christmas. Oh, R is also for “regalos” – presents.

S: S is for “solomillo”, a good quality sirloin steak Spaniards often choose as part of their Christmas menu.

T: Spain’s main sweet Christmas treat is “turrón”, a nougat-style chocolate bar that comes in a wide variety of flavours and styles.

U: Spaniards scoff down twelve “uvas” grapes every time the bells chime at New Year’s. The tradition is more challenging than it seems and can be a bit dangerous, so millions of “uvas” are now sold by the dozen in tins, pre-peeled and in their juice to avoid any nasty surprises.

V: Spain’s traditional Christmas songs are known as “villancicos”, folk-style tunes which often feature high-pitched children’s voices singing about fish drinking river water, a donkey and a drummer.

Z: We finish off this A to Z of Spanish Christmas vocab with the “zambomba”, a strange friction instrument which is often played during “Navidad” in Spain.  

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Five things to know about the Galician language

You may have visited Galicia, but what do you know about the Spanish region's unique language? Here are five things to know about Galician or Galego.

Five things to know about the Galician language

It’s a language, not a dialect

Many may assume that Galician or Galego is just a dialect of Spanish, but in fact, like Catalan and Basque, Galician is in fact a separate language. In 1978 the language was officially recognised as one of the five official regional languages of Spain.

According to Galician’s Council of Culture, before it was officially recongised, Castilian Spanish was the dominant language, socially and culturally, while Galician was marginalised. However, today it is taught in schools, there are media outlets written in Galician and it is more integrated into the society.  

It’s more closely associated with Portuguese than it is with Spanish

Both Galician and Portuguese are said to have derived from the same Romance language spoken around the 9th century called Galician-Portuguese, however around the 14th century these languages began to diverge slightly as borders were established. 

“Despite a divergent historical evolution since the Middle Ages, today Galician and Portuguese are mutually understandable almost effortlessly,” says the Galician Council of Culture. Today, Galician and Portuguese still have similar grammar and vocabulary, however there are differences in the way they sound and in the spelling of the words. 

READ ALSO: Ten unique Basque words you need to learn right now

It’s spoken by around 2.8 million people

According to the Galician government, Galego is spoken by 2.8 million people. It is spoken mostly in Galicia, but there are also Galician speakers in Asturias, León and Zamora, as well as three small places in Extremadura. 

Galician’s Council of Culture also says that it is spoken by immigrant communities in South America, particularly in Argentina and Uruguay; in Europe mostly in Germany, Switzerland and France. It also states that the majority of the inhabitants of Galicia speak Galician as their first language and use it on a daily basis. 

Galician has its own public holiday

Galician even has its own public holiday, known as Galician Literature Day or El Día de las Letras Galegas. It has been celebrated every May 17th since 1963 by the Royal Galician Academy as a tribute to writers of Galician literature.

Each year, the festival is dedicated to a different Galician literary figure, in 2021 it was the poet Xela Arias and this year, it will be dedicated to the poet Florencio Delgado Gurriarán, who was exiled to Mexico. 

READ ALSO: Five reasons why Galicia is Spain’s version of Ireland

Galician has over 70 words to describe rain

It is said that Arabic has many different words for ‘camel’ and according to language experts Galician has around 70 words to describe rain. It’s no wonder, as Galicia is known as the wettest region in Spain. 

The language has different words depending on whether the rain is light, heavy, if there are lots of clouds or if it’s sunny and raining at the same time. For example, ‘Battuere‘ is used when the rain is intense and ‘Torbón‘ describes rain accompanied by thunder and lightning. While ‘Sarabiada‘ means the rain that falls on ice and snow. 

Useful words and phrases in Galician: 

Next time you’re in Galicia, why not try speaking some Galician for yourself? Here are a few useful words and phrases to get you started. 

Bos días – Good morning 

¿Como te chamas? – What’s your name?

¿Falas galego? – Do you speak Galician?

Saúde! – Cheers 

Bo proveito! – Bon appetit or Enjoy your meal