Spanish Christmas traditions revolve around many of the same activities as they do in the rest of the world. Just like anywhere else, families in Spain gather together to enjoy, celebrate and share in the spirit of giving, kindness, and goodwill. Similar to other cultures, food, drink, song, dance, the exchanging of gifts, and other acts of generosity are all-important features to these celebrations. However, Christmas in Spain is also a very unique holiday, with beautiful traditions and customs that reflect the true character of the Spanish people.
Because the country is so big, Christmas traditions vary from region to region. In addition, Spain has so many people from so many different nationalities residing within it, that it is inevitable that people will bring customs with them from home. In addition, Spain is an extremely religious country, therefore religious thoughts figure into the celebrations more so than they do generally in the U.K. or the U.S.
Christmas Eve is called Nochebuena in Spanish (Goodnight) and it is the most important family gathering of the year. In the evening people often get together with friends for a few drinks and then return home to enjoy a meal with the family. The entire family attends midnight mass together, where Christmas carols and hymns are performed throughout the mass.
Christmas Day is a national holiday in Spain so businesses are closes, however it is not a day of great celebration. Instead it is a day of relaxation, when people go out for a walk or just stay at home. A large family meal is had at lunchtime, sometimes made in the home or bought at a restaurant. Children may receive a small gift on this morning, but the day for presents in Spain is January 6 th, the Epiphany.
The Feast of the Epiphany is when the Three Kings arrived in Bethlehem. This is the most important day of the year for Spanish children, when they wake up to find that Los Reyes Magos (the Three Kings) have left gifts for them in their house. During the day of the 6 th, the Three Kings continue to do their good work and are seen distributing gifts to children in hospitals all over Spain.
Decorating for the Christmas season in Spain is not as big as it is in the U.S. The most popular form of decoration is a nativity scene, in both homes and churches. In Spanish these are called Beléns’ and always include the baby Jesus, Mary, Joseph as well as the Three Kings, Baltasar, Melchior and Gaspar. Nativity plays are acted out in churches across the country with some of the most famous ones being in Barcelona.