Christmas is a lovely time to visit Spain and the country is filled with festive traditions and celebrations. The Christmas spirit is high and Christmas lights and events colour most of December, until the festive season is wrapped up with the Three King’s parades bringing presents for the baby Jesus.
This is a religious time of the year for the Catholic Spaniards, and many people go to midnight mass on Christmas Eve, even those who do not attend the rest of the year. But along with the spiritual significance, this is a country that loves its celebrations, lights, and parades. Christmas is no exception.
A popular tradition is to enter the Christmas Lottery “El Gordo” which draws massive prizes. On December 22, the whole country is plastered in front of the TV screens to see if they or anyone they know have won the big prize.
Cities and towns are decorated with glittering lights and Christmas decorations, creating a fabulous Christmas spirit. Now, let's dive deeper into what Christmas looks like in Spain.
Christmas Eve in Spain is called Nochebuena and is usually spent at home with immediate family for dinner. Seafood is often on the menu together with Gazpacho or Samorejo and multiple other homemade tapas - including the staple of Spanish tapas; Iberico Ham and curated Cheese, accompanied by good wine and cava.
In inland regions, the seafood is often swapped out for suckling pig. Generally, each family will make food that they do not cook the rest of the year to make it a true feast.
December 24th is a regular working day in Spain, so you can expect all stores and Christmas markets to be open as usual.
At midnight, people attend midnight mass, known as Misa de Gallo (Rooster Mass.) There they sing Christmas carols accompanied by guitars and tambourines celebrating the birth of Christ.
Restaurants in Spain usually offer a Christmas menu on Christmas Eve, and tables must be booked in advance. It is customary to dress up elegantly when going out for dinner on this day.
Christmas Day is officially a national holiday (together with December 26), and this is when extended family gets together for a monumental Christmas lunch that can last for hours. There will typically be more seafood and more tapas than the night before, and wine, beer, and Cava are liberally shared throughout the meal.
Traditionally, people do not exchange presents on Christmas Day in Spain, as they do this on January 6. However, in the later years, it has become customary to give one or two presents to the kids in the family. This is purely because of international influence.
The celebrations on the 25 December are mainly held in the daytime, and then everyone goes home, letting all the food sink in and eating the leftover food at night. Spanish mothers will make sure all their guests get enough food to bring home.
Since 26 December is a rest day, it is customary to go out to let the children try out their new toys and take it slow with family and friends before work starts again on December 27.
As mentioned before, Spanish Christmas (Navidad) continues until Three King’s Day (Reyes in Spanish) on the 6th of January. On the evening before, the Spanish organise large processions in the streets of every city, town, and tiny village.
These are mainly aimed at children with big floats and people dressed up as different fairy tale figures and other famous characters. At the end of the parade, the Three Kings will arrive in their own float.
Music and dance are a big part of the celebrations. Sweets are thrown from the floats and parade participants onto the crowds, and the adults go just as crazy as the kids in trying to catch as much candy as possible.
On the morning of January 6, there are more parades, with music and candy thrown at the crowds before the Spaniards retreat to their homes to enjoy a large Christmas lunch with family. Just like the lunch on Christmas Day, seafood and tapas are generously served with Cava, wine, and beer.
After lunch, everyone exchanges Christmas presents (as far as the children are concerned, these are brought by the Three Kings). The lunch and gift opening usually lasts a few hours, and sometimes, family members will stay until dinner, unless they have early work the next morning.
Seafood is a central part of Christmas meals in Spain, and especially in coastal regions you will find giant lobsters and prawn cocktails on the table surrounded by all sorts of tapas.
Known as Cochinillo in Spanish, this is typical for the Castile and Leon region, but inland areas usually serve this instead of seafood due to accessibility. In some places, they swap it out for turkey or lamb due to preference.
A meaty broth with pasta shells (called Galets,) sometimes filled with meat, is a traditional Christmas dish from Catalonia and is truly one of the most hearty cuisines for cool winter days in the north.
A traditional treat throughout the country and often locally sourced from local marzipan factories and family-owned businesses that have sold their family recipe for generations.
There is nothing more important than serving Polvorones and Mantecados after any Christmas meal. These wrapped Christmas biscuits are typically sold in pretty tin boxes across supermarkets during the festive season. A note to the vegetarians out there, they usually contain lard, which is melted pork fat.
The most traditional Christmas cake which is served on the Three Kings Day as default, is Roscon de Reyes. This is a large, doughnut-looking cake filled with cream and candied fruit. Inside, there is a little plastic king, and the one getting the king in their piece gets crowned king for the day.
Roscon de Reyes can be bought whole in any supermarket during the Christmas season. But if you only want to try it, head to any café and order a piece with your coffee.
Unlike the Italian Torrone, which is basically a thick, hearty chocolate bar, the Spanish version is a large nougat bar. There are soft ones and hard ones, but basically, they are made of almonds, honey, sugar, and egg whites. Turron comes in many different flavours, like lemon, coconut, truffle, and pistachio, so you are bound to find a favourite.
You can find Turron in most supermarkets in the period leading up to Christmas, but for greater options, go to a niche store that specializes in Turron, and you will find hundreds of different types.
Another favourite often served at the end of Christmas meals. The doughnut-shaped biscuits have a hint of sweet wine and nuts covered in icing sugar - thus the name, which translates into wine rolls.
There are some exceptional light displays and light shows in Spain in the weeks leading up to Christmas. Among the most spectacular are the music light show in Calle Larios in Malaga, the Naturaleza Encendida light show in the Royal Botanical Gardens of Madrid, and the twinkling display at Porta do Sol in Vigo. But also the Christmas light displays throughout Barcelona, Seville, and Santa Cruz de Tenerife are incredible.
On December 22, the big national lottery is drawn, and a handful of lucky winners will have a very merry Christmas. This is the most popular lottery in Spain, and basically everyone will get at least one lottery ticket.
On the evening of January 5 and the morning of January 6, there are fun parades in every city and small town all over Spain celebrating the arrival of the Three Kings (Los Reyes Magos) when they came bearing gifts to the baby Jesus. Music, dance, and themed floats make up festive parades while the spectators eagerly wait for the candy that is thrown at the crowds.
This is a unique tradition in Catalonia and Caga Tió is translated into Pooping Log. Yes, you read that right! It is basically a log that is decorated with legs, a painted face, and a blanket, and crowned with a Catalan hat called Barretina. In the period leading up to Christmas, children will feed it orange peel and bread.
Once Christmas Eve comes along, they ceremoniously sing the Caga Tió song while they wack the log with a stick and ask it to poop out Turron and other Christmas treats. Eventually, they uncover the blanket to reveal the sweets inside.
Celebrated in Cadiz, this is an event taking place on the 5th of January before the Three Kings arrive. Kids strap a string to empty cans and drag them around with the object of making as much noise as possible. This is meant to get the attention of the Three Kings so that they will remember to bring them gifts.
Last Updated 20 November 2023