Christmas traditions from Spain, it’s time to celebrate!

The autumn semester is nearing its end. It is time to relax, so put away your textbooks, get a warm cup of mulled wine in hand, and munch on some turrón: Christmas is almost here!

While in Christian tradition Christmas celebrates the birth of Jesus, many celebrate the holiday regardless of their religious beliefs. Figures like Santa Claus (Saint Nicholas, Father Christmas — he goes by many names) have shifted the focus of Christmas to gift-giving, and for many the holiday means general winding down after a year of hard work. It is also worth mentioning that while not all celebrate the Christian holiday, many cultures have their own midwinter celebrations: coming together with your family and loved ones at this time of the year is important to many regardless of culture and religion.

This beautiful nativity scene can be found in our University and represents the birth of Jesus

In addition, many countries that do celebrate Christmas have developed their own distinct traditions as the Christian holiday has been adapted to and blended with the local traditions of each region, creating colourful lore and customs around the midwinter holiday.

Christmas traditions from Spain

In our country the Christmas period unofficially kicks off on the 22nd of December with the broadcast of the Christmas lottery. The lottery draw is broadcasted from the Teatro Real in Madrid where the students of San Ildefonso school sing out the winning numbers. Everybody watches it as they hope to win the big prize El Gordo.

While the Christmas proper starts on the 24th of December — the Christmas Eve, or Nochebuena in Spanish — the biggest day of the Spanish Christmas is the 25th. People gather together with their family and friends for a big meal. What the Christmas meal consist of depends on the region: normally, it is cocido, some kind of rice dish, lamb, or fish. As a dessert the locals eat the traditional delight turrón which is possibly one of the biggest Christmas traditions in Spain. It is a nougat-like sweet dessert made with almonds and honey, originating from the town of Jijona in Alicante. There are several types of the dessert: some softer, some harder, some with chocolate… but the one from Jijona is the most traditional one.


On the 28th of December the Spaniards celebrate the Holy Innocents’ Day, the Spanish equivalent to April Fools’ Day when anything can happen. The news tell little white lies and everybody tries to guess what is really true, people tell funny jokes, and the children draw stick figures on paper and stick them on people’s backs. If you get tagged, you are inocente!

The next highlight of the Spanish Christmas period is the New Year’s Eve, or Nochevieja. While Christmas is a family celebration, the New Year’s Eve is to be celebrated partying with friends. Everybody watches the live broadcast from Puerta del Sol in Madrid, and at 12 o’clock sharp people welcome the new year and attempt to eat the Twelve Lucky Grapes, one for each strike of the clock — which turns into a funny mess as it is really impossible to wolf down twelve grapes in so little time! According to a Spanish custom, to attract good luck for the new year you must wear red underwear and to drink a glass of cava (Spanish champagne) with something golden in the glass.

Turrón and marzipans for a very sweet Christmas | Photo Credit RTVE

The last highlight of the Spanish Christmas is the Epiphany on the 6th of January. The night before the Three Wise Men, Los Reyes Magos, arrive to Spain bringing presents to the children. Santa Claus is not very traditionally Spanish, although his popularity is rising due to the influence of North American and British traditions: instead, it is the Three Wise Men, the Three Kings, who have the spotlight.

The Three Kings arrive to each city in Spain: to Valencia they come by boat. People go to welcome them at the port, and then follow them in a huge parade through the city, while the Kings throw gifts and sweets to the children. On that night the children go to bed early, and the next morning they have more presents waiting for them. If they have been good, they will get their presents. But if they have been naughty, they will get coal — of course, no one gets real coal, but edible coal made of sugar.


On the 6th it is a tradition to eat a special cake called Roscón de Reyes, a round bread-like cake topped with candied fruits and sometimes stuffed with cream. The cake hides two secrets: one good and one bad. If you find a small figurine in your slice, you have won! You will get the crown and be the king of the day. But if you find a bean instead you have not been so lucky: you will have to pay for the cake!

These are some of the most typical Christmas traditions in Spain: how do you celebrate the holidays in your home country?

Sweet and international Christmas traditions from our students


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