Christmas is the most amazing time of year. Even on the greyest and most miserable days, everything around is beautifully illuminated and breathtaking to look at. Wherever you go, there’s a sense of exuberant happiness and festive cheer, with people going above and beyond to help others.
It’s a time for making each small corner of the world a little bit brighter, and countries across the globe have wholeheartedly embraced the Christmas season. None have done so with more enthusiasm than Spain, which has a series of unique and wonderful festive traditions for eager visitors to learn about.
Across the world, many countries display elaborate Christmas decorations. It’s not only this one day that’s celebrated, of course but the lead-up too. In Spain, one of the ways this is marked is via elaborate nativity scenes or beléns. The word translates to Bethlehem in Spanish, with the figures shown familiar to the average person.
However, these nativity scenes are not like those in other countries – they exist on a far grander and more impressive scale. Often complex and intricate, they depict not merely a stable and animals, but houses, farms, rolling landscapes, and detailed villages complete with miniature occupants. The largest are found in window displays and town squares, but many homes have them as well.
Another feature of Spain’s festive calendar is its Christmas lottery, also known as El Gordo. Taking place on December 22nd, this is the largest and most popular draw of the year, with 2.3 billion euros handed out countrywide. For those lucky enough to win the top prize, there’s a very special present in store: a life-changing 720 million euros.
Tickets can be bought at either official outlets or online, with non-residents and foreigners welcome to take part. This means that those who live in America can as easily play the El Gordo lottery over the internet as they can online lotteries in the US – and can win an equally attractive prize. For those who’d prefer something closer to home, there are dozens of domestic options to choose from, including draw games, instant wins, subscriptions, and keno. You can take part by visiting your state’s lottery website and creating an account. There are even guides to help you get started.
Christmas is a very special day in Spain, with many of the exciting festivities starting the evening before. As in other countries, lots of Christians attend a Midnight Mass to mark its coming, but they don’t go home once it’s done.
Rather, most Spaniards take to the streets, joining candle-lit processions that wind slowly through the night, lighting up the country’s towns and cities. As well as their torches, many take instruments, such as guitars and tambourines, adding a musical accompaniment to the event.
As the Spanish themselves explain it: Esta noche es Noche-Buena, Y no Es noche de dormer (or ‘tonight is the good night and is not meant for sleeping’).
Most of the Christmas traditions on this list exist countrywide, but there’s one unique to Catalan – caga tió. While this sounds slightly odd to outsiders, it’s also hugely fun according to those who have given it a go.
Essentially, caga tió is when households decorate a log. They traditionally add both a face and legs, covering the wood over with a blanket once done to keep their creation from catching a cold. Its name translates to the ‘pooping log’, and this strange creature is kept in either the house or the garden.
That’s because come Christmas day the household gathers around and beats the log with sticks, singing as they do so. Once their festive ditty is finished, they pull back the blanket to see what treats have been hidden beneath.
The Three Wise Men
Everyone who celebrates Christmas knows the story of the Three Wise Men, but in Spain, these are more central to the country’s festive celebrations than elsewhere in the world. That’s because the Spanish like to celebrate this holiday in style and with much public fanfare.
Present-giving takes place on the 6th January or Epiphany, but before this, there are huge parades through the streets. These draw great crowds, with locals lining the roads and pavements to watch as they pass by. At the center of this special event are the Three Wise Men, or Reyes Magos, whose job it is to toss candy into the crowds and ride atop a series of magnificent floats.
Why not take a road trip during the next festive season to see some of these traditions for yourself? Spain is a beautiful country, and one whose secret ways and stunning landscapes are well worth exploring for the curious tourist.