A Spanish-style Traditional Christmas by Emi Pastor
Christmas in Spain is not so very different from Christmas elsewhere, but there are one or two traditions that may sound slightly exotic to Scottish ears, and I’ll set them out here.
First of all, our festive period is longer, running from the 22nd December until the 7th of January. We celebrate the end of Christmas with presents brought from faraway lands by the Three Wise Men (traditionally marked by the Epiphany). This, of course, makes the youngest members of the family very merry, but it pleases the grownups too. Traditionally Santa Claus has never been recognised in Spain, but nowadays that is changing, and like the reyes mago” (3 wise men), he now sometimes brings presents too.
The Spanish Lottery
A more recent, and much more secular tradition, is El Gordo, the Spanish Christmas Lottery. This, too, is celebrated on the 22nd of December. It’s the most popular draw of the year in Spain and in fact, is considered the biggest worldwide since it was first celebrated in 1812. Winning El Gordo’s jackpot is one of the best Spanish Christmas presents you could hope for.
As in many other parts of the world, Christmas trees, fancy city lights, and splashes of red, green, and white decorations make their appearance during the festive period. However, something quite particular we have is the Portal de Belén: tiny models of Bethlehem to represent the Nativity, with many accompanying structures such as the desert, town, angel, shepherds and farm animals.
Of course, in common with other traditions around the world, in Spain our celebrations also concentrate on home life. Once the celebrations are up and running, both Nochebuena (Christmas Eve) and El Día de Navidad (Christmas Day) are normally spent with family. During these times, you gather with your loved ones around a table with possibly too much food, drinks, and sweets.
One of our traditional sweets originates from our Moorish heritage. Turron is a kind of nougat made of honey, almonds and eggs and has a characteristic rectangular table shape. We also enjoy mantecados and polvorones– Spanish shortbread cookies that crumble easily into a kind of powder in the hand or the mouth.
Finally, leave some space for the mazapán: a marzipan made of equal proportions of toasted almonds and sugar, and sometimes decorated with candied fruit. Chocolates, cherry liquor bonbons and other treats make their appearance as well to please those with the most discerning sweet-toothed celebrants.
If you’re feeling adventurous and want to impress your Spanish friends, feel free to wish them a “Feliz Navidad”. Bear in mind, though, that Spanish regions are proud of their diverse linguistic traditions. So if you’re saying Merry Christmas in Catalonia, it’s “Bon Nadal”, in the Basque region it’s “Eguberri” on, and over in Galicia, it’s “Bo Nadal”. However, you say it, have a happy festive holiday.