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Christmas Celebrations in Spanish Culture Report

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Updated: Nov 25th, 2021


Christmas is a very holy and a religious occasion in Spain. Christmas is called Navidad and is regarded as a time for people to exchange present s and go to church. The Virgin Mary is Spain’s patron saint and this is the reason behind the Christmas officially beginning in the 8th of December with the Immaculate Conception feast. (Steen 9) At this time, the greeting Feliz Navidad will surface and people will start exchanging greetings solely using this phrase. This marks the start of the national Spanish popular holidays. Spanish Christmas is not anywhere near as blatantly commercialized as what the rest of the world is used to, in fact Christmas lights and other store displays are a rare sight before and during Christmas.


El Gordo (The Fat one)

The actual Christmas celebration begins on December 22nd with what is regarded as the world’s greatest lottery draw called El Gordo meaning “The Fat One”. This event takes place for the better part of the day in attendance of many Spanish citizens and tourists. (Fisher, 52) Those who may not make it to the event often watch it on their television sets or listen to it on the radio. Broadcasting stations prioritize this event on this day because it is very special. (Steen 14) The prize fund for the El Gordo totals 2.1 billion Euros every year. Many people scramble to buy tickets to this lottery either individually, in groups or in clubs. The tickets often go for 200 Euros each.

Nochebuena (Good Night) and the Belén (Nativity scenes)

The Christmas Eve, also known as Nochebuena (Spanish for “the Good Night”) is a time when families gather in their homes around the Belen or Nativity scenes. The food that will be on the menu during the Nochebuena is the most important meal in the year and consists mainly of seafood. Cupboards will be heaped with Polverones, a biscuit made from flour, turron, almonds and sugar. (Jason 8) At midnight of the Christmas Eve, tolling bells will signal the commencement of the “La Misa Del Gallo” or the candlelight mass. This mass is conducted at this time not only in Spain, but in many other countries as well.


On the material Christmas day, the Spanish streets will be decorated and ornamented with diverse varieties of nativity displays and lights. The displays hold a very religious value called Belén. Pointsettiers is a traditional plant with red leaves and is common in Spain. (Steen 22) Aside from the major Belénes in the streets, families will have their own smaller versions of Belénes that will always include Christian religious baby Jesus, Mary and Joseph and the three wise men from the east. (Malone 5) Most of the Christmas day in Spain will be spent in church conducting masses, praying and celebrating the birth of Jesus. Christmas day is especially honored in Spain during this time. This is because the Spaniards believe that when Jesus was born in the cowshed, a cow breathed on him to keep him warm.


Outdoor festivities will follow the church session. The very popular outdoor celebration is “swinging.” Swings are situated in town parks, squares and other public places where people meet. (Fisher 49)There will be live music and other forms of fun activities for the children as they take turns to swing and celebrate.

Spaniards do not exchange their Christmas gifts during Christmas day. Instead, families and friends arrange to meet in parks and other places with swings and entertain themselves to traditional holiday treats including “almendrados” or almond cookies, marzipan and “medias lunas de nueces” as they call nut crescents. The Christmas feast is served after the midnight of the Christmas day. Merry singing and festivities the rest of the night will follow this ceremony.

The Christmas meals

The most common food that is eaten during the midnight feast in the Spanish Christmas is seafood. Fish is the appetizer, taken fried and specially prepared for the occasion then followed by roast to make the typical meal. (Sierra 32) Fare is often pork or lamb, but never turkey. This is because turkey is a common dish for the Spaniards. (Malone 29)

This celebration is followed by a Christmas sweet known as turrón. Cava is Spanish champagne that is usually the most preferred drink for the Christmas toast. Besides the Cava, lots of other Spanish wines will be uncorked during the overnight celebration.

Other common meals that are gaining popularity in Spanish Christmas include Spanish Chorizo Sausage, Cheese and Ham called Jamón, Queso y Chorizo and Langostinos con Salsa Rosa. For the first course, Sopa de Pescado y Marisco made of Fish and Shellfish Soup is preferred over the traditional Esparragos Blancos or White Asparagus and Ensalada de Endibia con Vinagreta made of Endive Salad in Tomato Vinaigrette. (Sierra 44) The second course in the celebration will be made of Cordero Asado (Roast Lamb), Patatas Fritas (Home-Fried Potatoes) or the common Ensalada Mixta (Mixed Green Salad). Turrón (Spanish almond candy), Polvorones (almond cookies) and Mantecados (Spanish crumble cakes) can be taken for dessert.

Gifts and presents

Christmas gifts in Spanish Christmas are never exchanged before or during Christmas. Instead, gift exchange waits till January 6th during the Three Kings Day celebrations.

El Dia de Los Tres Reyes – Three Kings Day

The twelve-day Spanish Christmas starts on December 25th and ends on the night of January 5th. The final day of the Christmas period is the time of the Feast of the Epiphany, (also called Three Kings Day) and it on the January 6th. In Spain during this season, kids don’t receive gifts from Santa Claus. (Steen 32) Instead, they receive them from the legendary Three Kings on January 6th. Prior to bedtime, kids normally leave a small package filled with grass or hay underneath their beds. On top of this box, they will place a list of their wishes. The grass will draw the camels, which are carrying the so-called three kings, and at sunrise, they will find their boxes packed with toys and gifts from the three kings.


Spanish Christmas has been traditionally rich and unique worldwide. The Spaniards have found a way to conserve their Christmas traditions and make it remain a very special religious occasion that the whole family and friends look forward to whole yearlong.

Work cited

Fisher, Kathie. “A Journey into Spanish Christmas Traditions”. Wilmington, NC. Passport Books, 2001. Print

Jason, Fred. “Everyday traditions in Spain”. Spain Guides. 2009. Web.

Malone, Betty. “Celebrating Christmas in Spain. Associated Content. 2009. Web.

Sierra, Tony and Sierra Lisa. “Spanish Christmas Menu – Menú de Noche Buena”. About.com. Web.

Steen, Susan. “How to Celebrate a Traditional Spanish Christmas”. Holidays in Spain. 2009. Web.

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IvyPanda. 2021. "Christmas Celebrations in Spanish Culture." November 25, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/christmas-celebrations-in-spanish-culture/.


IvyPanda. (2021) 'Christmas Celebrations in Spanish Culture'. 25 November.

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