The winter months are typically a quieter period on the Camino de Santiago. There are few pilgrims walking and many albergues are closed. However, some people prefer to walk around this time of the year. For them, and for those who would like to know how we celebrate la Navidad (Christmas) in Spain, I wrote this post. ¡Feliz Navidad!
First of all, you should be aware that there are a few festivos (public holidays). Shops will be closed those days; you should keep it in mind, in case you need to buy something. I’ll list the important dates and explain a bit about them:
- 22 de diciembre – La lotería de Navidad (Christmas lottery) also known as “el gordo” (the fat one!). This is the unofficial start of Christmas celebrations. Almost everyone in Spain plays this lottery and it’s a huge event: TV, radio, people on the street… all you’ll hear about is lotería!
- 24 de diciembre – Nochebuena (Christmas Eve; literally “the good night”). It’s not festivo, although shops will close earlier than usual in the evening. This is because families get together for a big, special dinner. Traditionally, this is the time to be with family, at home, so make sure you plan your dinner ahead: expect everything, including restaurants, to be closed from 7.00pm.
- 25 de diciembre – Navidad (Christmas Day). It’s festivo and everything will be closed. Family will gather again, for lunch on this occasion. Both Nochebuena and Navidad are days spent mostly with family, at home. People don’t go out much, although things are changing a bit. Again, you’ll need to plan ahead what you’re going to eat throughout the day, as it will be hard to find anything open.
We don’t have just one typical Christmas dish for these days. What people eat for Nochebuena and Navidad differs a lot from one region to another. But we have sweets in common: it doesn’t matter where you are, you can expect to find turrón (almond nougat), mazapán (marzipan) and polvorón (some sort of crumbly shortbread), the three main Christmas treats.
- 28 de diciembre – día de los Inocentes. It’s the Spanish version of April Fools’ Day. So watch out for pranks and funny news. Otherwise, a regular day.
New Year’s Eve
- 31 de diciembre – Nochevieja (New Year’s Eve; literally, “the old night”). Similarly to Nochebuena, this is not festivo, but shops will close early again. There’s another big, special dinner. But Nochevieja is more about partying and celebrating. It’s common for people to go out for dinner, with family or friends and then party into the next day.
At midnight, you can go to the town main square and eat 12 uvas (grapes), one with each campanada (stroke) of the clock. You can also do this at home, as all TV channels will show a clock striking 12 (traditionally, they show Puerta del Sol in Madrid). If you manage it, you will have good luck in the new year.
Another widespread tradition to bring you luck in the new year is to wear red underwear. That’s why you will see a lot of it displayed in shops for a couple of weeks before the New Year.
The New Year
- 1 de enero – día de Año Nuevo (New year). If you went out partying after your uvas, chances are you won’t go to sleep until the morning (9.00am at least). Año Nuevo is usually a very quiet day, because many people will be sleeping most of the day and it’s also festivo, so everything is closed.
- 6 de enero – día de Reyes (Epiphany or the day of the Wise Men). Traditionally, Spanish children get their presents from the three Wise Men. They arrive on January 5, when they parade around Spanish towns. Then, during the night, they leave their presents. So, January 5 is not festivo, but there will be parades in most towns. January 6 is festivo and shops will be closed. A typical treat for this day is roscón, a special cake.
You can watch some short clips of the lottery draw, the campanadas and the Wise Men parade in this presentation: https://prezi.com/9yp5onzyacly/feliz-navidad-y-prospero-ano-nuevo/
And that’s it! What do you think?
Today’s Spanish words
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