From the normal nativity scenes, to the ‘crapping log’, here are some of the best Spanish Christmas traditions!
Spanish Nativity Scenes (Belenes)
The Spanish adore their nativity scenes and many Town Halls have a display in the run up to Christmas. Not always do they follow the traditional format of Joseph, Mary and Jesus in the stable with farm animals. Some towns in Spain stage a “living” Belen, which is the Spanish word for Bethlehem, using real actors and real animals.
Caganers or ‘crappers’ are a popular nativity scene decoration in the Spanish region of Catalonia, where a defecating figure is perched behind Mary and Joseph and is said to symbolize fertilization and to bring good luck and prosperity for the coming year. Traditionally the figure is a young peasant man, sporting a red cap and a pipe, but modern crappers usually represent current public figures, from politicians to sportsmen. Not surprisingly, one of this year’s best sellers is Donald Trump!
El Gordo – The Spanish Christmas Lottery
The Spanish Christmas Lottery, held on December 22nd each year is the BIGGEST IN THE WORLD and has been held, without interruption, since 1812, even during Spain’s civil war from 1936 – 1939. What was unusual during that period was that Republicans and Nationalists held their own separate draws. In 2015, with 18 million pre-printed tickets, the maximum total amount available for all prizes was €2.52 billion, with around €4m as the first prize!
El Gordo Lottery Numbers
Since 1771, orphans who are brought up at the San Ildefonso School in Madrid are responsible for singing the winning Christmas lottery numbers and it is televised – every bar and restaurant in Spain has the TV playing this day! No one knows exactly how this came about, but legend says that San Ildefonso’s orphans once chanted prayers through the streets in Madrid for alms.
Spanish Santa Claus Run
In Madrid each year, thousands of citizens take part in a traditional charity run dressed as Father Christmas or one of his elves. This year’s run takes place on December 17th.
The Alternative Father Christmas
If you live in Northern Spain, there is an alternative Father Christmas! The Olentzero, as this pipe smoking legend is known, became an alternative to Father Christmas for the more militant Basque parents in the 1970’s. But these days he tends to work in partnership with the real Father Christmas in most Basque households.
Christmas ‘Crapping’ Log
As well as including crapping figures in nativity scenes, the Catalans also have Tió de Nadal, a smiling Christmas log which is put in the fireplace on Christmas Eve. Tradition says you must request Tío Nadal to defecate whilst spanking him with a stick and the smiling log then waits for the children to go to bed before bringing them presents.
Playing The Fool
In Spain, December 28th is the ‘Dia de los Santos Inocentes’ (a bit like UK April Fools Day) and they wear silly wigs and glasses and play tricks on each other, shouting Inocente, inocente!
The 12 Grapes
If you have ever celebrated New Year’s Eve in Spain, you will be aware of the tradition of eating 12 grapes as quickly as possible as the clock strikes midnight. The tradition of the 12 uvas began at the start of this century when vine growers in Alicante had such an abundant grape harvest. Now you will find tins of ‘seedless’ grapes on sale in all supermarkets to make the job easier!
Three Kings Parades
As the Epiphany is traditionally Spain’s main festive holiday, this is when children receive more presents, brought this time by the Three Kings. Massive Three Kings parades are held in Spanish towns and cities on the evening of January 5th, with children lining the streets to catch the sweets thrown by Melchior, Caspar and Balthazar.
Christmas Sweets And Cakes
Roscón de Reyes is a traditional cake all Spanish families eat on January 6th (Epiphany). But take care! This festive treat comes with the ability to break your teeth as every Roscón has a metal or plastic figurine inside and whoever finds it in their piece of cake is crowned king or queen of the table! In addition there is also a bean inside and whoever gets that has to buy next year’s roscón.
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