In Spain, Christmas and New Year’s Eve are celebrated with gifts and treats, feasts and parties, just as we do back home in the USA, but with a difference. It’s a great time for anyone lucky enough to be in Spain for the holidays I’ve been living here in Madrid for a while now as a teacher, and keep discovering new twists. They vary around the county, but here’s my version:
On Christmas Eve, my friend Alberto and his family and friends got together in their home village for a big meal, a marisco (seafood) feast. We had a brothy, delicious soup with clams and fish, and ate lots of shrimp, which we beheaded and peeled and dipped in sauce. All this was prepared by Alberto’s mom. Next came traditional, typical treats: a kind of nougat candy called turrón, chocolate truffles, little cakes and pastries, and the best red wine they could afford. Some very good red wine comes from Spanish vineyards.
The Catholic church is a strong influence, and many people go to church several times during the season. Some who are less religious attend mass because it’s traditional, while others don’t go at all.
The next day, Christmas, people usually hang out with their families and open their boots (not stockings!). I had set out one of my own boots and found candy and chips inside. The family opened a few presents from Papa Noel, but most gifts are opened January 6, Dia de Los Reyes, or Three Kings Day. That day there was a parade in the streets, with men costumed as the Three Kings (Three Wise Men), and after the parade the kids hurried home to open their best presents.
Then it was time for another festive meal, ending with a traditional dessert: roscón de reyes, a round cream-filled pastry with a hole in the middle and dried fruits on top. It looks a bit like a crown, and maybe that’s what it represents. Inside are hidden figures and a bean. Whoever gets the piece with the bean pays for the roscón, and the one who gets the figure can expect to have good luck all year. My piece had a little duck figure. We weren’t through yet. After the festivities we took a walk to see the Belén displays around town. These are nativity scenes, some very elaborate, in shop windows. My favorite included dinosaurs. In one village I visited, there was a living Belén, with villagers playing the roles of Mary, Joseph, and shepherds.
Between Christmas and Dia de Los Reyes we celebrated New Year’s Eve, complete with fireworks, immense crowds in the plazas, food and drinks. We watched the clock in Puerta del Sol, Madrid, but instead of counting down and cheering, Spaniards wait until midnight, and as the clock strikes twelve they eat one grape for each chime. You have to chew fast because if you do it correctly, you’ll have good luck all year. Then everybody drinks champagne and heads for the bars.