As an expat in Spain, you might not be familiar with the local Christmas traditions. Spain has many traditions that vary from region to region, so wherever you are, there is lots to get you in the festive spirit.
Spanish towns, cities, and villages are filled with Christmas cheer all through December, right up until Epiphany (January 6), known in Spain as el día de Los Reyes (Three Kings’ day).
If people are visiting you from the UK for Christmas, make sure they know the entry requirements. From November 2023, British citizens visiting Spain will need a new travel authorization designed to improve border control and security across the Schengen Area. ETIAS will identify travellers who pose a threat to the security of the travel zone by pre-screening visa-exempt visitors.
Now, let’s take a look at 5 Christmas traditions you might not have heard of so you can join the locals in celebrating this special time of year.
If it’s your first Christmas in Spain, you may be surprised to see the long queues outside lottery ticket offices in the run-up to Christmas. That’s because, in Spain, the Christmas lottery is a big deal.
The Spanish Christmas national lottery is called El Gordo and is drawn on December 22 each year. You’ll find that most people participate in the lottery, buying either an individual ticket or joining a group of friends and making a pool. There’s the big prize El Gordo, which means ‘the fat one’, and also lots of smaller prizes that are well distributed.
This isn’t the only Christmas lottery, there’s another national draw on January 6, El Niño, and also regional lotteries. If you’re in Catalonia, you’ll want to get a ticket for La Grossa.
So now you know what the hype is about, join the queues and get your lottery ticket for Christmas—you’ve got to be in it to win it!
If you’re spending Christmas in Barcelona, or other parts of Catalonia, you’re in for a treat. Catalonia is home to one of Spain’s most interesting Christmas traditions, the Caga Tió. The Caga Tió is a log with a face painted on and 2 front legs. It wears a traditional Catalan hat called a barretina and is covered in a blanket.
Sound…unusual? It’s about to get even more interesting. Children feed the log fruit and or other food in the lead-up to the big day. On Christmas Eve, the little ones then hit the log with a stick and sing a song asking it to ‘poop’ them presents.
It’s one to tell visiting friends and family about and is bound to leave an impression!
Three Kings Parade
On the evening of January 5, Spaniards gather in the streets to welcome the arrival of the 3 kings to their town or city. Balthazar, Gaspar, and Melchior parade through the streets throwing sweets to delighted children (and adults).
The largest parades take part in Spain’s big cities like Madrid and Barcelona. In Barcelona, there is a huge procession of floats and performers—it’s a colourful street party you won’t want to miss.
In Spain, the Three Kings are important to Santa Claus in the UK. They deliver presents to children on the night of January 5, ready to open the next morning. For adults the Kings’ parade is a fun festive event, for children, it is truly magical.
Food plays an important role in Spanish Christmas celebrations. There is a big family meal on Christmas Eve, called Nochebuena with lots of delicious dishes on offer.
Sweet treats are never missing at the end of the Christmas meal. Typical indulgences include turrón which is nougat typically made of toasted almond and honey. Marzipan is another traditional treat, often cut into decorative shapes. These sweets also make great gifts if you’re travelling home at Christmas.
On Epiphany, a traditional cake called the Roscón de Reyes is eaten across Spain. It is round in shape with a hole in the middle, filled with cream or custard, and decorated with candied fruit—delicious! The fun part is that a small king figurine and a bean are placed inside the cake, the person who gets the piece with the king gets good luck while the one with the bean has to pay for the cake!
To accompany your sweet treats, enjoy a glass of chilled cava. Two of the largest cava brands in Spain are Freixenet and Codorniu. The Christmas TV advert for Freixenet is awaited with anticipation each year.
New Year’s Grapes
New Year is celebrated in a big way in Spanish cities. Wherever you are, you’ll be able to join a New Year’s countdown or party.
The most famous New Year tradition in Spain is the eating of grapes as the clock chimes 12. You have to eat one grape every time the clock chimes, be quick if you don’t want to end up with a mouthful of grapes by the end. A healthy way to welcome in the new year.