Stretching from the Pyrennees to the Mediterranean, Spain's diversity
of history, culture, and climate is reflected in unusually rich and
colorful Christmas traditions. Unlike northern Europe with its many
Santa-based customs, Spanish Christmas celebrations are focused on
the Christ Child and the Wisemen who came to find him. Christmas season
in Spain blends the religious spirit of the Nativity with incredible
food, and the Spanish passion for song and dance. The Christmas tree
is a relatively new custom borrowed from northern European neighbors.
The twelve day Christmas
season begins on Christmas Eve, which the Spanish call Noche-buena,
and ends on January 6th with Epiphany, also know as the Day of the
Three Kings. This is the time for the exchange of presents. Christmas
day is a time set aside primarily for family reunions.
On Noche-buena, also
known as the "Night of Good Tidings," the birth of the
Christ Child is welcomed in a very festive manner. Crowds of young
people line the streets expressing their gaiety in singing and dancing.
Tambourines, guitars, gourd rattles and castanets lend to the excitement
in the air.
Every country has its
favorite holiday sweet or delicacy. In Spain it is turrón,
a nougat or almond candy that everyone eats. Other traditional holiday
foods include saffron flavored rice (paella), caramel custard (flan),
roast turkey, roasted chestnuts and marzipan.
Spanish Christmas trees
often feature wooden and straw ornaments, electric lights and shiny
colored balls. But the most important decorative element is the
nacimiento, or nativity scene. In many homes building the nacimiento
is a family project involving everyone from grandparents to children.