"Christmas Around the World" logoNovember 2003-January 2004
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Spanish flag
Feliz Navidad
Spanish tree
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enlarged view
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.