Christmas in Spain: The Spanish Christmas Calendar

Snow in the Retiro Park

Want to have a very Spanish Christmas this year? I recently complained that Spanish Christmas went on much too long, and many thought I was referring to the run-up to Christmas. No. What lasts a long time in Spain is Christmas itself, a veritable test of endurance with big events starting around December 22nd, and running all the way through to January 6th.

Do you think you could take the pace? All I can say is this: here’s hoping you get on well with your family! Let’s run through it, meal by meal, day by day:

December 22nd – El Gordo

Wake up and spend several hours glued to the TV watching small children pulling wooden lottery balls out of a big revolving cage. Discover that you haven’t won El Gordo again this year – it’s going to be split by 28 customers of a small bar in an obscure barrio of Valencia… or Soria… or Avila.

You will however make 20 Euros back on one of the tickets your mother-in-law gave you, narrowly off-setting the 300 Euros you spent on buying and swapping lottery tickets with every friend, workmate and relative you suspected might give one to you.

December 24th – Nochebuena!

The first big family meal of the season, an elaborate dinner of seafood, turrón, maybe piglet, fish, roast beef – it varies, but there’s definitely going to be lots to eat!

December 25th – Navidad

Wake up remembering the argument you had with your bother/sister/dad at last night’s family dinner, and remember… you’re seeing them all again in 3 hours time for a big family lunch! What’s on the menu? No turkey, most likely fish or lamb instead.

And no presents in Spain on the 25th, except in families that have adopted the Father Christmas (Papa Noel) tradition as an excuse for giving their children presents now (rather than waiting until Jan 6th), thus keeping them quiet for the remainder of the holidays. Obviously this is increasingly common – good news for shareholders in El Corte Ingles.

December 26th to December 30th – Run for the hills!

Nothing official programmed, but plenty of scope for at least one family meal, possibly with aunts/uncles/cousins. Update: Another reason to run for the hills (thanks for the reminder rachman) – December 28th is el Dí­a de los Inocentes, the Spanish version of April Fools day. By now you’ll be in no mood for practical jokes, believe me!

December 31st – Nochevieja

The Spanish have a very civilised approach to the biggest anti-climax of the year: get together for a family meal! Instead of fretting for weeks beforehand about which bar or disco isn’t going to be as crap as last year when the clock strikes midnight, they simply meet once again for another enduro-eating experience.

And when the clock does strike 12, it’s traditional to eat one grape per chime. Success means a year of good luck, and sounds pretty easy. But wait until you’ve already got 8 fat grapes stuffed in your mouth and 4 more to go – those chimes come pretty fast! Fortunately there is always a large bottle of Cava on hand, and the grapes are followed by a healthy round of toasts.

January 1st – Año Nuevo

This is where those who were not born into the Spanish Christmas tradition usually break down, crave psychological council, and wonder why they didn’t marry a girl from back home instead.

Waking early on January 1st, hungover, exhausted because you just had to go out last night after the family meal ended at 2 a.m., as you roll out of bed and plant your feet on the bedroom floor, a shocking realisation washes over you… you’re having lunch with the family again in half an hour. The same family you had supper with last night, for crying out loud!

Life has now started to resemble that film, Groundhog Day, where every single day brings about the same set of events: a meal with the family! Another big one too. Hope you’re hungry!

Janurary 6th – Reyes!

The marathon is all but over. Just one more get together with the relatives, usually just an afternoon tea party, and this time the joys of breaking bread with the family once more are enhanced by the giving, at last, of Christmas presents. A general sense of relief washes over the family collective, as real life, moderate eating, and a little time alone once again appear on the horizon.

Could you make it all the way through a family Christmas in Spain?!

If you want to hear more about Christmas in Spain, learn how to pronounce Nochevieja, and sharpen up your Spanish at the same time, then check out our latest Inspired Beginners Podcast, Feliz Navidad, over at NotesinSpanish.com.

30 thoughts on “Christmas in Spain: The Spanish Christmas Calendar

  1. Jonk

    Sounds fantastic.

    If my family is actually in the same city for Christmas we do stuff every single lunch and dinner for however many days we’re there for. It’s the best thing in the world!

  2. Shameless

    This is so true!! I thought the one Christmas day with the family was bad enough, until I came here. Give me Christmas day in the UK anytime. 2 days to go and so it begins……
    Suerte

  3. Jules

    I presume people take turns to host these meals – does it follow a pattern or do family members ‘negotiate’ as to who will have the honour of hosting the next one?
    Do any people ‘float’ between different family groups?

  4. Ben Post author

    There is of course negotiation as to who will host which meal, they don’t tend to be in the same home every time, and in fact we often have the New Year’s day meal in a restaurant (no one wants to cook after preparing and eating the meal the night before).

    And of course couples will divide time between each other’s respective in-laws… but it’s still a family meal every time!

    Two years ago we escaped to Australia for most of it (Dec 19 til Jan 5th I think, only doing Reyes here) – now THAT was a good idea!

  5. gary

    At last the mantle of christmas dinner has slipped down a generation. The grandkids are 4 and 2 and its less hassle to leave them where they are ann cook dinner than it is to tear them away from their toys and come to our house. Fab. Christmas day has, for the last 15 years meant a 100 mile round trip to pick up the wrinklies and no Christmas drink cos Im taking them home. Can’t wait.
    Having worked in the entertainment business for 20 years and watched rational human beings turn into animals on New Years Eve we usually elect to spend New Year in Spain, 12 grapes and all!

    We failed this year. The way the holidays fall has given everyone and his dog the chance to get away so the flights are way too dear.

    I have trouble coping for an hour when all my family is gathered in the same house let alone three weeks. I love them all dearly, but individually – me and the dog slink off to the park… 😉

  6. leftbanker

    Great post but where were you last year when I had just arrived and stumbled around through
    December like a blind guy in a mine field, stepping on closed businesses, interrupting family get-togethers, and generally just being confused? I have to say that I am not nearly as annoyed with the holidays here as I was in the States with all of the obnoxious commercialization shoved down your gob wherever you turn.

    The Pogues pretty much had it nailed as far as I am concerned:

    “You scumbag, you maggot, you cheap lousy faggot,
    Happy Christmas your arse I thank God it’s all o’er.”

    (Sorry, no censorship!)

  7. ReiVaX18

    In Catalonia we also celebrate ‘Sant Esteve’ on December 26th and it’s typical to eat cannelloni (spanish: canelones, catalan: canelons) made with the meat that survived the day before.

  8. Mark

    I’ll be spending Christmas in Spain next year, having just bought an apartment there. When I was there in October several bar owners and locals told me to try Christmas in Spain as it would be one I wouldn’t forget. Some people here in the UK like the winter season, but I’m sat here full of cold while it’s freezing outside. I know where I would rather be!

  9. Adam (cervecero)

    Great explanation of the Spanish Chistmas Ben. I just told some of my female friends at work about the spanish christmas after they were complaining about having to do 2 Christmases this year. The only response…”I’d kill myself.”

    I am not as pessimistic however. One of the best things I liked about Spain was the food. Although, I’m sure it would take a toll on me after a while.

  10. Jeff

    Great description of the Spanish Christmas. I have been living in Spain for most of my life and I am now living in another country, and I must say that I miss every Christmas for all the getting together and great meals.

  11. as

    December 22nd is not “el gordo”, its just another saturday ticket, with a special price (20 euros) instead of the usual 6€ or 12€. “El Gordo (de la primitiva)” is a different game played on sundays.

    Sorry for my english, i am trying to practice more often

  12. luke

    100% agree. This year I had to plead not to have Christmas in Spain, I love Spanish food but my stomach can’t take that kind of abuse.
    I realise this post is lighthearted but I’m going to ruin that. I know so many Spanish family members with colon cancer etc. Is this widespread in Spain? Chorizo, jamon, morcilla are great but is this killing people? The Spanish side of my family were poor during the Franco years and they made up for it afterwards by binging on red meat and sugary foods. Is this typical?

  13. Ben Post author

    @David – the Retiro Park, two years ago, in a rare moment!

    @As – Es el Gordo de Navidad, y si existe! No es de la loteria Primitiva, si no dela loteria nacional (segun Marina!).

    @Luke – Not in the in-laws’ family so far, but they do work hard on having a balanced diet.

    @Everyone else, thanks for all the comments!

  14. Jill

    Sorry to hear you’ll be suffering Ben – but hope you & Marina enjoy a HAPPY CHRISTMAS ANYWAY 🙂 Hugs (which I shall claim in April)
    Jill

  15. Parubin

    Happy christmas to all at NFS, crew & forum members.

    ¡¡Mucha suerte a todos en la loterí­a!!. Que viene el Gordoooo!!!.

  16. ValenciaSon

    Eat a chuleta and some turron for me and I’ll eat some roast beast and turkey for you. Happy holidays to all.

  17. Dave_K

    “Could you make it all the way through a family Christmas in Spain?!”

    No. I tried the first couple of years, but have admitted defeat and now only go to Madrid for one week (Dec. 27-Jan. 3 this year) during navidades. To those that haven’t experienced it, imagine 5 Thanksgivings in two weeks. No joke. First two are fun, 3rd okay, 4th = “why are we doing this?”, 5th = suicidal tendencies.

    The lottery is no joke either. Once a lady was going by our restaurant table selling tickets and my wife asked if I wanted to play the lottery. I said yes thinking, “why not, I’ll take a ticket for a euro”. “Ha, ha, no, no you don’t buy just one!” That was the quickest 30 euros I’ve ever spent.

  18. Juan and Pravina

    And you forget more and more dinner parties that people have during these days. With colleagues from work, with friends…
    Viva el vino!, as Rajoy would say, and Viva el turrón!!!
    Merry Christmas for everyone from Augusta, Georgia

  19. chris

    Sorry Ben, I have to disagree with your dates as the festive season in Spain begins on December 6th – yes one whole month of puentes, works do’s and the stuff you mentioned above + the bloody canelones in Catalunya on the 26th

  20. Catherine m.

    I just came across your blog but this post made me laugh and laugh….I can totally relate to the constant family dinners. Even though my family is from Puerto Rico and not Spain, it’s still the same drama…:-)

    Happy New Year!

  21. Kai

    Hi Ben, nice description of SC. I wonder if you have forgotten to mention “El Niño” on the 5th or 6th, not sure, and “El roscón de reyes”, which is unthinkable after getting the regalos de reyes.

  22. Ben Post author

    Kai – you are right about both. I didn’t add El Niño as although it is almost as big in lottery terms, it doesn’t cause nearly as much fuss!

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