Language Insight is visiting Spain for the next part of its Christmas Around the World blog series. Don’t forget to check out our other posts on Poland, Germany and France.

The build-up

There is so much going on in Spain over the festive period it’s an extremely lively place to be. Of course, at the centre of Spanish Christmas traditions is the Nativity.

You will find a Nativity scene at the heart of practically every Spanish home during this season. However, standing in the corner of the stable scene is one figure likely to give you a shock if you have never heard of the tradition – el Caganer. This is a model of one of the characters – usually a shepherd – defecating in the corner. The origins of el Caganer are largely unknown and despite it being a widely-held tradition, many people try to hide the figure in a dark corner of the Nativity scene. Children then have the fun of finding him. Today, you can get el Caganer figures of celebrities, politicians and other famous faces.

Those feeling guilty about spending too much cash on gifts for their loved ones may have the chance to win it all back and then some during the lead-up to Christmas. This is when the Sorteo de Navidad Spanish national lottery draw has taken place since 1812, and it is widely regarded to be the biggest in the world. The prize reaches well into the millions and everyone who purchases a ticket has only one wish: to land el gordo, or ‘the fat one’.

The Spanish Santa

Papa Noel is becoming an increasingly popular character during the festive period in Spain. However, December 25th is not traditionally when families here exchange presents.

Rather, January 6th is the date when kids can expect to receive their gifts. This is Epiphany and marks the date the Three Kings are said to have arrived in Bethlehem carrying offerings for baby Jesus. Children leave their shoes out the night before, along with food for the Wise Men’s tired camels, and hope to find the footwear overflowing with presents the next morning.

During the day of Epiphany, many towns and villages host parades through their streets with floats shaped like camels. Spectators can expect to see one for the first king Gaspar, one for Melchior and one for Balthazar, who some believe rode a donkey rather than a camel.

Another gift-bringer in Spain is Olentzero, who drops off presents on December 24th. The legend originates from Basque Country and depicts the character dressed like a peasant in a beret and smoking a pipe.

The feast

Many families eat their main Christmas meal on December 24th before attending Midnight Mass. Turkey stuffed with truffles is a popular dish, but those residing on the coast may treat themselves to seafood like lobster instead.

However, it’s probably not recommended indulging yourself quite as much as you might at a Christmas dinner table in the UK, as after the feast and Midnight Mass, many people take to the streets to dance the Jota. Each region of Spain has its own take on the dance and the accompanying music is provided by castanets and guitars.

El turrón is something you’ll certainly want to sample. This is a Spanish confection made from nougat with almonds. Those who fancy a more savoury snack can hang a pata de jamon (a cut of cured ham) in their kitchen and take a slice from it whenever they feel like it.

December 28th marks the Holy Innocents’ Day. On this date, one of the boys of the town is traditionally invited to be mayor for the day and assign chores to other residents. The feast is also the Spanish equivalent of April Fool’s Day – so watch out for someone trying to play a trick on you.

If you’re Spanish, why not share some of your own Christmas customs below?

Get your Spanish translation covered this Christmas by Language Insight.

Image credits: daniel.julia & Lablascovegmenu