History of Christmas in Spain

Feliz Navidad! (Merry Christmas)

Ever since ancient times, the Spanish have celebrated the coming of winter with a unique custom, called Hogueras. Reminiscent of the ancient Roman holiday of Saturnalia and the Northern European tradition of a Yuletide celebration, Spaniards celebrated the Winter Solstice by jumping over a fire, as a way to protect themselves against illness in the coming year. This was especially popular in the areas of Granada and Jaeen. As Christianity gained power during the Middle Ages, Hogueras fell by the wayside, along with many other pagan customs.

Spain has a long history intertwined with the Catholic Church. The patron saint of Spain is the Virgin Mary and tribute to her is evident throughout the holiday season. In fact, the Christmas season in Spain begins on December 8th with the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, in her honor. Most Roman-Catholic households have some sort of image of the Virgin Mary illuminated during the holiday season.

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Christmas Eve in Spain

Christmas Eve is a time for families to celebrate. They attend the traditional Christmas Eve mass, then return home for a great feast. Much like Italian Christmas traditions, families gather around the nacimiento, or nativity scene, which plays a similar role to that of the American Christmas tree. The nacimiento is similar to the French Christmas crèche, and the German Christmas kribbe. However, in Spain the nativity scene usually includes a bull, the symbol of Spain and a stream of water, where women are poised doing laundry. Other figures, reminiscent of the French Christmas tradition of santons, may include famous torreros (bullfighters) or even well known politicians. Just as in Italy, nearly every home will have their own nativity scene, towns will display large scenes, some even using real people, and animals, just as Saint Francis of Assisi did with his depiction of the first nativity in 1224.

As is common in many parts of Western Europe, Christmas Day in Spain is a quiet affair, reserved for visiting with family and religious worship.

Spanish Christmas Cuisine

Christmas Eve dinner is the biggest meal of the year in Spain and people tend to eat more extravagantly than they normally would. Lobster and other shellfish are popular at Christmastime. A fish soup often makes up one course. Main courses might be roasted lamb or suckling pig, accompanied by assorted cheeses, pates and sweets. A popular Christmas treat in Spain is turron, which is an almond nougat candy. The meal is finished with a glass of cava, a Spanish sparkling wine, and perhaps a cup of espresso or Spanish brandy.

Twelfth Day or Epiphany

Twelfth Day, also known as the Epiphany, is th
e main day for gift giving. Children eagerly await the arrival of the Three Kings, who will bring gifts. On January 5th (the eve of the Epiphany) children fill their shoes with straw, carrots and barley for the Three King’s mules. In the morning, their shoes are filled with gifts from the Three Kings. The Epiphany is also the main day for exchanging gifts among adults, as well.

 

Originally posted at Suite101 History of Christmas in Spain

All Rights Reserved (C) Lorri Brown 2015

All images courtesy of Public Domain

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