A trip to Spain, the perfect Christmas gift to yourself

Christmas is just around the corner. A time of traditions, celebrations, gifts, and joy. Come and spend it in Spain and discover how we celebrate here, with the day of the Holy Innocents, live nativity scenes, family dinners, the Three Kings’ parade, the 12 grapes on New Year’s Eve… A whole host of enchanting customs to ensure a fun-packed festive season.

If you decide to spend Christmas in Spain you’ll find the country is transformed. At the start of the holiday season, all the streets and shops are decorated with coloured lights and Christmas trees, and the towns are bustling and cheerful. Do you want to see some of the best fiestas and things to do at this time of year? Make a note.

The days you won't want to miss

The first special day is on 22 December with the draw of the Christmas Lottery, which almost everyone in Spain buys a ticket for. Whole neighbourhoods spill onto the street to celebrate the biggest wins. The next dates are the big family days, 24 and 25 December: Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Normally the whole family gathers for Christmas Eve dinner and Christmas Day lunch, with traditional dishes including lamb and bream, and sweets we only see at this time of year, such as turrón (nougat), polvorones (lard cakes) and marzipan. You can find these delicious meals at many restaurants and hotels in Spain, for the most elevated examples of these culinary traditions. You might want to go to the Misa del Gallo (Midnight Mass) on the night of Christmas Eve, when many Catholics commemorate the birth of Christ.

The funniest day is 28 December, the Day of the Holy Innocents, which is very similar to April Fools’ Day. All kinds of pranks are played, and it’s a great time to buy joke items at street markets, such as in the Plaza Mayor in Madrid. The year ends with the New Year’s Eve celebrations on 31 December. To enjoy it, don’t forget to buy 12 grapes. Why? In a fairly new but very popular tradition, everybody in Spain eats one grape for each chime of the clock marking midnight on New Year’s Eve. If you can get them all down in time, the next year will be very lucky for you. The origins of the tradition are disputed: some say it dates from a grape surplus in the early 20th century, and others say it was part of a public protest in the late 19th century. Although the event is broadcast live on TV, you’ll have a great time if you go to the main square of any large town or city where people gather to watch the clock. What’s the most iconic spot for this experience? Probably the square of Puerta del Sol in Madrid. There you can see thousands of people in party hats, with party blowers, drinking cava and gobbling grapes as they welcome in the new year. After that, you can join in the parties which most hotels, bars and clubs in Spain hold until dawn.

And to end Christmas with a great experience for the kids, go watch a Procession of the Three Kings (or the Magi) on 5 January, the day before Epiphany. In Spain, it’s the Three Kings, Melchor, Gaspar and Baltasar, who bring presents for children who have been good. The event recreates the gifts they brought to baby Jesus in Christian tradition - gold, frankincense and myrrh.  There are Processions of the Magi, accompanied by pages, horses or camels, and all sorts of fantastical characters, in nearly every town and village in Spain as they arrive to leave presents for the children. They are all spectacular.

Plans for your Christmas

As you can see, there are many dates to mark on the calendar. But there are interesting things to do every day in the Christmas season. Here are some options:- Visit any of the Nativity Scenes in the towns and villages of Spain. Many places even have living Nativity scenes with local people taking part. With shepherds, oxen and mules, and the baby Jesus, it’s just like a trip through time.- It’s a great time to go shopping. Three reasons: many towns organise traditional markets or Christmas markets in their historic quarters; most shops are open extra hours or days and will give you lots of gift ideas; and most of the sales start on 1 January.- Go skiing to any of Spain’s ski resorts for a really white Christmas- Do you prefer warmer weather? Choose the Canary Islands for your holiday and you can spend all day at the beach - the water’s lovely!- And finally, dance, play the zambomba, sing traditional carols, watch children singing carols as passers-by give them coins or sweets, and generally let yourself be swept up in the Christmas spirit which is so deeply felt in Spain.

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