In Catalonia, we all know you’ll find the humble Christmas Poop Log. It should be no surprise, then, that the entirety of Spain has numerous traditions for helping celebrate the holidays. Everything from delicious holiday specialty foods to celebrating with loved ones in a way that is uniquely Spanish. Here are five Spanish holiday traditions you may not yet be familiar with.
Villancicos (Spanish Christmas Carols)
Spanish Christmas carols which date back to the Middle Ages include “Ay el Chirriquitin,” “La Marimorena,” and “Arre Burro Arre.” Learning these will be a fun new way to celebrate the holidays, and get a taste of traditional Spanish music, as many of them are flamenco songs. Some of the traditional instruments used in playing villancicos include the zamboba and the pandereta. You can find a collection of Spanish villancicos at The Smithsonian.
Christmas Sweet Treats
Christmas Eve, or Nochebuena, features a huge family meal, followed up by sweets such as mazapan, turrón and polvorones. Mazapan is shaped sugar paste (you may know it better as “marzipan”), turrón is nougat made from almonds and honey and polvorones are shortbread with nuts. There is no better way to get in touch with another culture’s way of celebration than to eat the foods and snacks they eat to celebrate.
The Three Kings
The Nativity in Spain lasts through January 6, when the Three Kings, or Three Wise Men (in Spanish: Los Reyes Magos), appear. The arrival of The Kings - Melchior, Balthazar and Gaspar - is recreated with floats from which candy is thrown to the children in the streets below. The Three Kings leave gifts for children to open the following morning, as well, after the children write a letter to them. Then, on January 6th they eat Roscon de Reyes, a cake baked especially for the occasion.
Cava is a sparkling wine that is primarily made in Catalonia, the home of the poop log! Most of this sparkling wine (similar to champagne) is made in Sadurni de Aiona. In fact, millions of bottles of cava wine a year are opened to ring in the New Year. Cava tasting tours in Barcelona are very popular, as well, in preparation for the huge New Year’s celebration.
Spain has many lotteries, and the Christmas Lottery, drawn on December 22, for many signifies the beginning of the Christmas season. The lottery is also known as El Gordo (the fat one). 1/10th of a ticket will cost you 20 euros, and a huge portion of the country plays it, due to the widely distributed payout.
The world is filled with fascinating holiday traditions, and exploring them teaches us so much about other cultures as well as our own. Whether you’re taking in the tastes of another culture, singing their songs, hanging their decorations or simply enjoying their festive displays, there is no better opportunity to find out about a culture than to see how they celebrate one another.