Christmas: a time of food, festivities and faked enthusiasm for distant relatives. At my Madrid primary school, term is slowly winding down, whilst the downtown streets Gran Vía and Calle Mayor are lined with decorations.
Though the large, generic tree in Madrid’s central Plaza de Sol indicates otherwise, Christmas in Spain has its own, distinctive flavour. Supermarkets are suddenly filled with unfamiliar goodies, like turrón, a fudge-like dessert, which can contain chocolate, nuts or marzipan. I even once saw a rather suspect quince and walnut paste (tuck in, Madrid).
And then there’s the day itself – Christmas dinner is traditionally served at before midnight mass on 24th December, also known as ‘nochebuena’. (New Year’s Eve is, likewise, named ‘nochevieja’.)
Another important date is the 6th January, called ‘los Reyes Magos’ – literally, ‘the magical kings’. Here, the three wise men (somebody’s grandpa in a plastic beard and dress) usually give children presents; in Biblical terms it’s referred to as ‘Epiphany’. Whilst we vaguely recognise its name in the UK, this date is considered as – if not more – important than Christmas Day in Spain.
Before escaping to Yorkshire for the holidays, I caught up with two friends to discuss their festive traditions.
(Translated from the Spanish)
I’m Borja, I’m 24 and from Cuidad Real [in central Spain]. I always spend Christmas with the family. I have dinner with them on the night of the 24th of December, nochebuena, and we eat together again on the following day. We tend to eat seafood and meat. Of those, the main dishes are langoustines, cuttlefish, clams, lobster and steamed mussels. The meat tends to be salted pork and lamb chops. For dessert, we eat various types of turrón, chocolate, bonbons, polvorón [a kind of shortbread] and marzipan.
New Year’s Eve is the same: we have dinner as a family and at 12am, we eat 12 grapes to welcome in the New Year. Later we pre-drink and go clubbing with friends. The day of ‘los Reyes Magos’, 6th January, we give each other gifts, have dinner together and eat roscón [a festive donut-shaped cake] with cream. We also tend to watch films, play with gifts and sing carols.
And I’m Dani from Murcia [a coastal province]. I really like Christmas because of the family dinners and the streets filled with lights and markets. In nochebuena, I have dinner with my family (grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, etc.) – we eat at my grandpa’s house. We normally have prawns, appetisers, seafood salad, sirloin etc. Obviously we drink quite a lot too! Father Christmas doesn’t tend to bring gifts, but sometimes he leaves a small something. On the 25th December, I eat with my family again, but it’s much quieter. We eat something cooked like meatballs, a typical dish in Murcia.
On New Year’s Eve, things are less family-orientated. I normally eat with my parents and brother at home, we each eat 12 grapes and I then go out with friends; because it’s not very cold in Murcia, we’re able to drink in a park and then go to a club.
And finally there’s the evening of Reyes, when everyone eats roscón with chocolate. Roscón is a dessert which contains hidden figurines in it as gifts. That night, the three kings come to every house in Spain and leave presents. When I was younger, I used to lay out sweets and water for them and their camels, though nowadays I don’t give them anything, which might explain why they keep giving me bad presents!