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Grape expectations: Christmas in Spain

Grape expectations: Christmas in Spain

Christmas does not come with a global user manual. There aren’t really any written protocols for what must happen in every country on Christmas Day. There is plenty of variety in how religious or secular the last week of December is, when and how gifts are given, what is eaten, and what traditions are observed. Over the years each country has made up the celebration of Christmas in its own way, created its own iconography and found its own blend of the Pagan and the Christian, the culinary and the playful. One country where Christmas is particularly colourful and has its own distinct flavour is Spain.

The best way to experience the Spanish traditions and Christmas language is to visit Spain. To brush up your general Spanish as well in an intensive course in December, Don Quijote Spanish Language Learning offer Spanish Christmas courses of one or two weeks in major cities: Barcelona, Granada, Madrid, Málaga, Salamanca, Sevilla, Tenerife and Valencia. For a full immersion Spanish Christmas experience, check out the courses here:

In Spain they really do Christmas in style. They sing Christmas flamenco songs called Villancicos at outdoor parties called Zambombas whose atmosphere must be experienced to be believed. The biggest meal is on Christmas Eve (La Nochebuena). This is the massive family pig-out that English-speaking people tend to have on Christmas Day itself. But Spanish children traditionally have to wait until the 6th of January for their presents, when the Three Wise Kings (Los Reyes Magos) arrive from the East to distribute gifts. Santa Claus (Papá Noel) has made inroads in recent years, though, and has begun to leave presents on Christmas Eve, much to the relief of Spanish children who wonder why their English-speaking pen friends get theirs twelve days earlier.

A huge Christmas tradition in Spain is the Loteria de Navidad. The national lottery has one of its biggest payouts at this time of year. It is always done the same way. Children from a particular school – San Ildefonso – appear on television on the 22nd to sing out the winning numbers and prizes. This tradition has become so entrenched that it is virtually the official start of Christmas.

A particularly picturesque Spanish Christmas tradition is that of the Olentzero, a coal vendor who leaves gifts for good children and coal for bad ones. Spaniards also eat twelve grapes on New year’s Eve, one for each chime of the clock at midnight. Most people end up looking like hamsters with their cheeks stuffed with grapes, and paramedics are on national standby in case anyone chokes.

The Don Quijote courses help you to experience all of this directly, surrounded by Spanish people and fully immersed in the language and culture.