Tuesday, January 5, 2010

christmas in espain

The Christmas season in Spain is quite different than in the US.  The biggest difference is that rather than Santa bringing presents for children on December 25, los Reyes Magos (the three kings) bring presents the night of January 5, which are opened January 6 - the Feast of the Epiphany.

Other Christmas-y practices of note:
  • In general, the Christmas season is way less commercial than in the US.  Sure, people shop and there are Christmas sales and such, but... let's put it this way: Spain doesn't have a Black Friday.
  • Christmas trees are common in homes, but you're more likely to see belénes, or nativity scenes.  Those are everywhere this time of year, in every store window, church, and home.
    • (This is due to the strong Catholic influence in Spain's history.  Today 76% of Spaniards identify as Catholics, and although only 15% of these go to church every week, nearly all celebrate the holiday traditions.)
  • Lights were put up around the city here, but are only turned on at night, and not until some point during December (I don't remember when I first saw them lit up...)
    • (Electricity is a lot more expensive here than in the US, thus everyone is very aware of and conservative with their usage)
  • The Christmas lottery is HUGE here; there are always unbelievably long lines at the booths where they are sold.  On December 22, the winners are chosen.
    • The Christmas lottery dates back to 1763, when Carlos III initiated it. Since then, not one year has passed without it.
  • Christmas Eve, or nochebuena, involves a meal with the family for most Spaniards.
  • On Christmas Day, children might receive a small gift, but the usual day for presents is January 6.  Since the 25 of December is a national holiday here as well, shops are closed, but it's a calm day rather than a day of big celebration.
  • On January 5, there are processions all over Spain where candy is thrown from the floats for the kids.  The people welcome the kings Melchoir, Gaspar, and Balthasar to their city during the parades.
  • The Feast of the Epiphany is on January 6, when the Three Kings (Los Reyes Magos) arrived in Bethlehem.  This is a favorite day of the year for many children all around Spain.
    • During breakfast or after lunch, families eat the Roscón de Reyes, a cake made in the form of a ring and decorated with glace fruits, symbolizing the emeralds of the robes of the Kings. There's a surprise figure and a broad bean hidden in every cake.  Whoever finds the legume will pay for the roscón, and the lucky one to find the figurine will be crowned King. 

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