Spanish Christmas Traditions

Many colorful and sacred Spanish Christmas traditions date back centuries. Festivities last all through the night, with a common Spanish folk saying encouraging everyone that because Christmas is so special, there's no time to sleep. It is a time of deep religious devotion rather than commercialized festivity.

In the days leading up to Christmas, it's common for homes and businesses to display detailed nativity scenes, known as "nacimiento" and similar to the French crèche. Christmas trees are popular in Spanish homes as well, along with poinsettias and candles decorating windows and porches.

The time leading up to Christmas is marked by smaller but important holidays. December 8 is celebrated as the Feast of the Immaculate Conception and the start of the season. December 21 celebrates the winter solstice with bonfires.

Christmas Eve: Friends and family gather to sing songs and play games and await the midnight Mass. As people make their way to the beautifully lit churches, the bells ring loudly. Choirs and candlelight services celebrate the birth of Christ.

After the midnight Mass, families return home and sit down to an elaborate feast. Spanish Christmas traditional food includes turkey, truffles, custard, wine and almond candy. There is more singing and game playing until the early morning hours.

Christmas Day: The day is spent attending church, visiting friends and family and gathering in community areas. One unique tradition in Spain is swinging, as various swings are set up for young men and women to swing. Many people walk from place to place and enjoy decorations and the atmosphere of the neighborhood.

Gifts: Children are rewarded for good behavior, not by Father Christmas, Santa Claus or Pere Noel, but by the Three Wise Men. Children set out their shoes on the Eve of Epiphany (January 6) and fill them with straw for the camels. In the morning, the shoes are filled with treats and toys. The Three Wise Men are as beloved to Spanish children as Santa Claus is to children in North America.

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Christmas is a special time for children, and every parent wants to make it something memorable, something magical. That may seem like a tall order considering the seasonal hoopla and commercial excess that now associates itself with this celebration, but the magic can be kept if a little forethought goes into holiday preparations.

While many stories are related to the history of Christmas traditions, a family's culture and heritage have a big impact on the types of activities, food and customs associated with the celebration of the birth of Christ.

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