Spain has a well-deserved reputation as a country that knows how to celebrate in style. There are numerous celebrations throughout the year, but perhaps none is more beloved than the Christmas season.
Between festive foods, charming decorations, and much-appreciated days off work, a Spanish Christmas probably has a lot in common with your celebrations at home.
But there are a few things the Spanish do that you probably won’t see at your local holiday do. Spoken by expat Jessica of Barcelona Blonde who is from England but grew up in California, here are some of the more unusual traditions celebrated around Spain for Christmas and New Year’s.
Get into the spirit with a lottery ticket
On December 22nd, the winning Christmas lottery numbers are announced. It’s the biggest lottery in the world and dates back to 1812!
The prize goes into the millions, and families or groups of coworkers often buy tickets together.
Everyone’s hoping to win “El Gordo” – literally, the fat one. People eagerly watch as schoolchildren announce the winning numbers with songs.
Decorate your house with pooing figurines
This particular tradition is considered unusual even by many Spaniards. That’s because it’s from Catalonia, and isn’t widely observed outside of the area. The Catalans have not one, but two pooing figures associated with Christmas.
The Caganer (“the pooper”, if you’re being polite) is a small statue of a person squatting down and defecating. They make “caganer” versions of everyone from nuns to pop stars to politicians.
The second character is the Tió de Nadal (The Christmas Log), a hollowed-out log painted with a grinning face. The Tió is given something to “eat” every night starting December 8th.
On Christmas, children beat the log until he poops out presents – which is why he’s also referred to as the “Caga Tió” (the Poo Log).
Celebrate April Fool’s – in December
December 28th is the “Día de los Santos Inocentes”, which has its origins in the decidedly not funny biblical tale of the Massacre of the Innocents (which is as grim as the name suggests).
But in Spain, the day is similar to April Fool’s Day. Pranks, jokes, and tricks abound, and are called “inocentadas”. The jokesters’ victims? They’re the “inocentes”.
In Alicante, locals mark the day by dressing in military garb for a flour fight.
Don’t forget your new red underwear
To have good luck for the next 12 months, pull on some new red underwear for the New Year. It doesn’t matter what type of undergarment you choose – just as long as it’s given to you by someone else.
The locals of the village La Font de la Figuera go a step further and strip to their new red underpants to run through the streets!
Challenge yourself to a grape-eating contest
It’s tradition to mark the New Year by eating a grape for each stroke of the clock at midnight.
While Spaniards may have the practice down to an art, for the newly initiated it can be quite a struggle to gulp down twelve grapes at top speed.
Supermarkets make your job easier by selling tins of twelve grapes that have been peeled and de-seeded, though they tend to be very pricey.
Afterwards, ring in the New Year with a “brindis” with a glass of cava and a hearty “¡Salud!”
Most of all, spend lots of time eating and drinking in great company
In Spain, just like everywhere else, the holidays are all about enjoying yourself with the people you love. This isn’t unusual, but it is what really makes the season special – no matter where you’re celebrating.
So, on that note, happy holidays – or, as they say in Spain, felices fiestas!