4 Quirky Ways Spain Celebrates Christmas Time

HO HO HO HOLA! Ahhhh, Christmas time in Spain. The magical time when the plazas are glowing, the castaños are a’cookin, and the Navidad markets are giving away kilos of Manchego cheese and chorizo “para probar.” (Yea, I pass the Opera Christmas market every day on my way home from work. Soon, I might be mistaken for Santa-dilla…)

As a foreigner in Spain over Christmas time, I can’t help but to question (and admire) some of the quirky traditions. It’s now my second year experiencing Spain over the holly, jolly holiday season, and I gotta ask: What is WITH these freakin’ long lines that stretch all the way down Gran Via, what’s the deal with the red underwear and WHERE IS SANTA?! Low and behold, my little eager elves. Below awaits…

4 Quirky Ways Spain Celebrates Christmas Time & What it Says about the Culture

1. The “Fat” Christmas Lottery. Shi* gets intense. 73308

It all started in 1812. Ever since, the start of the Christmas season has been marked by the launch of the Christmas lottery, or as the Spanish call it, “El Gordo de Navidad.” Yes, that literally means “the fat of Christmas.” (LOL- Never in the US). The minute the first “Sorteo de Navidad” ad runs on TV, the country goes nuts. Christmas time in Spain is officially ON! Nearly the entire country runs out to purchase their 20€ lottery ticket, in hopes that they’ll be one of the few lucky winners. But here’s the catch: there are known to be “lucky” places to buy your lottery ticket. Outside of these “lucky” spots, you’ll find lines that stretch for meters, looping down and around an entire street. However, there’s only one that truly matters: it’s called Doña Manolita. See that picture above? Yea, that is what the line looks like.

People travel to Madrid from all over the country to wait on this really freakin’ long line. Now, that’s what I call HOPE! The lucky winners are announced on December 22nd, by two adorable lil’ school kids singing the lucky numbers on national TV. Ok, don’t judge me for this…but it kinda reminds me of Hunger Games? “May the odds be ever in your favor…”

What it reps about Spain? Hope and PATIENCE. Lemme tell you; in the USA, this would never, ever fly. From my 24 years of experience, people in the USA are damn pessimistic when it comes to stuff like this. And DAMN impatient when it comes to waiting on lines (especially in NYC). Never in 5 bajillion years would an American opt to wait on a line, nevertheless travel distances to wait on one. Here in Spain, the lottery reps a beautiful thang; the hope and positvity of the people, and buddha-like patience. (Read more about the tradition here)

2. Deck the halls with bells of…Nativity?

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Photo edited via Flickr @BwlrZQ

You can forget the typical shopping plaza filled with a big sparkly Christmas tree, Santa and his helpers, and a long line of little nuggets waiting to sit on Santa’s lap. Here in Spain, the halls are decked with…the birth of baby Jesus? And of course, the Three Kings. Nativity scenes are the traditional Christmas decor, and you can find them in pretty much every main plaza around the country. The beautiful thing? These lil’ cute-as-a-button nativity dolls are not mass ordered from a factory in “Some Ambiguous City,” China. They are handmade by local artisans, with attention to details, care and amorrrr.

What it reps about Spain? The value of tradition and artistry, not lost by big $$$ biz! It’s also super symbolic of Spain’s deep-routed Catholic routes. Even though modern Spain is progressively becoming less and and less “traditionally” religious, the religious routes are remembered throughout the country come Xmas time. Amén!

3. It’s NYE…let’s wear red underwear!BEST

Wanna get lucky in the New Year? It’s Nochevieja, don’t even think about putting on your fave blue underwear! Unless, of course, you want a year of bad luck and no love! Superstitious Spaniards everywhere are wearing red underwear on the night of December 31st. Now, you can get creative with it, depending on how risqué you are; bras, underwear, garters, socks…it’s all acceptable. Or, go crazy, and wear it ALL! This year, one thing’s forsure; I’m gonna put it to the test, and who KNOWS! Maybe I’ll find my Señor Manchilada 😉

What it reps about Spain? Ain’t no prudeness here.

4. QUICK! Stuff 12 Grapes in your mouth before the clock turns 12!

Imagine this: There’s only a few seconds left of the year. You’re standing in a packed plaza and holding a bowl of 12 green grapes. It’s totally normal, ’cause  so is everyone else in the country. You hear the first bell chime and rush to stuff a grape in your mouth. Then the next happens a second later. And the next. And the next! Twelve chimes later, you’ve got a mouth stuffed full of grapes that you’re trying swallow, but in reality, grape shreds are flying out of your mouth and grape juice is dripping down your chin. CUTE! Those who finish all 12 grapes by the last midnight chime, are said to have a year of luck. I gave it a practice-run in my living room…

Not bad, ehhhh?

What it reps about Spain? Unity and the ability to ENJOY! It might not be the most attractive thing (man, I hope that red underwear doesn’t find me my señor charming at the strike of midnight…) but it’s tradition. It’s quiet powerful when you think about it. Imagine, an ENTIRE country doing the same exact thing, at the same exact time, all goofily laughing at failing to stuff food in their face. And people ask me why I love Spain? The entire country enjoying the last seconds of the year together, eating (or at least trying), laughing and celebrating.

What do you think of these Christmas traditions? What other quirky traditions around the world have you experienced? And if your Spanish, whattya’ got to say about all this? ‘Tis the season of sharing…SHARE yo thoughts!text here (1)

And a “Feliz” Christmas to all!

10 thoughts on “4 Quirky Ways Spain Celebrates Christmas Time

  1. Great posting! Two more things: beware of December 28th (inocentadas) and make sure you have a good dentist before you sink your teeth into that turrón!

  2. As usual, you do not disappoint!!!! I love this posting – and while I totally respect and honor your perspectives – I do have to add mine!!!! While you have 24 yrs – I have 85 (your wise old owl as Aimee would say) – Waiting on line with patience, fun and caring is a definitive New York thing!!!!!There was a recent article in the NY Times about huge lines of people waiting for many days for an event. (can’t remember the event ’cause my age is showing). They camped out with sleeping bags, little tents, food, laughter and just had a great time. And that’s only one example. New Yorkers wait on lines forever – and rarely have a problem with it – it comes with the territory.So my love – and you sure are – the only suggestion I offer is – come back to the Big Apple and see/experience the “L”ines of the City”!!! So happy you are loving your life – still wish I could be there with you – for a bit!!!!! Happy Chanukah – Happy Holidays!!!! xoxoxox

  3. Love that video of you and the 12 grapes!!!!! You are my incredible great-niece and I’ll be thinking of you as I consume my 12 grapes on New Years ve!!!!! xoxox

  4. I am a Spaniard and had never heard of this “wear red underwear” thing!

    Doña Manolita, the place where they sell lottery to super long lines of waiting people is indeed a place where big prizes are sold year in year out. No wonder, since the place sells waaay more tickets than almost anywhere in the country, so the more you sell the best your chances are to sell a ticket which carries “el gordo”.

    The Nativity scenes are called “belenes” (Belén is the Spanish for Bethlehem) and you should not miss the one on display at the Palacio Real, a real work of art.

    As the rest of the country, my family also gathers around the TV on New Years Eve to stuff ourselves with the 12 grapes hearing the chimes of Puerta del Sol’s clock! Furthermore, we eat them with our left foot up, so the first thing we do once the new year is in is enter it with our right foot (a sign of good luck). Such fun!

    Feliz Navidad to you all!

    1. The red undewear thing is very typical! You can see al the undewear shops filled with red bras and pants everywhere, it´s more a women tradition though

  5. Interestingly red underwear for the girls is a recent custom imported from Italy.
    “Los belenes” also come from Italy, specifically from Naples, they came to King Carlos III in the eighteenth century, Naples at that time belonged to the Spanish Empire.

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