It’s the beginning of December and Christmas is just around the corner — “the most wonderful time of the year”, they say. But what makes it so great? The first thing that comes to mind is of course the presents, but is that really what we look forward to most as adults? Perhaps. But what about the food? There is certainly no sensation like that of arriving home after a long journey, walking in the door, and being barraged by a plethora of scents coming from the kitchen. Of course you’re familiar with all of the traditional American Christmas foods, but what do they eat in Spain during the holiday season?
Just as in the States, Christmas dinner usually consists of particular foods, although of course, may vary from region to region, or even family to family. That being said, a very typical Christmas dinner in Spain includes of seafood, most commonly langostinos or king prawns. In many cases these and other seafood items are eaten as appetizers or as a first course. There are many ways to prepare them, and perhaps there is a slightly different recipe for every family that does so. As far as a main course is concerned, again, this may vary. Here are some Christmas recipes that may be of interest, though.
Everyone loves a good Christmas dinner, but nothing is tastier than all the sweet things eaten around the holidays. Although they say that ‘Spain is different’, perhaps this is not the case regarding holiday treats. Spaniards don’t typically eat food that is quite as sugar-laced as Americans, but we’re certain that you won’t be disappointed when you try turrón, which is a sort of ‘oversized candy bar’ that comes in different flavors. Traditionally there are two types: turrón duro and turrón blando. The duro, or ‘hard’ variety, is made of almonds and as the name suggests, is very crunchy and perhaps somewhat similar to peanut brittle. The blando, or ‘soft’ type — also made with almonds — is sweeter and is slightly reminiscent of almond butter. Beyond the traditional varieties, there are many other more modern incarnations, such as marzipan, chocolate, chocolate praline, and other flavors.
Polvorones and mantecados
In addition to turrón, other typical Christmastime treats are polvorones and mantecados. These are not quite as flavorful as turrón and are certainly not as sweet — and when it comes to either of these you’ll be thankful that Christmas only comes once a year. For those that dislike these treats, they will only have to put up with Grandma practically force-feeding them a few only around the holidays; for those that enjoy eating them, as the name suggests, they are made with lard, so shouldn’t become a staple in anyone’s diet. Though a traditional Christmas food, it seems that polvorones and mantecados are becoming less and less popular with each passing year, but tradition is tradition!
Roscón de Reyes
Although not celebrated in America, and at most a day on the Church calendar, in Spain the traditional gift-giving day in the 6th of January. Known commonly as el Día de Reyes, or just simply Reyes, the religious name is la Epifanía del Señor, which is essentially the same term used in English, which is Epiphany. The familiar denomination of the holiday is derived from the Spanish moniker for the [three] Wise Men — los Reyes Magos — who are each given a name and are Spain’s equivalent to Santa Claus.
The most traditional food item served on Epiphany is a dessert known as roscón de Reyes. This is a large, round, donut-shaped, cake-like food that is adorned with candied fruit and occasionally has cream in the center. Served after the traditional meal, roscón always has a plastic figurine baked into it and whoever gets the piece with the figurine inside typically ‘wins’ so to speak, sometimes receiving money that everyone has put in or some other prize or privilege. In some families, however, the person who gets the figurine ‘loses’ and has to pay for the roscón.
Grapes in New Year’s Eve
Despite being eaten all year round, the holidays would not be the same in Spain without grapes. Yes, grapes. All throughout the country it’s traditional to eat twelve grapes on New Year’s Eve: one grape for each stroke of the clock at midnight. Supposedly this brings good luck throughout the year to anyone who accomplishes this feat, a belief so strong that many choose to remove the seeds or even peel the skin from each grape in order to have better chances of finishing them. Just as Americans watch the ball drop in Times Square, Spaniards watch the clock in Madrid’s central plaza the Puerta del Sol. Although the origin of this tradition is not completely known, legend has it that it there was an abundant grape harvest one year and as a result, people at the extra grapes during the holidays.
This Christmas be sure to try all the traditional Spanish holiday food. Although it might not be your grandmother’s cooking, you certainly won’t be disappointed and will probably still manage to put on a bit of weight, just like at home. Enjoy!