After much waiting and anticipation, the big day has finally come: it’s Christmas! In the US, the arrival of December 25th signals the end of the “most wonderful time of the year”, and by this date, everyone is quite ready to give each other gifts and get it over with. Since the day after Thanksgiving (or perhaps even before), you have been barraged by all things Christmas — whether it’s music on the radio and in stores, decorations, or Christmas cookies. After what equates to an essentially month-long holiday, by this time, you’re more than willing to give it a rest until next year. As always, however, ‘Spain is different’. How is Christmas Eve and Christmas Day in Spain?

 

Christmas Eve and Christmas Day in Spain

Christmas Eve

Just as the song says, in Spain there are twelve days of Christmas, so to speak. As opposed to the holiday season beginning a month or more ahead of time with Christmas Day being the end, in Spain, Christmas Day is quite rather the beginning. It is true that before this date there are decorations throughout the city, the Christmas market in Plaza Mayor is open, and so forth, but the real feeling of Christmas doesn’t actually come along until Christmas itself does. But why is this? Although you may not be aware, in Spain the holiday season is actually from Christmas Eve until Epiphany, which is the sixth of January — and it is in fact on this day when gifts are generally exchanged. So if you’ve ever wondered what the song ‘The Twelve Days of Christmas’ is about, perhaps this is it.

In Spain, the 24th of December is not a national holiday, but in Madrid many people are given this day off or work a half-day. It is usually after lunchtime that many shops and businesses close and people begin to prepare for the festivities. What’s very different from Christmas Eve in America, however, is the fact that the classic rush to buy presents where people — especially parents — often fight over buying the last of whatever item that’s hot that year simply does not exist. In Spain it can be customary to exchange some gifts on Christmas Day, but the days prior to Epiphany are really crunch time. So how do Spaniards celebrate Nochebuena, as Christmas Eve is called in Spanish? By far the most classic way to celebrate is to have dinner as a family, where traditional dishes are prepared and enjoyed together. After dinner those who are religious may attend midnight mass — called Misa del Gallo in Spanish — but many others go out for a night on the town.

 

Christmas Day in Spain

Although traditionally not similar, el Día de Navidad seems to be becoming more and more like Christmas in America. Presents are typically given on the 6th of January, but as children’s break from school begins a few days prior to Christmas Day, many families choose to give their children their gifts on the 25th for practical purposes, as that way they have much more time to play with them than if the family waits until el Día de Reyes. Also, the figure of Santa Claus, referred to as Papá Noel in Spanish, is becoming more popular in Spanish society, and some even believe with eventually replace the Reyes Magos as the primary gift-bearer during the Christmas holidays. Just like Nochebuena, el Día de Navidad is a family-oriented celebration, typically consisting of a meal shared together, including delicacies and special holiday foods.

 

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Although Christmas seems to be a truly international holiday, we see that what seems to be the end of the holidays in the US, in Spain, is quite rather the beginning. Where on Christmas Eve Americans are rushing to get those last-minute gifts, Spaniards are just winding up to celebrate the holidays. Whether you’re in the US or in Spain, however, Christmas is certainly a time to enjoy food, friends, family, gifts, and time off work or school: it may just be the most wonderful time of the year.