Spain - Christmas
traditions & customs
Christmas is a deeply religious holiday in Spain. The
country's patron saint is the Virgin Mary and the
Christmas season officially begins December 8, the feast
of the Immaculate Conception. It is celebrated each year
in front of the great Gothic cathedral in Seville with a
ceremony called los Seises or the "dance of six." Oddly,
the elaborate ritual dance is now performed by not six
but ten elaborately costumed boys. It is a series of
precise movements and gestures and is said to be quite
moving and beautiful.
In Spain it is a very festive time at Christmas. On
Christmas Eve, as the stars come out, tiny oil lamps are
lit in every house, and after Midnight Mass and
Christmas Dinner, streets fill with dancers and
onlookers. There is a special Christmas dance called the
Jota and the words and music have been handed down for
hundreds of years. They dance to the sound of guitars
Most homes have a manger, like cathedrals and churches.
These are complete with carved figures. Children
think of the Three Wise Man as the gift bearers.
Tradition has it that they arrive on January 6th, the
date the Wise Men gave gifts to Jesus. The Spanish
especially honor the cow at Christmas because it is
thought that when Mary gave birth to Jesus the cow in
the stable breathed on the Baby Jesus to keep him warm.
Shoes are filled with straw or barley for the tired
camels that must carry their riders through the busy
night. By morning the camel food is gone and in place of
the straw or barley are presents. Shoes also may be
placed on balconies on the night of the 6th January in
the hope that the Wise Men will fill them with gifts.
Christmas Eve is known as Nochebuena or "the Good
Night." It is a time for family members to gather
together to rejoice and feast around the Nativity scenes
that are present in nearly every home. A traditional
Christmas treat is turron, a kind of almond candy.
December 28 is the feast of the Holy Innocents. Young
boys of a town or village light bonfires and one of them
acts as the mayor who orders townspeople to perform
civic chores such as sweeping the streets. Refusal to
comply results in fines which are used to pay for the
The children of Spain receive gifts on the feast of the
Epiphany. The Magi are particularly revered in Spain. It
is believed that they travel through the countryside
reenacting their journey to Bethlehem every year at this
time. Children leave their shoes on the windowsills and
fill them with straw, carrots, and barley or the horses
of the Wise Men. Their favorite is Balthazar who rides a
donkey and is the one believed to leave the gifts.
The Spanish Christmas is Navidad, people go to church,
exchange presents, and many play on swing sets set up
specially for the occasion. Swinging at solstice time
evokes an ancient desire to encourage the sun, urging it
to "swing" ever higher in the sky.
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