Christmas in Spain gets off to a rather peculiar and unofficial start on Dec. 22nd when children from San Ildefonso School can be heard calling out the numbers and prizes of the Lotería de Navidad, which is likely the most followed Spanish lottery during the entire year. In Spain, when you hear the melodic sounds of the prize draw on the radio, you think: “Christmas time has arrived”.
After the celebration of economic good fortune, Dec. 24th is Christmas Eve (Nochebuena in Spanish), which is a family celebration in which Spaniards often gather around a table loaded with exquisite delicacies to have dinner together (and when we say family in Spanish, the word suggests a great deal of people). The annual family affair is a joyful event, where the sumptuous meal and the high spirits carry on until late at night. Many Christian also attend the Misa del Gallo, a mass service offered at midnight on the 24th during which Christmas carols are sung and accompanied by traditional instruments such as the zambomba (a type of seasonal drum), the carraca (a ratchet like noisemaker), the tambourine, and of course the guitar.
Something of a new holiday tradition has been gaining in popularity in Spain for the last few decades inspired by the popular culture of other countries; Santa Claus, known in Spain as Papá Noel, brings gifts for children to open on Christmas Eve, which means that on Christmas Day parks and plazas fill with children playing with their friends and showing them their new toys. In some parts of Spain, you can find other types of traditional figures such as Olentzero (a coal vender who descends from the Basque mountains to leave gifts for good kids and coal for the bad ones) and Tió de Nadal in Catalonia and Aragon, who deposits gifts and candy in the homes of children. These figures also make appearances on Christmas Day, figures that can be considered natives to the region in contrast to the more recent arrival of Papa Noel.
Christmas in Spain is a time of Christmas carols, decorations, festive street lighting, joy, and a festive atmosphere –religious or secular- made evident by the smiles on the faces of people as they look around town for gifts for their loved ones.