It is the time to celebrate; it is Christmas! We call it Navidad, and ours is a little bit longer than celebrated in most other countries, and with very characteristic traditions. You could say that we are a little old fashion about it, but we do sure know how to party!

In many cities and towns, preparations for Christmas begin at the beginning of the month of December, as they begin to decorate the streets with colorful lights with Christmas motifs, such as snow flakes, bells, bows, , or with words that celebrate Christmas ("¡Feliz Navidad!",etc). Added to this, are all of the special lights and adornments placed by the big stores in the cities..."Wait! you said that Christmas was unique!" And you are right!

For example, the Christmas season per se starts at the beginning of December, and basically finishes on the 8th of January. "Why so long?" We'll, you see, Christmas has three very distinct celebrations. First, Christmas' Eve, or Noche Buena as we call it, and Christmas itself on the 25th of December; New Year's Eve or Noche Vieja; and King's Day, or Vispera de Reyes. And now let us explain each a little more...

1. Noche Buena and Navidad:
It is quite normal to spend this night with your loved ones (some people get together on the 26th, El Día de San Esteban--St. Steven's' Day). And it is normal to make it a feast, with a traditional recipe (this one basically changes according to the family), eating turrón (nougat), and singing villancicos (Christmas carols). As you may know, Spain is a traditionally Catholic nation, and it is quite normal that many families attend evening mass on the 24th as well. Christmas, eventhough in many families this is fast changing, is not the time to exchange gifts. But we'll get to that later. So, you may say that Santa's are not as busy as the Kings (Beltsasar, Gaspar, and Melcior) are!

2. Noche Vieja:
Well, this is a celebration with freedom; some spend it out in bars, restaurants, clubs, and other places where they meet with friends; others just spend the celebration with the family. Whatever place you may find yourself, are sure to make instant friend in Spain! But, there are to things that are typical of this celebration, and one of them is as Spanish as Spain itself. The first one is the celebration of the New Year with cava. This is Spanish Champagne and it is excellent! The second is the celebration of the 12 gongs at 12:00 am of the 1st. Of January with the eating of the twelve grapes. This is a fun and yet tricky thing, ..."Why so?" We'll try to eat and swallow twelve grapes in twelve seconds! ...Now you can imagine! Nevertheless, the idea behind it is that if you are able to eat all twelve in twelve seconds, you will have a prosperous new year. "But , do you know when twelve o'clock is?" Well, decades ago, in many families the patriarch would pick up a pan or pot and just go at it hitting it twelve times. Today, however, La Puerta del Sol in Madrid rules on that day! There is a clock on top the La Puerta, and when the twelve sound, you 'd better be ready to start gulping those grapes. Just one word of advice, before the twelve official gongs, there are the cuartos, four gongs of a higher pitch that announce and prepare you for the twelve. Many people confuse them with the actual twelve; beware of the Cuartos!

3. El Día de Reyes:
King's Day creates a frenzy in families, little children, and stores all over Spain. This is the traditional holiday, and the "last--minute--waiters" rush through stores and commercials to find the needed gifts they kept on putting off. Children go to bed early; some even search the skies for the Kings and their party as they cross the night from home to home placing gifts and pastries in each house. This is the time to wrap gifts, and open the closets to prepare them for the morning, and seeing in the outstanding expressions of the children their cheer and merriment. Also, bakeries prepare coal, blackened/grayish sugar lumps that look very much like coal, which is given to children, more as a joke than anything else.

Oh, my! And there is so much to tell yet! For example: nougat. There are many kinds of nougat or turrón. The typical are Jijona (beige colored made with almonds, honey, etc.), Alicante (this is the hard nougat) and Yema (traditionally made with egg and much like marzipan with browned sugar on top). However now there are many kinds of nougat: marzipan, marzipan with fruits, chocolate, chocolate/truffle , chocolate/truffle and liquors, and the list could go on for several pages...

Our Christmas carols are as varied as Spain. Being that there are four major cultural groups, each has its own traditional carols; the only thing that it is maintain through is the theme of the manger. We should add here that it is very normal to find, and in many places the children are in charge of it, to have a manger scene somewhere visible in the house. These manger scenes are complete with towns, buildings and towns people; sheep, shepherds and angles; traveling men and women; animals (chickens, cows, horses, donkeys, etc..); and of course the 3 kings with their entourage. The scenes are finished with grass or moss, a river and a bridge, sand, earth, and any other ideas you may think of! In many homes, the kings and their entourage is advanced a little closer to the manger as the days go by, until the 5th of January, when the kings arrive to the manger and deliver their gifts.

As you can see, explaining Christmas in Spain is no easy task, and yet, we've tried to cover the most important aspects of the same. However, there is nothing like experiencing it for yourself. This year on New Year's Eve try to eat twelve grapes at the sound of twelve gongs (each a second away), and you may get a glimpse of what the celebration may be.

For this page, we are going to do an exception, and quote Dickens when he said:

"Merry Christmas, .. and a happy New Year to us all!"


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