Plazas and village squares throughout Spain commemorate the night in Bethlehem with nativity scenes, market vendors sell sweets and decorations, and the air is sweet with the fragrance of roasting chestnuts. It’s December – Spain’s month-long Christmas pageant.
Christmas Markets and Nativity Scenes
Early in December stalls begin appearing in Madrid’s Plaza Mayor and the streets are illuminated with tiny lights. Perhaps the most impressive of all are the nativity scenes, or belenes, the 18th-century figures made in Naples, displayed in the Royal Palace and the baroque nativity scene at the church of San Genes.
December 8 sets the stage with the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, celebrated in Seville with los Seises, an intricate costumed dance performed by young boys, in front of the cathedral.
On December 12 decorations spring up everywhere, and even the smallest town is likely to have a street market selling nougats, cakes and gifts.
Winter Solstice Bonfires
December 21 or 22, the winter solstice and shortest day of the year is lit by bonfires — Hogueras — a custom dating back into antiquity. The young and agile jump through them to ward off illness in the coming year.
December 25, Christmas Day is a national holiday celebrated at home with families. But eating out is a common custom, so travelers should be aware that they will need dinner reservations far in advance.
December 28 is the feast of Holy Innocents (Día de los Inocentes), observed in Spain much as we observe April Fool’s Day, with tricks and good-natured practical jokes.
New Year’s Eve (Nochevieja)
December 31, New Year’s Eve or Nochevieja, is celebrated as a secular holiday, and a common tradition is to eat a grape with each stoke of the clock at midnight. In Madrid, the celebration Puerta del Sol is much like that in Times Square, with the streets thronging with revelers. Here and elsewhere in Spain, parties in homes, clubs, hotels and public places last until morning. Street parties similar to First Night feature live entertainment and fireworks.
Epiphany Processions and Parades
January 5 is for many (especially for children expecting gifts) the highlight of the holiday festivities. Processions and pageantry greet the Three Kings as they arrive in every town. In most, Los Reyes Magos arrive by camel or horse, but local customs dictate that they show up by boat in many coastal towns, fishing canoes in Galicia’s La Coruña In the mountain villages of the Sierra Nevada, the Wise Men ski down into the villages.
However they arrive, they are accompanied through the larger towns by parades and processions of bands, dancers and elaborate floats as they reenact their journey to Bethlehem, often throwing candy to children as they pass.