Check out some of the events associated with Christmas in Spain.
Run-Up to Christmas in Spain
December 7-8, 2013 - Inmaculada. Christmas starts here. Inmaculada is the Patron Saint of Seville, where musical groups from the university, known as 'tunas', gather around the statue of the Virgin Immaculada in the Plaza del Triunfo (behind the cathedral) in traditional dress and sing songs. On the morning of the 8th children dance the Danza de los Seises (Dance of the Sixes) in the square. An event for the whole family.
December 12, 2013 - 'Noche Vieja Universitaria' (University New Year's Eve) in Salamanca. With all the students away from their friends for Christmas & New Year, everyone gets together in Plaza Mayor for an early new year's celebration. For more information, visit Noche Vieja Universitaria.
December 13, 2013 - El Dia de Santa Lucia, patron saint of the blind. Traditionally the blind sing christmas carols in the streets, although this is less common in modern times. In the village of Zújar near Granada, bonfires are lit to celebrate the event. The Santa Lucia festival is actually a major Scandinavian festival (so I'm told) and so where there is a high concentration of Scandinavians, such as in Las Palmas in Majorca and on the Canary Islands, there is often several days of festivities.
December 22, 2013 - El Gordo, the massive Spanish lottery, is drawn. This lottery is so big, they start selling tickets in August!
Read more on El Gordo, Spain's Christmas Lottery.
December 24, 2013: Christmas Eve ('Noche Buena')Christmas Eve is a family affair. Most bars will be closed and there won't be many restaurants open. If you can get yourself invited to a family then accept, but you're more likely to be offered their youngest daughter's hand in marriage than get an invitation to this most sacred of family events.
For details of what a Spanish Christmas eve meal consists of, see Christmas Food in Spain.
Proceedings are interrupted at midnight by the chimes of the local church, calling worshipers to the 'misa del gallo' (Mass of the Rooster), so named because it is said that a rooster crowded on the night Jesus was born.
Adults exchange gifts in Christmas Eve and kids will often get a little something, but the young 'uns have to wait until January 6 for that new Playstation.
December 25, 2013: Christmas Day ('Navidad')Traditionally also a family day - couples will normally spend Christmas Eve with one set of parents and Christmas Day with the other. However, in recent years more and more people have started eating in restaurants on Christmas Day. Restaurants advertise their Christmas menu well in advance. It is usually possible to book until quite late, but at least give them a chance to buy the ingredients! To guarantee your place, the morning of the 24th is probably about as late as you can leave it.
By the evening of the 25th, most shops and bars are open again and these days more and more youths have started going out on the town.
December 31, 2013: New Year's Eve ('Noche Vieja')
New Year's Eve (Noche Vieja) in Spain is a party night like everywhere else in the world, though the structure is a little different to in other countries - remember you have to think in Spanish time!
Rather than starting early and building to a crescendo at midnight, the Spanish see in the New Year sober (well, nearly sober), either with friends or with family, and then go out to the bars at about 12.30. The partying then continues until about 6am (if you fancy an early night) or much, much later, if you don't!
There is an 'ancient' tradition, started by some shrewd farmers about 100 years ago when they were left with too many grapes after the harvest, of eating twelve grapes at the twelve bongs of midnight. This is a fun ritual, only spoiled by the fact that it is almost impossible to buy seedless grapes in Spain - in the rush to chomp down the dozen grapes, everyone ends up biting into a seed and pulling a silly face.
A word of advice: there are four higher-pitched chimes just before the main ones at midnight (known as 'los cuatros') that announce the start of the real ones - make sure you don't start eating your grapes too soon. It catches people out each year - one year a television presenter made the fatal error! For every grape you get right, you will get a month's good luck.
January 5-6, 2013: Three Kings Day (Epiphany) ('El Dia de los Reyes')January 6 is virtually as important as Christmas itself, especially for kids, as this is the day when they get their presents. The fun starts the evening before, when the three kings lead their procession through the streets, throwing sweets to the children. The next morning, the children wake up to find their presents have been left overnight (rumors that Santa moonlights as the Three Kings when times are hard are unfounded). Read more about the three kings.
Everyone also eats Roscón, a sweet, donut-shaped bread (though much bigger than a donut) covered in glacier cherries and sugar. A plastic toy is buried inside the mixture, so don't dive in too quickly. He or she who finds the toy gets good luck for the next year (double the luck if they also ate the grapes on New Year's Eve!).