Firmly rooted in Spanish culture, Christmas is an intense time that can last for a month. Between the preparations at the beginning of December and the feast of the Three Wise Men at the beginning of January, it’s time to go home to be with your family and welcome Jesus into your life.

Christmas in Spain is a very intense time, with a strong sense of family and intergenerational gathering. We do everything we can to get home to our parents for Christmas Eve. There’s a very famous advert for a typical Christmas cake that says: “Go home at Christmas, come to your home”, so it’s really rooted in our culture!

One of the most important things about this time, which can last a month, is 8 December. This day is a public holiday, and is normally used to decorate the house for Christmas. The manger is always set up in a visible place in the house, especially when there are children present. The manger must include, of course, the “mystery”, i.e., the stable with Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus, but also many other characters, to form a large town of Bethlehem. The three wise men are on their way to give the baby Jesus his gifts…

We use moss to cover the floor because that’s what all Spanish nurseries use, and it’s really typical. When I was little, I used to go into the mountains with my father to look for it.  Throughout the Christmas season, families will spend time together singing Christmas carols in front of the cot.

On the evening of the 24th we have dinner with the whole family: Serrano ham and prawns are a must on the menu, and at midnight we go to church to celebrate the birth of Jesus. At the end of the mass there’s a baby Jesus that we can come and adore as a sign of our gratitude to God our Saviour. In my family, Christmas is a very important time, as my brothers, my parents and I live far apart. So it’s the only time of year we get together. We take the opportunity to go into the neighbouring villages to look at the beautiful street lighting together, and have “chocolate con churros” (hot chocolate with chichis), also very typical in Spain.

In companies, it’s also a rather special time, when we put aside any difficulties we may have, and the head of the company invites his employees to a festive meal. They give everyone a gift as a sign of recognition for the work they’ve done. It’s a time for getting to know each other, and for celebrating!

New Year’s Eve is also a very festive time, when 12 grapes are eaten together at midnight each time the bell rings, to welcome in the new year (this tradition was born after a year of very abundant grape harvests). It is now a symbol of abundance for the coming year.

But for us, the Christmas season doesn’t end on 1 January, because the little ones are still waiting for the Three Wise Men! The Three Wise Men come on the night of January 5th to give presents to the children, just as they will also bring presents to the Christ Child. In every village and town in Spain, on the afternoon of January 5th, the Three Wise Men are paraded through the streets in horse-drawn carriages, “throwing” sweets to children. It’s a really great family day!

These are the lesser and more important Christmas traditions, surrounded by family and friends, to celebrate the coming of Jesus into our lives.

Alejandro & Teresa SEGRELLES-NARBONA, Maison CANA. Les Pothières