Spain is especially enjoyable during the Christmas season. Firstly the weather is so much better, but the main reason is that we do not have to put up with the sheer commercialism that is so prevalent in the UK. In Britain, stores seem to start selling Christmas items as soon as the summer holidays finish. Until quite recently, traditional Christmas goods did not appear in Spanish shops until December. They now appear in November. I hope Spain doesn't go the same way as the UK.
The actual act of celebrating Christmas goes on for much longer than in the UK but I find it enjoyable. For a couple of weeks before Christmas nativity scenes are displayed in churches, town halls and shops in all the towns and villages. Every year in Roquetas and Almería there is usually a superb display that includes hundreds of figures and buildings - some of them working models!
The main Christmas events, though, centres around two days, Christmas Eve and Three Kings day. Christmas Eve is the time when families get together for the traditional feast. Every member of the family from great grandparents to the tiniest baby dress up in their best clothes and tuck in to a veritable feast. The meal usually starts around 9pm and the food is not like the traditional British Christmas dinner. No roast turkey and definitely no sprouts! First of all great quantities of seafood are eaten such as prawns, squid and salmon. This is followed by the main course, which could be another fish dish or meat. After the meal the family relax over coffee, liqueurs and turron - a nougat type sweet. The adults open their presents. The children may get a present but their main day for receiving gifts is Three Kings Day. At midnight some members of the family might go to church to celebrate Midnight Mass, others may stay at home to celebrate the birth of Christ with champagne. For the Spanish the night is yet young and so they they will probably go out and party until dawn. I will be getting my beauty sleep while they're doing that. I need it!
Christmas day is a fiesta day with shops, offices and banks all closed. Unlike the other Spanish fiestas though there are no processions or celebrations - they are probable at home nursing sore heads. Boxing Day is not celebrated in Spain and so December the 26th is just another normal day for the Spanish. Christmas is not yet over though!
On the 6th January the Spanish commemorate Three Kings Day, which celebrates the day on which the Three Wise Men arrived in Bethlehem bringing gifts for baby Jesus. It is the highlight of Christmas for children. Father Christmas doesn't deliver presents to Spanish children. It is probably too hot for the reindeer! Las niños español don't miss out, however. The Three Kings arrive overnight on the 5th January, riding horses, and leaving presents for the children who will probably have left some food out for the horses. The children make their way into town to see the Procession of the Three Kings, which is always a spectacular event. During the procession, tons of sweets are thrown from the floats for the children to catch. The wiser youngsters take carrier bags to collect the goodies!
Sandwiched between Christmas Eve and Three Kings Day is New Years Eve. This is celebrated in much the same way as in the UK and many families will eat out on this night and the restaurants are always full. At midnight the Spanish see the New Year in with Cava (the Spanish equivalent of champagne) and grapes! The custom is that you have twelve grapes and you eat one on each chime of the Spanish equivalent of Big Ben! Of course the festivities do not end there. Partying goes on until at least dawn as New Years Day is another holiday which allows the population to recover from the excesses of the night before.