Christmas in Spain takes place over a much longer period than in other countries. Heavily rooted in religious influence, the Christmas period, or ‘Pascuas’, ranges from December 24th to the 6th of January with Christian celebrations throughout.
December 24th is celebrated with a great family feast, usually a turkey stuffed with wild truffles, followed by the midnight mass service known as the ‘Misa del Gallo’. This Mass of the Rooster refers to the crowing of a rooster at the moment of Christ’s birth, and is followed by a triumphant musical parade through the streets accompanied by carols and traditional instruments, and a return to home.
Santa Claus has gained popularity as the main gift-giver for Christmas, but more local figures are still celebrated. In the mountainous Basque region, ‘Olentzero’ is a coal merchant who descends to leave presents for the good children, and coal for the naughty, while ‘Tio de Nadal’ performs a similar function in Catalonia and Aragon. Spain being such a large and culture-rich country, local differences abound.
After a slight lull, December 28th is celebrated as the ‘Dia de los Santos Inocentes’ (Day of the Innocent Saints), a day similar in style to April Fool’s Day. People attempt to trick each other with silly stories and jokes, with believers named as innocents. This day is inspired by the story of King Herod’s attempts to murder the infant Jesus.
The twelfth night of Christmas on January the 6th is a celebration that rivals Christmas Day in terms of extravagance. Epiphany or the ‘Fiesta de Los tres Reyes Mages’ (Festival of the three Magic Kings) celebrates the night when the famous three Kings brought presents to the baby Jesus. This is the main time for gift-giving, and on January 5th, children will leave drinks and food for the Kings in hopes of receiving a good haul in the morning. Each King has his own appearance and custom and will be shown on numerous parades across Spain on floats, riding their traditional camels. A special cake known as a Roscon will also usually be eaten on Epiphany morning, a ring-shaped roll containing sweet fillings and little gifts.