Christmas atmosphere starts in early December with street decorations, Flores de Pascua (poinsettias) and
guirnaldas – Christmas wreaths on front doors.

The Nativity scene called Nacimiento or Belén found in churches, schools, homes and shops.  Tradition started in 1223 by Saint Francis of Assisi who made a small scene with a model of a baby and a live donkey and mule in a cave.  Imported by Charles III from Naples in 18th century.

Belén is often homemade with moss, stones, twigs and sand.  Some display local crafts and traditions and some are “living” with real people.  Sometimes the whole village gets involved.  Found in homes as traditional decoration.

Important in the Belén is the Catalan figure the Caganer (“pooer”).  Put in different place in scene every year for people to find.

22nd December “El Gordo” Christmas lottery. Started in 1812 and never interrupted, even during Civil War when both sides had one.  Numbers chanted by children from San Ildefonso School in Madrid.  Prizes spread throughout Spain to great publicity.

24th December La Nochebuena.  Children sing Villancicos (carols) for aguinaldo (coins or sweets). Use traditional instruments zambomba made of rabbit skin and clay and tambourines. 

Aguinaldo also name of Christmas hamper given by businesses to their employees.  At 10 p.m. King Juan Carlos  Christmas message on all the TV channels.

Christmas Eve dinner. Most important part of Christmas when families get together.  Main courses vary, usually sea food, roast lamb, turkey or bass.  Always Iberian ham and desserts of  turrón, mazapán, mantecados  polvorones.

Turrón de Alicante – brittle.  60% caramelised almonds.
Turron de Jijona  64% almonds in paste.
Mantecados  lard and sugar –  from Andalucía.
Mazapán fromToledo.  Moorish origin.  Legend says they were made by nuns to alleviate hunger after 1212 war of Tolosa.

Misa del Gallo – Mass of the Cockerel.  Cockerel announced Jesus’s birth.  Supper originally intended to end fast after mass.

El Tió – Catalan Christmas log with presents hidden underneath.  Christmas day is a quiet family day.  26th December, St. Stephen’s is celebrated in Cataluña, but not rest of Spain.

28th December.  Día de los Santos Inocentes. (Day of the Holy Innocents)  Similar to April Fools Day.  Origin was King Herod’s “Slaughter of the Innocents”.  Became “jokey” in Middle Ages. Most typical jape is sticking figure onto people’s backs, putting foam into public fountains.  Lasts till midday.

31st December.  La Noche Vieja.  Many watch Puerta del Sol in Madrid on TV. Similar to London’s Trafalgar Square.  At Midnight people eat 12 lucky grapes on each chime of the bell.  Las Doce Campanadas.  Origin was a marketing ploy after abundant grape harvest  in Valencia in 1909.  Drink Cava or sparkling cider.  Followed by party called Cotillón and chocolatada in morning.  Underwear red for ideal love, yellow for prosperity. 

2nd January – Rebajas de enero – January sales start.

5th January - Parade of three kings in all villages, towns and cities, bringing presents for children.  Great excitement. Still much more important than Father Christmas.    Melchor from north, Gaspar from east and Baltasar from south.  Parade on carrozas (carriages) surrounded by pajes (pages).  Traditionally good children get presents and sweets but naughty children get coal, now in the form of sweets called Carbón de reyes.  At night children put out clean shoes and leave food and drink for camels and kings on balcony.  Presents hidden to open next morning.

6th January – Kings Day.  Typical food is Roscon de Reyes – a circular sweet bread decorated with glacéed fruit – representing rubies and emeralds.  Contains little figure for good luck and a bean.  Person who gets  been has to pay for the meal.  Roscón sometimes eaten at breakfast or later in the day.

This day marks the end of the Christmas season.

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