Spanish Holidays: Christmas Traditions in Madrid

Last week I came across Daniel’s article in The Chorizo Chronicles about the 8 things that may surprise you about the holidays in Madrid and it reminded me that Christmas, one of the most important Spanish holidays, is right around the corner.

Yes, I know we are still in November but you probably have noticed that Christmas lights are being prepared in the different streets of our beautiful city. The Christmas decorations are very famous around the city.

You’ll see that in just a few weeks all the streets in the center will be covered with lights and you’ll probably find a Christmas tree in every important square of Madrid, being the one in Sol one of the most impressive.

But going back to what Daniel mentions in his article, there are a few things that may surprise you and I would like to add the Spanish perspective on some of them.

Black Friday is an established tradition now

Yup, we haven’t adopted Thanksgiving yet but Black Friday has become a great excuse for stores and companies to offer discounts in any type of products you can imagine.

Of course, the discounts that our stores offer are not as crazy as the ones I remember from my experience in the US. I recall waking up at 5am (or was it 4am?) to run and try to catch the best deal in Best Buy.

I think it has something to do with the Spanish nature. Anything that helps sell or party more is something worth implementing in Spain. Look at Halloween for example, it is another tradition we have implemented over the years and now it’s very established in Spain. We don’t play with the pumpkins but you’ll see kids trick or treating and students partying through the night.

Back to Christmas Holidays in Madrid

Our Christmas holidays in Spain are a bit different than those in the US or other countries. We don’t just celebrate the 25th of December. The 25th is just the first day of an almost 2 week holiday season.

The Spanish holidays last from December 25th until January 6th which is the day that kids (and not so kids) open their presents from the 3 Magic Kings.

Let’s talk about the different traditions in chronological order so we don’t get too confused with them:

The Lottery and its TV Commercial

If you’ve worked in a Spanish company or school during December in the past years you probably noticed everyone going crazy about the Christmas Lottery.

This time of the year social pressure is intense. Your coworkers will probably tell you that “How can you not buy a ticket? If you don’t buy it and our number wins everyone in the company but you will become ‘rich’!”

If you think about it they are somewhat right, it would suck having to go to the office being the only one without a winning ticket…

I wouldn’t want to be there… but still, chances are that none of us are going to get rich on December 22nd this year… or probably yes? I don’t know anymore, maybe this article may help us decide whether Christmas lottery is a good investment or not and where we should buy it.

Another important part of the Christmas Lottery is the TV commercial produced by Loterías del Estado. Everyone is waiting to see what they have in mind and how they are going to surprise us and touch our souls to make us buy a couple of tickets.

We’ve seen ‘magical’ commercials with a bald guy distributing happiness in the streets of Madrid, a bartender giving his friend a winning ticket because he did not buy one before and my all-time favorite, the one that got people talking for months… I’ll not write about it, I’ll rather show you (you can skip to minute 2:15 and play it repeatedly):

New Year’s Eve in Madrid

Alright, let’s say that it’s December 31st, what do we do during New Year’s Eve?

New Year’s Eve is a big deal for us. It combines sport, family and party during the 24 hours of December 31st.

San Silvestre

Madrid, Bernabéu, 5pm, 40.000 people dressed in running clothes and Christmas costumes. Do you know what I’m talking about? Well, I just said it right before… You’re right! The San Silvestre!

A 10 Km race that has become really popular in the past years. It begins in Concha Espina and ends in Vallecas. 10 kilometers of fun, sport, costumes, cold and people, toooons of people running.

Last year there were over 40.000 participants so I can’t imagine how many people will be running this year!


The Twelve Grapes

Have you heard about the tradition for uvas (grapes)? In Spain, instead of kissing someone at midnight we think that it’s better to eat a grape for each midnight bell stroke.

You probably think its easy right? Oh my friend, it can be really complicated to eat 12 grapes in a few seconds without choking. Luckily for some of us, our grandmas help us peeling the grapes before midnight so we don’t have to deal with the seed and we can just concentrate on eating them (which is hard enough).

The Three Wise Men Are The Big Deal Here

In Spain, we traditionally celebrate the Three Wise Men (or, as we call them,  the Three ‘Magic’ Kings) instead of Santa Claus.  The Three ‘Magic’ Kings will bring the presents during the night of January 5th so the kids can open them on the 6th.

This is the tradition but similarly to what happened with Halloween and other English traditions, we have adopted Santa Claus as well. Of course, kids won’t complain as it is a great “excuse” for them to get more presents that they’ll be enjoying throughout the whole Christmas holidays (remember that they last from the 25th until the 6th usually).

Accompanying the Three ‘Magic’ Kings tradition we have La Cabalgata on January 5th. That day, the city center stops for a few hours to witness the Three Kings Parade.

Families will take their kids to the center to collect some candy and enjoy the different floats, camels, people dancing aoround and playing in the streets and the Three ‘Magic’ Kings.

Turrón, Roscón and Polvorones Everywhere

Christmas in Spain is a time for family reunions, food and sweet, tons of sweet.

If you don’t know what Turrón is yet, don’t worry. In a few of weeks you’ll be in love with it. There are so many different types of turrón that you won’t know which one to choose from.

Soft, with almonds, white, crunchy… whatever you like! The most popular kinds are Jijona (Xixona) or Alicante varieties.

Accompanying the Turrón we also eat those sweet,  soft, shortbread cookies called polvorones. The texture is so soft that you’ll feel that it melts in your mouth when you eat them.

Finally, we have the Roscón de Reyes. A pastry that looks like a gigantic donut decorated with cherries or dried and candied fruits. There are different variations: with whip, chocolate or just plain. It is usually eaten on January 6th, after opening the Three Wise Men presents.

 Pro tip: I recommend eating Roscón with a cup of hot chocolate. It tastes twice as good!

Now that you know some of our traditions, I hope you enjoy them as a real Spaniard.

I would love to know what some of the traditions in your country are! Let us know in the comments and share the love! 😉

Alejandro Luengo

CEO & Founder of @packtospain. Entrepreneur | English and Spanish speaking | Always seeking new challenges and building stuff

  • Daniel Welsch
    Posted at 17:03h, 23 November Reply

    Thanks for the shoutout! I’m glad you liked the article.
    Mr Chorizo/Mr Daniel.

    • Alejandro Luengo
      Posted at 20:06h, 23 November Reply

      I thought the article was very good and it was worth writing about it. We really enjoy reading about the experience of expats in Madrid!


      Alejandro Luengo

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