Spain is home to many unique Christmas traditions.
From eating 12 grapes for good luck as the clock strikes midnight to hoping to hit el gordo (literal translation: ‘the fat one’) in a special lottery.
Here are five of the top traditions that expats miss when away from home for the holidays as told to TransferWise by Spaniards living in the U.S.
Las 12 Uvas De Nochevieja
Celebrated for over 100 years on New Year’s Eve in Spain, this beloved celebration is televised every year from the Puerta del Sol square in Madrid.
As the clock strikes midnight on Nochevieja (literally ‘old night’), people eat 12 grapes (one for each bell toll) in order to welcome in each month of the new year.
If you eat all of the grapes during that time you also receive luck for each month of the coming year.
January 6, Día de los Reyes Magos
In Spain, the largest Christmas festivities don’t take place until January 5 and 6 (“Day of the Magician Kings,” a public holiday).
On the evening of the fifth, many cities host a colorful parade (_“Cabalgata de Reyes Magos”_) in which three kings ride on camel shape floats. Then, before children go to sleep early, they set their shoes on a windowsill or fireplace, and leave out liqueur and a cracker for three reyes magos.
Those children who were well-behaved over the past year will awake to find presents in their shoes, but those who were more naughty than nice will find “coal” (often resembled through sugar cubes) instead.
On both days, people savor the ring-shaped Roscón de Reyes (King’s Cake), a delicious delicacy in which cream is sandwiched between two layers of sweet pastry cake and topped with dried fruit. A traditional trinket of the Christ Child hidden in the cake differentiates it from other desserts.
Lotería de Navidad
In Spain, perhaps the best (material) Christmas gift of all is winning the famed Christmas Lottery, the second longest running lottery in the world.
The biggest prize, el gordo, is worth four million euros. The cost of each décimos ticket is 20 euros.
Every year in a popular televised event on December 22, children from Madrid’s Colegio de San Ildefonso sing out the prizes, often for a few hours due to the sheer number of them.
They draw from bombos (rotating drums): in one there are five-digit numbers from the lottery tickets (i.e. 45956, 45957, etc) and in the other there are the prizes (ranging from one thousand euros to four million) to be awarded to the corresponding number.
A sweet deal
The Spanish adore their almendras (almonds), as seen through all of the Christmastime sweets that use them as a core ingredient.
Both the hard Turrón duro and softer turrón blando are nougats comprised of almonds, honey, sugar and egg white. Mazapán dates all the way back to the fifteenth century in Toledo, with almonds, potatoes and sugar as its main ingredients.
For a softer sweet, holiday-goers enjoy marquesas, an almond cupcake, or polvorones, a Spanish shortbread made of sugar, flour, nuts and milk.
Throughout the holiday season, the Spanish set up beautiful displays of Belén (Bethlehem) to depict the birth of Jesus.
Virgin Mary, St Joseph, the angels, shepherds and the Reyes Magos are spread across the scene as well.
They are often constructed at home or more elaborately displayed in churches, with buildings, mills and paths surrounding the holy scene.
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