As well as all the pretty lights and Christmas markets, there are a number of festive activities that are quite unique to Spain. Here are just five very Spanish traditions that you can enjoy in Granada or at home this Christmas and New Year.
Unsurprisingly, because it’s Christmas in Spain, some of it involves food!
Roscón, Turrón y Polvorón
They roll off the tongue quite nicely, don’t they? But how do they taste?
Not everyone’s cup of tea, but a real treat for the sweet-of-tooth, these Spanish delights can be found everywhere in the run-up to Christmas, from supermarket shelves and cafes to the many Mercardos de Navidad – outdoor Christmas markets.
Roscón de Reyes (see main image) is traditionally brought out on the Eve of Epiphany, 5 of January, the night of the 3 Kings. This is a traditional Spanish brioche-like sweet bread that is often filled with cream and decorated with bright coloured candied fruit. A favourite with the kids, it’s considered good luck to find the figurine of the baby Jesus which is buried in the cake. Mind your teeth, though!
Here’s a recipe for Roscón de Reyes if you fancy having a go at making this at home.
Turrón is another sweet that you’ll see absolutely everywhere during the Christmas season. There are two types, Turrón de Alicante, which is most like a brittle nougat, and my favourite Turrón de Jijona, a softer version made with ground almonds and more reminiscent of truffle chocolates or marzipan.
And last but not least we have Polvorones, individually wrapped crumbly almond-based cookies, lightly dusted with icing sugar (hence the name – polvo is the Spanish word for dust). These are not as sweet as the other two, but vegetarians beware as they may contain animal fat.
A selection of different turrón, polvorones and other Christmas sweets | nito100
Belenes – nativity scenes
Not entirely unique to Spain, but done with such aplomb in cities like Granada, the Belénes are definitely worth a mention on this list.
A Christmas tradition that goes back centuries, you can discover charming and elaborate nativity scenes all over the city. Each year in Granada the Town Hall Ayuntamiento runs a competition to find the most spectacular Belén.
Some of the most popular and worth a visit include: the Belén del Ayuntamiento, on Plaza del Carmen; previous prize-winner Belén del Museo de San Juan de Dios in la Casa de la Pisa, on Calle Convalecencia; and the Belén de la Catedral located by the main entrance of the cathedral.
Check out this blog by Granada resident and food tour guide Molly Piccavey for more details about the Ruta de Belénes in Granada.
Traditional Belen – nativity scene | nito100
Hogueras de Navidad – Christmas bonfires
Perhaps not such an easy one to try at home, this is a tradition of Southern Spain, Granada and Jaén in particular, of Jumping through the flames of a bonfire at the winter solstice on 21 December. It is said to bring good health to you and your family in the year ahead. This is similar in origin to the bonfires that are lit on Spanish beaches for the Fiesta de San Joan to celebrate the summer solstice.
I have no experience of this particular tradition, and I’m not sure about jumping through flames, but I love the idea of warming up to a Christmas bonfire.
And as if leaping through fire weren’t risky enough, the Spanish also love to play El Gordo, the special Christmas edition of the National Lottery. Sales start several weeks before the draw on 22 December.
12 Grapes at midnight on Año Nuevo | MMarieB
A New Year’s Eve tradition that all Spaniards observe, wherever they are in the world, at the stroke of midnight on 31 December. According to the tradition, eating the twelve grapes as you embark on a new year will bring you good luck and prosperity for the coming months.
You eat a grape for each month starting at the first stroke of midnight on Nochevieja, New Year’s Eve, and finishing your last grape on the final toll of the bell as you moving into the Año Nuevo.
So, this is one that you can definitely try at home, but I can tell you that it’s not as easy as it sounds.
Los Reyes Magos – the Three Kings figurines | nito100
Los Reyes – 3 Kings
And finally, the main event. El día de los Reyes Magos, or the 3 Kings.
Celebrated over two days, this is the most exciting bit for children in Spain. On the 5 of January, 12th Night, festivities start with La Cabalgata de Reyes Magos – the Three Kings’ parade. People take to the streets to watch the Kings as they proceed through the towns and villages.
That night children traditionally leave their boots out for the Kings to fill with presents for them to find the following morning. This marks the end of the season in Spain.
Check out our blog for more things to do in Granada at Christmas.