Christmas in Spain is deeply religious. The country’s patron saint is the Virgin Mary and the Christmas season begins on 8 December, the feast of the Immaculate Conception, with a special ritual known as los Seises (the dance of six) in front of Seville’s Gothic cathedral in which not six but ten elaborately-dressed boys perform a dance with intricate movements and gestures which is very moving to watch.
Most homes have a manger with carved nativity figures around which families gather to sing carols, dance and play tambourines. The cow is honoured at this time as it’s believed that when Mary gave birth, the cow in the stable breathed on the Baby Jesus to keep him warm.
On Christmas Eve, or Nochebuena, families rejoice around their nativity scenes and eat the traditional Christmas treat of turron, a kind of almond candy. Tiny oil lamps are lit in homes, and after the traditional Midnight Mass and Christmas Dinner, streets fill with revellers dancing the special Christmas dance, the Jota, to the sound of guitars and castanets. The words and music to the Jota are said to be hundreds of years old.
Tradition has it that gifts are brought by the Three Wise Men on 6 January. It is believed that the Magi re-enact their journey to Bethlehem every year at this time and children leave out shoes filled with straw, carrots, and barley for their horses. Though all of the Magi are revered in Spain, the children’s favourite is Balthazar who rides a donkey and is the one believed to leave gifts.
If you want to get more closely acquainted with the language and customs of Spain, a good place to start is with our Private Spanish lessons, provided at your workplace or home throughout London.