'Merry Christmas' in Spanish is 'Feliz Navidad.' Father Christmas is Papá Noel.
In Spain, Christmas celebrations begin from the 8 December. This date is el día de la Inmaculada Concepción. It is a celebration in honour of the Virgin Mary - la Virgen María. There are processions with music and singing. It is a national holiday.
On 8 December, Spanish families begin to decorate - adornar - their Christmas trees and houses.
el árbol de Navidad - the Christmas tree
los adornos navideños - the Christmas decorations
This painting of La Inmaculada is by the Spanish artist, Murillo (1617 - 1682).
The painting is kept at el Museo del Prado in Madrid.
From the 8 December, in the Catalan area of Spain, families place a special Christmas log in a prominent position in the house. Nowadays, the log has a painted face and stands on legs! It is called el tió de Nadal.
The log is kept covered with a blanket and is looked after like a pet until Christmas Day.
Children make sure that he is kept warmly covered and pretend to feed him every day, just like feeding a doll.
Then, on Christmas Day, children have fun hitting the log with a stick whilst singing a traditional song.
Pregunta / Question: Why do they hit the log?
Respuesta / Answer: To make it produce little gifts!
After singing the song and hitting the log with a stick, they put their hands under the cover to see if the log has produced anything. (When children aren't looking, grown-ups place the gifts under the cover!)
Children keep singing songs and hitting the log to have more goodies. Eventually, when they can only find something like an onion or garlic, it means that the gifts have run out and the game is over!
Pregunta: Why does this tradition exist?
Respuesta: In the past, the idea of hitting the log to make it produce gifts was believed to bring good luck for the harvests during the next year.
If you want to buy one of these cute logs, then go to the famous Christmas market of Barcelona.
This market is called el mercado de Santa Lucía.
Please note that in Catalan el tió means 'the log'. In standard Castilian Spanish el tío means 'the uncle.' The accent is written over different letters. These two words, although they look and sound similar, are totally unrelated.
During the Christmas period, most Spanish houses will have un portal de Belén (a Christmas Nativity Scene). You can say un belén for short. El belén can be very beautiful and elaborate. It is a model of the stable with la Sagrada Familia (the Holy Family of Mary, Joseph and Jesus), el pastor (the shepherd), el ángel (the angel), los Reyes Magos (the Three Kings) and los animales (the animals).
Very often, Spanish children will sing Christmas carols (villancicos) whilst admiring el belén.
Vocabulario de la Navidad:
Some Christmas vocabulary:
María y José - Mary and Joseph
el Niño Jesús - the Baby Jesus
Belén - Bethlehem
el ángel - the angel
el burro - the donkey
la estrella de Belén - the star of Bethlehem
el pastor - the shepherd
el pesebre - the manger
el portal de Belén - the Nativity scene, the Christmas crib
el villancico - the Christmas carol
On the 22 December there is a famous Christmas lottery and its main prize is nicknamed El Gordo (The Fat One) because of the large amount of money that can be won.
On 24 December, the King of Spain makes a traditional Christmas Eve speech.
This speech is called El Discurso Nacional De Su Majestad El Rey and it is shown on the television.
Traditional Spanish ham is very popular at Christmas.
It is known as el jamón serrano. Another variety is el jamón ibérico.
The ham is sliced very thinly and eaten as an appetiser (una tapa) with bread (el pan).
A sweet nougat called el turrón, an almond pastry called un polvorón, marzipan - el mazapán, shortbread - el mantecado and sparkling Cava wine are also popular.
Nuts (nueces), mandarins (mandarinas) and dates (dátiles) are also part of Spanish Christmas food.
Churros con chocolate are long, thin fritters to dunk in a hot chocolate drink. It is a popular snack at Christmas time.
The night of Christmas Eve is very important in Spain. It is called la Nochebuena (the good night).
Families eat a special meal on the night of 24 December. This meal is called la cena de Nochebuena.
There are many foods prepared for this meal, such as:
lamb - el cordero
seafood - los mariscos
fish - el pescado
lobster - la langosta
pork - el cerdo
turkey - el pavo
On the night of Christmas Eve, many people attend Midnight Mass - la misa del gallo.
The night of Nochebuena is a time for family festivities. There is a Spanish saying:-
Esta noche es Nochebuena y no es noche de dormir.
Tonight is Christmas Eve and it's not a night for sleeping.
A Spanish tradition on Christmas Eve is pedir el aguinaldo. This literally means 'to ask for the Christmas bonus' and it is a form of 'carol singing'. Groups of singers knock on neighbours' doors and sing carols and play instruments in exchange for small gifts such as coins (monedas) or sweets (dulces). The typical instruments played are la pandereta - the tambourine, and a drum called la zambomba.