This blog post was originally posted on November 12, 2013 and was updated on November 7, 2017.
Christmas is blooming across Madrid.
Roasted chestnut stands are popping up in plazas. Giant strings of lights are being draped across avenues. Supermarket aisles are glistening with the shiny gold wrappers of Christmas turrón.
While Santa statues and flying reindeer can be spotted in many shop windows, the Christmas traditions in Madrid are uniquely Spanish. This fun and family-centered culture takes the typical two holiday-season celebrations (Christmas Day and New Years Eve) and stretches them to six days of Christmastime revelry.
- Nochebuena, or Christmas Eve, is all about family and food. Spaniards flock to the pueblos of their parents to feast on seafood and sip the sparkling Spanish cava wine.
- Navidad, or Christmas Day, has an American flair. Some families celebrate Santa Claus and share another huge meal, traditionally of roast lamb.
- Nochevieja, or New Year’s Eve, sees Madrid’s streets packed with people celebrating the countdown and eating their yearly dose of good-luck grapes.
- Año Nuevo, or New Year’s Day, often begins with a heaping helping of churros and hot chocolate as young people greet the first sunrise of the new year after an all-night celebration.
- January 5, the Eve of the Epiphany, is many Spanish children’s favorite day of the year. The Three Wise Men travel through Madrid in a spectacular parade throwing them candy.
- Día de los Reyes Magos, or Three Kings/Wise Men Day, on January 6 is when most Spaniards open their Christmas gifts. Christmas tradition in Spain holds that it is the Three Wise Men who bring gifts, not Santa Claus.
While the fiesta spikes on these six days, Madrid is a flurry of Christmas excitement from the first of November until the second week of January. It is the perfect time to visit Madrid. Tourists are scarce compared to the summer months. The city is at its most beautiful, glittering under a blanket of twinkling lights. No Christmastime tour of Spain’s capital would be complete without checking out these Christmas traditions in Madrid.
Spanish Christmas Lottery
If ever there was a time to try your luck at winning the lottery, it is during Christmas in Spain. Everywhere you look, from grocery stores to elementary schools, people are pitching in to buy tickets for El Gordo Christmas Lottery, literally “the fat one.” This state-run lottery is the largest in the world. It dished out 2.5 billion euro to thousands of winners last year.
On average, Spanairds spend about 70 euro on lottery tickets every December trying to hit the 4 million euro jackpot. But the prizes are open to anyone, not just Spanish citizens. So while checking out the Christmas traditions in Madrid, why not try your luck at El Gordo? After all, it’s tradition.
In a country where chocolate bars are considered healthy snacks, Christmas in Madrid would not be complete without gorging on some of Spain’s most scrumptious Christmas sweets. Be sure to indulge in these delicious Christmas traditions in Madrid!
The king of Spanish Christmas candies is turrón. Its three distinct styles–blando (soft), duro (hard) and chocolate–make it versatile enough to be universally loved. Turrón blando is a caramel-colored bar made from almond paste and egg yolk. Turrón duro is a hard nougat usually stuffed with whole Marcona almonds. And chocolate turrón comes in a plethora of flavors, from negro con arroz (dark chocolate with puffed rice) to Oreo. There are so many varieties of turrón that supermarkets dedicate entire aisles to the Christmas treat!
Also delectable in the Christmas treats aisle are the small, individually wrapped polvorones. These are pressed-powered style biscuit made from almonds and butter or lard. Spanish children often dare each other to pop the entire biscuit in their mouth and attempt to say its name, “polvorón” (which means “powdery cake”) without spewing a cloud of powder!
For those without a pronounced sweet tooth, cava is undoubtedly the treat of choice. The sparkling Champagne-style wine produced in Catalonia is a staple in most Spanish celebrations, especially Christmas and New Year’s.
New Year’s in Sol
The Puerta del Sol plaza is the epicenter of Madrid’s New Year’s celebration. Thousands of people pack the plaza on New Year’s Eve to sip cava and watch the huge clock on the Real Casa de Correos building tick down to midnight. The 150-year-old clock is Spain’s equivalent of NYE ball drop in Times Square. Millions of Spaniards tune in on television to watch the clock ring in the New Year.
When the huge clock’s resounding dongs echo across the city, Sol fills not with shouts and cheers but with crunches and slurps as thousands of Spaniards scurry to eat twelve grapes before the bell finishes its twelve strikes. Tradition dictates that each grape you eat as the clock strikes midnight on New Years will bring you one month of good luck in the following year!
Want to avoid the madness of a Times Square-style New Years Eve in Sol? Join hundreds of madrileños for a New Year’s “dress rehearsal” on December 30! Hundreds of people pack the plaza 24 hours before the New Year, clad with Santa hats, champagne, bundles of grapes and bags of sweets. It’s a fun way to practice the midnight countdown.
That’s right! In Madrid you can, in effect, count down the New Year twice! What began as a technical run-through to make sure Sol’s giant clock and bells were functioning properly for the New Years’ celebration has turned into a huge pre-New Years party where people practice eating their 12 grapes in anticipation of the big night. Some revelers, though, can be seen popping twelve M&M-like candies instead of grapes, as superstition says eating the 12 grapes before the true New Year is bad luck.
Reyes Magos Parade
Eleven days after Christmas, the streets of Madrid once again fill with people. This time, it’s to celebrate the Reyes Magos, or the Three Kings. A massive parade weaves through the city center and children scurry to catch candy thrown from the floats.
The centerpieces of the parade are three elaborately decorated floats carrying the Three Wise Men: Gaspar, Melchior and Balthazar, who Spaniards believe are responsible for bringing Christmas presents. After the parade, children rush home to get to sleep, so that the Three Kings will bring them presents– if they’ve been good all year.
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As the daughter of a barbecue master and a pseudo-vegetarian, Amy’s culinary obsessions run deep. She spent time in Galicia before settling down in Madrid, where you’ll usually find her browsing the bottles of a local bodega or ogling the produce at the weekend farmer’s market.