Christmas in Spain is quite special. There are celebrations and religious services from mid-December through to the 6th January. This is perhaps the most distinct of the Spanish Christmas traditions. Instead of receiving presents from Father Christmas on Christmas Eve, children in Spain receive them from the three kings on La Noche de Reyes (The Night of the Kings). In most towns in Spain children and their families line the streets to see the ‘Kings’ and their procession arrive on January 5th. That night presents are left for the children. During the evening people will eat el roscón de reyes, which is a ring-shaped cake set with pieces of frosted fruit to symbolise the rubies and emeralds and other precious stones on the cloaks of the Three Kings.
There are many traditions over Christmas and New Year that are said to bring good luck. From cava and cookies to lentils and grapes, in Spain you can eat your way to a great new year.
12 Lucky Grapes – Las doce uvas de la suerte
As the clock ticks down to midnight on New Year’s Eve, revellers across Spain pack into their city’s main plazas or into their family’s living room to watch the clock chime midnight. As the hour draws near, everyone young and old will be clinging to twelve green grapes. Each of these twelve grapes is said to represent each month of the year and with every chime of the clock at midnight, one grape is eaten to bring one month of luck in the new year. It is a race to swallow all 12 before the clock stops chiming.
While it may sound simple, the commotion of living rooms and plazas full of people frantically stuffing grapes in their mouth coupled with the three or four seeds in each one makes for a rather chaotic (and hilarious!) start to the new year!
Gold and a Glass of Cava
To bring not just good fortune, but an actual fortune in the new year, Spaniards drop a gold object into their glass of Cava before the midnight toast. From golden wedding rings to gold coins, it all goes in the glass! For the good luck charm to work, you must drink the entire glass of cava after the midnight toast and retrieve your golden object. Some say you can bring different types of luck depending on what you put in your glass. Looking for love? Drop in a strawberry, cherry or raspberry. Want to assure fidelity? Be sure that gold object is your wedding ring!
Lentil Soup for Lunch
Spanish tradition says that each of the tiny round lentils represents a coin. Eating the soup of “coins” for lunch on New Year’s Day is believed to bring you wealth in the coming year! Not to mention this hearty soup is a great way to warm up on this chilly January day.
In Spain this comes a few days before the new year on December 22. The El Gordo lottery, the biggest in the world, is replete with superstition and lucky myths. Some people claim that rubbing your lottery ticket against a pregnant woman’s belly, a bald man’s head or a cat’s back will make it a winner.
In the north western region of Galicia, lottery players hang their tickets on horseshoes. In other regions people tuck their ticket next to a figure of the Virgin Mary. Some Spaniards believe that the key to good luck comes in the form of an actual key. They carry an old iron key in their pocket with the lottery ticket throughout the day that the winners are drawn.
Lucky Red Underwear
If your New Year’s resolution is to fall in love this year, then make sure you bring in the new year wearing red underwear! In some parts of Spain, this cupid-calling good luck charm only works if the underwear was a gift and in other parts, you have to give your festive underwear away by the end of the night for the love potion to work.
Starting the Year on the Right Foot
The first step of the New Year better be the right one! In Spain many people believe that to kick the new year off on the right foot, you must use your right foot. Some say that the first step you take after the bells chime in the New Year should be with the right foot. Other say that when you walk into your house after a night out on New Year’s Eve you should enter with the right foot. Others still claim that the pivotal moment is when you leave the house on New Year’s Day.
San Antón – Fiesta de los Animales
If all the above luck-bringing tricks and traditions leave you lacking in luck, there is one more opportunity to bring good fortune on January 17, the day of San Antón. San Antón is the patron saint of animals and is said to cure animals of disease on this day.
Bakers celebrate San Antón’s day by making panecillos, small round cookies marked with a cross. It is said that if you save one of these cookies with a coin throughout the year, it will make you financially fortunate!