Image: Alberto Ceballos, Flickr

There are just five days to go until Christmas (*squeal*). Either you’ve got a vacation booked - possibly, even, to Spain - in which case yay, or you’re quietly bitter at the fact that you don’t. Either way, we hope this blog - filled with fun facts about Christmas in Spain - will help you plan your Mediterranean Christmas or allow you to escape (even if just virtually) for a few minutes!

  1. The Fat Lottery

Christmas comes a few days early in Spain! On December 22nd, everyone tunes in to the hugely popular Christmas Lottery, also known as ‘El Gordo’/ ‘The Fat Lottery’ (and held since 1812!), where the winning numbers are announced in song by schoolchildren! Almost everyone takes part, making it one of the biggest lottery draws in the world (we’re talking more than 2 BILLION euros!).

2. Christmas Markets

Come December, the markets are out in full force, selling everything from Christmas decorations to toys. There’s no better way to soak up the holiday spirit.

Head to Valencia for the Feria de Atracciones de Navidad - a Christmas-themed amusement park!

3. Christmas Dinner

Christmas dinner before Mass? We like the sound of this already.

The traditional meal consists not of your standard stuffed turkey but seafood (and yes, we’re talking about actual seafood, such as shellfish, mollusks, lobster and crabs - not the other customary Christmas diet you may be used to that consists of ‘see food and eat it’.). Vitally, it’s a large and lengthy meal that’s shared with loved ones.

Cava - Catalan champagne - is the usual choice for a Christmas toast. Millions of bottles are opened each year - wait for us!

4.Sweets & Treats

Expect to tantalize your taste buds with delicacies such as mazapán' (marzipan), 'turrón' (nougat) and 'polvorones' (cookies).

The ​​pièce de résistance is the Roscón de Reyes - ‘The Kings’ Cake’- ring-shaped (so as to reflect the crown), filled with whipped cream and topped with candied fruits and crushed almonds. Inside, one lucky recipient will find a toy figurine and another will find a bean. If you find the figurine, you’ll be blessed with good luck and get to wear a crown but if you find the bean, you’re paying for next year’s cake!

5. Midnight Mass

Most people in Spain go to ‘La Misa Del Gallo’ (The Mass of the Rooster) - so-called because a rooster was supposed to have crowed the night Jesus was born. Here - like everywhere else in the world - people praise his birth and reaffirm their faith, and with Catholics making up over half of the country’s population, you can imagine just how busy this - one of the most attended Church events of the year, featuring guitars, drums and tambourines - gets!

6. Christmas Eve

Children wait patiently for Papá Noel, Olentzero or Tió de Nadal (depending on where they live in the country!) for gifts.

7. Christmas Day

Families come together to eat again (but not as much as the night before) and open gifts (although usually just a token amount as the main event is not celebrated until later - more on this soon!).

8. The Caga Tió

File this one under 'Weird Spanish Christmas Traditions': In Catalonia, people decorate a log with a face and legs and cover it with a hat and blanket so it doesn’t get cold! It’s called ‘the pooping log’ (yes, really,) and on Christmas Day, children smack it with sticks and sing songs to encourage it to, ahem, excrete sweets for them before removing the blanket and finding their treats. Strange, but true.

9. Beléns

Nativity scenes - like you’ve never seen them before. Spain takes its decorations very seriously, so expect to see some seriously impressive displays across the country - both in homes and outside. In fact, you’re more likely to see one of these than a Christmas Tree here.

10. December Fools!

Err, no. We haven’t lost the plot. In Spain, April Fools Day - or ‘Dia de los Santos Inocentes’ (Day of the Innocent Saints) - is another Catholic tradition and celebrated on December 28th. Playing pranks or dressing up in funny wigs, glasses and hats - anything goes! In Alicante, there’s even more fun to be had on this day, as people throw eggs and flour at each other in the streets! Go on … you know you want to!

11. 12 Lucky Grapes

Forget kissing at the stroke of midnight; New Year’s Eve (‘Nochevieja’/ ‘The Old Night’) brings with it a quirky tradition to eat 12 grapes with the 12 strokes of the clock - said to represent the 12 months of the year and believed to bring good luck. The tradition was started by wine merchants hoping to imbue a deep appreciation for their star ingredient. We don’t know about anyone else, but it certainly would have proved lucky for them, hey?

12. Epiphany

The Spaniards obviously can’t get enough of the festivities, as come January 6th, they celebrate another festival related to the Christmas story called Epiphany/ ‘Fiesta de Los tres Reyes Magos’/ ‘The Festival of the Three Magic Kings’, pertaining to when the Wise men brought gifts to baby Jesus. Most presents are opened on this day and the kids write letters to the Kings asking for the things they want before leaving shoes on windowsills, balconies or under the Christmas Tree the night before to be filled. Of course, these characters are reminiscent of Santa Claus, but instead of getting milk and cookies, the three kings each get a glass of Cognac, a satsuma and some walnuts, while a bucket of water is sometimes left out for the camels that bring them!

In some big towns and cities, there are music-filled Epiphany Parades -’ Cabalgata de Reyes’’ -  featuring a big camel-shaped float for each king and candy thrown out for the children. Sometimes there are even real camels, too! It’s a unique experience that you simply will not find anywhere else.

13. Santa Claus Race

Ok, ol’ Father C may not be a big thing in Spain, but that doesn’t stop thousands of people dressing up as the big man in Madrid to take part in a festive charity run.

14. Giant Bonfires

If you like the idea of taking a roaring wintery fire to the next level, head to Andalusia, Granada or most other southern Spanish cities for a giant bonfire! As ever, the Spanish love their lucky charms, and it’s believed that you’ll have good health in the new year if you jump over the flames!

No matter where you are for Christmas this year, why not do it in true Spanish style? It’ll certainly be one to remember! ¡Feliz Navidad!