Although not a traditional Spanish holiday, St. Valentine’s Day in Spain is celebrated, like in most of the countries, with all kinds of sweet heart-shaped gifts, bouquets of flowers, cards and romantic dinners at fancy restaurants. Shop windows are decorated with hearts in all shades of red and pink, bars and cafes are getting creative with Valentine-themed offerings, and many events are organized throughout the country. However, what’s really interesting about St. Valentine’s Day in Spain is that certain regions have their own versions of the holiday, usually celebrated with great fanfare and peculiar traditions.
For people from Valencia, the most romantic day of the year is the 9th of October, when they celebrate both the Day of the Valencian Community as well as the Day of Saint Dionysius (Sant Dionís), locally known as the patron saint of lovers. This is a public holiday marked by many festivities and colourful costume parades held in the main plaza of every town and village. A distinctive tradition on the Day of Saint Dionysius is the custom of offering ladies a Mocadora (Mocaorà) as a sign of love and appreciation. This traditional gift consists of a nice package of marzipan figurines handcrafted by local confectioners and then wrapped up in an elegant piece of silk.
In Barcelona and the whole Catalonia, couples rejoice their love on April 23, when the nation celebrates St. George’s Day or La Diada de Sant Jordi – Catalonia’s national day. This public holiday is also known as El Dia de la Rosa (The Day of the Rose) or El Dia del Llibre (The Day of the Book) and the main event is the exchange of gifts, usually roses and books, hence the Catalan saying “A rose for love and a book forever”. As expected, during this time of year, a myriad of stalls selling roses and books are set up all over the region, public squares are brought to life by all sorts of performers and most of the book stores and cafes organize readings. Moreover, this is the day when Barcelona’s Palau de la Generalitat opens its doors to the public.
Valentine’s Day in Latin America
Over the centuries, the holiday has grown into a huge business in the United States and Europe, but seems to be a little more so in Latin America. In many countries, it seems to be more of an excuse to share love and friendship than candy and cards. It is even referred to as “Día del Amor y la Amistad” (Day of Love and Friendship) in many countries, including Colombia, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Mexico, and Puerto Rico. It is common to see people perform “acts of appreciation” for their friends. In Guatemala this tradition is known as the “Día del Cariño” (Affection Day).
In Mexico, February 14th is celebrated as the Día de San Valentin but is more commonly referred to as El Día del Amor y la Amistad, the day of love and friendship. While people also commonly give flowers, candies and balloons to their romantic partners, it is also a day to show appreciation for your friends. It is a time for people to show appreciation to the people they care about in general.
In Peru, locals celebrate by giving out orchids, native to the country, to each other. Carnaval is going on at the same time so it is considered a public holiday, and many celebrate with mass weddings to be able to accommodate large groups of couples.
Argentina & Chile refer to the day as El Día de Los Enamorados. There is more of an emphasis on spoiling your significant other with gifts compared to other Latin American countries.
Colombia and Bolivia celebrate Valentine’s Day on September 20-21, when it is popular to send gifts from secret admirers.
Dominican Republic & El Salvador have a similar tradition when a game called Angelito or Amigo Secreto is played. Girls and boys rip a piece of paper, write someone’s name, and then proceed to give their angelito a gift, a very cute Secret Santa variation?
Spanish Christmas Traditions
The Christmas holiday season in Spain is a truly magical affair. Although it doesn’t get going until seemingly the last minute, the Spanish throw themselves whole heartedly into the spirit of things and the festivities finally culminate on the 6th January.
The true mark of the beginning of Christmas in Spain is the Spanish national lottery draw held on December 22nd. ‘El Gordo’ or the fat one, is so called because it is one of the largest national lottery in the world with the total prize fund running into billions. The lottery draw is the moment when Christmas comes to Spain, this symbolic tradition has been going for centuries and Christmas just wouldn’t be Christmas without it.
The traditional Christmas decoration for a true Spanish Christmas is the ‘belén’ or nativity scene. Just like other countries across the world, where Christmas trees take centre stage in town and village squares, each town and village has its own belen. Some of these scenes are breathtakingly beautiful and elaborate and can be visited in town halls and churches across the land. Even personal ones can take over whole rooms in the house and just with the Christmas tree it is a magical family time spent putting it together and adding all the little touches.
The main Christmas meal in Spain is held on Christmas Eve or ‘Noche Buena’ many people won’t even start until after midnight as the old saying goes, - Esta noche es Noche Buena, y no es de dormir - this night is the Good Night, and is not meant for sleeping.
Generally, the celebrations usually begin early evening when friends and family meet in bars for a drink before returning home for the main event. Like most Christmas meals, the Spanish one involves a lot of preparation, many courses, lots to drink and lasts all night.
You can expect to find a large array of mouth watering seasonal delights at the table during the meal. Popular foods for starters or appetisers are shellfish and cold cuts of meat which are usually followed by soup and then another fish dish. A traditional one is ‘besugo’ which is baked bream but you may also find lobster, crab, salmon, hake, sea bass or trout. Then for the main course the traditional roast is lamb or sucking pig although duck, or turkey served with truffles are becoming more popular. Dessert is traditionally a selection of sweets and cakes such as marzipan, ‘polvorones’ a sweet kind of bread or Spanish turrón which is nougat made with sweet toasted almonds and has been made in Spain for centuries.
The only drink to accompany your meal is Cava, the Spanish equivalent of champagne which many say is far better than its French counterpart.
Another must do for a true Spanish Christmas is midnight mass which people go to either before or after the meal, depending on the time they eat. Christmas midnight mass in Spain is known as ‘La Misa del Gallo’ or ‘Rooster Mass’ because the rooster was the first to announce the birth of Christ. Once the meal and mass is over, people return home to exchange gifts. Children will often only receive a small gift as ‘Papa Noel’ is less popular than the Three Kings who arrive on 5th January with presents for all the children. The evening, or morning, usually ends in a bar or disco where whole families gather to party and celebrate once the family festivities are over.
Christmas day is a quiet affair and the quietest in the Spanish calendar. People meet up for a walk or a drink and while many continue the celebrations with a meal in a restaurant, most people are still recovering from the evening before.
Shortly after Christmas day on December 28th there is another curious celebration unique to Spain called ‘The Day of the Innocents.’ Although the origins of this fiesta lie in murders of women and children committed by Herod in Judea, modern day celebrations are similar to those of April fools Day on a much larger scale. Newspapers print ridiculous stories and even prominent political figures get involved. Never believe anything you see or hear on this day and watch your step carefully!
New Year’s Eve or ‘Noche Vieja’ in Spain is celebrated much like everywhere else with a few unique exceptions one includes the tradition of ‘las doce uvas’ or the twelve grapes. At the stroke of midnight, one grape must be eaten with each chime of the bell or clock, anyone who manages all twelve are said to have good luck throughout the coming year. It is a tradition taken very seriously by many Spanish people and while some of us are still struggling at ten past twelve, there are lots of people well practiced in the art. Preparation is everything though, if you plan to this, remember to peel and deseed enough grapes for everybody.
Once the grapes have been eaten and multiple kisses bestowed, the party really begins.
For Spanish children, the best days of the festive season have to be the 5th and 6th of January. While the rest of us are packing away the trees and tired decorations, Spanish children everywhere are preparing for the arrival of the Three Kings.
In Spain it is not Santa who brings the children their presents, but the Three Kings or ‘Los Reyes Magos’. On the 5th January, the eve of Epiphany children go to local parades which herald the arrival of the Three Kings.
Each village parade consists of decorative floats with a variety of themes and sweets and streamers being thrown into the crowds. At the end of the parade, children get the opportunity to ask the Three Kings for their chosen gift and then leave their shoes out overnight in which their gift will be placed. In many villages though, the parade of the Three Kings culminates in a gathering at the local church or school hall where each child’s name is called out and they receive a small gift. The day of the 6th January is a national holiday, much like Christmas Day, when children wake up to presents left by the Three Kings.
The 6th January marks the end of the Christmas celebrations in Spain and then like everywhere else, it’s back to the same old routine. But don’t worry the next fiesta is just around the corner . . .
Noche de Paz - Silent Night
For my first post I thought I would start with wishing my clients a very happy christmas so here is Noche de Paz or Silent Night as you may know it. Here are the words both in Spanish and English, plus click here to listen to it via YouTube.
Feliz Navidad Ed