Spanish Christmas Traditions
The Spanish kick of the holiday with the famous lottery El Gordo (the fat one). The pot is so large that almost everyone participates and it has become a national tradition. This year the pool is over 2 billion Euros. This lottery has been played since 1812. Today as the numbers are called, chosen students will sing them out for all to hear.
Christmas Eve is for attending midnight church services. After the service, people walk through the streets with torches, playing musical instruments and singing. The motto of the night is "Tonight is the good night and it is not meant for sleeping."
New Year's Eve - Nochevieja - is celebrated by eating 12 grapes, one for each month of the upcoming year. This should bring good luck.
There is a legend of a giant that tries to cover the sky with smoke on January 5 to stop the journey of the Three Wise Men. These Wise Men bring presents to the children so of course the children have an incentive to stop the giant. They go through the streets dragging chains of cans to make enough noise to scare him away. Many towns have parades with elaborate decorated floats and some made of noise making cans.
January 6 is an end to the national celebrations. This is Three Kings Day, they day that the Wise Men arrived at at Baby Jesus' manger with their presents. Spanish children write them letters and leave out snacks for them just as our American children do for Santa. Instead of milk and cookies, the Three Kings receive Cognac and walnuts.
Let's look at some more peculiar and charming practices in the different regions of Spain.
In Catalonia (the area around Barcelona) they have a thing about, well...poop. Tio de Nadal, the pooping log is so popular that you can buy your own log complete with face, short legs, and blanket covering. You find these cute little fellows at the Christmas Markets. Take it home, cover it with the red checked blanket, and 'feed' it candies and nuts until Christmas. On the happy day, children sing a special song to the log, and 'beat' the log with sticks to make it 'poop' the gifts out under it's blanket.
There are also caganers (poopers) that have become a part of nativity scenes. These little squatters with their pants around their ankles, are usually in the back of the scene or hidden. But they symbolize fertility and good luck. Traditional caganers look like Catalonian peasants with a red beret and pipe, Modern caganers represent celebrities or politicians.
In the Basque country in northwestern Spain is a popular figure. He started out as a pagen myth that cut throats with his sickle of townsfolk that ate too much. The cleaned up Christian version of Olentzero depicts him as a charcoal maker that makes wooden toys for children and has a kind heart. He dresses as Basque farmers with peasant clothes, a black beret and smoking a pipe.
These mischievous magical boys show up one at time starting December 12th. They play little tricks according to their names, but in the end bring children small gifts.
The names of the troll-like Yule Lads are:
Gimpy, Gully Imp, Itty Bitty, Pot Scraper Licker, Pot Licker, Bowl Licker, Door Slammer, Skyr (yogurt) Gobbler, Sausage Snatcher, Window Peeper, Doorway Sniffer, Meat Hooker, and Candle Beggar.
Sweden & Norway
Who can resist a Yule Goat? The goat tradition stems from pre-Christian times and the god Thor who rode a chariot pulled by goats. In modern times, boys would dress as goats and go door to door caroling. Today the Yule Goats are mostly straw decorations on Christmas trees. Some families even keep a larger decorative goat near their tree. Some towns have a large Yule Goat in the city square
Christmas trees are standard in Greece along with the rest of the Christian world. But, especially around the islands, boats will be elaborately decorated. This is seen as an act of gratitude and honor to the country's sailors that are so important to their society.
Food traditions and good luck are intertwined in Greece. There are several foods used for good luck during this season. Some people hang a squill (an onion-like bulb) above their front doors to bring longevity, health and prosperity to the family. Another is a pomegranite. Once it dries, the family throws it on the ground to break it, and they jump over the seeds into the house, bringing in good luck with them.
Gifts are not exchanged until New Years Eve in Greece. This honors the Saint Basil. He was a lawyer who after his conversion mainly worked helping the poor and children. He died on January 1, 379 AD. and so that's the date gifts are given in remembrance of him.
Christmas is magical almost everywhere, but I think taking part in some of these weird and wonderful traditions first hand would be an unforgettable experience. So, here's to a few more for your bucket list!
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