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NAVIDAD - Christmas in Spain. It has never much of a commercial occasion as it has become in other countries such as the UK and the USA but it is rather special just the same. Traditionally the season begins on December 8th, a national holiday celebrating the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary when Christmas lights are switched on and the decorations go up in the shops, bars and restaurants. In Xàbia the season tends to creep up slowly. There is usually a modest festive craft market in the heart of the old town and in the port for the 6th-8th December 'puente' holiday and the fiesta of Santa Llúcia on December 13th - which falls twelve days before the day - always seems to bring on the festive feeling. In this article we describe what one can usually expect during the Christmas season in Xàbia and across Spain which, of course, runs several days beyond the excesses of New Year's Eve.

El Bélen
These elaborate nativity scenes often stand pride of place in many private houses, quite often instead of the Christmas tree. Take a walk around the narrow back streets of the historic centre and you'll spot many of them displayed proudly in the front windows of the houses. There is also the unveiling of the municipal nativity scenes which are often huge creations put together by dedicated volunteers. People will spend lengthy periods of time scrutinising the model and it is often because they are searching for 'El Caganer' - the 'crapper' - which is a cheeky figurine crouching in a dark corner or under a shady tree with trousers down and backside exposed. It is a marvellous tradition that dates back to the early 18th century and is said to symbolise fertility as well as bringing good luck and prosperity for the year ahead. In Xàbia the municipal nativity scene is located inside the municipal market in the heart of the historic centre whilst there is another inside the Centre d'Arts Lambert in the Casa de Tena in Carrer Mayor.

The Winter Solstice Bonfires
In Granada and Jaen there is a the tradition of the winter solstice bonfires which is very similar to our very own 'Nit dels Focs' celebrations during Sant Joan in June which marks the summer equivalent insomuch as people jump over the fires to seek protection for illness. It is, of course, a tradition which stretches back way before the arrival of the Christian celebrations of Christmas, marking the shortest day of the year and the onset of the cold winter months.

Loteria Nacional de Navidad
December 22nd is a much-anticipated day which could change the fortunes of a few lucky people, the day of the Christmas National Lottery, often known as 'El Gordo' - the 'fat one'. It is not only one of the oldest lotteries in the world having started back in 1812 but it is also the biggest with many high value prizes totally more than two billion euros. Tickets cost 200 euros each so people tend to buy smaller shares in an individual ticket which are known as 'décimos', essentially a 10% stake in the ticket. With each number have several tickets known as 'series' and these series often sold exclusively in certain areas, this often means that the whole villages can win the jackpot such the lucky ticket holders in the Catalonian town of Vic which shared some 500 million euros between them. The draw itself is a long, drawn-out affair shown live on national TV, lasting several hours as children sing out numbers etched into small wooden balls drawn from large metal spheres on stage in the heart of Madrid. Click
here for more information about the Loteria Nacional de Navidad.

Rather than Christmas Day, the night before is when Spanish families come together to celebrate the arrival of Christmas with a huge Christmas feast and it is common for many bars and restaurants close their doors once the sun dips below the horizon. It was traditional to serve 'pavo trufado', turkey stuffed with truffles, but these days it's normally roasted lamb or a suckling pig after an opening course of seafood or 'entremeses', a plate of hams, chorizos and local cheeses such as Manchego. In Catalonia there is a popular Christmas dish known as 'galets', huge pasta shells often filled with mince meat and floating in a meaty soup. The meal is often concluded with 'turrón', a toasted sweet almond nougat, or 'polvorones' which are sweets made from almonds, flour and sugar.

On Christmas Eve at 9.00pm, the Spanish Monarch gives the traditional Christmas message from the Palacio de la Zarzuela, much as Queen Elizabeth II does so on Christmas Day in the UK. It is a tradition that began with General Francisco Franco in 1937 when he addressed "the fighters of Spain" on New Year's Eve and continued until 1974. When Franco died in November 1975, his successor King Juan Carlos I moved the speech from New Year's Eve to Christmas Eve, an attempt to distance himself from the dictator. Felipe VI made his first Christmas Eve speech in 2014. The message, which is on average about 15 minutes long, is broadcast live on TVE1 with other channels having the right to broadcast some or all of it. Since 2012 it has also been broadcast on YouTube and Twitter. 

At midnight there is a special mass known as 'La Misa de Gallo' - the 'Mass of the Rooster' - which reflects the notion that a rooster crowed on the night that Jesus was born. The church bells ring to summon everyone to the church, and one of the most impressive of these candlelight services is held in the monastery of Montserrat above the city of Barcelona when its choir is said to sing in "one pure voice".

Sometimes people exchange small gifts at midnight but Papa Noel is not expected to visit on this night; the children will be waiting for the arrival of the Three Kings a couple of weeks later (see below). There is an old Spanish saying which says "Esta noche es Nochebuena, y no es noche de dormir" which essentially means that this is Christmas Eve and it is not meant for sleeping. However, in Xàbia the nightlife tends to be concentrated in the Arenal beach zone; elsewhere will be very quiet.

El Día de Navidad 
Christmas Day is a national holiday. Families often go out together for walks, visit friends or enjoy a festive drink in a bar before having a lunch together, sometimes in a restaurant but more often at home. In truth it's one of the quietest days of the year in Spain. In Catalonia there is 'Caga Tio', a character represented by a wooden log with a painted face and wearing a red beret, and tradition has it that if the kids keep Caga Tio warm and feed him every night from December 8th - Immaculate Conception - he will defecate little presents for them on Christmas Day!

Día de los Inocentes
December 28th is very similar to April Fool's Day in the UK with newspapers and TV news channels running ridiculous but almost believable stories. Over the past few years javeamigos.com has joined in with the fun, publishing
fake news stories such as the Arenal zone bidding for independence from Xàbia and the new parking charges for foreign-registered vehicles. However December 28th actually commemorates the day when new-born babies - the innocents - were massacred on the orders of King Herod in his attempt to kill the infant Jesus.

The day is celebrated in the town of Ibi with a flour battle, 'Els Enfarinats', which dates back more than two centuries. It is one of the strangest fiestas in Spain which dates back over two centuries. In the early morning 'Els Enfarinats', the floured ones, take control of the town and elect a mayor from within their ranks to preside over the day's activities. But their 'rule' is opposed by the 'Casats i Fadrins' and a battle ensues in the Plaça de l'Esglesia, the weapons being flour and eggs accompanied by fire crackers and rockets.

Nochevieja & Año Nuevo
New Year's Eve is another chance for friends and family to come together to celebrate the end of the old year and the arrival of the new. Bars and restaurants are often booked up long before the evening arrives. It's expensive but the feast is often enormous with several courses. At midnight approaches, attention is often directed towards the TV which is showing the live broadcast from the Puerta del Sol in Madrid, Spain's answer to Times Square. All eyes will be on the clock on top of the Real Casa de Correos building which has served as the marker of the official time in Spain.

As the chimes ring midnight, the tradition is to eat twelve grapes, one popped into the mouth on each chime of the bells, and it is suggested that you will have good luck for the following year if you manage to eat all twelve by the end of the chimes. "Las Doce Uvas de la Suerte!" Some 80% of these lucky grapes are grown in the Vinalopó valley just a 100km or so to the SW of Xàbia. Supermarkets often sell small tins of grapes, already seeded, peeled and ready to go.

It is the custom to wear red underwear on New Year's Eve - market stalls will be full of red lingerie in the lead-up to the end of the year - and such a garment has to have been given to you as a gift by someone else. The village of La Font de la Figuera, located some 90km due west of Xàbia, celebrate the arrival of a new year by stripping down to their underwear and running through the streets. It is also traditional to drop a gold object into a glass of cava before the midnight toast to bring good luck; drink the entire glass after 12 o'clock and you'll have good fortune. However if you're looking for love, drop in a strawberry, cherry or raspberry. Also remember to kick off the new year by taking the first step after the bells chime with your right foot - and if you're out for the evening, make sure you enter your home with the right foot first!

The following morning, it has been a tradition to begin the new year with a lunch of lentil and chorizo stew, the lentils representing prosperity. It's also pretty good for a hangover. In Xàbia the New Year's Day swim takes place on the Arenal beach at 1.00pm when a group of brave souls, some nursing major headaches, run willingly into the chilly waters and all for charity.

For the past couple of years Xàbia has celebrated the arrival of a new year twice in one day! At midday on New Year's Eve December 31st families gather in the heart of the historic centre to hear the bells chime twelve times and thus marking the new year on the other side of the planet. Segments of oranges instead of grapes are eaten, music played with maybe some dancing and the young children who might otherwise be asleep some twelve hours later are allowed to enjoy their own New Year's Eve.

Los Reyes Magos / Epiphany - The Three Kings
January 6th is Epiphany which brings the Christmas season to an end in Spain. The celebration commemorates the arrival of the three kings or "wise men" bearing gifts for the baby Jesus. Although a "bearded, red-suited invader" has been gradually infiltrating the social conscious of modern Spain, many people stay loyal to the Three Kings and a 2015 survey reported that 67% of children in Spain chose them as their favourites ahead of Santa Claus (27%). 

In the days leading up to the magical day, children will write letters to their favourite king and these are often collected by the pages who visit the towns. In Xàbia they visit both the old town and the port just after the arrival of the new year. On the evening of January 5th, the youngsters will leave out a pair of highly-polished shoes to be filled with presents by Melchior, Gaspar and Balthazar who will visit during the night whilst the children are sleeping. The Kings will often enjoy a glass of cognac, a mandarin orange and some walnuts; sometimes a bucket of water is left for their camels. If the children have been bad then the Kings will leave them pieces of coal.

Many towns and cities have grand parades through the streets to celebrate the arrival of the Three Kings. Some of them are huge spectacles and one of the biggest is in the capital of Madrid which draws more than 100,000 spectators and is often broadcast live in television. One of the oldest parades has taken place in Alcoy since 1885 and ends with a huge firework display which does nothing to quell the excitement of the children. In Xàbia the spectacle is rather more modest. The royal cortege arrives by fishing boat in the port, welcomed by excited children kept just about under control by their parents. They parade through the streets to a special stage erected in Avenida Jaime I from which they will address the children and then hand out a few token gifts. Later in the evening the procession will lead up into the historic centre to a stage erected in Placeta del Convent from which they will do it all again.

Roscón de Reyes
The 'Roscón' is a ring-shaped cream-filled cake which is eaten at Epiphany. Supermarkets and bakeries will be filled with them in the days leading up to the celebration and on January 5th there is often a mad rush to secure one. The cake is divided amongst family and friends and inside there is often a small figurine and a roasted bean. If you receive the former, you will be crowned as the king or queen of the day (a cardboard crown is often included with the cake) but if you find the bean then it is expected that you will have to buy the 'roscón' for the following year. It has also long been tradition that if you find a figurine of the baby Jesus, you should take it to the nearest church on February 2nd - Candlemas - which commemorates the presentation of Jesus at Herod's Temple. In 2018 El Corte Inglés placed 251 gold ingots in its cakes worth just under 5' euros each but special ingot was worth more than 1,000 euros.

El Niño - Loteria Nacional
The national lottery of January 6th known as 'El Niño' offers a final chance to mark the Christmas season with a bit of good fortune. It has a total prize fund of around 630 million euros, not as much as 'El Gordo' but still enough to give participants the chance to start the New Year as a millionaire and it is common for anyone who winds their money back on the Christmas lottery to re-invest it into 'El Niño'. It works exactly the same as the Christmas lottery with numbers drawn until all the prizes have been won. Top prize is 2 million euros further prizes of 750,000 euros and 250,000 euros for second and third prizes.

Click here to view our What's On Guide to events happening in Xàbia over Christmas >>


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