Lottery, logs and lights: What surprises foreigners about Spanish Christmas

The famous Catalan ‘Caganer’ figurine is by far the most-cited festive curiosity by members of the non-native community in Spain

The Three Kings in TVE show ‘Cuéntame.’
The Three Kings in TVE show ‘Cuéntame.’RTVE
Héctor Llanos Martínez

Verne has spent years asking Spaniards what they find strange when they go to live in countries such as Germany, the United Kingdom, Argentina, Mexico, Brazil and China. But this time, we are asking foreigners to point out what they find odd about the Spanish – in particular during the festive holiday season. There are plenty of things that Spaniards take for granted about their customs that can seem very strange when viewed by an outsider.

Of the 47 million inhabitants of Spain, five million are foreigners, according to data from Spain’s National Statistics Institute (INE). We have used Facebook groups such as Expats in Spain, Mexicanos en España and Deutsche in Madrid, among others, to ask people what they find odd about Christmas in Spain. The Catalan tradition of the Caganer – the famous defecating figurine – was, by far, the most-repeated answer.

Christmas gets going in November

- Christmas in Spain is endless. It starts in November and there are public holidays from the beginning of December until the beginning of January. (United States)

- I’m troubled by the mayor of Vigo and his fascination with Christmas lights. (Colombia)

Lights in Vigo.

- Christmas lights should be more extravagant. In a lot of places they’re very simple. (United Kingdom)

- Why do Christmas markets sell carnival gear, like wigs and glasses? What’s that got to do with Christmas? (Germany)

- Christmas here in general is a much happier affair than in Germany, where it is supposed to be besinnnlich (a time for contemplation). (Germany)

- It’s a novelty to celebrate Christmas with this cold weather. This is the first time that I’ve ever spent this time of year with a winter climate. (Brazil)

Nativity scenes and the lottery

- I love seeing the Nativity Scenes that are everywhere. Our town even has a live recreation of Bethlehem! (United Kingdom)

- Look for the guy in the Nativity Scenes taking a nap. (Germany)

- For me Christmas seems to drag on a long time and last forever. In Spain we have gifts on the December 25th, then again on January 6. (United States)

- Against all odds, I believe that in Spain they still give a meaning to Christmas that is not just commercial. Family, community, celebrating all together… (United Kingdom)

- They’re a bit obsessed with the lottery, right? I had no choice but to buy a ticket for myself. In Mexico there is a Christmas draw, but hardly anyone takes any notice of it. Here you have to buy a ticket at work, in the block where you live, with your family… (Mexico)

- They spend the whole day singing the lottery numbers. I’m used to hearing it after 18 years living here, but it’s still a very strange custom for me. (Mexico)

Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve

- That log who takes a dump in Catalonia [Caga Tió]. (United Kingdom)

- I am confused by the whole Caganer and Caga Tió thing. What is the fascination with pooping figurines? And why during Christmas? (United States)

- The race to eat the grapes with the 12 chimes [at midnight on New Years Eve]. Is that a viral challenge? Well I still haven’t managed it… (United States)

- Red underwear for New Year's Eve, burned on New Year's Day. (United Kingdom)

- When I ask my Spanish students what they like most about Christmas, they always answer “Being with the family.” Presents are only the second or third thing they like most. What’s more, every child in this country has a grandma who is the best cook in the world… (United States)

The Three Kings

- One of the kings wearing blackface, as opposed to asking a readily available black person. (United States)

Soccer player Sergio Ramos dressed up as one of the Three Kings.
Soccer player Sergio Ramos dressed up as one of the Three Kings.

- That the Three Kings are more popular than Santa Claus. That was surprising to me. (Brazil)

- I like leaving brandy out for the kings with my kids (because I drink it after they go to bed). (United States)

- In Benidorm, when Kings’ Day is coming up, they give you a slice of that cake with cream in it free with your coffee [roscón de reyes]. (United Kingdom)

- With my US family, we would exchange gifts, but usually you would label the gift as who it was from, who it was for, and place it under the tree. In Spain everything is from Papa Noél, or the Three Kings. I like this better as its possible to have some anonymity. (United States)

- That the poor children have to wait until the last day [Kings’ Day] to open their presents. That’s cruel. (Russia)

English version by Simon Hunter.

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