My second-grade niece at Wauwatosa Catholic School in Milwaukee sent me Flat Stanley to learn about Spanish traditions, celebrations, and food, so she could do a presentation. I teach English to Spanish teenagers at an after-school academy, so I asked them what they do to celebrate Christmas. ("Remember, speak in English.") This is what they told me as I reported it to her:
A LONG VACATION
Christmas vacation is from December 23 to January 8. It's a time to be with your family and grandparents and cousins, especially on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, and on New Year's Eve, and on January 5 and 6. Everyone visits and has dinner.
Some families also go to the mountains to see the snow and play in it, since there is no snow in the city.
Some families put up Christmas trees, but this is new. Carlos said, "It's like Halloween, we saw in being done in the US and copied it." But not every family has a tree, and they aren't very important.
The important decoration in homes is the nativity scene. They are usually big and are an art form. Every part of Spain has its own style. In Madrid, nativity scenes use moss to look like grass and sand to look like dirt. They also use plants, sticks, bark, stones and other natural things to make the nativity scene look real. Josefa said her family's nativity includes farms with gardens and a river. Other students build the entire town of Bethlehem. (The photo is a small portion of the City Hall nativity scene, done in traditional Madrid style.)
Carlos said, "When I was younger, my brother and sister and I made the people with clay and painted them. We enjoyed it."
A family might put a wreath on their front door, but they don't decorate their houses. Instead, the city decorates the streets with millions of lights. My students said they like to go for walks downtown and see all the lights.
Pablo said, "We eat a lot at Christmas."
Families have big dinners together. A typical dinner might include roast turkey, lamb, or baby pig. The piglet is usually roasted whole with the head on. Seafood is also popular for holiday dinners, such as a big baked fish, or shrimp, lobster, or tiny baby eels.
There are many kinds of candy, cookies, and sweets, and a lot of them are made with almonds. Sweet almond soup is a traditional dessert.
On January 6, which is the day when the Three Kings bring gifts to baby Jesus and to the children in Spain, people eat a round cake called King's Cake that's decorated with colored dried fruit, nuts, and sugar, so that it looks like a crown. They eat it with hot chocolate.
SANTA CLAUS VS. THE THREE KINGS
Here, Santa Claus is called Papa Nöel, but he is a new idea from the US, like Christmas trees. He doesn't come to every house on Christmas Eve, and when he does, he brings only a few little presents. Jorge explained, "If the present is something big like a Wii or Play Station or a bike, the Three Kings bring it." The Three Kings are called the Reyes Magos, or Wise Kings.
Beatriz said, "When I was a child I used to write a letter to the Three Kings. I asked for peace and for food for poor people. I promised that if they sent me what I wanted, next year I would be a better person and help my parents more."
The Three Kings arrive in Madrid on the evening of January 5 in a huge parade. All of my students have gone to the parade, and they had lots of fun. The people in the parade throw candy at the children watching the parade — many tons of candy. My students said that they always take an umbrella to the parade and hold it upside down so they can catch more candy.
— Aunt Sue
Free speech for Russia!