Christmas in Spain is quite a treat - the action gears up in mid-December and doesn't stop until January 6. There is the giant multi-billion euro lottery, splendid nativity scenes, lots of great food and one of the biggest New Year's Eve celebrations you are likely to see. As is the case throughout most of the Western world, Christmas first starts to rear its ugly head earlier and earlier each year. Traditional sweets such as turron and marzipan appeared in supermarkets in late October. However, apart from this, little takes place until December.
There are events taking place all over Spain in the run up to Christmas. Here are some of the more important pre-Christmas events. Read more on Spanish Festivals in December.
Christmas Eve is a family affair. Most bars will be closed and there won't be many restaurants open. If you can get yourself invited to a family then accept, but you're more likely to be offered their youngest daughter's hand in marriage than get an invitation to this most sacred of family events.
Proceedings are interrupted at midnight by the chimes of the local church, calling worshippers to the 'misa del gallo' (Mass of the Rooster), so named because it is said that a rooster crowded on the night Jesus was born.
The biggest 'misa del gallo' is at the Benedictine monastery at Montserrat near Barcelona.
Adults exchange gifts in Christmas Eve and kids will often get a little something, but the young 'uns have to wait until January 6 for that new Playstation.
Traditionally also a family day - couples will normally spend Christmas Eve with one set of parents and Christmas Day with the other.
However, in recent years more and more people have started eating in restaurants on Christmas Day. Restaurants advertise their Christmas menu well in advance. It is usually possible to book until quite late, but at least give them a chance to book the ingredients! To guarantee your place, the morning of the 24th is probably about as late as you can leave it.
By the evening of the 25th, most shops and bars are open again and these days more and more youths have started going out on the town.
Spain's version of April Fools' Day. People stick paper cut-outs of little men, or Monigote to people's backs.
A party night like everywhere else in the world, though the structure is a little different to in other countries - remember you have to think in Spanish time! Rather than starting early and building to a crescendo at midnight, the Spanish see in the new year sober (well, nearly sober), either with friends or with family, and then go out to the bars at about 12.30. The partying then continues until about 6am (if you fancy an early night) or much, much later, if you don't!
There is an 'ancient' tradition, started by some shrewd farmers about 100 years ago when they were left with too many grapes, of eating twelve grapes at the twelve bongs of midnight. This is a fun ritual, only spoiled by the fact that it is almost impossible to buy seedless grapes in Spain - in the rush to chomp down the dozen grapes, everyone ends up biting into a seed and pulling a silly face. A word of advice - there are four higher-pitched chimes just before the main ones at midnight (known as 'los cuatros') that announce the start of the real ones - make sure you don't start eating your grapes. It catches people out each year - one year a television presenter made fatal error! For every grape you get right, you will get a month's good luck.
January 6 is virtually as important as Christmas itself, especially for kids, as this is the day when they get their presents. The fun starts the evening before, when the three kings lead their procession through the streets, throwing sweets to the children. The next morning, the children wake up to find their presents have been left overnight (rumors that Santa moonlights as the Three Kings when times are hard are unfounded).
Everyone also eats Roscón, a sweet, donut-shaped bread (though much bigger than a donut) covered in glacier cherries and sugar. A plastic toy is buried inside the mixture, so don't dive in too quickly. He or she who finds the toy gets good luck for the next year (double the luck if they also ate the grapes on New Year's Eve!)