As you might expect, Christmas in Spain is a spiritual celebration. After all, the country is overwhelmingly Roman Catholic and its patron saint is the Virgin Mary.

What you might not expect is that Christmas in Spain is marked by other traditions that its people can claim as completely their own.

Take, for example, the tradition of hogueras. On the shortest day of the year – the winter solstice and the beginning of winter – many Spaniards light fires and jump over them. (Or at least, they try to jump over them.) Their theory is, if they can dodge the flames, they also can dodge illness in the coming year.

Hogueras break out all over during Christmas in Spain but especially in the towns of Jaen and Granada, where the tradition began before the advent of Christianity.

Christmas in Spain officially begins on the feast of the Immaculate Conception, December 8, when a gothic cathedral in Seville hosts a dance ritual known as los seises (the “dance of six”) though it actually features 10 choir boys, who dress in 16th century costumes.

Many families assemble on Christmas Eve for the La Misa del Gallo, or the Mass of the rooster, so named because it has been said that the only time a rooster ever crowed at midnight was the moment Jesus entered the world.

One of the most spectacular of these candlelit midnight Masses takes place in the monastery of Montserrat, high up in the mountains near Barcelona. Here, a boy’s choir strives to perform the vocal selections in “one pure voice.” At other churches, midnight Mass is followed by a special Christmas dance called a jota, with guitars and castanets playing in the background.

Christmas in Spain: A Swinging Good Time

While many families spend Christmas day savoring the leftovers from their Christmas Eve feast, they take a break so that their children can indulge in “swinging.” This tradition means more than pumping a swing to unparalleled heights for the sheer joy of it; Spaniards believe the children can encourage the sun to shine brightly by swinging closer to the sky.

Spanish children revere the three kings and especially Balthazar, and for good reason: he is the one believed to leave toys and candy to celebrate Christmas in Spain. In their honor, many Spanish families enjoy roscón de los reyes, or king cake, on January 6, the day of the Epiphany.

Christmas in Spain - Epiphany Cake
The Epiphany cake conveys the color and vibrancy that defines Christmas in Spain.

Shaped in the form of a ring, the cake is filled with dried nuts, fruit and a coin, ring or other trinket that the recipient extracts before he or she is crowned as “king” or “queen” for the day. The treasure can be easy to miss in the excitement over the beauty of the cake, for it is lavishly decorated with candied fruits that are meant to replicate the emeralds and rubies that glittered on the robes of the three kings.

At, we think it would be difficult to find a country that better integrates religious reverence with unabashed fun than Spain. See if your friends agree by referring them to the full article via Facebook or Twitter.

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