Feliz Navidad and the Christmas Lottery

This is my last (and slightly delayed) blog post for the semester. It seems impossible to sum up the experiences and memories of my semester in Spain so I thought I would talk about my final month in Madrid, specifically:  the city’s transformation for the Christmas season.

First, it should probably be noted that Christmas Day is not the most important day of the holiday season in Spain. That day is Three Kings Day, which occurs in January at the end of the 12 Days of Christmas. Both days are celebrated as a time with family, but according to my host siblings, Three Kings Day results in better presents.

Despite this slightly shifted calendar, Madrid still gets decked out in true capitalist fashion in December. Most of the decorations are funded by what seems like the only department store: El Corte Inglés. On any street that houses an El Corte Inglés store, there are beautiful Christmas lights that hang across the buildings. These lights are spread out through the city; each street has a unique design but all of them are colorful and whimsical. My personal favorite is the huge dandelions, but other streets have globes, spirals, snowflakes or just blocks of bright colors. You can even take the NaviBus for 2 euro to see them all.

Though nothing compared to the Christmas markets in France or Germany, Spain’s main squares all host their own Christmas markets.  Each one has a specific focus. There is a market by the Opera house for food, while the one in Plaza de España is for artisan crafts. You can even get El Corte Inglés specific decorations by the Gran Vía Plaza. Speaking of food, Spaniards are really big on Christmas candy. My host family’s kitchen has been stocked with candy since the end of November. Most common in my house were polvorones and turrones, which are both nut-based candies.

As a Catholic country, it comes as no surprise that nativity scenes, otherwise known as belenes, are essential to Spain’s Christmas season. According to tradition, families buy a new figure every year to add to the scene. The nativity set in my host family’s house now takes up an entire table and includes everything from the baby Jesus to an extra fisherman.

The tradition I find most unusual is the Spanish Christmas Lottery, which has been in existence since 1812.  For weeks leading up to Christmas, people stand outside in lines to buy tickets in the world’s biggest lottery. It is a communal event and people often chip in to buy shares of tickets as a group. The first prize is called El Gordo and this year the winning tickets worth 400,000 euros each were all sold from an office in Acacias, a neighborhood in Madrid.

I have loved getting to experience new things in Madrid, even up to the last week. Though the bare trees and cold weather are a far cry from the 90 degree heat of my arrival in August, this winter season is still just as much a part of my semester abroad experience. I can’t think of a better way to wrap up my time in Madrid than to enjoy the festivities of the holiday season.


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