Christmas Traditions in Seville

7 December 2016 0 Comments Category: blog, Cat Gaa, Living in Spain

Christmas in Seville means the adherence to age-old traditions. Sure, there’s bound to be an overplayed commercial depicting Santa or the Spanish lottery or carols sung, but sevillanos stick to their beloved pastimes.

I’ve been married for just over a year to a local, but have always been grouped into his family’s Christmas traditions.The month of December is a marathon of eating, drinking and being merry (and it’s a marathon for my bank account!), so we feast, we drink and we roll out of bed the next day to do it again.

Even though many would say the Immaculate Conception day on December 8th is the official start to navidades, Christmas lights are officially on during the first weekend in December, and the season stretched until the Epiphany on January 6th. But it’s the most wonderful time of the year! No need to be a Scrooge when there are chestnuts roasting on an open fire on practically every corner of the city and there are many traditions to partake in.

Belenes

Where we Americans have Santa’s village, the Spaniards have belénes, or miniature versions of that Little Town O’ Bethlehem. But there’s more than the inn and the stable – church parishes, shops and even schools set up elaborate recreations of what Bethlehem, known as Belén in Spanish, looked liked. It’s common to see livestock, markets and even running water or mechanical figurines.

The biggest belénes are in the cathedral, San Salvador, the Fundación Cajasol in Plaza San Francisco and even at the Corte Inglés. If you want to set up one of your own, there’s an annual market that sells handcrafted adobe houses, miniature wicker baskets to tiny produce and every figurine imaginable in the Plaza del Triunfo, adjacent to the cathedral.

Christmas Lights

Even though the days get shorter, the sheer amount of Christmas lights that light Seville’s plazas and main shopping streets seem to simulate the sunny winter days that Seville has year-round.

Most neighborhoods will have their own displays up in the evenings along main thoroughfares. Expect your electricity bill to be less if you live near one of these streets – lights stay up until the Epiphany on January 6th.

Christmas dinners

It’s also quite common for companies to invite their employees to an enormous Chirstmas dinner, followed by drinks and often dancing. When I worked at the private school, we’d travel to a finca or salon de celebraciones and have a private catering. The same goes in America – what happens at work parties…

My Christmas dinners at the academy aren’t huge productions, nor do we even do the special Christmas deals, which are stocked with loads of options and unlimited alcohol. I also do dinner with my girlfriends as a way to see one another before the busy holiday season. Many of us are off to travel, so it’s the best moment to dress up, have a cocktail and enjoy the ambience in the center of town.

Traditional Foods

Like in many countries at festival times, food plays an important role in family and cultural traditions. Sevillano families go all out to buy pricey, acorn-feed ham and other pork products to be thinly sliced pre-meal, order cases of champagne and fill up their meals with shellfish and roast meats, like lamb or pork. My in-laws hail from both the north and south of Spain, and this year they’ve requested I roast a turkey to bring in my American heritage!

And, of course, there’s the question of Spanish Christmas sweets – lard cookies and sweet anise liquor are not gingerbread men and candy canes. Polvorones, mantecados, marzipan, turron and chocolate bonbons raid the shelves of supermarkets from late November, meaning it’s easy to pack on the pounds (and thus why gym memberships skyrocket in January in Spain, too).

Open bars on Christmas day

After the midnight mass, called Misa del Gallo, and a quick sleep, most Spaniards head to the bar to wait out their seafood and lamb lunches. As strange as it sounds, Christmas Day is not as big of a holiday as Christmas Eve or even New Year’s Eve, when Spaniards stay at home with their closest family members.

Shopping and Black Friday

Forget about the 12 days of Christmas – to spark holiday sales and spending, Corte Inglés passed out their toy catalogue long before the holidays, and commercials are rife with the hottest toys and electronics sales. Spain even a

Just after the Epiphany, or the day when the Three Kings come to leave presents for children who have gorged themselves on Roscón de Reyes, the sales period starts. Rebajas take place for nearly two months!

Celebrating Christmas as an American Abroad

I officially recognize that I’m a Scrooge – I haven’t enjoyed Christmas since I was a kid – but southern Spain’s most vibrant city is extra special during the holidays, and my feelings about the holidays have changed since moving here. In fact, I find myself missing all of those traditions I used to despise. I miss having a real Christmas tree and going to pick it out with my family, then moan when I have to set it up. I miss taking the train into Chicago to have lunch with my family at the Walnut Room, despite the lines and biting cold. I almost miss shoveling snow.

Perhaps the best Christmas tradition that I’ve stumbled upon since moving to Spain is that my parents want to travel during the holidays. We’ve done away with the tree and instead spend our respective vacations traveling. We’ve drank glühwein at Christmas markets, hit the slopes in the Rocky Mountains and marveled at the Cliffs of Moher on Christmas morning!

And this year, the holidays will be even more special – I’ll become a mother sometime before the Three Kings bring candy rain to every corner of Spain!

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