It has been unusually cold this year, and l think this is probably the coldest winter we’ve experienced here. Throw in the winds and it’s downright bone-chilling. All this means that there is a festive feeling in the air as we are in the midst of the Christmas season in Valencia.
- Christmas Season In Valencia. The Traditions:
Christmas Season In Valencia. The Traditions:
While Valencia is a true beauty at all times, Christmas time takes on an even more beautiful and romantic aura. Thanks to covid, the previous Christmas was a bust compared to this year. Fear kept people from enjoying the season.
This year though, even with the new variants that keep popping up, lots of people are ready to enjoy the holiday season. This is evident by the sheer numbers of people out and about, shopping, and the festive atmosphere of the town as it glows with all the Christmas decorations and lights that are scattered all over the city.
The best part of the Christmas season in Valencia, for me especially, has been not having to listen to those godforsaken and very annoying Christmas songs (you know the ones l mean), at least not in English.
After growing up on a steady diet of those jingles, the same rotation that was inescapable at my old job, I am truly happy to be rid of them. Really, do we need 927 versions of Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer, White Christmas, and all the rest of them?
In Valencia, the replacement seems to be perfume commercials which are played ad nauseam. Relentlessly, they will play the same commercials over and over. I mean they play the same ad three consecutive times. Three!!!
Christmas Season in Valencia: Spanish Traditions
Valencia Christmas season runs from December 1 – January 6 of the new year. Some of the traditions of Valencia and Spain as a whole are:
Nativity Scene display:
While a lot of Spanish don’t bother with Christmas trees and over-the-top home decoration such as you see in the States, they do tend to display a nativity set in their homes. You can find plenty of the sets in places such as the Mercat Colon as shown above.
Something else l love about the Christmas season here is that it forces you to come out of your shell, especially if you’re an introvert, or someone away from family and gets depressed during the season, something that is common.
In America for instance, the trees and decorations are inside the house and it’s a time to spend with family and friends. Here, the streets and trees are decorated in plazas and squares sprinkled across the city.
It is hard to be depressed when surrounded by such beauty. You don’t feel as lonely either because there are so many people around you and you are all sharing the same experiences. The fact that people are in such a festive mood is intoxicating and catchy. I have to say that l prefer it this way.
The Mercat Central has an absolutely humongous display in the middle of the market. It depicts village scenes and it’s very cool to see. Did you know the tradition of displaying nativity sets dates back to Saint Francis of Assisi who upon realizing that the church chapel was too small to hold the congregation for Christmas mass decided to build an altar with a manger, baby, even an ox?
El caganer literally translates to “the shitter” or “the crapper” :-). This is a figurine that is usually part of the nativity set. It started as a Catalan thing but it has definitely found its way to Valencia and other areas with Catalan culture like Andorra and even some parts of Southern France.
The tradition of adding the caganer to the nativity set is thought to have started in the 17th century and the whole point is to show all types of settings and actions in a typical town, and not just in the manger :-). I have to admit that l find it funny!
Lotteria de Navidad: El Gordo
This is the Christmas lottery and is one of the most popular things ever during the season. The grand prize or El Gordo is a huge amount. It cost 20 euros for a ticket, but you get a small payout even if you only have one number right (I think 10 euros is the minimum prize awarded).
I don’t understand it much, but the lottery sellers are everywhere trying to sell you the tickets, They swoop in on the metro, in the restaurants, at the entrances of shops, and of course the normal kiosks. They do brisk business, and people stand in line to purchase them. The top prize this year is just over 2 million euros as of now. I just might play! Bon suerte everyone!!!
The biggest midnight mass in Valencia is at the Cathedral and it’s called Misa del Gallo. I can’t think of a more beautiful setting for a church service. Of course, most neighborhood churches have their own, but this is by far the one most go to. On Christmas day, there is a choir as well as activities for children and families.
Christmas Eve Dinner:
The big celebration meal with the family occurs on Christmas Eve as opposed to Christmas day that we are used to in America. That’s when the big dinners are cooked with lots of traditional Spanish food.
Lots of Tapas, good quality Jamon, and copious amounts of seafood are washed down with… you guessed it, Cava of course. On Christmas day, children may receive little money gifts called “Estrena” from their close family members.
Turron: Spanish Christmas Sweet
Along with the wonderful aroma of chestnuts roasting which fuels the festive spirit, turron is also available for sale all over town, in addition to marzipan and ever-popular horchata. Turron is thought to have been invented by the Moors over five centuries ago.
It is made with wildflowers, honey, and almonds. Different qualities of turron exist from supreme to fine etc. Turron is also given as gifts during Christmas time.
There are two main kinds of Turron:
Soft: (Blando in Spanish), which is smooth kind and of reminds you of peanut butter as far as consistency.
Hard (Duro) which is thick, hard, more like peanut brittle in looks. Not for me, my teeth are too brittle.. haha! get it? feeble Christmas humor l know :-).
Nochevieja: Doce uvas de la suerte
This is a New Year’s Eve tradition. Lots of drinking cava and most people get together with friends and family to watch the countdown on television like they do in America. The hotspot for the country is in Madrid, much like New York.
As the countdown occurs at the stroke of 12, you eat a grape with each gong for good luck. Make sure they are small grapes though :-). I almost choked on regular-sized ones my first Christmas. They sell the little ones just for this purpose in the markets. This tradition is said to bring you good luck in the new year.
Three Kings Day: (Dia de Los Reyes)
The final day of the Christmas season. It celebrates the arrival of the three kings following the star to Bethlehem … as in “we three kings of orient are”. It’s a national holiday in Spain and that is when children receive their real gifts if they’ve been nice. If not, they receive coal (usually dyed hard candy or dust candy).
Roscon de Reyes:
Part of breakfast on Epiphany day. This sweet indulgence is to celebrate the visit of the Magi which traces its root to the Moors. It looks to me like a cake cut in half and filled with cream and fruit on top. An interesting tradition that l found funny and have yet to partake in.
There are two things to be found that are hidden somewhere in the cake, a tiny plastic baby Jesus, and a bean. If you get the slice with the plastic baby, you are crowned “King of the party” or Roscon. If you find the bean, you are the “tontolaba” or fool of the bean and the one who must pay for the dessert.
The Christmas season concludes with a parade where they throw hard candy and other sweets to the people (kids) on the streets. It’s okay, but l don’t like the caricature black helpers they have because it is extremely annoying to see people in blackface, bright red lipstick on huge lips, and ugly afro wigs.
In this day and age, they can find real black people to do these parts. I don’t buy the “it’s tradition” bullshit. I must say, I have seen a couple of the bigger cities using an actual black man to fill this role, which is gratifying.
Valencia Christmas Season: Different spots in the city
Mercat Colon Valencia:
The Mercat Colon was built in 1916 and is practically smack dab in the center of town. You can find a lot of artisanal products there. It is a great place to hang out on a cold night and people watch. Plenty of coffee shops and bars. I also like the fact that they have a real Christmas tree as opposed to the “lights”.
Plaza Ayutamiento at Christmas:
The town hall plaza is where the official tree usually sits, but this year it was moved to the rear to make room for these giant balls and a bigger skating rink. The carousel was also moved.
Ice Skating in the makeshift rink:
Always an enjoyable experience watching the people skating. It has actually been cold. You can see people in jackets and hats trying to keep warm. Most will also warm up with churros con chocolate, another favorite local food. There are stands set up all over the city.
Very impressive display. Make sure to check out the Christmas market close by at the Mercado Tapineria. The display is in the middle of the market during the Christmas season. Sometimes, you might be lucky enough to catch a procession coming in through the market. Pretty cool to see.
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City of Arts:
Though not as fancy as the ones in the colder countries of Europe, the Christmas markets here are still pretty neat. You can find all kinds of knick-knacks and Christmas decorations, and of course, mulled wine. The Christmas season is not complete without that. So delicious, and plentiful.
I would like to take this chance to wish everyone an absolutely fantastic holiday season filled with love and peace. How will you be celebrating the Christmas season?