Many of our visitors over the Christmas period celebrate the festive season in the same way they do at home, but we’re often asked how Canarians celebrate Christmas, and it’s a little different to what you might be used to.
It all starts off with “El Gordo,” the massive Spanish Christmas lottery. Almost everyone will buy a ticket, or a share of a ticket, for this huge event, also known as lotería de Navidad. Various draws take place during the day, and the winning numbers are chanted on television and radio by children. It’s the world’s largest lottery.
This is known a Nochebuena in Spanish, and on Christmas eve families get together to celebrate their good fortune. Several generations will share in a fabulous and hearty meal, and the table will be laid with exquisite delicacies. The starter is almost always fresh mussels, and you’ll see bags of mussels in every supermarket during the day. The main course will often be turkey stuffed with truffles, although here in The Canaries it might be a huge fish or a seafood medley, and there will be an endless choice of sweets like nougat and chocolate truffles to finish with.
At midnight, many will go to mass in their local church.
Traditionally, December 25th is a day of quiet reflection, and getting over the excesses of the previous night’s food. But in recent years, as the islands have become more “international,” many families allow the children to open some or all of their presents on the 25th, so you’ll see them out and about enjoying their new toys.
This is a normal working day in Spain, so everyone goes back to work. “Boxing day” doesn’t exist as part of The Canarian Christmas.
This is “Dia de los Santos Inocentes.” It’s not a holiday, but it’s the nearest we get to April fool’s day, so watch out for pranks and look out for outlandish “News” stories!
Here in Spain, what many call New Year’s Eve is “Nochevieja” or “Fin de Año,” so old night, or end of the year. Where Christmas eve was all about a family meal, new year’s eve is focused on partying with friends. Large groups of friends will get together to enjoy a fabulous meal, typically starting with fish and moving onto roast beef or steaks. The meal will be timed to finish at midnight, when everyone eats 12 grapes in time to the chimes of a clock, before wishing each other the best for the new year.
This can be quite disconcerting – visit Arrecife at 1100 on the 31st, and it will be like a ghost town, as everyone is still enjoying their meals! But at a few minutes past midnight, the party starts, usually with fireworks, and then carries on as the groups go from bar to bar, often accompanied by drum bands. This is one of the few times of the year when you will see Canarians dressed formally, so you’ll see plenty of suits and ballgowns, and even dinner jackets being worn.
Everyone will be buying their “Roscon de Reyes.” These are sweet cakes filled with cream, which will be eaten for breakfast the following morning. Each cake is hand made, and contains a small figure of a King and a bean. Each person who finds a trinket in their slice has a task to perform. The one with The King is crowned King of the celebration and must wear a crown, and the one who finds the bean has to pay for next year’s Roscon party.
In the evening The Three Kings will be visiting every town, here in Lanzarote on Camels, to distribute sweets and presents to the children. This is the real heart of a Canarian Christmas.
Three King’s day is traditionally the day children receive their Christmas presents – because it was the day the three Kings brought their gifts to Jesus. It’s another public holiday in Spain and marks the end of the celebrations before everyone returns to work on the 7th and the decorations are removed for another year.
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