For the Spanish, Christmas Eve is a bigger deal than Christmas Day. A large meal with the family takes place on December 24th, along with a visit to church for the Christmas Mass. While there are additional unique customs, a festive dinner and Spanish sweets for dessert are the most iconic part of Christmas in Spain.
If you are invited to join a local family on Christmas Eve or Christmas day be aware that unlike in America, where the traditional time for the exchanging of gifts is December 24th or 25th, in Spain, this occurs 13 days after on January 6th for Dia de las Reyes. That day, there is more feasting and the specialty of the day is the roscón de los reyes, a ring cake made to resemble a king's crown with candied fruits.
Christmas Eve Food
If you spend Christmas in Spain, it will rapidly be apparent that Christmas Eve is one of the biggest and most celebrated meals of the year. In the past pavo trufado, turkey stuffed with truffles was a favorite dish with the country's elite. Now the only rule with the Christmas Eve meal is that people eat well, and usually more expensively. Lobster is very common, and a roast of some sort is essential, usually lamb or a suckling pig. In addition, most families will also have soup, usually fish stew, and an abundance of other seafood, cheeses, hams, and pates. Dinner starts late, at about 10 p.m. and will go on for a couple of hours.
Other popular foods adorning Christmas tables and found in recipes during the holidays include mandarins or mandarinas, walnuts or nueces, and dates or datiles.
Where Spanish food at Christmas comes into its own is with its sweets, including a variety of nougats, marzipans, and crumbly cakes. The most popular sweet of the season is turron. It is a nougat usually made with nuts. There are two types, turron de Jijona, a soft nougat also called turron blando, and turron de Alicante also called turron duro, a hard nougat.
A popular confection from other parts of the world around the holiday time that Spain has adopted is marzipan, called mazapan in Spanish.Yema is a type of marzipan that is made with egg and is a specialty of the town of Avila.
There are two popular small crumbly cakes or cookies in Spain that are favorites during the season, polvorones and mantecados. They are two different types of Spanish shortbreads made of flour, sugar, milk, and usually almonds. Polvorones are usually covered with powdered sugar. The word polvo means "powder." Manteca means "lard," which is usually a key ingredient. Another popular cookie is a rosquillo de vino, a cookie flavored with anise and wine.
Eating at a Restaurant
It is almost impossible to get a meal in a restaurant on Christmas Eve as most local places are closed, although some of the major hotels are likely to be open. Christmas Day is a bit easier as establishments reopen, but make sure to plan ahead. If you are arriving in Spain a few days before Christmas, make booking a restaurant reservation for Christmas Day the first thing you do.