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Christmas & New Year's Eve Celebrations in Madrid

On this page we would like to explain in general terms what the festive season is like in Spain.

If you are looking for suggestions on where to dine out during the festive season, we can strongly recommend bringing in the New Year at this flamenco restaurant. And for other special Christmas or New Year meals, click here.

But going back to what the Christmas holidays are like in Madrid, below we describe the main Christmas and New Year holidays, although probably the event that kicks off all the festivities is "El Gordo" (the fat one), the second longest continuously running lottery in the world and considered the biggest lottery worldwide. Running since 1812, it is held every year on December 22nd and millions tune in to the radio or TV to listen and watch while the pupils of the San Ildefonso school in Madrid draw the lucky numbers and sing out the prizes.

Whole tickets are expensive, so most people buy a "décimo", which is one tenth of a full ticket but still well worth holding should your number coincide with one of the major prizes. The décimos are often broken down even further and smaller denominations (called "participaciones") sold by local bars, shops, associations, schools or even a group of work colleagues. It really does seem like everybody in Spain is hoping for a "pellizco" (a pinch or small share) of El Gordo and anybody not holding a number on December 22nd really feels left out. But don't worry, now you too can play from the comfort of your own home if you wish. Just click here to buy online a ticket for El Gordo! And if you can't wait for Christmas, click here to play the Spanish Lottery called La Primitiva any week of the year!

So, now that you've had a go at winning the Spanish Christmas lottery, know that traditionally the Spaniards will celebrate the Christmas period with several large family meals on the following occasions :-

  • Christmas Eve dinner (Noche Buena)
  • Christmas Day lunch (Día de Navidad)
  • New Year's Eve dinner (Noche Vieja)
  • New Year's Day lunch (Día de Año Nuevo)
  • Epiphany (Jan. 6th) lunch (Día de Reyes)

Christmas Eve / Christmas Day (Noche Buena / Día de Navidad)

Of the above mentioned occasions, Christmas Day lunch is obviously important, but Christmas Eve dinner is equally so and possibly even more. Although Father Christmas/Santa Claus/Papa Noel does visit some families in Spain, the more traditional gift-bearers are the "Reyes Magos" (see below).

An increasingly popular custom now is the "Amigo Invisible" (literally, invisible friend). Within a group of friends, colleagues or family members, a maximum cost is specified and all the participants' names are written on slips of paper, which are then put in a bag of some sort. Each member then takes one slip of paper from the bag, and then has to buy a present for that person, effectively becoming his or her invisible friend since the recipient of the present doesn't know who is the buyer. A further variant of the game allows for everybody to try to guess who their "amigo invisible" is, on opening the presents.

The Boxing Day concept doesn't really exist in Spain, since it is a holiday only in a couple of autonomous regions, but not in Madrid.

Traditional foods for Christmas Eve dinner include all types of seafood. "Angulas" (baby eels) used to be one of the most traditional dishes, but their increasing scarcity and thus cost has made them prohibitive for all but the richest families. They have now been replaced by "gulas", artificially made to look like baby eels, but made of a fish mix. Oven-baked "besugo" (sea bream) and "lombarda" (red cabbage) are also popular dishes.

Christmas Day lunch usually involves heavier dishes; roast lamb and other roast meats are the norm here.

New Year / New Year's Eve (Año Nuevo / Noche Vieja)

New Year's Eve in Madrid basically revolves around 1 of 3 possible options :-

1) Going to the Puerta del Sol with all the crowds and celebrating the 12 chimes at midnight in Madrid's main square, then heading off to a private party, or a discotheque, bar or club

2) Having a late dinner with family or friends and watching the 12 chimes on TV, after which the younger members of the family will head off to a private party, or a discotheque, bar or club

3) Having dinner at a restaurant, where your meal, drinks, the party and often a dance with live music will all be included in a fixed price.

New Year's Eve involves the tradition, unique to Spain (although in Portugal they sometimes have 12 raisins), of eating 12 grapes in time to the 12 chimes of the clock at midnight. This tradition dates from the year 1909, when a surplus of grapes during that year's harvest obliged the wine industry to find a creative selling idea. They invented the ritual of eating 12 grapes to bring in the New Year, a tradition which is still thriving all over Spain today.

After the evening meals on Christmas Eve, New Year's Eve and also the eve of Epiphany, the over 18's  will tend to go out to parties, discos or bars until the early hours. It's amazing to see the traffic jams start immediately after midnight on New Year's Eve!

The traditional end to New Year's Eve (and many other nights out as well), is to visit the Chocolateria San Gines in order to calm those hunger pangs with some delicious chocolate con churros.

Epiphany (Día de Reyes Magos)

As mentioned above, although some children do receive presents on Christmas Day, it is much more traditional in Spain to give and receive on January 6th, "el día de los Reyes Magos". On the previous evening, January 5th, there are large processions in most Spanish towns to celebrate the arrival of the 3 Kings (known in Spain as Melchor, Gaspar & Baltasar ) bringing the children's presents on the backs of camels, which the children receive on the morning of January 6th, a public holiday in Spain.

An interesting aside here is that Santa Claus' predecessor, Sinterklaas, visits Holland on the evening of December 5th - St. Nicholas Eve - together with Black Peter or Zwarte Piet. Nobody really knows why, but both leave from Spain and return there on the morning of December 6th after doing their rounds, taking with them any children who have been naughty during the year.

Opening Hours

Taking into account the celebrations described explained above, you shouldn't count on any restaurant or shop being open after around 8:30pm on Christmas Eve or New Year's Eve or at any time on Christmas Day (a few may open for dinner on the 25th but it can by no means be guaranteed). Museums will also be mostly closed on December 25th. Public transport systems will close at around the same time on Christmas and New Year's Eve, but will run (albeit at longer intervals) on Christmas and New Year's Day.

The 3 Kings will be stocking up on presents right up until the last moment on January 5th, so New Year sales in Spain don't start until January 7th.

Please use the links to the left to find out all you need to know for your visit to Madrid.


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