Posted by: janecronin | December 5, 2013

A to Z of Spanish Christmas

Beginning with the letter A, a Christmas tree is arbol de Navidad and in fact the type of tree used also starts with an A, it is abeto (fir tree).   Very popular at Christmas time and beginning with B is the word belén.  This is actually the Spanish for Bethlehem and is the name given to the Nativity scene which can be found in town squares and inside Spanish homes all over the country.  Belén is also a woman’s name.

C stands for the most popular seasonal drink, namely cava which is a Spanish type of champagne.  It is always present at celebrations, and most especially on New Year’s Eve.  The twelve strokes just before midnight on 31st December are called the Doce campanadas (the twelve rings) which deals with our letter D.

The Christmas star is estrella.  This is especially important in the Spanish tradition as it was the estrella that guided the three kings whose arrival is celebrated on 5th and 6th January.  The flor de pascua is seen all over Spain during this season.  It means the Christmas flower and is in fact the red poinsettia that is seen in squares, on roundabouts and in shop windows.  Guirnalda means garland and is also a popular form of Christmas decoration.  Herodes is the Spanish name for Herod, who tried to kill Jesus as a baby.  The Spanish have an interesting saying “Ir de Herodes a Pilatos”  “To go from Herod to Pilate”, in other words, to go from bad to worse!

Iberian ham or jamón ibérico is by far the most popular food at Christmas time in Spanish homes.  Juguetes are toys, which don’t need explaining, except to say that Spanish children traditionally receive these on the 6th January, not on Christmas day.  Luces means lights and everyone can see the tremendous effort that is put into decorating towns with these, even twining them around palm trees on the sides of roads.  Sadly, the last three examples have been affected this year by the economic situation.

Muérdago is mistletoe and nacimiento, which means birth, is another name sometimes given to the traditional nativity scene.  Passing to the next letter after ñ, oriente of course is where the kings travelled from in search of the baby Jesus, although apparently a recent book written by the pope suggests that they came from Andalucía!

Polvorones are a kind of cinnamon sweet that is very popular at this time of year.  They are rather crumbly and wrapped in a small piece of grease-proof paper so you have to squeeze them in your hand before you open them.  Quitanieves is the best I could do for the letter Q as it means snowplough!    What better at Christmas time than lots of regalos or presents which in the Christmas story were received by the sagrada familia or sacred family of Joseph, Mary and Jesus.

Very nice and seasonal is that lovely sweet turrón, which is made in the Valencian region and is enjoyed all over Spain in many different forms.  U is for the twelve uvas or grapes that are eaten for good luck on New Years Eve in time to the twelve strikes of the clock and V is for villancico which is the Spanish word for Christmas carol.  I couldn’t manage X but Y stands for yema or egg yolk which some of the best turrón is made from and traditionally it was zapatos or shoes that Spanish children put out for the Kings to leave their presents in, so they would always have to be cleaned and polished on the night of January the fifth.  All the remains is for me to wish you all ¡¡ FELICES FIESTAS !!

This article is part of the e-book “A-Z of Spanish” available on


  1. […] 7. No trip to Spain is complete without learning some new words in Spanish, so we think this Christmas roundup from Jane is worth keeping: A to Z of Spanish Christmas  […]

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