While staying at home and spending time with the family on Christmas is always lovely, it can be exciting to spend Christmas abroad. We consider ourselves lucky to be able to celebrate the holidays interpreted by a different culture. Having experienced Christmas in the Philippines it is very much similar to how they celebrate it in Spain, so you can say even though it’s very different to the Christmas I am used to in the UK, most things are very familiar, and somehow makes me feel very much closer my native country.
While Nativity Scenes are common all around the world where Christmas is celebrated, Valencia takes it to a whole new level with Nativity Scenes in shopping centres, and most public buildings. The religious meaning of Christmas is still very much popular here in Spain and they take it very seriously, many shops offers kits to create your own nativity scenes and in school my son brought home his home-made scene which of course stands proudly on the mantle piece.
Each time around Christmas, the city streets fill with Christmas markets, including the traditional outdoor market that is open every day, offering food, gifts, and nativity decorations. The Mercat Central starts the festive period by installing a very impressive nativity scene or Belen. People can view the nativity scene from the 3rd of December while they shop adding to that authentic Spanish Christmas atmosphere.
Now in its 26th year, Expojove is a series of activities and events organised for children. This includes a traditional Christmas fair, which historically was a livestock fair, but now sells articles for children such as nativity figures and toys, as well as rides and games. For a small entrance fee you and the kids can enjoy a whole night of shows, exhibitions and games.
There are always multiple Christmas circus in Valencia over the Christmas season. Last year my youngest son went to the circus as a part of the school excursion. There are many circus shows to choose from, some are still traditional circuses that feature animals, which I don’t agree on but in Spain it’s still acceptable, though I have spoken to many who do not agree with the whole thing. Similar to the UK’s pantomime tradition, circuses in Valencia is the Spanish equivalent, a great place to bring the kids and watch some sparkling, and impressive tricks and magic!
Or Christmas Eve for those not in the known, is a big family event in Valencia, with much food, and a midnight mass held at the Cathedral. The service features the Cathedral choir singing traditional carols, making the event one not to be missed. The whole family would gather usually in their parents house and celebrate with plenty of food and drinks. Once this time is spent with the family, the young people usually meet up with their friends after either at a bar or a club and party until early Christmas morning.
Day of the Innocents
December 28, is the spanish equivalent of April Fools’ day, and the whole city gets in on the action. One of the most popular jokes is to cut out a paper doll and attach it to the back of a friend or family member who wears it all day unawares. A friend told me yesterday that he once played a trick on his mother by gluing the winning lottery numbers on the ‘El Gordo’, he found it amusing but I wonder how his mother took the joke!
Eating Grapes at Midnight
New Year’s eve is a major event everywhere, and Valencia is no exception, where after dinner, everyone eats 12 lucky grapes to the sound of the bells for luck in the new year. This year we will be celebrating the coming of 2014 with friends and family at a local bar. Every town and specially Valencia City go crazy at this time of year, crowds gather at the Plaza de Ayuntamento to watch the fireworks and Valencia does fireworks like no other! You can be sure that the new year will be welcomed with as much noise and lights as possible!
The Three Kings
On January 5th, there is another special event for children, when at around 5 o’clock in the afternoon, the three kings arrive at the port, and parade around the city before sharing words from the city hall balcony. After their speech, they receive the children who wish to speak with them and get a gift. Every town gets in to the act by organising their own parade, the Magos will come laden with gifts, mainly sweets and small toys and throw them to the eager kids waiting on the street!
Explaining these customs simply does not do justice to the traditional and beautiful way that Christmas is celebrated in Valencia. Avoiding the commercialistic aspects of Christmas that are so rampant in North America and western Europe, Valencia truly embraces pageantry, family, and fun with their Christmas traditions. And when you consider the warm weather, amazing traditional food, and the length of the celebration (Christmas runs from December 8th until January 6th in Spain), I could not asked for a better place to celebrate the end of the old year and the start with the new with close friends and family.