In Spain, the world famous lottery El Gordo (the Fat one), which takes place on the 22nd of December, marks the unofficial start of the Christmas celebrations. With the possibility of winning hundreds of millions of euros it’s no wonder that the Spanish are quite happy to sit through hours on end of children singing each number and prize out robotically, to the same recognisable tune each time.
Christmas Eve is when the main Christmas dinner is eaten and centres on a fish dish for the main course. Presents, in Spain, are not traditionally exchanged among family and friends until the 6th of January, the Epiphany, when the Three Kings are said to deliver their presents to Jesus. That said, the Spanish are not ones to necessarily hold on to tradition if another one can be tacked on to the side, and many children now receive presents from Father Christmas (Curiously using the French word Papa Noel) as well as from the Three Kings.
A popular Christmas treat in Spain is turrón, an almond tasting nougat that comes in two delicious hard and soft forms. The not-so-delicious festive food is the polvorón, which derives from the word polvo (dust) and aptly describes how it disintegrates as soon as you bite into it, leaving you with a sweet taste, and a dry mouth.
Holland’s Christmas celebrations are again completely different. The 5th of December is the most important day, as this is when children receive their Christmas gifts from Sinterklaas (St. Nicholas), despite St Nicholas’s feast day being on the 6th. Tradition says he travels to Dutch towns and cities wearing a red robe accompanied by his servant named Zwarte Pieten (Black Peters) to deliver the presents. Christmas day itself involves a quiet family dinner. Special Dutch Christmas specialties include: Kerststol, a fruit loaf, and Kerstkransjes a lemon based cookie, popular among children.
Christmas celebrations in Germany begin on the first Sunday of advent and this can explain why we see German Christmas markets appearing in our towns and cities from late November. On the 5th of December, children leave a shoe or boot outside their door in the hope that Nikolaus (Santa Claus) has filled it with sweets for being a well-behaved child that year. Christmas Eve is the most important day as this is when families decorate their Christmas trees and everyone receives their main Christmas gifts. The Christmas dinner also takes place on this day and a typical German Christmas dinner consists of carp (fish), potato salad and served with cucumber and lemon slices.